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Solving Double Definition Cryptic Clues

One of the main types of cryptic crossword clue is called the double definition.

With this clue type, as the name suggests, you will be presented with two different clues that both lead to the same answer.

Unlike many cryptic clues, both of the clues are typically straight clues, although they may of course be slightly misleading in terms of using definitions that might usually lead to another word (not the main meaning of a word, essentially).

In a standard cryptic crossword you will often get two to three clues of this type. The best way to spot them is by length - usually, although of course not always, these clues are a lot shorter than the rest. Often they are simply two words long. An example of a double definition clue would be the following:

Foreign or outlandish bird

This is a double definition clue where there is the slight added challenge of working out the delineation of the two clues, as it is not just a two-word clue. Here the two clues are 'foreign or outlandish' and 'bird'. In this case the answer is 'peregrine' which is a bird of prey (also called a peregrine falcon). You are less likely to know the other definition, 'foreign or outlandish' for this word, which the OED informs us of with a sample sentence "peregrine species of grass".

So - to spot a double definition look for a succinct clue. Then try to work out what the two definitions are (if it is a two-word clue, this is trivial).

If the answer does not jump out at you, look at each of the words individually and think around the meanings. As with the example here, they could be quite obscure. Remember with cryptics, the words are often misleading too. Thus when you see the word 'bird' here you are sure to think of just creatures with wings and feathers, as in this instance is the case, but of course there are other meanings of the word 'bird' too - such as time in prison (from Cockney rhyming slang - bird lime - (jail) time).
Date written: 15 Apr 2015

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