One of the many reasons I love puns is that there are so many different kinds of puns to make in so many varying situations. This week, I decided to walk my readers through the varying types of puns, noting my favorite types and why.
Genres of Puns
A lot of people don’t think about this — but there are actually many different kinds of puns out there. We lump any sort of wordplay into the three letter worded label “pun” but never think to look further at what linguistically is actually making it a pun. Puns are weird that way. We hear them. We take a minute to think. We laugh once we “get it,” and we move on. We rarely stop and deconstruct why we “got it,” or what finally clicked for us in our brains. Allow me to walk you through the genres of puns you’ve probably heard at one time or another.
- Homphonic puns — What’s a homophone? It’s when two words have the same pronunciation but different meanings. Keeping that in mind, a homophonic pun is playing with a sentence by trading out a word with it’s homophone and creating a double meaning. For example: “Atheism is a non-prophet organization.” Prophet is creating a pun with it’s double meaning of prophet, as in religious leader but also profit, as in a business seeking to make money.
- “To pun is to treat homonyms as synonyms” -Walter Redfern
- Homographic puns — So, what’s a homograph? Words that are spelled the same but have different meanings. This means a homographic pun is one that plays with the ambiguities that come with a word that looks the same but means something different. These puns often rely heavily on reading them rather than hearing them as well as someone having the context of knowing the multiple definitions of the word. That’s why these puns can often be crowd pleasers or a hit and miss based on delivery. For example: “Something is fishy about that bass player.” This is playing on the multiple meanings of the word “bass,” one being an instrument and the other being a fish.
- Compounded pun — If I were to go as a “Cereal Killer” for Halloween and cover myself with fake blood and cereal boxes. I am compounding the connotations of hearing “cereal” vs. “serial.” These, unlike the homographic pun, require sounds usually or saying the pun allowed to get it. That’s why you may be walking around the Halloween party like a nerd for a while getting strange looks until someone asks you “What are you supposed to be?” and you say “Cereal killer.”
- Recursive Puns — These are odd. They require a lot of context and knowledge about a subject which can again, make them a hit of miss kind of pun. These puns require thinking backwards and connecting two concepts together. The best example I can give that illustrates this is the following: “a Freudian slip is when you say one thing but mean your mother.” This first requires processing Freudian Slip, then making the connection between Freud, mothers, and eventually an Oedipus Complex.
- Visual puns — They’re what they sound like. A pun picture. The best ones are the ones with no words at all because it’s almost like a puzzle to try and figure out what message is being said to you. You can test your skills with this visual puns quiz.
Subjects of puns
Puns about Food
- Nothing makes a meal more pleasant than pointing to a friend Tortellini and telling them their meal is going to be full of endless pastabilities.
Puns about Animals
- If you have a cat and haven’t taken the time to paws and take a meowment to admire their beauty, are they even your pet?
Puns on people’s names
- Never be afraid to thank your friend Allyson for being a good Pal-ison, or to tell your friend Will when there’s a Will there’s a way, or to tell your grandmother she has everything down Pat. They may roll their eyes at you or see your efforts to make puns out of their names as a form of endearment. Punning on people’s names also makes for great birthday cards and birthday gifts if you’re ever stuck on what to get someone.
Situations when puns are told
Puns as sassy comebacks
- Puns are the perfect sassy clap back method. Whether you are still stuck in 2005 and do so with A Yo Mamma Joke, whether found in the lyrics of a clever rapper, or just a really juicy situation where you seize your opPUNtunity.
- Fun example of a time I got roasted by a pun: I was eating in the dining hall and told one of many puns throughout the meal. A friend replied “Do you wear headbands because all your puns are a stretch?” Ouch. Had to put some Aloe Vera on that burn.
Pretending like you’re telling a long, important story and it all ending with a pun
- “There was once this second-rate orchestra led by a second-rate director.
Of course, the police came and arrested him and eventually the conductor ended up on death row. The day came when he was sent to the electric chair. As the crowd watched, the executionist flipped the switch … but nothing happened. Everyone wondered what when wrong.
But the director knew. Saddened by all that had taken place, he said, “I never was a very good … conductor!” ~ RIP to the time you just invested in that story ~
The Accidental Pun
- And we finally arrive at my all time favorite kinds of puns — the accidental pun! When someone makes a play on words without even thinking about it but then suddenly comes to the realization of what they’ve done and the most genuine, sincerest, purest of chortles exits their lips. What a glorious feeling to know you’ve accidentally made a pun.
Puns are diverse. Puns are interesting. Puns are heavily rooted in contextual, situation, and connotative messages. They are as cognitive as they are communicative. Most importantly though — they are a pretty clever and cool way to spice up any conversation for better or for worse (but let’s be real, always for better.)