The Pit And The PUNdulum

As I’ve talked about before — there are no such things as bad puns but rather, poorly timed or poorly executed puns. Wordplay is inherently clever and smart, but it also needs to come with an ability to read social situations and properly insert a pun into those situations.

Any good punster knows there will always be those people who will inherently have to eye roll at your wordplay. But there is another obstacle we, as punsters, will encounter time and time again:

The failed pun.

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For whatever reason, whether it be inappropriately timed, poorly executed, lacking meaning or clarity, or the audience are just a bunch of emotionless robots — there will always be those times when you utter your pun and no one will laugh, appreciate, or even acknowledge it — leaving you to fester n your own uncomfy silence.

I have my own personal example of when this happened to me just a few short weeks ago.

There I was, riding in my roommate Paige’s van on our way to a Latin Catholic mass. I am not Catholic, Christian or religious at all for that matter but was going as a favor to Paige on her birthday, because she loves going to Latin mass and wanted to share her love for it with me.

The mass went pretty well. I resisted many urges to make jokes and pun, only one escaping when I pointed to the church benches in front of us and made a “pew pew” noise. That garnered some quiet chuckles.

Things took an awkward turn on the ride home from mass. Paige had given two of her Catholic friends from the Newman Center a ride back to Kirksville from the mass so in the van there was three Catholics, one Episcopal (who happened to be Nick, my Episco-PAL,) and me.

During a lull in the drive I stated “Would if Jesus was gay the whole time, and just saying ‘ah, men?'”

I chuckled to myself, as I always do when I tell a pun but noted the lack of noise from the rest of the car. No one was laughing but me. I felt like a buffoon sitting there giggling by myself, and also a little shame for potentially offending four Christians.

But I shook it off.

That’s all you can do as a constant pun making machine. Acknowledge the pun you just made was maybe not the most tasteful or tactful, remind yourself to be more consciously  and culturally aware next time, and move on to the next pun.

 

 

 

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Some Kind Of Punderful

While doing research for the blog this week I cam across a haterade drinker who was bashing puns and their effectiveness in advertising.

And let me just say — things got a little personal.

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Paul Suggett with The Balance while discussing puns in advertising says, “They’re tacky, they debase the product or service and they should be avoided at all costs.”

Wow.

And he kept going.

He went on to say, “A “good pun” is an oxymoron if ever there was one, and a book full of them will guarantee you a permanent place on the rejection pile. To be honest, you can do better. You should do better.”

WOW. 

Puns in advertising are nothing new. We’ve seen them employed many times before. Sometimes on purpose. Sometimes on accident. Sometimes done very well and other times done abhorrently wrong. Just like what I said two weeks ago — there is a time and place for a pun. But to say a pun never has a place in an ad and there’s no such thing as a good pun? Wrong.

Believe it or not, and you probably do because you’ve learned by now I am a huge pun loving nerd, I did some research on this for a class a couple semesters back and found a very interesting study that, well, disproves Suggett’s argument.

For an abstract I wrote in my Communication Theory class I analyzed the following article — “A Study of the Humor Aspect of English Puns: Views from the Relevance Theory

In this article, the author, Xiaoli Gan, argues puns effectively use the relevance theory, which is a social theory that says human beings pay attention to things more relevant to them rather than other things which are less relevant.

Gan goes on to say puns evoke humor and cause us to pay attention and ponder the unexpected and confusing words we have just heard. He also found in his research that puns result in extra mental processing which makes them strengthen a person’s memory. In other words, puns are more memorable because of their unique use of language and altering of our usual contextual perceptions.

And what advertiser doesn’t want someone to better remember their product or brand? Isn’t that kind of, the point?

Another interesting point Gan made about puns and advertising — he found in his research there were correlations between people having to think harder about a pun and how the longer a person had to think about a pun the funnier it was when that person finally figured it out. 

A good pun in an ad it seems — is one that’s clever and requires some thought to figure out — often times accomplished by a visual pun that may take and extra moment or two to process.

Suggett seems to suggestt (that is me trying to make a sad attempt at punning on this guy’s last name NOT a typo) that puns are never above a low caliber, base level humor — another argument I strongly disagree with.

Yes, a pun can sometimes be the simplest word play based off the lowest hanging fruit. And there is a time and place for those kind of puns (I say them all the time in my every day, non professional, lay person life.) But in advertising, journalism, public relations, and literature there are also higher level, thought provoking puns meant to not only entertain or catch the attention of an audience but also to make them think about and remember that certain pun and the subject matter, brand, or story that pun is trying to supplement and convey.

Puns have a place in advertising and can enhance a brand and engage with an audience like no other form of rhetoric can.

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The End.

 

 

 

Annotated Pun Playlist

In case you didn’t SPOT this earlier (hahaha…haha…ha) I made a pun playlist of Spotify! You can check it out here!

I also took the liberty of briefly explaining my reasoning behind each song choice. Happy listening and reading!

 

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1. If I Had $1,000,000 by Barenaked Ladies 

I chose this song to begin my playlis

t both for its light-hearted, fun, playful nature but also for the pun in the third verse: “If I had a million dollars, I’d buy you some art — a Picasso or a Garfunkel.” The Barenaked Ladies are making a comical pun on the name of Art Garfunkel from the famous folk due “Simon and Garfunkel.”

2. Amy, Amy, Amy by Amy Winehouse 

This song comes next for it’s bluesy and jazzy vibe as well as the pun in the second verse. The whole song revolves around Amy singing about herself and how thrown off she is by the beauty of a guy in front of her. She drives this point home with the line “My train of thought spins right off track.” She uses these cleverly placed words to show both the disorderly chaos of her mind “getting off track” whenever this man is around as well as planting an image in our minds of a train literally spinning off a train track. Well done, queen Amy and rest in peace.

3. Rikki Don’t Lose That Number by Steely Dan 

Okay, so this one requires having a bit of an open mind. Over the years there have been many interpretations about what this song is about. So keeping in mind what my personal interpretation is of this song, there is a very clever and powerful pun in this song. I believe “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” is about the narrator of the song who has given Rikki — a closeted gay man — his phone number and is encouraging him to call him and acknowledge his feelings for the narrator — presumably also a gay man. Keeping this interpretation in mind — there is a line in the first verse where the narrator speaking to Rikki says “I guess you kind of scared yourself, you turned wrong.” This to me is a pun on both Rikki making a mistake of not calling him back at first as well as “turning” in a sense that he briefly let his guard down and displayed his feelings toward another man before wanting to hide them again. This song to me is a beautiful narrative about encouraging a gay man to come out and be himself.

4. Rape Of The World by Tracy Chapman 

This is a beautiful song by my girl Tracy with the use of an extended metaphor throughout the song comparing the destruction of our environment to a woman being raped. Tracy has been known to make very socially and politically charged commentaries like this that are often times — sadly — still very much relevant today. She uses a bit of wordplay in this song with her usage of verbs. While talking about the earth as if it is being raped she says the earth has been “stripped,” “dumped on,” “poisoned,” and “beaten up.” All of these actions are ones we’d think of happening to someone getting raped but not to our own planet — drawing parallels to the destruction of our earth to a rape with the usage of wordplay.

5. Adam’s Song by Blink 182 

This song has made the list not even for the song itself or the band — Blink 182 — but rather for its album title. The title of the album this song came off of is called “Enema Of The State.” If you don’t know what an enema is, well I’ll let you google that on your own, but this is basically in a humorous and almost absurdist Blink 182 fashion making a play on word with the phrase “Enemy Of The State.” Why I chose Adam’s Song to add to the playlist is simply because I think it’s a beautiful, raw, emotional song that everyone should hear.

6. Chaining Day by J Cole 

The whole premise of this song is essentially a double meaning on the narrator of the song wearing a golden chain around his neck but also making parallels to the metaphorical chains still left on him as a black man in society. The phase “chaining day” in particular is very cleverly used because it is meant to highlight the narrator both celebrating success and wealth with a gold chain but also being forced to reflect on his ancestors being chained up as slaves and the systemic oppression that still exists today for black people in society.

7. Bet That I Will by Snow Tha Product 

Snow Tha Product — one of my favorite rappers because of her raw social critiques and the feminist empowerment in her words — drops a pun in this song while critiquing men’s unrealistic expectations of women’s bodies. She does this when she says “Only way imma kill it get a booty like Selena, heard she ate Pizza. Now I’m calling Dominos, Pizza Hut. My man cheesin. Said for some reason he like that I’m eatin. I’m pushing this weight. Now my weight kinda leavin. But stayin in places he like what he seein.” This is an example of Snow Tha Product using a pun about “cheese” both while talking about pizza and the man in her song smiling about her weight gain in all the “right places” further examining and calling out the unrealistic body expectations of women to be “thick” in certain places but be super skinny in others in order for men to find them attractive. Well done, Snow. You smash that patriarchy.

8. Two Presidents by YG Hootie and Kendrick Lamar 

This is a clever little gem. While Kendrick Lamar is a rather famous rapper not many I feel know this single he did with YG Hootie exists. This song contains a lot of clever allusions — the most obvious being a parallel to Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X being two of the most influential “presidents” in American history for black people. This song also has a very powerful pun. At the end of the chorus Hootie says “Rest in peace to my homie he got hit up with the K…K…K…” This, similar to J Cole’s use of the word chains is a pun looking to the past and also looking at the present. Hootie uses the phrase “KKK” both to talk about the deaths of black lives on account of the white terrorist group the Ku Klux Klan but also is using the letter “K” to refer to AK-47’s — guns that have been responsible for the deaths of many African American lives today due to under addressed gun violence issues in impoverished, inner-city communities. This song is very clever and powerful in its lyrics and worth a listen.

9. Power by Kanye West 

First, I’d just like to take a moment to point out that Kanye is a very punny guy! Most of his songs contain some sort of wordplay in them — some instances more clever and tasteful than others — but wordplay nonetheless. In this song in particular the punning is taken to a very clever and interesting level. In the chorus of this song he says “Stop tripping, I’m tripping off the power.” This is a pun both on “tripping” or turning off a power circuit as well as becoming more and more power hungry as he tries to rise up in society as a powerful figure in society challenging the hegemonic white men who rule most industries and instead speaking up as a black man. This is a great song with some awesome and yes, POWERful commentary on racial and socioeconomic inequalities in our society today.

10. Whole Lotta Love by Led Zeppelin 

“I’m gonna give you every inch of my love.” Think about it.

11. Californication by Red Hot Chili Peppers 

This punny title of this song and album is cleverly used to make a social critique on the exploitation of young people in Hollywood for their sex appeal that big name corporations can capitalize off of for profit. I also almost view this song as a warning to those who want to be famous as a way to say “fame is not all it’s cracked up to be.”

12. While My Guitar Gently Weeps – The Beatles 

How could I NOT include the Beatles on this list? Their band name is possibly the most famous musical pun in the history of musical puns. As far as my choice of song, again, similar to my rationale for Adam’s Song, this is just an underrated Beatles song I enjoy a lot and wanted to share with the public.

13. By Chance (You & I) by Jr Aquino 

This is an adorable little love song not many know exists. To make things even more adorable there is a pun in the second verse! The line “Are you tired cuz you’ve been on my mind running thousands or thousands of miles?” is making a pun on the word “running” as in physically running but also his thoughts running. wildly about this woman. I appreciate this song a lot because its lyrics are essentially a bunch of cheesy pick up lines throughout the entire thing with clever usages of word play as well as allusions.

14. Dental Care by Owl City 

This catchy and fun song is full of good vibes and puns. This song is basically a play-by-play of the narrator of the song going to the dentist. He makes puns about his experience by saying lines like “I’ve been to the dentist a thousand times so I know the drill,” and “When hygienists leave on long vacations that’s when dentists lose all their patents.” The first line playing on the word “drill” and the second playing on the words “patients” and “patience.” Adam Young also makes another pun later in the song worth noting where he says “Alcohol and golf don’t mix and that’s why I don’t drink and drive,” punning on the term “drive” used in golf. This is a warm-hearted song that accomplishes its goal of making its listeners smile with an abundance of puns.

15. Still Not A Player by Big Pun 

His name is Big Pun. I had to.

 

 

 

 

Here Comes The Pun

In a lot of way puns and wordplay are kind of like poetry. The artistic placement of a certain word in place of another to bring attention to that particular sentence has a very creative and aesthetic appeal to it. Music and song lyrics — in my humble oPUNion — can fulfill a similar purpose.

 

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I decided this week to do something a little different with this blog and get a little more creative, since we are talking about the creativity that goes into puns when placed in song lyrics. I made my own pun playlist featuring songs, artists, and album titles that have some sort of pun cleverly crafted inside them. Feel free to check out my pun playlist here. I also annotated/explained the selection of each song on the playlist here.

I’d now like to talk about my overall process when selecting songs for the pun playlist and some themes and commonalities I noticed when it comes to puns and music.

The easiest place to start when looking for puns in music was hip-hop and rap music. Rappers are constantly dropping puns in their music — sometimes to make a comedic insults or sexual references, but more often then not — to make a strong societal critique.

A common pun I kept noticing as I scrolled though my archives of hip hop music was puns on the word “chains.” The double meaning usually comes from rappers trying to make a parallel between black men as slaves being chained and sold as property to the modern day mass incarceration of black men in prisons, often for nonviolent drug crimes or due to under addressed socioeconomic inequalities in our society. Often in these lyrics rather than saying the protagonist of the song is in handcuffs the word “chains” is deliberately used instead to draw this parallel. The best example I have to this in my pun playlist is “Chaining Day” by JCole. This was a powerful pun not meant to be taken in jest at all but rather to think about how racism has persisted today and how we have a long and hard push for equality left before the systemic mistreatment of black people as well as other racial minorities ends.

Another commonality I noticed while studying hard rock, classic rock, and alternative rock genres of music was the usage of puns about, dare I say it, sex. While some are not so subtle double meanings referring to male and female genitals, often employed by our friends Led Zeppelin, other times they are used as a way to draw attention to corruption or misplaced values in society. The best example of the latter, a track I also feature on my pun playlist, is called Californication meant to bring forth the often hidden side of Hollywood where sex appeal is sold and capitalized on as well as young people exploited to sell their sex appeal and good looks or sex itself.

Overall, what I have seen transcend through all musical genres is the usage of puns to highlight a love for something or someone, an imperfection or flaw within a person — usually the singer/narrator — or as a humorous appeal.

Puns and music are like peanut butter and jelly, Oreos and milk, pickles and the trash can — they just go together.

I would encourage all of you today to go back and listen to your favorite bops because more than likely some of them have puns you’ve never overtly noticed but probably implicitly have loved for a long time.

After All Is Said And Punned

This will likely be my favorite blog post and possibly the most groan inducing. I offer you — the readers — my deepest PUNdolances.

If there’s two things I easily and effortlessly am passionate about — its puns and journalism.

There are people out there, in particular some of my newspaper colleges at The Index, who believe puns are unprofessional and don’t have a place in journalism. Now, I may be a little biased, but I could not disagree more with this notion more.

Puns and journalism is a certain kind of craft in itself in that the pun needs to fit and supplement the story, it needs to make sense and most importantly — it needs to be used at an appropriate time. Not every journalism story or headline should have a pun.

However, to make a sweeping statement that no puns should belong in the media is both a lost cause — because puns already show up in journalistic writing all.the.time. —but also potentially devaluing or cheapening a story by not allowing it to truly shine and grab the attention it needs and deserves by giving it a punny title.

In high school I wrote for my school’s yearbook where we constantly were looking for new and clever ways to produce innovative feature writing and design. Puns were the answer and I was often the one in charge of coming up with them. When a yearbook colleague needed a headline for that lacrosse story I’d be the one to hop on idioms.com and list off puns like “ReLAX,” “Stick with it,” “Laximum overdrive,” and “Lacrosse the universe.” My favorite pun of all time that we used was for an infographic about people at my high school with interesting hair styles called “Hairy Styles,” making a pun on the word hairstyle but also on Harry Styles from the group One Direction. That was back before each of the members went off in five directions.

But I’m not in high school anymore. I work for a college publication and the rules are apparently different. For the past three years every Editor-In-Chief working for the paper has said repeatedly “no puns in the paper.” As a lowly staff writer I complied. As the news editor last year — understanding a decent amount of my stories would not lend themselves well to puns — I complied. But this year — as features editor — I put my foot down. Well, I put my paw down:

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Paws, and take a look. 

This was a pun so eye catching, so witty, so hilarious, so fitting for the tone and style of the story that even our current Editor-In-Chief Seth could not refuse.

I hope if you as readers take away anything from this post today it’s that puns do have a place in journalism. That being said there is a time to use them and a time not to. If Timmy falls down a well — please, I beg of you — don’t make the headline “Well, well, well, what do we have here?”

But when you are trying to add some comic relief to a softer hitting story or attempting to draw attention and wit to a hard hitting piece — a pun can be a way to do that.

Never let people tell you that journalistic writing has to be boring, mechanical, and dull. Journalism is a beautiful story-telling art. It’s finding hidden nuggets and jewels of information that will inform and/or entertain the public.

By simply twisting around a word into a pun on a page, a journalist can captivate an audience and compel them to keep reading the words they have oh so carefully crafted in the form of an important message about the world around us.

 

 

 

Happiness Is A Warm Pun

My favorite part about telling a pun is not the act of coming up with and saying the pun itself, though that does give me much joy. My favorite part is the reactions I get from others after the pun is said. There are five reactions, archetypes if you will, that people fall under, no, fall punder, when they hear a pun.

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Halloween circa 2014

First, there are The Cheerleaders. These are the people who will always laugh at your puns, generally people you don’t know very well who haven’t been beaten down by your caustic punning away. They will encourage you to keep telling puns and often egg on your punning by sharing punny gifs and memes on your social media pages. These are the ones who will often give you pun paraphernalia as gifts for holidays and birthdays.The greatest cheerleader I ever had was my friend’s boyfriend. He met me once and insisted on exchanging phone numbers with me for the sole purpose that I text him puns. That was a hilarious, beautiful, slightly awkward and jarring task that I wholeheartedly took on.

Next, there is the Awkward Silence Squad. These are the people you encounter who will not understand your pun or find it to be too much of a stretch to make sense or even be called a pun. They may offer up a forced half laugh out of pity, but don’t be fooled; they were not drinking the pun Koolaid. It’s not that they dislike puns in general or dislike you. They simply did not get your pun. Maybe you made a King Henry VIII pun that you thought was Anne Boleyn but ended up being Anne BoleOUT. Maybe showing up to a pro Second Amendment rally wearing a bear suit and exercising your right to bear arms was seen by some as a little extra. Maybe your pun about spices was poorly thymed. Whatever the issue, your pun went unappreciated.

Then we come to The ComPUNtition. These are the people who also like to tell puns just like you. These people can be both blessings and curses in disguise. These pun enthusiasts can be blessings because you can pun back and forth with them for hours, volleying your best word play back and forth. They will always be there to validate and solidify your love for puns. However, this can backfire. When you tell puns as often as I do, it almost becomes your identity. You become the pun dealer who everyone comes to with all their pun pick me up’s. When someone else starts telling puns too it can make you feel like your puns are no longer number ones. I have felt this feeling before. I’ve had those moments when everyone is praising the other punster in the room and I’ve felt like chopped liver. While spreading the pun love and encouraging others to pun is always something I am for, once in a while I will feel a sense of envy for those who jumped on the pun first or whose puns garnered more laughs than mine. It’s petty, I know. But it can be discouraging feeling like no one cares about or wants to listen to your puns, that you are the pun has-been, or that someone else has word plays much wittier than yours. Of course the best cure to this setback is of course, to keep telling more puns.

Next comes the Fake News Gang. I say this in jest to make fun of our current Commander Cheeto but also because these people are often liars. They will groan and boo at your puns. They will tell you that pun you just made was terrible. But you know they secretly don’t mean it. They often cannot conceal the small and slight grin that spreads on their face. These may be my favorite group of people. Knowing my puns can potentially reach even the bitterest of curmudgeons and get a positive reaction out of them, no matter how much they might deny it, gives me purpose. It feels good to know I have possibly brightened the day of someone who probably hasn’t laughed in a while and is taking life a little to seriously.

 

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Meet my friend Nick, your typical member of the Fake News Gang. This was him reacting to a pun I told last spring. Don’t be fooled by his troubled exterior. He was pretty placid.

The last group are the Haterade Drinkers. These people are not to be confused with the Fake News Gang. These folks are the ones who will not only groan at your puns but will also try to silence them. They will tell you that punny headline you want to run on in the newspaper is not professional enough. They will tell you your pun t-shirts are childish. They will tell you that puns are the lowest form of comedy. Unlike the Fake News Gang, who just refuse to admit they enjoyed your pun but actually thought it was clever, this group will go to the end of the earth to get you to stop punning. But for all you pun enthusiasts out there combating a Haterade Drinker, tell them to switch to a new beverage, maybe some PUNch. Puns are a valid, creative, and artistic form of humor and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.