Pun Of Your Business

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.

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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

 

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.

 

Concluding Thoughts 

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.)

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A Run For Your Punny

Disclaimer: I’m a nerd.

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Puns are nothing new to society, and certainly have a long, whimsical history of spicing up sentences and even entire languages.

According to John Pollock, author of the book “The Pun Also Rises” and winner of the O. Henry Pun-Off World Championship in 1995, the root of the word “pun” itself come from a language rich in puns — Sanskrit. Pollock says this language, dating back to seventh century B.C.E., was loaded with puns. One of the words in Sanskrit, “Pundit,” is a person who unpacks ambiguity. This is thought to potentially be the root for the word “pun.”

To add to this fascination — I remember sitting in a rigorous art history class my freshman year, listening to my professor talk about ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. She introduced the concept of a “rebus.

Just call be Rebus Mcentire.

I learned a rebus is a device that uses images to represent words or parts of words. These were popular in many ancient, picture bases languages like Egyptian hieroglyphs and Cuneiform as well as Japanese characters and later used as heraldic expression in the middle ages.

A rebus was essentially the first visual pun to ever enter language. The Japanese during the Edo Period used them as puzzles while ancient Egyptians used them for basic communication as well as the interpretation of dreams.

The best modern day example of a rebus I can give is one often used on game shows, especially those like Emogenius — a new game that came onto the Game Show Network scene, much to the chagrin of many older generations.

In addition to entire languages having heavily pun-based influences, puns have appeared in many historical texts, messages, and even political statements.

In Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey — that I oh-so-begrudgingly struggled through reading my freshman year on high school, the epic hero of the story, Odysseus, makes an iconic pun in the text.

In a scene of this story, Odysseus encounters a cyclops who wants to eat him. He tells the cyclops his name is “Outis,” which is Greek for “Nobody,” then proceeds to stab him in the eye. The cyclops shouts “Outis (a.k.a. nobody) is hurting me,” and his fellow cyclops friends figure he’s just going insane and decide to pray to the gods for his well being instead.

I have to admit, while this book turned my brain to mush, this is a level of pun game I can only hope to someday achieve.

Additionally, Founding Father Ben Franklin is quoted saying one of the most ionic puns of all time:

“We must all hang together or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

He used a pun to make a not so humorous but nonetheless important point about the necessity of unification during the Revolutionary War.

As I talked about in a previous blog the connections between puns and politics, there have been many historical US presidential elections that employed the usage of puns as well.

Franklin Pierce, for example, in the election of 1852 came up with a punny slogan for running for president. James K. Polk, who had earlier had a successful presidency in the eyes of the people was where Pierce drew his inspiration to win the election against Winfield Scott. The slogan Piece cleverly used, that no doubt helped him secure the presidency was “We Polked You in ’44, We Shall Pierce You in ‘52.”

Another not as lucky presidential candidate, Alf Landon, went up against Franklin Roosevelt in 1936 and also used puns to win over the public. Some of his slogans included “Land-On Washington,” and “Let’s Make It a Landon-Slide.” Pretty clever, but I guess not clever enough. Poor Alf only got 8 electoral votes.

The Victorians had their own puns they also liked to whip out every now in then when they took a break from all the opioids and cocaine. My favorite is a math pun that goes like this: “Why should the number 288 never be mentioned in company? Because it is two gross.”

Confused? Yeah, so was I. A “gross” is apparently a unit of 144. And now that I understand the pun, I’ve very impressed.

Authors in literature have also never been ones to shy away from puns. Geoffrey Chaucer is believed to have LITtered his Canterbury Tales with puns and was possibly the first to write a pun in the English language. Speaking of English puns, well, you already know my love for Shakespeare, so I’ll shakeSPARE you the details on that one. Even Mark Twain is believed to have said “Denial, ain’t just a river in Egypt.”

Puns. What a rich history. What a promising future. What a wonderful present. And yes, I mean an actual present. Please give all your friends pun shirts for upcoming gift giving holidays.