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.

 

 

 

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Punning For An Election

A common misconception is that puns and wordplay can only be used for humor, jokes, and informal settings. This is far from the case. Puns have been a useful — and in my opinion, effective — rhetorical strategy for decades, in particular, in political campaigning.

Take this past 2016 Presidential Election cycle for example. It was riddled with puns. I was a huge Bernie Sanders fan both for his altruistic efforts to help marginalized and neglected people in our society live decent lives but also, because I am pun trash, his campaigning slogans.

“Feel The Bern” was a genius slogan that I full-heartedly endorsed and supported. I had buttons. I had signs. I had t-shirts. I Bernt myself to a crisp.

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Feeling The Bern 

The puns in Bernie’s campaign, as well as his popularity that ensued in late 2015 and early 2016, grew even further with a newer, fresher pun added to his branding and his campaign as a carefree, spirited, social justice warrior. This was the bird that landed on Bernie’s podium while he was addressing the public at a rally.

On March 24, 2016 Bernie Sanders spoke in Portland, Oregon to a group of young supporters stating his plans to give every one of them the opportunity to go to college when a bird began flying around the venue of the rally. The audience began laughing and Bernie chuckled, when all of the sudden the bird landed on Bernie’s podium. The audience erupted with cheers and Bernie stopped mid sentence to look at the bird then stated “I think there may be some symbolism here.”

Oh Bernie, you had no idea.

Within hours a hashtag on Twitter #birdiesanders began to spread — or should I say Bern — like wildfire. From there the internet went insane. “Birdie Sanders” became an unintentionally branded pun in no time. There was buttons, shirts, graphics, photos, memes, social media posts, and videos in support of the “Birdie Sanders” brand plastered across the world wide web. Bernie’s campaign became even more pun-filled and the puns, while also a major source of entertainment also furthered Bernie’s campaign. The bird landing on Bernie’s podium symbolically for many represented Bernie’s approachability and perpetuated the ideals within Bernie’s rhetoric of helping those oppressed or ignored under society’s hegemony.

Bernie wasn’t the only one who used puns in that election cycle. They were everywhere.

Hillary Clinton deep into her election campaign began circulating “Love Trumps Hate” stickers, shirts, and other paraphernalia. She also went with an ironic, almost satirical, tangible “woman card” that people could purchase and carry around in support of her campaign. This was in response to her main adversary and now President — Donald Trump — accusing her of playing a metaphorical “woman card” in order to garner sympathy and empathy to get votes.

Democrats were also not the only ones to use puns in their campaigns.

Ted Cruz had a brief flirtation with puns with his “TrustTed” slogan making a pun off of the word trust and trying to create a connotative correlation between his name and the word “trust.”

Puns have also not been exclusive to national elections.

One of my favorite politicians who is a Missouri State Representative in my local voting district — Deb Lavender — also uses a pun in her branding. Some might say this doesn’t “count” as a pun but I think her branding is a wonderfully clever visual pun. All of Deb Lavender’s yard signs that she gives out during local election cycles are purple. Deb also can be found at political rallies and events often times wearing purple. While this is a subtle kind of pun, playing on the fact that her last name is a shade of purple, I think it’s still worth noting, and for me, totally worth relishing in and enjoying.

The usage of all of these puns in election campaigning have had common effects and impacts in that they have made the candidates come across as more relatable, approachable, and authentic. A pun has a way of breaking down walls put up between prominent politicians and the masses by taking a characteristic about a particular candidate, whether that be their name, something about their personality, or an aspect of their appearance and teasing it out into a short, witty, pun-induced brand.

The Pun Will Come Out Tomorrow

A typical day includes me walking around Truman’s campus, my bespectacled eyes with darkened circles underneath, my lanky body flowing like spaghetti noodles from class to class, adorned in a pun t-shirt, jeans, a pair of dusty and faded Converse, and a headband with a floral aesthetic I have attempted to make match my shirt and shoes. At college I’m often sleep deprived. I’m often stressed. I’m often busy. My mind is often in a thousand different places. But I’m also usually happily trudging through life anyway, because that’s what I do. As my dad has said before, I am “Fechter tough,” which basically means I keep smiling, I keep laughing, I keep punning, even when I’m in my darkest of hours. That’s all I can do sometimes.

For many of those who know me, puns come to mind as a defining characteristic of mine. I always mange to sprinkle them into everyday conversation, much to the chagrin of those friends and family members constantly around me.

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When you’re already booked for most of the semester! 

A typical meal may consist of me picking up a slice of pizza and asking “who wants a pizza me?” A typical trip back home usually includes me telling my cats how much I “pawsitively love them.” A typical day consists of someone complaining that they are tired and me saying,“Hi tired, I’m Rachel!”

The puns that come out of my mouth are constant and omnipresent. But puns have not always been such a big part of my life though.

My love for puns started in high school.

High school was when I silently and secretively battled my worst enemy; myself. During my sophomore year I began to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety that I often suppressed, denied, and ignored. I told myself this didn’t happen to happy people. I told myself I was happy.

These feelings went on for almost two years before I told anyone. My friends at school had no idea this was happening. My family didn’t know until much later. The feelings I had would come and go. Creep in at odd times. Suffocate my mind for hours then tease me with liberation.

I’d hold in these feelings all day at school and at home then late at night when I knew everyone was asleep, let tears silently trickle out of my eyes onto my pillow. I’d often turn to the internet to take my mind off these terrible thoughts on these terrible nights. Somewhere along the road I found puns, maybe in an article I read, or on a Facebook post, or carefully crafted inside a meme.

Though the rest of high school these negative thoughts plagued my mind, but I smiled through the pain and kept telling puns to myself and others. Making myself and other people laugh didn’t heal the problems I was dealing with, but they made the dark moments a little bit lighter, at least for a moment or two.

At my worst, when the anxiety and depression began to pick up and I had to ask my mom for help, I was still punning away.

While pulling my third all nighter in a row on a school night, battling my anxiety induced insomnia, I was able to take my mind off of how tired and panicked I felt the next day by make my friend Katie laugh with a pun. I said “Oh, whale” encouraging her to brush off a bad situation and holding up a picture of a whale. To this day, the whale pun is favorite of hers. You’re whalecome, Katie.

When some girls in my neighborhood decided to follow me, harass me, and make fun of the clothes I was wearing, I decided to take to my angsty poetry google drive folder and wrote something along the lines of “even though my Goodwill t-shirt was baggy and blue, I’m more sad and blue for you.”

When I wasn’t eating because food felt like a pointless chore in the mess of all my horrible thoughts, the next day I made a pun in the PE class I was forced to take while running laps during the dreaded Pacer Test thinking “exercise more like what-the-heck-cercise” chuckling to myself.

One day while I was at home sick because the new antidepressant I was taking made me feel like throwing up, I watched Shrek while bed ridden and typed “It’s not ogre until its ogre,” into my Twitter drafts, intending to post it later for all my friends to see.

After I was driving home from school one day in rush hour traffic and pondered how easy it would be to swerve into the oncoming lane, I came home and thought about how Manchester Road, sometimes harder to sift through than the Wal-Mart five dollar DVD bin, “drives me crazy” and relaxed my mouth into a small smile before the terrible thoughts of hating myself and hating life came back.

But I never swerved into the oncoming lane of traffic. I kept driving all the way home. I kept going. I kept punning.

During my senior year of high school I was getting help. I was taking anti-depressants that didn’t make me feel sick. I was seeing a counselor. I was talking to my mom more when I felt down. I  had a greater appreciation for the little moments, like the times at school where my friends and I sat in a circle on the dirty tile floor during lunch and talked about our days. I was sleeping better and sometimes not even having to take Melatonin to knock myself out for the night. I was eating like a human being again. The constant tension in my muscles occasionally relaxed. I felt okay.

Four years later, I’m still telling puns all the time. When my fellow Truman Media Network coworkers and I are sleep deprived and stressed on a Tuesday night at 4 a.m. putting the newspaper out for press, I’m usually the one to make a snarky comment about how we have a lot of “issues.” When a friend gets out of a tough exam I ask if they’re feeling “testy” to make them smile. In a tense argument between friends when drama ensues I’ll be the one to awkwardly interject “Why is everyone so salty?” pointing to the nearest spice rack to lighten the mood.

Now when the negative thoughts creep into my head, telling me I’m a worthless waste of space, I remind myself how many smiles I’ve put on people’s faces, strangers and loved ones alike, by telling, writing, and wearing puns. I think about this and I feel a little more alive, a little more grateful, a little more hopeful, and a little more happy. If I’m able to take something as simple as a play on words and brighten someone’s day with it, maybe someone who is plagued by the same terrible thoughts and feelings that captivated me for so long, I will keep punning.