A Run For Your Punny

Disclaimer: I’m a nerd.

6162923133_9fda6025fe

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.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

PUNching The Patriarchy

Last year while in the Truman Media Network newsroom — a fellow coworker told me about a conversation that happened in her linguistics class. They were analyzing language and gender and she told me her professor declared “men tend to make more puns than women.” She then told me she thought to herself “But Rachel Fechter exists.”

Flattered as I was that for a moment I was thought to have broken some sort of arbitrary gender role that men tell more puns than women — it got me thinking. Why is this?

I feel this misconception that only men can pun has come from the “dad joke” stereotypes. Lame, awkward, but lovable dads across the country have taken to puns as a valid form of comedy. And while we must always remember to acknowledge their puns — whether that be with a groan or a chuckle, let’s also remember that this group of men does not have a monopoly on telling puns.

I have seen many examples of empowered and confident women making puns as well as puns being used to promote feminist messages.

Take The Women’s March of January 2017. Women and men alike took to the streets of Washington D.C. as well as other cities across the nation showing their disdain for Donald Trump’s blatant sexism throughout his campaign and their ardent disapproval of him becoming the president of our country.

Puns during this march became a valid way to showcase quick and clever messages about the disdain of the current political climate. Here are some examples:

Unknown-1womens-march-2001566_960_720Women's_March_Washington,_DC_USA_41Unknown-2

Puns on Trump’s appearance, the accusations against him for sexual assault and his stances against women’s reproductive rights were all used to creatively protest and criticize. These punny messages are much more than dad jokes. These puns are freedom of speech at work. These puns were used to bring about change to a broken system that still puts women below men in many different sectors of life.

And how could I talk about The Women’s March, puns and feminism without mentioning the pussyhat?

The Pussyhat project was started by Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman, two women intending to go to the Women’s March in Washington DC that was planned shortly after the announcement of Donald Trump becoming the President of The United States.

Zweinman spoke on the project saying “The idea is both a play on pussyhat, pussycat, and also references the hot mic from the Access Hollywood video. It does reference Donald Trump and those comments, but it’s also so much more. It’s reappropriating the word ‘pussy’ in a positive way. It’s a pussyhat — one word. This is a project about women supporting women.”

The movement clearly sparked more than just a couple laughs about a cat pun. It empowered women across the country and across the globe.

Puns and feminism are also nothing new to society. While this Trump era politiCAT (heh heh) climate has brought on a lot more wordplay and outspoken outrage, there have been examples of feminist puns in media for centuries — just maybe a little less overt.

I’m sorry but I’m gonna have to shake things up again, and talk about Othello for a bit. Emilia, the wife of Iago — who is the main villain in the play — has a very feminist pun towards the end of the play. Emilia is about to reveal the evil plot of her husband to everyone when her very sexist and controlling husband tells her “Hold your peace” (Act V, Scene II, Line 230) to which Emilia replies ‘Twill out, ’twill out.—I peace? No, I will speak as liberal as the north” (Act V, Scene II, Lines 231-232.)

If you are not familiar with the play I will not to spoil too much but all I will say is that throughout the play Emilia has for the most part, though begrudgingly, submitted to her husband. However, in one of the final scenes she begins to develop a moral change that prompts her to stand up to him and the evil plots he has put in motion throughout the play.

The line “I will speak as liberal as the north,” to me is a subtle but very clever, feminist, and empowering pun. “The north” Emilia is referring to is where I believe the double meaning lies. The somewhat more obvious north she is talking about is likely Heaven, where she’d be truly free from oppressors in her life on Earth.

However, I’ve interpreted a second meaning with Emilia’s line. “The north” could also very much be talking about Northern Europe. Othello takes place in Venice, Italy — where women were treated both legally and socially as objects of their fathers and husbands. However, during the time of the Elizabethan Era — women, in slight ways, in places like England were experiencing small but still significant freedoms.

Don’t get me wrong — women were in no way equal to men. They still got accused of being witches if they spoke too freely about politics, social issues, or you know talked. 

However, during this time women did have more artistic freedoms to create paintings and writings, more affluent women had access to education and some women could serve as an heiress of property — especially if their family lacked male heirs.

In addition, while women could not act in the theatre, English women were some of the first women in Europe allowed to attend the theatre alone without the accompaniment of men. Stephen Greenblatt in The Norton Shakespeare explained this further.

“In Venice, there was a special gallery for courtesans, but socially respectable women would not have been permitted to attend plays, as they could in England,” Greenblatt said. “In London, not only could middle- and upper-class women go to the theater, but they could also wear masks and mingle freely with male spectators and women of ill repute.”

Greenbelt continued to elaborate on the freedoms of women in England.

“Foreign visitors were struck by their relative freedom, as shown, for example, by the fact that respectable women could venture unchaperoned into the streets and attend the theater,” Greenblatt said. “Single women, whether widowed or unmarried, could, if they were of full age, inherit and administer land, make a will, sign a contract.”

While this could be a stretch — I feel Emilia when she says “liberal as the north” could also be referring to the more radical feminist actions taking place in London and England as a whole that had not yet moved to Venice. And while her meaning is hidden in this vague sort of diction and wordplay, her intentions of standing up to the male counterpart who has oppressed her throughout the play are apparent.

Keeping all of this in mind, it seems fair to say puns are not just limited to dorky dads. Puns can and have for some time been used by bold and radical women to make bold and radical statements.

 

 

 

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.

FullSizeRender

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.