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.

 

 

 

 

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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.