The ‚Art‘ of Punning.

Posted on: 28. Oktober 2009

There are those that would argue that the pun is the lowest form of linguistic humor (or any humor), and then there are those that love the pun – the execution, the set-up, everything. I for one am somewhere in the middle – bad puns make me groan, good puns are so unnoticable that I have to listen to the sentence twice to get it.

A bit of introduction is in order, I think: a pun is a play on words, more accurately a play on similar-sounding words. Let me give you an example:

„Eww, that chicken is bad! It’s decidedly fowl!“

I have to apologize for what I deem a cringe-worthy pun; you never come up with a good one on command. But that’s how it works: you want to say something, and just while you are in the process of arranging the sentence, you realize that the word sounds similar to another that could be used in a humorous context. Either your humor is really good and people will enjoy the pun, or you are like me and your „spontaneous puns“ are more akin to the one I did earlier – hardly palatable.

Puns have been around for longer than anyone cares to admit – Shakespeare has punned so often and so cunningly that people nowadays don’t even realize that a colorful description of a tree might in fact just be an euphemistic pun on another phallic organ. A pun works in many different ways; since, strictly speaking, a pun is just a wordplay that focuses on how a word is pronounced, it is possible to change words to suit your punning needs. A good example would be the following (brazingly stolen from the corresponding Wikipedia article since I am afraid of what would happen should I try to pun again):

* „Immanuel doesn’t pun; he Kant.“ — Oscar Wilde
(Kant: play on „can’t“, in the name of philosopher Immanuel Kant)

The last name of Immanuel Kant is usually not pronounced the same way „can’t“ is, but for the sake of the pun, Wilde decided to pronounce the „can’t“ like „Kant“ – people would still get the joke.

Lastly, since puns are far from dry and scientific, here my favorite puns (as far as I can remember ;))

– A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion.
– Once you’ve seen one shopping center, you’ve seen a mall.
– Santa’s helpers are subordinate clauses.

That’s all I got, make sure to write me a few in the comments section!


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3 Antworten to "The ‚Art‘ of Punning."

Nice little selection there at the end! Sadly I don’t know any off by heart, but I could definitely recommend the characters of Keats and Chapman created by Flann O’Brien. There’s a paperback collection entitled „The Various Lives of Keats and Chapman“ though there may be other sources on the web I’m not aware of. Safe to say I think they would be just up your alley!

thanks for the recommendation, I will have a look 🙂

Nice insight in the art of cunning… I mean punning. <– This is what happens if I try to pun intentionally. So I'm with you in that matter. However, I enjoyed reading your article. You rarely get to read a light-weight, non-cautionary presentation of a stylistic device. I'm glad you focused on how a pun is made and where it originates from instead of the usual "you must use it as…" "it's commonly used for". Much appreciated here and it makes your article very pleasant to read.

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