One morning, I emailed Colleen Joyce, Publishing Solutions Group’s senior project manager, a list of nearly a dozen puns. I hoped that they would make her laugh, but sadly, no pun in ten did.
I can already picture her reaction as she reads the opening lines of this blog post: eyes rolling, head shaking and groan internal, because she knows that any reaction, negative or positive, is indicative of a successful pun.
Here at PSG, we are all passionate about language, but in different ways. Some of us love that language is alive and growing, with new words and definitions being added to the dictionary each year. Others figuratively cried when they saw some dictionaries added an additional definition for literally as “in effect; virtually.” With puns, some of us love creating them by playing with language in clever ways, while others find them tiresome and punnecessary.
I plant myself firmly in the pun-loving camp. Whether it’s a quick quip (I hate Russian dolls, they’re so full of themselves), a pictorial pun (the “take one” pun sign in PSG’s kitchen that reads, “These are tearable puns.”) or an unintentional utterance (“Did you get your windshield fixed yet?” “Yes, and what a pain.”), I always chuckle. Others have a much different reaction, leading the Atlantic to ask, “Why Do Puns Make People Groan?”
In the article, Julie Beck notes her love of wordplay and bemoans that, while she wants to have fun, others would “rather have no pun at all.” These “all work, no pun” folks have been around for centuries; over a century ago, it was said that “to trifle with the vocabulary which is the vehicle of social intercourse is to tamper with the currency of human intelligence.”
Jo Firestone is “a pun-sulting producer for the Punderdome, a monthly pun competition in Brooklyn, hosted by her father, Fred.” Despite being a pun lover, she understands why they are considered the “annoying younger brother or sister of the comedy world.” While other types of comedy serve to speak “a truth about life” or portray things the audience can “connect with emotionally,” Firestone notes that a pun is seen by some as “a totally frivolous unnecessary thing to say.”
On the other hand, Peter McGraw, founder of the Humor Research Lab at the University of Colorado, Boulder, describes creating puns as “a demonstration of wit, of cleverness. You’re relying on a person’s ability to parse language, to understand the nuances and complexities of word.” John Pollock, author of The Pun Also Rises, notes that, “for most of Western history, puns were the sign of high intellect.”
Love them or hate them, puns are here to say. They are on Twitter, in the names of Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream flavors, on Publishing Solutions Group’s marketing materials and, if you’re Colleen, being shared gleefully by the colleague sitting to your right.
Did You Know?
Shakespeare was known for including puns in his plays and sonnets. It can be tricky for students to pick up on these since the pronunciation and meaning of some of these words are different in modern English.