As a longtime employee at PSG, I harbored a deep, dark secret—one I kept from all my pun-loving (get it?) coworkers: I hate puns. I’m not usually one to withhold my opinions (Prefer cats? No way; dogs are superior in every way.), but I’m embarrassed to admit I felt intimidated by the overwhelming adoration of all things pun by literally every other staff member in the office, especially Annette Cinelli Trossello, senior editor and fellow project manager. I would find myself fake laughing as puns were offered up in workplace banter instead of groaning like I really wanted to. One day, I was feeling a little brave and mentioned my actual disdain for the pun to a couple of coworkers—and then was promptly outed the next day at our staff meeting. I’m pretty sure Annette will never let me live it down. The truth is, I feel better now that my secret has been exposed. Yes, I have to endure the (mostly) harmless badgering of some coworkers for my former secret, but at least now I’m free to roll my eyes when those puns get trotted out at meetings.
Puns are polarizing. Supporters find them clever and a welcome addition to a conversation. Detractors find them silly and an abrupt end to a conversation. There are really only two possible responses to a pun: “Ha, ha, I like what you’ve done there,” or (the correct), “Please, stop.” Either way, the conversation has come to a screeching halt. Charlie Hopper, contributor to McSweeney’s, hits on one reason why puns are so bad: “The pun is not your friend. The pun fools you into thinking you’ve had an idea. It pesters and woos you . . . by making you feel clever.” Kind of reminds me of the people who love puns. Why are they so desperate to prove they are funny? The internet is littered with sites claiming to offer “amusing” puns that even pun-haters will get a chuckle from. But, so far, I haven’t found a single one funny—just groan-worthy. Hopper also notes, “A pun is rarely funny.” Clearly, I agree.
John Pollack, author of The Pun Also Rises (Guess which side of the argument he comes down on? There are even more puns in his subtitle—I’ll spare you.), would have you believe that pun-haters find puns “threatening because [they] reveal the arbitrariness of meaning, and the layers of nuance that can be packed onto a single word.” He thinks, “people who dislike puns tend to be people who seek a level of control that doesn’t exist.” This need for control in such situations may be nothing new, as it was once said over a century ago that “to trifle with the vocabulary which is the vehicle of social intercourse is to tamper with the currency of human intelligence. He who would violate the sanctities of his mother tongue would invade the recesses of the paternal till without remorse. . . . ”
I won’t comment on my control-freak nature or my attachment to the correct use of the English language, but these arguments are missing the main point that puns are intended to be funny, but aren’t. Case closed.
Did You Know?
Lest you think me lonely and friendless toiling away in the offices of PSG as the only pun-hater on staff, after a brief adjustment period, I am slowly gaining acceptance even with my minority viewpoint. Frequent pun-cracker Annette and I have agreed to disagree—vehemently.