“...pun intended.”
November 19, 2018 1:12 PM   Subscribe

In Defense of Puns [The Paris Review] “Despite its bad reputation, punning is, in fact, among the highest displays of wit. Indeed, puns point to the essence of all true wit—the ability to hold in the mind two different ideas about the same thing at the same time. [...] The best puns have more to do with philosophy than with being funny. Playing with words is playing with ideas, and a likeness between two different terms suggests a likeness between their referents, too. Puns are therefore not mere linguistic coincidences but evidence and expression of a hidden connection—between mind and material, ideas and things, knowing and nomenclature. Puns are pins on the map tracing the path from word to world.”
posted by Fizz (65 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
 
I will defend puns to my dying breath, but some of the historical/biblical references in that article strike me as more about the linguistics of ancient languages than about deliberately toying with words. I'm no expert, though, so I could be wrong.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:22 PM on November 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


Also, I regret that I didn't make the slightest effort to include a pun in my last comment. Or this one, for that matter.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:25 PM on November 19, 2018 [8 favorites]




saying "pun intended!" is the ketchup-on-a-steak of humor. Don't do it!
posted by thelonius at 1:37 PM on November 19, 2018 [12 favorites]


Puns do not need tending. They are groan in nature.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:40 PM on November 19, 2018 [51 favorites]


But puns speak to my tender sensibilities!
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:43 PM on November 19, 2018 [5 favorites]


Steven Weisenburger calls "De Mille" the "most elaborately staged pun in all of GR. … Note that Pynchon has fashioned an entire narrative digression about illicit trading in furs, oarsmen in boats, fur–henchmen, and De Mille—all of it in order to launch this pun".

"For De Mille, young fur–henchmen can’t be rowing"

From Jokes and Puns in Gravity’s Rainbow
posted by chavenet at 1:45 PM on November 19, 2018 [5 favorites]


Every eleventh pun made me laugh.
But no pun in ten did.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:45 PM on November 19, 2018 [30 favorites]


I have a pun a day calendar and while they strain the definition of “pun” sometimes- I save the best ones to include in my letter to people in the card club. (How strained? I think the editor of this pun calendar got creamed in a divorce or something because have the “puns” aren’t puns but very stupid lawyer jokes. Those do not get saved for the card club thank you very much) I love good puns!
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 1:46 PM on November 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


"puns about German sausage are generally considered the worst."

Oh god that took me off-guard and now I'm dying
posted by rewil at 1:48 PM on November 19, 2018 [18 favorites]


I think the editor of this pun calendar got creamed in a divorce or something

I heard his wife got custardy
posted by Ned G at 1:49 PM on November 19, 2018 [29 favorites]


"You are Peter Dwayne, and upon this rock The Rock I will build my church", Jesus (wrestling fan)
posted by Quindar Beep at 1:51 PM on November 19, 2018 [6 favorites]


While my knowledge of the topic is shallow, it's been my understanding that anti-pun sentiment is more prevalent in Western cultures, and less so in more logographic languages.
posted by praemunire at 1:54 PM on November 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


I think the editor of this pun calendar got creamed in a divorce or something because have the “puns” aren’t puns but very stupid lawyer jokes.

Marvin Gaye made a whole album bitching about his ex-wife's lawyers, so I'll believe it
posted by thelonius at 1:54 PM on November 19, 2018 [4 favorites]


I like puns but I've never been able to completely understand the definition. This article actually confused me a bit more, but I'm still here for the excuse to have a thread full of puns.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 1:55 PM on November 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


While my knowledge of the topic is shallow, it's been my understanding that anti-pun sentiment is more prevalent in Western cultures, and less so in more logographic languages.

There's a reason they call it the Land Of The Rising Pun.
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:56 PM on November 19, 2018 [6 favorites]


I'm still here for the excuse to have a thread full of puns.

Opun season.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:57 PM on November 19, 2018 [9 favorites]


I'm aware of at least one long term relationship that was killed by relentless punning.

Also this.
posted by philip-random at 2:01 PM on November 19, 2018


Strings of puns and the ensuing mirth got me through some terrible months at a not very long ago job. Our team was divided as to whether they were good or evil; either way, funny.

I WILL BRAG about the time, during a string of cheese puns, I called something a feta ccompli.
posted by wellred at 2:22 PM on November 19, 2018 [16 favorites]


I'm aware of at least one long term relationship that was killed by relentless punning.

When it comes to relationships, an endless string of cheesy puns is no gouda.
posted by grumpybear69 at 2:27 PM on November 19, 2018 [10 favorites]


The best puns are one-offs that only work in that exact time and context.

Especially when the pun is delivered to someone who doesn't realize the pun even happened until a few beats too late.

You can deliver a pre-packaged pun but the impact is not the same. I think arguments against puns as humor are mostly triggered by forced setups like this. When they happen organically, they're the best.
posted by caution live frogs at 2:32 PM on November 19, 2018 [26 favorites]


I've been playing a lot of Warframe lately, so here's my contribution to the thread.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:35 PM on November 19, 2018


One of my first comments on MetaFilter, many years ago, was in a post about severed feet appearing in the Pacific Northwest. I proceeded to make every single foot pun I could come up with in a single go.

My wife threatens to send me to a punning competition in Florida, to which I told her I'd go to a nearby bakery and return with a lemon boomerangue pie.

And I must agree with caution live frogs:

I think arguments against puns as humor are mostly triggered by forced setups like this.

As one of the most ancient of puns goes, the beauty of the pun is in the oy! of the beholder.
posted by mephron at 2:37 PM on November 19, 2018 [5 favorites]


I fear that this thread will become punderous rather than moving along quiply.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:41 PM on November 19, 2018 [6 favorites]


I listen to the Bugle podcast just for the pun runs!
posted by Pendragon at 2:43 PM on November 19, 2018 [5 favorites]


The best puns are one-offs that only work in that exact time and context.

The most inveterate punner I ever knew had this problem. When he could either be patient or happen upon the right joke at just the right time, he had a real knack for a line that you'd catch the pun in about four seconds too late, whereupon it would detonate in your brain to grievous effect.

But a lot of the time he wouldn't have the patience or the restraint, and he'd end up so enthusiastic to make the pun that he'd lessen its impact by setting it up more contrivedly, or whatever.

In such cases you'd just roll your eyes. But when he really knocked one out of the park, it was so good you couldn't even groan.
posted by Sokka shot first at 2:49 PM on November 19, 2018 [5 favorites]


Pynchon

I always admired the Marquis de Sod landscaping company in Vineland
not to mention Deleuze and Guattari's Italian Wedding Fakebook
posted by thelonius at 3:08 PM on November 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


saying "pun intended!" is the ketchup-on-a-steak of humor. Don't do it!

There are only two acceptable expressions: "Pardon the pun" or "Pun not intended." All else is an inept corruption.
posted by zardoz at 3:13 PM on November 19, 2018


That's your opunion.
posted by Greg_Ace at 3:16 PM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


> You can deliver a pre-packaged pun but the impact is not the same. I think arguments against puns as humor are mostly triggered by forced setups like this. When they happen organically, they're the best.

Checks out, mate. Sick to hell of it.
posted by Arson Lupine at 3:16 PM on November 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


"some of the historical/biblical references in that article strike me as more about the linguistics of ancient languages than about deliberately toying with words. "

Jerome aside, the Bible ones are definitely puns. The Hebrew Bible in particular is CHOCK FULL of wordplay and puns. Especially penis-related wordplay and puns. You read through your fully annotated New Oxford NRSV and you'll be shocked how often a word that is not penis means penis in context and turns a verse into a terrible pun about dicks.

Puns can even help us figure how people in the Bible earned money, such as Pharoah's daughter, who went down to the river and pulled out a little prophet.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:23 PM on November 19, 2018 [15 favorites]


From the article: and, sadly, we can also reach our wit’s end.

This happens to me often - as many of you here can attest, since I frequently test everyone's wits with my comments.
posted by Greg_Ace at 3:26 PM on November 19, 2018


The coining of the term famillionaire is a vivid example of “the peculiar process of condensation and fusion” Freud believed characterized puns in particular and wit in general. In condensing famillionaire from familiar and millionaire, Heine fused two definitions into a new double meaning, a meaning all the more striking for having been distilled from such disparate sources. The combination makes two things seen together seem quite strange that are, when regarded apart, seen as quite commonplace.

*files under "PortmantNO"*
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 3:48 PM on November 19, 2018 [5 favorites]


One of my favourites was when a mate at work's name had been misspelt on a list and corrected.
He was forever after know as "that well known tip-ex error"!
posted by Burn_IT at 3:54 PM on November 19, 2018


I’m just gonna say it, I hate puns. I hate puns because men miss them far too often, because as a woman I apparently can’t be funny or clever. Or if its a play on words, they’re quick to correct in incorrect grammar/usage/etc without seeing that there is a joke there. Then you’re stuck explaining it, and the best I can do is just give up.

I am sorry to bring up gender bias, again, because I know we’re all sick of it. But damn it, I’ve had some really great puns just completely lost to a male audience and it is disheartening.

Because to recognize a good pun, you have to be listening, and listening to context as well. And far too often, that’s too much to ask.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 4:00 PM on November 19, 2018 [22 favorites]


Puns? Sometimes they're bad, but sometimes...they're simply rewording.
posted by Ouverture at 4:24 PM on November 19, 2018 [6 favorites]


saying "pun intended!" is the ketchup-on-a-steak of humor. Don't do it!

So you're saying it's a mis-steak?
posted by Quackles at 4:56 PM on November 19, 2018 [7 favorites]


So you're saying it's a mis-steak?

More like paying yourself a condiment?
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 5:10 PM on November 19, 2018 [9 favorites]


Contrived puns, especially the long ones ending in "better Nate than lever", "Sam Clam's Disco", "silly rabbi", etc. -- well, if you like them, that's fine. But if I hear the opening line I'm already figuring out how to politely sneak away.

Spur of the moment puns, the timely, witty bons mots based on the current situation, are IMO a different phylum, and even the terrible ones can be great.
posted by kurumi at 6:28 PM on November 19, 2018 [6 favorites]


Phylum? I barely even categorized 'em!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:36 PM on November 19, 2018 [11 favorites]


Phylum? No, I think they're sufficiently sharp already.
posted by X4ster at 6:39 PM on November 19, 2018 [8 favorites]


The best puns are one-offs that only work in that exact time and context.

I had one of those last spring. It was Easter weekend, and payday, so a friend and I decided to go shopping and then have dinner after we wrapped up at work. There’s a local outlet store that she frequently shops at, though I don’t get there very much. We walk in and she says, “I need shoes,” so we head to the shoes. I’m looking at the boots and I happen to see a *gorgeous* pair of ankle boots with a familiar-looking logo, I pick them up and yes, they’re Frye boots! For $110! In my size! This is a brand where boots normally go for $350-500 a pair, and this store is not typically very high-end, so that is a find. I try them on and they actually fit, then walk over to my friend and we marvel over my good fortune.

I went back to the aisle for my shoe size to see if I could find a pair of tall boots, which seemed like pushing my luck, but what the hell. Sure enough, I found a gorgeous pair of tall Frye boots, in my size, for $120. I try those on and while one zipper is a little stubborn, they fit even better than the short ones. I add those to my basket and then connect back with my friend. We move on to the clothing section and she finds a few more items, whereas my luck had been exhausted in the shoe department. But I didn’t care. Two pairs of Frye boots for $230. I couldn’t even believe it until I got all the way through checkout without someone telling me that they’d been marked at the wrong price or something. But nope...they were mine. Unbelievable deal.

It was a good Frye day.
posted by Autumnheart at 6:49 PM on November 19, 2018 [12 favorites]


I had a similar thing happen, but mine was a shaggy Ugg story.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 7:13 PM on November 19, 2018 [7 favorites]


Comparing puns to philosophy is less a defense of puns and more an indictment of philosophy.
posted by runcibleshaw at 7:48 PM on November 19, 2018 [5 favorites]


Insert-clever-name-here, I hear you. I can't change anyone else, but I, for one, can welcome you and all our up-and-coming female (and non-binary/other) punster overlords. We need all the levity we can get.
posted by zaixfeep at 7:59 PM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


We need all the levity we can get.

Indeed - if you can't beat 'em, healium! How else will we elevate ourselves above our current state?
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:22 PM on November 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


Puns are critical for accurate communication. For instance, there is a local portable commode rental company named European Toilets. I would hire them in a second. Not just because they have clearly stated Continental standards of cleanliness, but also because I know they are my kind of people.
posted by q*ben at 9:05 PM on November 19, 2018 [4 favorites]


I had a friend who was an inveterate punster. Most were eyeroll funny, some were groan funny, and some were so silly I'd dissolve into fits of giggles. I myself, however, am not good at them. Except once. Watching TV, and boyfriend reading/watching halfway. He looks up to see the leads standing in front of a circular window, and say, where are they now? Without missing a beat, I say "they're in his orifice." He groans. I fall over laughing. And the memory still elicits a smile.
posted by MovableBookLady at 9:28 PM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


there is a local portable commode rental company named European Toilets. I would hire them in a second.

That's a very efficient elimination of the stream of other contenders.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:49 PM on November 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


Puns are a practical innovation for constructing poems in the notoriously brief classical Japanese forms, like waka and haiku. The idea is that you center the poem around a "pivot word" (kakekotoba) with two possible meanings, so not only is your poem enriched artistically by the combination of both interpretations, but it saves your poem however many syllables are in the pivot word. The canonical example is the word "matsu" in this poem from the Kokin Wakashu:

aki no no ni
hito matsu mushi no
koe su nari
ware ka to yukite
iza toburawan


in an autumn field
pine crickets' awaiting
voices I hear
and go thinking, for me?
well then, let's have a visit!

"Matsumushi", which literally means "pine cricket", have a strong seasonal association with autumn, so, taken together with the "autumn field", the imagery is intensified by association with the reader's own experience listening to the matsumushi cry on an autumn night. But "matsu" also means "wait", or conveniently "pine", so we hear pine crickets' voices pine awaiting, and cannot resist wondering if perhaps these crickets pine "for me". The last line of the poem is joyful surrender to the pure potential of the pun, running into the night to chase pine crickets for no better reason than because they have "pine" in the name, and therefore they "pine", perhaps even for me.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 10:37 PM on November 19, 2018 [13 favorites]


I'm surprised someone wrote a piece about this, my affinity for puns has long been considered intractable.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 11:44 PM on November 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


[insert clever name here]: "Or if its a play on words, they’re quick to correct in incorrect grammar/usage/etc without seeing that there is a joke there."

This is also true if you are working in a second language; native speakers invariably think you've made a mistake, rather than a joke.
posted by chavenet at 12:47 AM on November 20, 2018 [5 favorites]


I am very lucky that my two brothers share my love of puns (unlike a potential swain who told me he was puny in response to my ad looking for punny pals, a bit like the guy who called me Miss Electric after identifying as eccentric) and my favourite bi-lingual pun was when Bro 2 said "it has a little je ne sais quoi", Bro 1 asked "what did he mean" and I said "he doesn't know."
posted by b33j at 1:19 AM on November 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


This is probably my confirmation bias showing, but I generally don't like puns because a.) most people don't know how to use them (or worse, what they even are), and b.) every person I've met who described himself (and they're always men) as some variation of "an inveterate punster" has been an excruciatingly unbearable dick.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 1:50 AM on November 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


This is also true if you are working in a second language; native speakers invariably think you've made a mistake, rather than a joke.

This is my FAVORITE part of speaking several languages. The best is of course French, in which I have a better vocabulary than a lot of French people (allez-y, cherchez-moi et vous me trouverez), but am juuuust still non-native (and woman lol) enough that it can come across as a mistake... except it's obvious you have to have understood the language to make the mistake which means it likely wasn't a mistake, and so people will sit there like, "was that a mistake oh wait no well then if not ohhhh wait BAHAHAHAHA."

Like this morning I accidentally dropped my cheap umbrella onto the train tracks in the rush. Thankfully it didn't end up lying across the tracks. On peut dire que je n'étais pas bien sur les rails ce matin.
posted by fraula at 1:52 AM on November 20, 2018 [6 favorites]


Clinging to the Wreckage: I like puns but I've never been able to completely understand the definition. This article actually confused me a bit more, but I'm still here for the excuse to have a thread full of puns.

There were parts of it where he was claiming all kinds of word play were puns, that don't fit my understanding of what puns are. Like in the Fool's speech in King Lear, Shakespeare's not so much punning as playing with different meanings. In each sentence the word "crown" clearly only has one meaning. That said, I know people have various definitions of "pun", but the kind of pun people object to are the sort that play on homophones. You know, a greeting card with a picture of a garden gnome under oak and the caption: Tree-t yours-elf!
posted by Kattullus at 3:30 AM on November 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


This is also true if you are working in a second language; native speakers invariably think you've made a mistake, rather than a joke.

Stick with dead languages, e.g. All of U2's road team work pro bono
posted by BWA at 7:02 AM on November 20, 2018 [6 favorites]


Despite their bad reputation, knock knock jokes are, in fact, among the highest displays of wit. Indeed, knock knock jokes point to the essence of all true wit - the ability to welcome the unknown stranger knocking at the door with a clever remark that reveals an understanding of the deeper nature of their character. The best knock knock jokes have more to do with philosophy than with being funny. Playing with words is playing with ideas, and a good knock knock joke captures the exuberance of living in nature by pointing out the absurdity of confusing words with their referents. Knock knock jokes are therefore not mere setup and punchline, but evidence and expression of a hidden reality - that the things which knock on our metaphorical doors each day may not be exactly as they first appear, that the nomenclature we apply to them can resonate with other aspects of our intertwined existences. Knock knock jokes are pins on the map tracing the path from knock to knowing.
posted by sfenders at 8:31 AM on November 20, 2018 [4 favorites]


"For instance, there is a local portable commode rental company named European Toilets."

My parents get their chimney cleaned by a company called "Ash Wipes."

BECAUSE WHO WOULDN'T?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:56 AM on November 20, 2018 [4 favorites]


So you're saying it's a mis-steak?

Ah, a steak pun. That's a rare medium, well done.
posted by halftone at 10:33 AM on November 20, 2018 [7 favorites]


"For instance, there is a local portable commode rental company named European Toilets."

My parents get their chimney cleaned by a company called "Ash Wipes."


I saw a truck from a worker-safety equipment company once that had printed on the back "Gravity is the law. It's our job to arrest you."

I really appreciated that someone in a position of authority approved that. Most of the places I've worked would have rejected a marketing message like that and given a demerit to the person who proposed it.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 12:58 PM on November 20, 2018 [7 favorites]


I once convinced a local design company to use the tagline "Only our pencils are number 2."
posted by me3dia at 8:02 PM on November 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


Damn it... Okay, I give up:

caution live frogs: The best puns are one-offs that only work in that exact time and context.
Especially when the pun is delivered to someone who doesn't realize the pun even happened until a few beats too late.
You can deliver a pre-packaged pun but the impact is not the same. I think arguments against puns as humor are mostly triggered by forced setups like this. When they happen organically, they're the best.


Someone help? What am I missing?
posted by RedOrGreen at 1:46 PM on November 21, 2018


Nothing really, they were just puntificating.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:20 PM on November 21, 2018 [4 favorites]


My parents get their chimney cleaned by a company called "Ash Wipes."

The co-founder of Ash Wipe Chimney Sweeps discusses the name and his trade.
posted by kgander at 11:07 AM on November 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


« Older Surface Microbials in the Atacama   |   Carbon Coffee Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments