Saturday night I had dinner at the fusion Vietnamese restaurant Three Seasons in Palo Alto, sitting at the bar for a while with the owner, John Le Hung. He was having the wonderful pho that he added to the menu a while back (the Vietnamese soup that is classically slices of beef and rice noodles in a rich beef broth, with bean sprouts, basil leaves, lime juice, sriracha sauce, and hoisin sauce added at the last minute) and lapsed for a moment into puns on pho, which triggered a cascade of mental punning in me. Turns out that puns on pho abound, extravagantly.
[Personal digression. It was a warm night, and I was having one of my Three Seasons healthful meals: yellowtail sashimi with shredded radish and carrot, and shiso; pea sprouts sauteed with mushrooms; and brown rice. I’d been through a lot of pho in recent week, during the cold pouring rain, because it serves as one of my comfort foods, along with Japanese miso soup, minestrone, and of course chicken soup, the kosherer the better (Whoopee once / Whoopee twice / Whoopee chicken soup with rice), but on Saturday I was in a raw fish and barely cooked greens mood.]
[Linguistic digression, on the pronunciation of pho. In English, it’s just [fo], with an offglide on the vowel, but it Vietnamese the vowel is central [ə], with an offglide, so that the word is sometimes represented for English speakers as FUH. (The etymology seems to be from French feu, as in pot-au-feu.) Vietnamese has six tones (in the Northern dialects), and phở (as the word is spelled in the Vietnamese alphabet) has a dipping (rising-falling) tone, indicated by the hook above the vowel letter. But English speakers generally Anglicize the tones away.]
Back to pho puns. I started with “gives great pho sex” (food and sex, always a great combination; see, for example, the movie Tampopo) and worked on to “a phomo” (a Vietnamese gay man), and to less racy items, like “filmed in Vietnam, in pho-motion, by a pho-tographer”. Sunday at lunch, a friend offered the ethnically slurring “Vietnamese eat dogs — a pho paw” (which for him was a perfect pun, since he has the cot/caught merger, in favor of [a]; for me, it’s an imperfect pun, and possibly more entertaining for that).
But there’s a great wave of pho wordplay on the net, with sites devoted to puns. The site Gigabiting devoted a posting, “Gotta Go with the Pun: Pho shizzle” (alluding to go with the flow — or pho) to the subject, with a link to an LA Weekly collection “Just Pho Fun: Top Ten Phở Restaurant Names”:
9021Pho (Beverly Hills, CA) [my personal favorite]
Absolutely Pho-bulous (West Hollywood, CA)
Pho Bang (New York, NY)
Pho Show (Culver City, CA)
Pho King (San Diego, CA)
Pho Real (Charlotte, NC)
Pho Shizzle (Cambridge, ON)
Pho So Mo 1 (New York, NY)
What the Pho! (Bothell, WA)
Pho King was inevitable; there’s one in Oakland CA (638 International Boulevard), across the bay.
[There’s even Pho Finder, a searchable directory of more than 2,500 pho restaurants in the U.S., Canada, and Australia — most with non-punning names, of course. Top locations: Houston with 98, San Francisco with 78, Seattle with 74, San Jose with 58, New York with 55. I’m living in pho-land.]
Note the for/pho puns (Just Pho Fun, Pho Show, Pho Real, Pho Shizzle, to which we can add pho sure and more), which trade on the near-equivalence of r-ful and r-less pronunciations for many people, and the full equivalence of them for others.
Knock yourself out on the many other things you can find on the net: pho-menting revolution, rephomation, go pho it, whatever. But please don’t post more as comments here; it’s an almost endless vein of verbal play, and I certainly am not aspiring to be its recorder.