The Commencement pun crop

Another crop of wordplay from Don Piraro:

These Sunday Punnies — note pun on Sunday funnies — are a regular feature of the Bizarro strip; I posted a while back on an earlier assortment (#3). Both are sets of three. In order:

(1) a playmanteau (Chia pet cemetery, Chia pet + pet cemetery, in #3, mantrapreneur, mantra + entrepreneur, in #7);

(2) an imperfect pun (academia for macadamia in #3, Sympathy for Symphony in #7);

and (3) a perfect pun (feet ‘certain body-parts’ for feet ‘certain measure units of length’ in #3, fly fishermen ‘fishermen who are flies [insects]’ for fly fishermen ‘men who fish with flies [lures]’ in #7).

So Piraro mixes what we might think of as “puns proper” (turning on phonological relationships between different expressions) in with other sorts of word play, here portmanteaus.  This isn’t unusual in popular treatments of puns (in a broad sense).

Two collections of puns in this broader sense have recently come across my desk (though neither is especially recent): Robert Margolin’s The Little Pun Book (Peter Pauper Press, 1960) and Simon Drew’s Spot the Author: Uninterrupted Nonsense by Simon Drew (Antique Collectors’ Club, 2003). [There are many other such collections, for instance John Crosbie’s Crosbie’s Dictionary of Puns (Harmony Books, 1977) and Michael Monnot’s Selling America: Puns, Language, and Advertising (University Press of America, 1981); puns appear all over the place in collections of verbal humor; and Simon Drew has perpetrated a long string of wonderful puns, in his many engagingly illustrated little books. Drew’s paronomasiac inclinations can be seen just from the titles of some of these books: Still Warthogs Run Deep (1988), Cat with Piano Tuna (1990), The Duck Stops Here (1998), for example.] Sprinkled in with the puns proper in such sources are portmanteaus — Drew 2003 has herbaceous border collie (a phrasal overlap portmanteau) — and exchanges/interchanges of the Spooneristic variety — Margolin has “a woman is only a build in a girdled cage” (I’m not responsible for the content).

Most of the examples are puns proper, and most of those turn on segmental relationships — ranging from identity, in the case of perfect puns, to hilariously distant relationships, which require some considerable set-up, as in “with fronds like these, who needs anemones?” (from Crosbie, cited by Zwicky & Zwicky in the article linked to above) — though a few are of the word division variety, as in grey plover / grape lover in Drew 2003.

Perfect puns are, of course, ambiguities exploited for humorous purposes, while imperfect puns (the labels “perfect” and “imperfect” aren’t intended to convey any value judgment, by the way) are like unintentional near-ambiguities (in eggcorns, other malapropisms, and mondegreens) but created intentionally with humorous intent.

A final kinship of puns, perfect and imperfect, is to rhymes, perfect and imperfect; see my old paper on half-rhyme in rock music, here.

As a bit of lagniappe, a note on a specific pun that has recently come up for discussion on the American Dialect Society mailing list, about this quote:

(Image from the Saturn Press in Swan’s Island ME.) As the epigraph to Alexandra Horowitz’s Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know (Simon and Schuster, 2009) cautiously puts it, the saying is “attributed to Groucho Marx”. The hounds of ADS-L were instantly onto the attribution issue. But first, a note on the ambiguity in “outside of a dog”.

Exceptive outside of ‘other than, apart/aside from’ requires of, while locational uses of outside (and inside as well) optionally have of. So outside of is potentially ambiguous, in a way that inside of is not.

[These matters have occasioned comment by usage advisers. From MWDEU pp. 702-3:

Bernstein 1965 sees nothing wrong with outside of as a synonym for outside, but a whole string of commentators from Bierce 1909 to Shaw 1987 do see something wrong.  The culprit is of, all two letters and one syllable of it.  Our evidence suggests that writers and speakers retain the of when it sounds right to them, and drop it when it does not.

MWDEU goes on with quotes from Faulkner (in his own voice), Safire, Leacock, Oliver North (in The Tower Commission Report), James Sledd, etc.

Garner’s Modern American Usage (Oxford Univ. Press, 2003) is tougher: on p. 582 it just stipulates that “outside of is inferior to outside” (GMAU doesn’t mention inside of), and it deprecates outside of with the sense of apart from or aside from, which he recommends instead.]

As for attribution of the “outside of a dog” quote, things on ADS-L seem to have come to a tentative conclusion with 4/30/10 postings by Garson O’Toole, who noted that the Yale Book of Quotations has a version attributed to Groucho Marx in the Washington Post in 1989, and then found earlier attributions to Marx, in particular:

… the Los Angeles Times dated 1974 January 28 has a review by Jack Smith titled “A Fascinating Play on Words”. The review seems to be for the “Word Show” production mentioned in “The Art Museum as Educator” book. The review contains the dog joke and attributes it to Groucho… The excerpt below is from a Google News archive search and the LA Times synopsis:

I drove up to Barnsdall Park the other afternoon for a look at what the Junior Arts Center calls its Word Show–An Experience in the Possibilities of Language. …

… Outside of a dog a book is man’s best friend because inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.

9 Responses to “The Commencement pun crop”

  1. arnoldzwicky Says:

    Addendum (the posting was getting kind of long and rambling, and anyway I had to stop posting and sprint — well, walk briskly — to Stanford for our department’s graduation ceremony), about a complexity that dogs discussions of puns (and portmanteaus and transpositions) in English, thanks to the intricacies of phonology-orthography relationships in English: the matching of elements can be phonological (as in my discussion above), or orthographic, or some of each, or both. And of course matches that are perfect in some varieties — for instance, tuner and tuna in Drew’s British English — are only approximations in others.

  2. arnoldzwicky Says:

    The hounds of ADS-L have continued on the track of the dog, pushing things back Before Groucho. From John Baker on June 13:

    Google Books has an earlier example of this, in full text, from Boys’ Life, p. 78 (Feb. 1954). It’s on the magazine’s Think and Grin page, which appears to be a collection of jokes sent in by readers (though I don’t see a specific invitation to readers to contribute). The quip is in more or less the canonical form:

    A book is man’s best friend outside of a dog, and inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.–Jim Brewer, Cleveland, O.

    If, as I suppose, this was submitted by one of the magazine’s juvenile readers (presumably Jim Brewer of Cleveland), then it is likely that he heard it elsewhere, rather than making it up. Be that as it may, Boys’ Life had a large circulation and is a plausible avenue for the phrase’s initial popularization.

    Garson O’Toole then provided this link to the Boys’ Life letter.

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