From the puns desk

Three puns that have come to the puns desk at AZBlog Plaza recently (not that the staff lacks for puns), plus a new book on puns.

Another item from the mental_floss store (source of “Idioms are for the birds”, here). It depends on your knowing the advertising slogan “There’s no right way to eat a Reese’s” (the peanut butter cups).

There’s a very large class of puns that play on fixed expressions (idioms, catchphrases, quotations, titles, names, etc.) as models, and if you don’t know the model, you’re just baffled. If you don’t know about the Russian tsar Boris Godunov, or the Pushkin play about him, or the Mussorgsky opera, then for you the name of the Rocky and Bullwinkle villain Boris Badenov will only be a simple pun on bad enough, not the complex piece of word play that it is. And if you don’t know about the Hemingway novel The Sun Also Rises, then you’ll be puzzled by the title of John Pollack’s recent book on puns, The Pun Also Rises.

This one is from a Bad Puns website (link above) — “Jest for the pun of it” — that Victor Steinbok pointed me to a little while back. It’s a complex play on Silicon Valley, reinterpreted as Silicone Valley, and then broken into the parts silly and cone (with accompanying visuals). A bit labored, but silly enough to be entertaining to me, but then I live in Silicon Valley.

The pun here is in the title, “And he really memes it”.

Cultural memes are a Griffith/Dingburg preoccupation. See earlier strips on the subject, here and here.

Now to Pollack’s book, which has the subtitle:

How the humble pun revolutionized language, changed history, and made wordplay more than some antics

It’s a social history of puns, written with a light tone (though backed up by references to scholarship) and covering quite a broad range of wordplay and figures of speech related to puns (knock-knock jokes, Shaggy Dog stories, Spoonerisms, chiasmus, irony, and sarcasm, among other things).

(My own scholarly interest in puns goes back some decades. See, in particular, the 1986 article by me and Elizabeth Zwicky, “Imperfect puns, markedness, and phonological similarity: With fronds like these, who needs anemones?”, here. The article is based on a corpus of imperfect puns from advertising and jokes, with some playing on formulaic models — as in the subtitle of our article — and some not.)

6 Responses to “From the puns desk”

  1. Terry Collmann Says:

    It’s a punderful life.

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    Something to add: Pollack won the 1995 O. Henry Pun-Off World Championship — yes, there are contests — and describes the event engagingly in his book.

  3. Soft palettes « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] A subtlety: there are many English speakers for whom palette/pallet and palate are not homophones, though they’re very close: for these speakers, the unaccented vowel in the first words is higher than the corresponding vowel in the second word. For these speakers, the difference is notable in pairs like roses vs. Rosa’s; in near-rhymes like messes and Texas (Nobody messes with Texas); and in puns like the one in There’s no right way to eat a rhesus (punning on Reese’s, here). […]

  4. Burlesques, parodies, playful allusions « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] From the puns desk (link): on a large class of puns that play on fixed expressions (idioms, catchphrases, quotations, […]

  5. More rhesus humor | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] been in rhesus/Reese’s territory before, in a posting on “There’s No Right Way to Eat a […]

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