Raisin d’Ȇtre

Today’s Bizarro continues the Wayno / Piraro explorations of outrageous puns:

(#1) The title raisin d’être is an extraordinary pun on the French nominal raison d’être (literally ‘reason for being’), but with English raisin [ˈrezn] ‘dried grape’ in the place of French raison [ˌreˈzɔ̃] ‘reason’ (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 3 in this strip — see this Page)

English [ˈrezn] ‘dried grape’ and French [ˌreˈzɔ̃] ‘reason’ share the initial segmental phonology [rez], but otherwise are phonetically quite distant (aside from being in two different languages) — utterly different prosody (accent + accentless vs. secondary accent + primary accent), with final syllables that share only an element of nasality (syllabic nasal consonant, nasalized vowel).

The basis of the pun, from NOAD:

noun raison d’être: the most important reason or purpose for someone or something’s existence: an institution whose raison d’être is public service broadcasting. ORIGIN French, literally ‘reason for being’.

What makes the pun so — forgive me — delicious is the fact that French raisin does not mean ‘dried grape’ but in fact  ‘grape’; a raisin in French is a raisin sec (literally ‘dry grape’). French raisin d’être would presumably mean something like ‘grape of being’.

Earlier from Bizarro in the outrageous pun genre, from my 5/21 posting “It’s endive!”: alive [ǝˈlajv] in It’s alive! vs. endive [ˈɛnˌdajv] in the pun, sharing the final segmental material [ajv], but utterly different prosodically (accentless + accented vs. primary accent + secondary accent) and in their initial segmental material ([ǝl] vs. [ɛnd]).

But phonetically very imperfect puns can succeed as jokes if their basis is a well-known formula: a quotation (as in It’s endive!), an idiom (as in raison d’être), whatever.

One Response to “Raisin d’Ȇtre”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    I frequently (and facetiously) substitute raisin (with French pronunciation) for raison when I use the phrase.

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