Puns Essay

Submitted By merrychild
Words: 1644
Pages: 7

Mary Nixon
Linguistics 102-004
Term Paper
20 November 2014
“That looks puzzling,” said the balding fifty-something year old man as he peered into the room. The middle-aged woman with silver roots in her dark-colored hair looked down at the half-done 1000-piece puzzle laid down, brows furrowed, replied, “Yeah, I’m puzzled.” The young girl, a near mirror image of the woman across her, sighed, but conceded, “I’m falling to pieces here. So, can you be quiet?” A young male voice could be heard groaning in the next room while the other three laughed. This is an example of punning and the usual response to such. Henry Erskine once heard someone say that punning is the lowest form of wit. He replied, “It is, and therefore the foundation of all wit.” (Augarde, 1984, p. 204). Puns are the bane of puritans, who feel that any form of humor used to fill comedies must be bad (Hartsock, 1929, p. 224). Puns are word play depending on lexical ambiguity (Alexander, 1997, p. 75). They are made up of a variety of linguistic functions, are used throughout life, come in many forms, and have been used by many well-known people and companies throughout history. Puns create humor through the employment of the various uses of language and culture. The word pun comes from the Greek word paranomasia that means equal word. The trick to punning is to be able to combine two or more ideas within a single word or expression (Lederer, 1981, p. 32). To do this, a punster employs phonological mechanisms (in the use of homophony) and/or semantic ones (polysemy). Further, the punster uses allusion (versus illusion) to refer to something indirectly through the utilization of similarity in pronunciation between two words (Alexander, 1997, p. 75). It is, however, only considered effective if the underlying meaning is caught by the listeners (Alexander, 1997, p. 76). Reading and understanding puns tend to require some use of semiotics, or the ability to understand the symbolism/meaning behind what is being said and how it reflects on the culture at any given time. For example, in a case study in England found many examples of puns created from a catch phrase chanted by fans of English soccer teams in the 1970s. The catch phrase went something like, “Arsenal Rules OK” and “Chelsea Rules OK.” Some of the puns subsequently created were phonological, “French dockers rule, au quai” or rhymes, “Spanish punks rule, olé”. Some were near rhymes or assonance, such as “Royce Rolls, KO,” which also used inversion. And then there were graphological ones such as, “Queen Elizabeth rules UK.” There were many others (Alexander, 1997, p. 78). Puns often live on when they take on a formula, which are easy to remember and brief (Loomis, 1949, p. 1). Puns can thus be incredibly reflective of the use of language in any given time period. Puns are taught to people starting from a young age. In English, children start learning how to pun through the use of songs and chants like,
“Fuzzy wuzzy was a bear,
Fuzzy wuzzy had no hair,
Fuzzy wuzzy wasn’t really fuzzy, was he?”
“A sailor went to C-C-C,
To see what he could C-C-C,
And all that he could C-C-C,
Was the bottom of the great blue C-C-C”
With these, children learn that words can sound the same, but have different meanings. As they grow older, they learn riddles and one liners, such as “What is black and white and read all over? A Newspaper!” Eventually, they’ll learn things like Knock, Knock Jokes and full blown stories made out of puns (Lederer, 1981, p. 32). There are many types of puns. There are single sound puns that make use of a single sound that generates multiple meanings. An example would be the “woodchuck” song of childhood (Lederer, 1981, p. 34). Knock-knock jokes are another example. They were so popular in the early 1980’s that there was a daily comic strip consisting only of such in the Sun newspaper. Knock-knock jokes depend on finding a phrase in which the first words sound the same as