A pun is a type of quick-witted one-liner or comment that exploits the different possible meanings, forms and pronunciation of words. Puns are plays on words that are intended to produce a witty or humorous effect.
The ability to think of a quick pun is often considered a sign of intelligence, but more often than not, they are disparagingly referred to as “dad jokes”. In fact, either you love them or you hate them. Some people appreciate them or enjoy using them in everyday conversation, others roll their eyes and groan a little when they hear one.
That said, they are still very popular and still commonly used in speech and writing, and particularly in newspaper headlines.
Here are some common puns you might hear and see:
• The future, the present and the past walked into a bar. Things got a little tense. (a Siri grammar joke)
• Denial is not just a river in Egypt. (the Nile/denial, get it?)
Some businesses also choose to have puns in their names:
• Kebab shop: Abra Kebabra
• Fish and chips shop: The Codfather
• Florist: Florist Gump
• Ophthalmologist: For Eyes
However, is there a clear distinction between a pun and a joke? Indeed, there is. A pun relies on wordplay, while jokes don’t. It’s as simple as that!
About a month or so ago, I wrote a blog on Homophones, Homonyms and Homographs. These are creative ways in which the English language shows its fascinating nuances and these can also apply to pun formation.
Here are the most popular types of puns you can find:
“Why is it so wet in England? Because many kings and queens have reigned there.”
• (reign- rule as monarch/rain – a weather condition common to the UK).
The wedding was so emotional that even the cake was in tiers.
• tears – water falling in drops from the eyes when you cry/tiers – layers overlapping each other).
I cried when I found out my macaroni had expired. It pasta way.
These types of pun use words that have THE SAME SPELLING for TWO DIFFERENT MEANINGS.
The motorist says to the cop, “Why can’t I park my car here? The sign says ‘Fine for Parking’!”
• fine – good or good enough/fine – an amount of money that has to be paid as a punishment for not obeying a rule or law.
A blind man picked up a hammer and saw.
• saw – a tool to cut wood with/ saw – past simple of the verb to see.
Why was it so hot in the stadium after the baseball game? All the fans left!
• fans – someone who admires and supports a person, sport, sports team, etc./ fans – air conditioning devices).
Two silk worms had a race and ended in a tie.
• tie – a clothing accessory/ tie – a result in a game or match in which two or more teams have the same score.
A compound pun includes more than one pun in the same sentence.
You can tune a guitar, but you can’t tuna fish. Unless you play bass.”
o This pun combines a homophonic pun (tuna /tune a)and a homographic one (bass -a type of fish)/bass a type of guitar)
This type of pun requires understanding the first half of the joke to understand the second.
• Fourth of May is International Star Wars Day. May the Fourth be with you.
• Oscar Wilde: Immanuel doesn’t pun, he Kant.
To understand these puns, you must have an exophoric understanding of Star Wars and who the philosopher Immanuel Kant is.
When do we use the expression “No Pun Intended” ?
This expression is often used when you unintentionally make a pun that you think might cause offense or make light of the situation. In order to backtrack or clarify you follow your pun with “no pun intended”.
Before presenting at a conference, the organiser came up to me and said: “Ok, are you ready? Just remember to keep it short.” Then he looked me up and down and, realising how tall I was (not very!) he sheepishly added: “No pun intended.” To which I replied, “None taken”.
I hope you had fun learning about puns. See if you can find any around London, and send us photos!