In Defense of Puns

cutlery-conversations-punHello. Allow me to begin this week with my usual self-depreciation. Ahem…

Welcome to my column, wherein I will probably disappoint everyone by faceplanting into a mud pit. It’s rather pitiful, wouldn’t you say?

Now, I would like to encourage your initial response to that sentence. The correct reaction (which I’m sure you experienced) was to punch someone in the face. I advise warning your family members before you carry out your act of ire.

Your pets can handle themselves.

Your pets can handle themselves.

Don’t blame me for your tired groans. I hate puns as much as you, likely more so.

I know I’m supposed to defend things, and I’ll get to that. However, I admit I’m an anti-pun Puritan. My friends and family members are quite familiar with my icy post-pun glare, and I’ve trained my mother to recoil in pun-induced terror.

Forget the warning from before. Punch the damn cat.

Forget the warning from before. Punch the damn cat.

So yes, I hate puns.

I side with Joseph Tartakovsky, an opinions columnist for the New York Times. He wrote, “Puns are the feeblest species of humor because they are ephemeral: whatever comic force they possess never outlasts the split second it takes to resolve the semantic confusion. . . puns, like off-color jokes, are often followed by apologies.”

Yes, that sounds high-brow and pretentious, but it’s also a pure explanation for the tawdriness of punning. Most puns require the smallest amount of intellect, operating on sound alone like toddlers with squeaky hammers.

However, the pun does have online defenders. Sadly, most use a multitude of puns within their arguments, giving themselves the argumentative power of. . . well, toddlers with squeaky hammers.

One such defender makes many good points before faceplanting in the mud.

Walt Willis wrote a series of articles called The Willis Papers, one of which defends puns from multiple angles. One such point is the punning of great storytellers, from Shakespeare to Jesus. My retort on the later: Jesus simply called Peter a rock. If that was supposed to be a joke, I’m sure the apostles stood in stunned silent as Jesus repeated “Get it? Because Peter means rock and I called him a rock.”

"Thou Shalt Not."

“Thou Shalt Not.”

The bard is a more interesting case. However, Shakespeare was talented at wordplay. There is an art to proper punning, and most modern punsters are allergic to tact and wit. Timing and unpredictability are vital, neither of which are important to the lazy.

Later, Willis points out that puns are the only type of humor without sadistic undertones. “Mother-in-law jokes, jokes about foreigners, jokes about deaf people or morons or lunatics or the obese, all sadistic” he writes, “This leaves the pun as the most good-natured and complex form of humor,”

Ah, good point. However, notice that last sentence ends with a comma. Willis ends his article with this phrase. . .

“the very punnicle of civilization.”



Sorry, Mr. Willis. I must hate you now.

I guess I need to clarify my earlier claims. I don’t hate puns, I hate bad puns. We just need to get better at coming up with clever puns at appropriate times. You know, celebrate intellect and punish the lazy. Let’s all agree that bad puns necessitate a quick punch to the face.

The world would be a better place.

The world would be a better place.


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