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AuthorChris Lott

Noted: In Defense of Puns

In Defense of Puns

A sweet excerpt from James Geary’s latest book. He is punstoppable. I am punapologetic.

Puns straddle that happy fault where sound and sense collide, where surface similarities of spelling or pronunciation meet above conflicting seams of meaning. By grafting the idea of evil onto the word for apple, Saint Jerome ensured that every time we recall Adam and Eve’s fateful disobedience in the garden we are reminded of the fruit of a deciduous tree of the rose family. 

From the beginning, punning has been considered the lowest form of wit, a painful fall from conversational grace. What other form of speech is so widely reviled that we must immediately apologize for using it? “Sorry, no pun intended.”

But puns do not deserve such a bitter appellation. Despite its bad reputation, punning is, in fact, among the highest displays of wit. Indeed, puns point to the essence of all true wit—the ability to hold in the mind two different ideas about the same thing at the same time. And the pun’s primacy is demonstrated by its strategic use in the oldest sacred stories, texts, and myths.

Punning folds a double knowledge into words. To make and understand a pun, you must grasp two things at once: the primary, apparently intended import of a word or phrase, and the secondary, usually subversive one.

The frisson in the ship captain’s reply to the first-class passenger who asks if he can decide for himself whether to help row the lifeboat—“Of course, sir, either oar”

Coleridge considered punning an essentially poetic act, exhibiting sensitivity to the subtlest, most distant relationships as well as an acrobatic exercise of intelligence, connecting things formerly believed to be unconnected.

Lamb did write several essays on punning before he breathed his last, including one entitled “That the Worst Puns Are the Best,” in which he vigorously defended paronomasia, arguing that “the pun is not bound by the laws which limit nicer wit. It is a pistol let off at the ear; not a feather to tickle the intellect.”

Author: fncll

Austin Kleon’s Ten Ways to Stay Creative

I must not be the only one looking forward to the release of Austin Kleon‘s latest book Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad…it isn’t due out until April but it is #1 in a couple of Amazon sales categories.

Until then, as Kleon shared on his page about the book, here are the 10 methods described in the book (and Kleon’s own talk that inspired it):

  1. Every day is Groundhog Day.
  2. Build a bliss station.
  3. Forget the noun, do the verb.
  4. Make gifts.
  5. The ordinary + extra attention = the extraordinary
  6. Slay the art monsters.
  7. You’re allowed to change your mind.
  8. When in doubt, tidy up.
  9. Demons hate fresh air.
  10. Plant your garden.

Gail Sher’s Four Noble Truths for Writers

Gail Sher’s One Continuous Mistake: Four Noble Truths for Writers is a quick, insightful read. I recommend it. But the core principles, those four noble truths, are right on the back cover and worth making of (literally) what you will:

  • Writers write
  • Writing is a process
  • You don’t know what your writing will be until the end of the process
  • If writing is your practice, the only way to fail is not to write

Shawn Achor’s Happiness Practices

Gleaned from “happiness researcher” Shawn Achor’s 10% Happier podcast interview with Dan Harris, five practices for being happier, which Achor defines as “the joy you feel moving toward your potential.”

  1. Gratitude (2 minutes) — Write down three new things you are grateful for each day. Be specific and write down not just what, but why. As you instill this practice, your brain will be “building a background app” to scan constantly throughout the day for positive things to note the next day.
  2. The “Doubler” (2 minutes) — Record one positive, meaningful experience from the day (or day before) along with at least three details of the experience.
  3. The “Fun Fifteen” (15 minutes) — 15 minutes of cardio activity, even a brisk walk.
  4. Conscious Act of Kindness (2 minutes) — For example, sending an email or note of praise, writing a charming note, performing a Random Act of Kindness, etc.
  5. Meditation (2-XXX minutes)

Side note: Achor observed that practices of gratitude and mindfulness contribute to creating a healthy “emotional immune system.” Love that.

Should Emotions be Taught in Schools? Yes. And it shouldn’t stop in high school or college. The lack of attention to the whole self of students as their days are broken into different classrooms and topics is appalling.

Paying (for) Attention

Today is #NationalMentalHealthDay. For myself, every day is #MentalHealthDay. I wish it were so for everyone. But care and concern about mental health is just one of many, many parts of our daily context we ignore as [whatever the larger-scale equivalent of sensory gating — selective attention?] kicks in to, ironically, maintain our sanity in the face of living with all the things.

And I know we can’t pay attention to everything, in life or in teaching. In education there’s a standard litany of resistance: I don’t have the time, it’s not our job, those things aren’t the point of our classes. Simple pragmatic pitfalls abound, not to mention much deeper problems: we don’t know what all the things are, we don’t know what they mean when we do, we don’t know how to address them anyway.

Nor am I surprised that most actors in higher education—faculty, staff and administrators alike—pay little attention to things like mental health (before the point of evident crisis), wellness, the effects of socio-economic status, attention (and its attenuation), even basic awareness of metacognition…not to mention the attendant need to reframe entire conversation by employing different rhetorical approaches and less divisive and demeaning metaphors.

I’m not surprised because my experience is that most educators have trouble enough bringing basic elements of rich pedagogy to their teaching. This trouble is magnified in online teaching and learning to an almost ridiculous degree, resulting there in a selective attention that is practically partial blindness: teachers who I know care about students and are engaging, supportive classroom teachers that employ unconscionable methods (or perhaps more accurately, unconscionably employ no intentional methods and processes) in their online classes. It’s no great surprise that educators who are unable to recognize the problems of having no presence for, or engagement with,1 their online students aren’t likely to delve into the considerably more complex areas of the humanity within them as embodied by their homes, families, backgrounds and incomes.

This stuff is hard. Recognizing our own privilege and trying to change takes humility. Allowing for failure and operating in a manner that admits the chaos and shifting notions of control takes bravery. Trying to achieve a posture oriented toward collaborative flourishing, class after class, hour after hour, and moment after moment takes flexibility. And all of this is often demanded within institutions which largely don’t recognize subtlety or trust their teachers2. Like I said, it’s hard. But is it really harder than the position our students are in, lacking the inherent privilege necessary to maintain an artificial divide between class (in multiple senses) and life3, and paying (also in multiple senses) for our privilege to do so ourselves?

  1. And I mean, in many cases, literally no presence or engagement beyond being identified as the instructor in a syllabus…and even then I’ve witnessed teachers using hand-me-down information where even that was wrong. ↩︎
  2. The lack of trust that leads to shoehorning human beings into artificial matrices of measurables may be the most perverse symptom of a sick system. ↩︎
  3. Or learning and self. ↩︎

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