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”
groan

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.”

Source: https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2018/11/15/in-defense-of-puns/
Via Hypothes.is: https://via.hypothes.is/https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2018/11/15/in-defense-of-puns/
Author: fncll