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The Punintended

I love a pun. What is not to love?! Tweaking a phrase to create layered meaning is a damn fine use of anyone’s time. A good pun tickles the back of your head, it inspires mental gymnastics as you crane to create several links in you brain at once.

It can win friends or make perfect strangers laugh on trains. I have, on several occasions, made people on trains laugh out loud simply by casually changing the name of a foolish acquaintance from ‘Patterson’ to ‘Twatterson’. Simple and deadly effective. Check out the evidence:

  • My mum, ever the ideas woman, wanted to open a shop selling nautical second hand items. The shop title: Nauti secs. Don’t deny that didn’t raise a snicker at least!
  • Newspapers love a pun. The erstwhile Channel 4 show ‘The Big Breakfast’ lauded the ‘Pun of the Week’ segment, a spot enormously enjoyed across the UK.
  • There is the famous kebab van in Bristol called ‘Jason Donnervan’. I challenge anyone not to applaud that work of genius.
  • And finally: the Halal butchers named ‘Halal, is it meat you’re looking for?’. The more tortured the better.

Tabloids use them, shopkeepers use them. They bring a silly kind of joy. They are a diverse form of communication…yet…

It is a truth puniversally acknowledged, that a human in possession of a sense of humour must be in want of a laugh.

Jane Austen (mostly...)

…many people hate puns.

Ricky Gervais has called them the “lowest form of wit”.

Presumably as sarcasm is the highest in his opinion, opening up the ground floor for a new loser. Even if you despise them, you cannot get away from them. They have more uses than just to make people gasp, snigger, groan. They have political validity. They can be crushingly painful.

Yes, dear reader, a pun can have weight. And this light-hearted look at the joy of punnery has indeed taken a turn. We all know those puns that deal with and flip the meaning of borderline offensive ideas, but the myriad ways in which meaning is imbued can be used to change the world, to revolt and reclaim power. Somewhat ironically, when looking at Orwell’s dystopian fiction ‘1984’, you can see puns at play.

Within the world of the novel, language is stripped of nuance, simultaneously creating an eroded selection of words that can mean many things, or only one thing when necessary. When expressing agreement, happiness or consent, “Good”, “plus good” and “double plus good” cuts out any room for exaggerated excitement.

It dulls the senses and keeps the protagonist and proles in line. Joyous expression is so individual – remove the nuance, you remove the individual. The destruction of creative language in the book curbs the minds of the people we meet, it is entirely chilling, and an incredibly viable tool.

In 2014, China actually banned the use of puns in the media, announcing that puns could incite “cultural and linguistic chaos”.

Further research into the use of puns in China found the use of ‘May 35th’, an alternative phrase which is used when discussing June 4th and the massacre at Tiananmen Square. May 35th is classic misdirection. It is seemingly a non-existent date, but add the first 4 days in June to the 31 days in May however, and bingo!

Censorship of such phrases has been rife, with the internet in China becoming devoid of such alternatives as 8×8 or 82, anything that related to the number 64, or the forbidden date 06/04. Even the collection of Chinese characters 占占点 (which has no real combined meaning) has been banned because they look like tanks.

These are examples of what is known as a micropun. Their use allows discussions around topics the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) aim to stamp out of collective memory.

Puns are a beacon, in this instance. They are a weapon of revolt, a creator of underground communities. On the surface, they are beautiful little mind games forming eddies of understanding rippling across your intellect. Pun and poetry are equally powerful means of rebellion, creation and persuasion.

The pundemental joy of wordplay is a successful tool of funny, intelligent people around the world. Upon learning the myriad ways in which the pun can inform, create rebellion, conjure laughter, and just generally connect the world, I have far more respect for it than I do for those who mock it.

For those who would love to discover more, Bill Clinton’s former speech writer John Pollack wrote a book on the subject. The title you ask? ‘The Pun Also Rises’…

A tip of the cap to you sir!

All cards are by the punderful Hello Lucky!

I’m still working my way up to a Wonky Peach card with a pun; you can’t rush this kind of silliness…

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