I confess. I’m in love.
With the pun.
Had been since the first day I made its acquaintance. I can’t remember exactly the time or the details of that very first pun, but I know I was smitten from that very first day. And when I learned to spin my own first pun, I became hooked for life.
To discover that you can juxtapose two words to give one or the other a whole new meaning from the ordinary sense, why, that’s just so scintillating. To think that you no longer have to be bound by the meanings of the words in their everyday usage, that’s just so liberating. And that you can wring forth new life from the union of two words, makes you feel like you are performing magic. Especially if the result is a dazzling one.
Punning is an act of creation. It makes something new out of something existing. Like all works of creation, it takes an imaginative mind, to conceive that something new from the merely ordinary. It takes wit.
There are those who would disagree. Dr. Samuel Johnson, the eminent English literary figure of his day, was supposed to have disparaged the pun as “the lowest form of humour.” John Dennis, an English critic, poet and dramatist, called the pun “a pistol let off at the ear; not a feather to tickle the intellect.”
Today, as in times past, there are many who would groan at the slightest drop of a pun. Like Johnson, they probably find the pun too low-brow, and like Dennis, feel it does no justice to their intellect. Maybe it feels like punishment to them. Perhaps only so because they aren’t the ones meting it out. As Edgar Allen Poe observed, “those who most dislike them are those who are least able to utter them.” Perhaps they are the sour grapes whom Oscar Levant was referring to when he said, “A pun is the lowest form of human wit, when you don’t think of it first.”
Me, I’m an unashamed and a die-hard devotee. I’m a serious punster. Nay, I’m a serial one. I can’t stop punning, even if I tried. Principally because I’m having so much fun with it. To me, a life “unpunned” would not be a life worth living. Life sans puns, for me, would be – you guess it – no fun!
Plus, I figure that I am in very good company. None other than the Bard himself was a habitual punster; I read somewhere that his whole body of works boasts a total of more than 1900 puns! And Jesus Christ himself had personally sanctioned the use of the pun when he told Peter (aka Petrus) that “on this rock I will build my church.” I know that I won’t be sent to hell for the puns I so frequently inflict on others.
Webster’s defines a pun as “the humourous use of a word, or of words, which are formed or sounded alike but have different meanings, in such a way as to play on two or more of the possible applications; a play on words.” It’s the play on words I relish. The better the word play, the better the pun. It is the key ingredient in the pun.
The other component is the context or occasion. A bottle of champagne somehow seems to pop louder in good company at the right occasion. A good pun delivered at the right place and time with just the right touch can have the same sparkling effect on its aficionados. Like the champagne, if it’s good, its effervescence enwraps you and its after-taste lingers.
A great pun can provide an overwhelming sense of satisfaction, which lasts and lasts. It can be almost orgasmic. More so if the pun is one which involves you personally. It’s like sex – unless you are the voyeur type – you enjoy it best when you are a participant.
Which reminds me. I must now go spin some spuns … I mean, puns. Why? Oh, just for the pun of it.