(also called paronomasia)

What is a pun?

A pun is a piece of clever word-play in which different meanings of the same word, or words that sound the same, are used for a funny or intelligent effect.

Using puns

Although many people say they hate puns, generally it depends on how clever the pun is: weak or ‘cheesy’ puns often make people groan, but very witty puns are often quoted.

Before using a pun, consider
a) is it actually clever?
b) will the audience like it?

Basic examples using multiple meanings of the same word

– I wondered why the baseball was getting bigger. Then it hit me.
(the pun being that ‘then it hit me’ means both ‘the answer came to me’ and ‘it physically hit me’)

– The sign at the drug centre says ‘Keep off the grass’.
(the pun being that grass is also another word for marijuana)

– His politics is like my golf: one bad lie after another
(the pun being that lie is both telling something not true, and where the ball is sitting in a game of golf)

Basic examples using words that sound alike

– Women who wear $200 perfume have no common scents
(common sense = sound judgement; scent = perfume, and therefore ‘common scents’ = perfumes commonly used)

– It’s not that I dislike school; it’s just I don’t like the principal of it
(principle = the rule or belief that an organisation or actions are based on; principal = headmaster)

– Bugs are very religious – they are all in sects
(sect = a religious group)

Puns on the street and in the headlines

Many shops use puns in their names, and a lot of tabloid newspapers like to use them in headlines.

Frame Set and Match
(shop selling picture frames, based on the tennis term ‘game, set and match’)

Just Falafs
(falafel restaurant; based on the expression ‘just for laughs’)

“We will dye for you”
(tag line of Chalfont clothes dyers)

‘Gord Help Us Now’
(headline in Daily Express on day Gordon Brown became Prime Minister)

‘Super Caley Go Ballistic Celtic are Atrocious’
(The Sun wrote one of the UK’s most famous pun headlines – Inverness Caledonian Thistle (‘Caley’) beat Celtic – based on the famous song ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ from the musical ‘Mary Poppins’)

Puns in literature

Whilst puns in comedy can be obvious, puns in literature tend to be more subtle.

– (from The Bible)
Jesus saying of Peter:
‘Upon this rock I shall build my church’
(the name Peter means ‘rock’)

– (from ‘Romeo and Juliet’ by William Shakespeare)
Mercutio, dying, speaking to Romeo (who had previously told Mercutio to be more serious):
‘tomorrow…you shall find me a grave man’
(grave can mean serious, and also the place where dead people are buried)

– Mercutio tells Romeo to dance, saying he has ‘nimble soles’. Romeo answers that unlike Mercutio, he has ‘a soul of lead’.
(sole = bottom of a shoe; soul = spirit)

– (from ‘Ulysses’, by James Joyce)
If you see Kay
Tell him he may
See you in tea
Tell him from me