*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.
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?
Examples using multiple meanings of the same word
|I wondered why the baseball was getting bigger. Then it hit me.||hit|
1. to realise
2. to get physically struck
|The sign at the drug centre says ‘Keep off the grass’.||keep off|
1. don’t walk on
2. don’t use
1. vegetation used on lawns
|His politics is like my golf: one bad lie after another.||lie|
1. to say something untrue
2. how a golf ball sits on grass, determining how easy it is to hit
Examples using words that sound alike
|Pun||Similar sounding words|
|Women who wear $200 perfume have no common scents.||scent: perfume|
common sense: have generally good judgement
|It’s not that I dislike school; it’s just I don’t like the principal of it.||principal: head of a school|
principle: concept, idea
|Bugs are very religious – they are all in sects.||sect: a religious group|
insect: a small 6-legged animal
Puns on street signs and in headlines
Many shops use puns in their names, and a lot of tabloid newspapers like to use them in headlines.
|Pun||Play on words|
|Frame Set and Match|
(shop selling picture frames)
|Game, set and match|
(expression used in tennis)
|Just for laughs|
(expression meaning its just for fun)
|We will dye for you|
(Chalfont clothes dying company)
|I will die for you|
|Gord Help Us Now|
Daily Express headline when Gordon Brown became Prime Minister)
|God help us now|
|Super Caley Go Ballistic Celtic are Atrocious|
(Sun headline when Inverness Caledonian Thistle upset Celtic in the Scottish Cup)
(song from Mary Poppins)
Puns in literature
Whilst puns in comedy can be obvious, puns in literature tend to be more subtle.
|Pun||Play on word|
|Upon this rock I shall build my church.|
– Jesus, talking to Peter in The Bible
|The name ‘Peter’ means rock|
|Tomorrow…you shall find me a grave man.|
– The dying Mercutio speaking to Romeo, who thinks Mercutio is joking, in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
1. serious, not joking
2. the place a dead body is placed
|Mercutio: Nay, gentle Romeo, we must have you dance. |
Romeo: You have dancing shoes with nimble soles. I have a soul of lead.
– The depressed Romeo telling the Mercutio he doesn’t wish to dance in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
|sole: the bottom of the foot|
|If you see Kay|
Tell him he may
See you in tea
Tell him from me
– from Ulysses by James Joyce
|Lines 1 and 3 spell out insults|