The pun conundrum

Sally Davies at the BBC:

_65316021_eyes304tonyavonNo pun is an island. Within less than a mile of my house in Brooklyn, a wanderer will find:

  • Fish & Sip, a coffee and seafood joint
  • Prospect Perk Cafe, an allusion to the restorative properties of caffeine and of nearby Prospect Park
  • The Winey Neighbor, a liquor store that pays homage to the venerable New York tradition of grumbling about the noise from the apartment next door

Where good humour and refreshments abound, puns seem to follow.

Yet this neat little linguistic device – which exploits the multiple meanings of words or phrases that sound the same or similar – is considered by its detractors to be as irritating as it is irrepressible.

In the English-speaking world, punning is viewed as more of a tic than a trick, a pathological condition whose sufferers are classed as “compulsive”, “inveterate” and “unable to help themselves”.

The late William Safire, the New York Times’s long-time language writer, wrote in 2005 that a pun “is to wordplay what dominatrix sex is to foreplay – a stinging whip that elicits groans of guilty pleasure”.

More here.