Lesson Three – To Pun or Not to Pun that is the Quiption! (And Learning how Fast to Flee)
This lesson is probably the most basic one you’ll need to become a humorist. Puns take up well over half of the humor that you’ll come across every day and a good understanding of what they are, how they come about and how to produce them will enable you to create them more easily and faster each time.
So what is a pun. Let’s take a look at what the experts say.
Noun: pun pún A humorous play on words"I do it for the pun of it"
- punning, wordplay, paronomasia
Pun Main Entry: 1pun Pronunciation: \ˈpən\ Function:
noun Etymology: perhaps from Italian puntiglio fine point, quibble
Date: 1662 : the usually humorous use of a word in such a way as to suggest two or more of its meanings or the meaning of another word similar in sound
S.J. Willing’s Fictionary of Words
Pun pún A deadly Weapon of Mass Destruction used for crowd dispersal. Symptoms include vomiting, rolling around the floor gasping for breath and incapacitation.
So puns are basically a Play On Words. They are the POW’s in the war of witticisms. If you read back through this lesson so far you’ll see a couple of POW’s already, here are a few more.
Doctor: I don’t like the looks of your husband.
Wife: Neither do I, but he’s good to the children. – Larry Wilde
I was at a bar nursing my beer. My nipple was getting quite soggy. – Emo Philips
Sign over urinal: Look before you leak.
The first two depend on alternative meanings for the key words looks and nursing. The last is founded on the similar sound between leak and leap. All three of these are based on homonyms.
Homonym, antonyms and synonyms are very useful tools for jokes revolving around POW’s and a thesaurus, or six dozen, hanging around the house is almost essential if you wish to write or learn humor professionally.
For those who don’t know (like me) these are:
Homonyms are words that can be pronounced or spelled the same way but have different meanings e.g there/their, fall(down)/fall(season), spring(bouncy)/spring(season); these are especially useful if you can mix and match their meanings.
If you have a spring in your step, you have to watch out for the fall.
Antonyms are words with an opposing meaning to another word. e.g. Up/down, freeze/boil, fat/thin. These work well when paired in a joke.
It’s no wonder that foreigners are confused by our language. Here a slim chance and a fat chance mean the same thing. – Joyce Mattingly.
Synonyms are two different words that have a similar meaning. e.g. mankind/people, test/exam, proceed/continue
I love mankind. It’s people I can’t stand. Charles M. Shulz
The trick to making a pun is to use these qualities of a word and place them into fresh situations. It’s fairly easy to just substitute words and meanings, what takes the time is finding the ones which someone else hasn’t yet thought of.
One of the best sources for humor of this type comes from normal dialogue. When people talk, or chat online, look at what's being said and see which words can be flipped or changed to make the sentence funny. A common one for writer's is WIP, short for Work In Process. lt looks and sounds very much like WHIP.
So how is the WIP coming along today?
Oh, my editor is cracking it nicely...
Also, look through your own work when you edit. There will be lots of opportunities similar to the one above where you can introduce things ranging from simple giggles to rip roaring entendres.
Try this for an exercise. (Don't be afraid to lose a word here or there)
See if you can make a pun out of the following phrase by the use of a homonym, antonym or synonym.
"The best training any parent can give a child is to train the child to train himself." Gouthey, A. P.
**WordWeb is a free download Dictionary/Thesaurus that sits in the windows task bar. It’s a really nifty tool that I’ve been using for years and its simple ctrl key+right click to search on any word in any program is really great. It’s helped me lots in my writing since I’ve had it.