Grammar Hammer: It’s All Pun and Games

According to the book “Comedy Writing Secrets,” a pun is “the intentional confusion of similar-sounding words or phrases” that is used as the basis of a joke.

In other words, a pun is humorous word play that allows for two possible interpretations at the same time.

Pro Tip: Because puns generally make word plays phonetically, they tend to be better when spoken or heard vs. being written or read.

Here’s are some examples of puns: I recently read an article about a family that got lost in a corn maze for hours and couldn’t find their way out — they actually had to call the police to be rescued.

  • Being lost in corn maze at night must have been earie.
  • I wonder if one of the search dogs was a husk-y.
  • How earesponsible of the parents!
  • What did they expect entering a maize?
  • The poor kids were probably shrieking to Dad, “Pop, corn!” over and over.
  • They had the feeling they were being stalked.
  • Hominy idiots does it take to get out?

Puns can also take the forms of double entendres, riddles, and homonyms and near homonyms:

  • A double entendre (literally “double meaning” in French) is the use of an ambiguous word or phrase that allows for a second interpretation (warning: frequently risqué!). The idea is that the listener assumes one meaning, and the speaker slips in another meaning. Consider these headlines, taken from YourDictionary.com:
    • Panda mating fails: Veterinarian takes over
    • Miners refuse to work after death
    • New obesity study looks for larger test group
    • Children make nutritious snacks
    • Criminals get nine months in violin case
  • A riddle according to Merriam-Webster.com, is a puzzling question to be guessed or solved that usually has a double or veiled answer.
    • What kind of bird writes letters? A pen-guin.
    • What do all inches follow? Their ruler.
    • Why couldn’t the strings ever win? They could only tie.
    • What position does a cat play in baseball? A cat-cher.
  • A homonym is two or more words that are spelled and pronounced alike but differ in meaning. A near homonymis two or more words that sound alike due to an intentional mispronunciation.
    • Why was six afraid of seven? Because seven eight (ate) nine.
    • What do you call a smelly chicken? A foul fowl.
    • Do you want this pasteurized? No, just up to my mouth’d be fine!

What’s your favorite pun?

Written by Grace Lavigne, senior editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. Grammar Hammer is published weekly on ProfNet Connect, a free social networking site for communicators. To read more from Grace, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

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