Big Little Puns

I will be the first to admit that the “fun-gi” and “jerk” puns in this blog post are right up my alley. Puns may the “lowest form of humor,” as many of my friends — and not-so-friends — constantly remind me,  but my brain seems to be hardwired to look for opportunities to pun.   It is more than an obsession; it is who I am.   Surely there is a clinical term for this affliction … let’s call it CPD (Compulsive Pun Disorder). For those of us with this condition, nothing is more satisfying than eliciting a laugh (or, second best, a groan). Indifference, of course,  is hell.

Although I can’t put my finger on when this all started, I do know that my fascination with puns was significantly ramped up in my sophomore year of college when I was exposed to Howard L. Chace’s, Anguish Languish (Prentice-Hall, 1956).  His classic “Ladle Rat Rotten Hut”  (“Little Red Riding Hood”) is like puns on steroids.  Here is the opening sentence, “Wants pawn term, dare worsted ladle gull hoe lift wetter murder inner ladle cordage, honor itch offer lodge, dock, florist.”  You can hear or read the rest here.

Ladle Rat Rotten Hut

This was a game-changer for me.  I couldn’t look another fairly tale in the eye without attempting to transform it to Chace-esque prose.  Incidentally, I attempted to translate some of the recipes for this blog into anguish languish, but Ann put the kibosh on it.  My loss, your gain.

In my former academic life untold numbers of students suffered through my punishing lectures.  The uncontrollable urge to pun often trumped the red flags of reason frantically warning me to stop before it was too late.   That is not to say that my sense of humor went unappreciated.  Sonoma State University required anonymous student evaluations of faculty on the last day of class.  One year, while reading through the comments (many of which, with all due modesty, mentioned how funny I was)  I came across this one:  “You are not as funny as you think you are and you ought to comb your hair once in a while.”  Wow!  That was a shocker.  The hair part I could handle (I don’t even own a comb, nor do I part my hair), but… “not as funny as you think you are?”  That hurt big time.

This led me seriously to question, or more accurately,  to seek justification for my obsession.  Much to my relief I came across Julie Beck’s pithy analysis of why people groan at puns.   Among other things, she quotes from John Pollack’s The Pun Also Risesa highly entertaining book by the way:  “…for most of Western history, puns were a sign of high intellect” (emphasis added).  The point of Beck’s article is that the art of punning is being supplanted by those who are trying to make sarcasm the king of humor, or something to that effect.  To be honest, I am not sure what her point was because I lost interest after reading the part about “high intellect.”

So, I think it is safe to say that  rather than a lower form of humor,  puns reflect a higher plane of awareness.  Reactionary groans are most likely strategies to regain the moral upper ground in the face of threats to the taken-for-granite (sic) rules of verbal exchange. I’m  not sure that what I just wrote makes any sense, but like good coffee, in my mind my argument seems well-grounded.  On the other hand, I would guess that Ann thinks my logic is more like my omelets — too scrambled and half-baked.  As long as she groans, I can take the criticism.

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