This article was originally published in the 2011-2012 academic year.
It’s that part of the year again when Valentine’s Day is upon us and everyone starts getting all mushy about everything, so I think it’s time I wrote an article about my one true love in life – puns (or paronomasia, if you want to sound all clever). I warn you now: this feature will not be for the faint of heart, as I will be subjecting you to a number of cringeworthy, perhaps even painful examples of wordplay throughout. But it’s all for a good cause, I promise. Y’see, as much as you might not want to accept it, puns are an important part of what makes the world go round. I guess you could say they’re pun-damental to our existence. Oh ho.
Now, you might be wondering why on earth I think of puns so highly, and I suppose you’ve every reason to. After all, they’ve hardly got the best of reputations. More often than not, people tend to react to a pun with a groan of disapproval, a solemn shake of their heads, and a large sense of pity for the apparent saddo who took the time to think it up in the first place. Well, turns out I am one of those saddos, and proudly so. Blame my enthusiastic interest in language if you will, but I find the art of playing around with words for comedic effect to be quite a gratifying one, not least because it’s nowhere near as simple as you might think it is. And yes, you all may moan about them, but believe me when I say you’d miss them if they weren’t there at all.
For a start, the entire tabloid press would collapse in on itself. Seemingly every single headline in The Sun or one of its counterparts contains a pun of some description if the editor can spot an opportunity for one. Kill off the wordplay and you’re basically killing off the very spirit of the tabloid – even if, admittedly, it is a spirit that is rather cheap and tacky. I’ve noticed that they even tend to recycle the same old puns over and over again, which probably doesn’t help to make the general public appreciate them. If I had a pound for every time I’ve seen an article from the sports sections with “Roo” in the headline as a substitute for “you” or “too” or something else that is similar sounding, I’d be rich (and not just in name!). Bet you can’t guess Roo it’s a reference to, though!
And let’s not even begin to imagine the massive impact it would have on the advertising industry. Let’s test your knowledge, shall we? Pop quiz: what’s the main purpose of an advert? Is it A) to position the product in a positive light, B) to make any and all competitors look inferior by comparison, or C) to annoy the hell out of you? If you said A or B, then you are the weakest link – goodbye! The answer is, of course, C (why couldn’t you C that?! Although in fairness, A and B are quite accurate too).
The best adverts are the ones that get stuck in your mind, be it through catchy jingles, memorable imagery, or just plain frustration… GoCompare, much? But I digress. If the objective is to annoy you so much that you can’t get the advert out of your head, then surely employing a groan-inducing pun that you could never possibly forget is the best way to do it. And the proof is in the pudding, too. One of the most successful advertising campaigns of the last few years was built solely around a pun, and not even a particularly imaginative one at that. You know the one I mean. It involves small, furry creatures. Small, furry, Russian creatures. That’s right, Compare the Meerkat. It’s funny (or should that be punny?) because it sounds like Compare the Market, which is the actual product name, but there’s a meerkat and… yeah, you get the idea. The point I’m trying to make here is that wordplay can be big business when it is used in the right way, no question about it. Simples!
I suppose I’ve also touched there on one of the other joys of making puns. It gets on people’s nerves, and as bad as it sounds, you can’t help but feel a weird sense of power in doing so. With great power comes great responsibility, but unlike Spiderman, I prefer to use my skills for my own personal enjoyment. I can make people beg for mercy and do my bidding simply by opening my mouth and uttering a few words that are laden with a hint of cringe. You may as well call me Pun-Man. Or The Punmeister. Either way, I’ll certainly pack a pun-ch.
Alright, I think that’s enough torture for one article.
So, in summary, take the time to appreciate the significance of a play on words next time you see or hear one, because there’s more to a pun that meets the eye. That and, frankly, they’re not going to disappear at any point soon, so you may as well get used to them or else you’ve only got yourself to blame for the pun-ishment you will suffer.