Thursday, September 26, 2013

Restrained Mirth

Thinking in Puns

Thanks to my father and the home in which I was raised, I had an early introduction to the world of puns. In one early memory I “di-stink-tly” recall someone (there’s a good chance it was me) mentioning the flatulation from a few rows up that had sounded during mass. While I know of many parents who would silence their children with a stern command of “WE do NOT speak of such things,” my parents never “pooh-poohed” the topic. They at least never condemned the topic in such a “manner,” though they did take teaching their children manners seriously. And so, rather than “changing” the diaper, er, topic, my father said, “at least there were a few ‘pews’ between us.” Everyone knows that the appropriate verbal response to a foul odor is “pee-eew” or “pew-ee.” I thought that this intentional use of related words was a hilarious stroke of genius. It was then that I started to listen more intently to the words and wisdom of my father, and I have not been disappointed.

And so some 15 years later, my way of thinking has dramatically evolved. I have discovered that I now tend to actually think in puns. While it can be quite humorous, it can also be a sort of “pun-ishment” for those who spend much time with me. I have been praised before as an exceptional listener, but perhaps I listen too intently. My mind works in such a way that it hears words or phrases - loving especially idioms or colloquialisms - and dissects them into a variety of possible meanings. Now, while puns can be great fun and incite much laughter, they can also annoy people, cause embarrassment, and even turn a friend into an enemy*. I have learned these lessons over the years – sometimes the hard way. And I’ve concluded that the rewards outweigh the risks. Delivering puns appropriately and with good timing is a skill that requires honing through trials and errors. To get you started and feeling more comfortable, I’ve outlined a few rules to pun usage that can be appreciated.

1. A quality pun must be delivered “pun-ctually.” This means that it should be stated at its proper time. Each situation is a little different as it involves different people with differing levels of sensitivity and different styles of humor. It’s probably not the best idea to console your buddy after he’s lost $1000 playing Craps by nonchalantly saying “shit happens.” This rule of punctuality is closely related to point number two.

2. Know and respect your audience. I’ll call this rule, Drawing the “Pun-ch” Line. For example, it would be in bad “taste” for the keynote speaker at the PETA Convention to say, “I’m glad to be able to ‘meat’ with you all today. While I don’t want to beat a dead horse, I do want to reiterate that those cow murderers don’t have a cat’s chance in hell of winning the court case. Thank you all for your continued support. We all know what’s at ‘steak’.” This might be funny for an outsider or a cow murderer, but such a “clamity” could leave individuals feeling “shell-shocked” for a looooong time. That would just be mean.

3. Don’t be afraid to “pun-ctuate.” I am a firm believer in drawing attention to your puns. It can be especially helpful if you are new to the pun scene. If people pass right by your carefully selected word choice, don’t be afraid to point it out. I suggest this classic method of emphasis: repeat the pun and follow up with the subtle yet in-your-face “get it?” If your listener is really clueless, try classifying your joke. Repeat, “The LEASE-t the landlord could do.” Follow-up, “Get it?” And categorize (with a sense of confidence in its obviousness), “Rental property joke.” If you still get the look of “huhhh whhhaaaat??” after these efforts, rely on rule number four.

4. “Nevermind.” This word has been saving aspiring comedians for centuries. After doing all you can do to punctuate your joke, it’s ok to fall back on this guy. It doesn’t mean that your pun was a “flop,” it simply means... Nevermind**.

5. Different than “nevermind,” is the “oops, nevermind.” This is the quick (though usually not quick enough) realization that your intended pun was inappropriate or that you accidentally made an punof an inappropriate nature. For these cases, I suggest acquainting yourself with the “pun-dertaker.” Make mental note of certain words that should always be banned from certain conversation topics. In good taste, I will refrain from examples. You will know when you should send a pun to the pundertaker. These puns can often be identified by the symptoms experienced by their reciters. They include severe blushing, instantaneous outbreak of sweating, and uncontrolled repetition of the phrase “that’s not what I meant.”

So now that you know some pun guidelines that have aided me over the years, you can more comfortably and confidently take a swing at making a funny in your coming conversations. Just remember:

• Be Punctual,
• Draw the Punch Line,
• Don’t Hesitate to Punctuate,
• Nevermind, &
• Know the Pundertaker.

And lastly, never forget what Puncle Ben told Peter Parker, “with great power, comes great res-pun- sibility!”

*Luckily I’ve never witnessed the transformation of a friend into an enemy as caused by a pun. But I’m sure it can happen. If it does, make continuous attempts to hug your new “enemy.” When the person gets super annoyed and says, “What the heck are you doing?!” you can tell her that you’re supposed to “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer” and that you will keep trying to hug her until you can be certain that she is not your enemy. That should change her back into a friend. Note: using this tactic on someone who was never your friend in the first place can result in serious injury.
**Be careful with this one though. While “Nevermind” can sometimes serve your comedic efforts, reliance on the word (it’s actually two words – never and mind) can frustrate and disrupt normal communication, all joking aside. Who hasn’t experienced that five minutes of pestering, “what were you going to say???” What’s worse than the five minutes of “C’mon, just tell me,” is the annoyed person’s realization that you were simply “trying to make a fruit pun.” No one feels “peachy” at that point.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoy a good pun, or ten. :-) #3 above reminds me of a quote from E.B. White, " "Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog. You understand it better but the frog dies in the process."


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