Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Pun Also Rises: How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, and Made Wordplay More Than Some Antics / by John Pollack

Ever heard that "to write with a broken pencil is pointless"? How about that "when fish are in schools they sometimes take debate" or that "a criminal's best asset is his lie ability"? Always "be true to your teeth or they will be false to you" and "you'll feel stuck with your debt if you can't budge it". For as long as puns have been around, people have been telling each other achingly bad jokes like back when "ancient orators tended to babylon" or "when backwards poets wrote inverse". But some people think the pun as more than just the lowest form of humor. Author of this delightfully groan-worthy book on the history of puns, former Clinton speechwriter and winner of the O'Henry Pun-Off John Pollack believes that "punning" virtually revolutionalized language and has been instrumental in the integration and development of modern civilization.

The pun is more than just a lame (pun)ch line, something history testifies to. From the ancient Egyptians whose heiroglyphics attest to the humorous double-meaning symbols to the French wits of the 17th century, puns have always been at the forefront of exposition and repartee. In the English language particularly, the Norman Conquest diversified the vocabulary to a point that by Elizabethan times, "the play upon words was not merely an elegance of style and a display of wit; it was also an means of emphasis and an instrument of persuasion" (p. 63). The art of the pun is, even today, still a worthy tool for any wannabe wordsmythes, encouraging the broad and cross-cultural use of words to communicate intelligence. Because of its utility, puns are a universally acknowledged currency for any format of both oral and written correspondence and almost any type of social interaction, even texting. Pollack says that the pun will never die. Moreover, it will continue to proliferate as a low-brow gag and a device to be infused during the most proper of conversations. No matter what, it will always be more than just 'some antics'. (808.7 POLLACK) 

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