July 5, 2002

Puns

I would like to propose a class of puns. I don’t know if this is a recognized class or, if it is, whether it has a name. (Reader comments are encouraged.) If these puns don’t have a name, they need one.

I was listening to NPR’s “Morning Edition” yesterday, and I heard a story about the Museum of Modern Art’s moving to a former stapler factory in Queens, so that its Manhattan building can be expanded. Somehow, the phrase “old factory” stuck in my mind, and led me to the following sentence:

The old factory smelled bad inside.

This suggested a general property of such puns. They involve a word or phrase that sounds like another word or phrase that is not present but which strongly relates to other words or ideas in the sentence. This is a somewhat cumbersome definition, but I have few examples at this point and not much of an idea of what constitutes a good pun of this sort. Notice that, like many puns, the one above is inexact. “Old factory” sounds (approximately) like “olfactory,” which, of course relates to the sense of smell.

Here are three other examples:

“My engineer patient has some truly loco motives,” the frustrated psychiatrist told his colleague.

Opening the windows when the train was moving made the Pullman airy.

What type writer are you if you can’t even use a computer?

If you know of any more puns of this type, know an established name for them, or construct additional ones, please send me e-mail.

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