Puns are a popular type of humor. They even made their way into the presidential race, where they trumped less hillaryous jokes!
Wait! Don’t click away just yet! I’m sure many of you just groaned, rolled your eyes, or even stopped reading this article entirely. Humor may be a polarized medium, but no form of humor is as divided as the pun. People seem to either love puns, or absolutely hate them. (And many love to hate them too.)
But puns are more than simple jokes and riddles with a clever punchline. They force people to think about the complexities of the English language. They exploit multiple definitions and similar-sounding words to produce intellectually superior comedy.
In fact, puns were traditionally considered the highest form of humor. Historically, their use represented smarts and cleverness. For example, Shakespeare famously saturated his plays with witty wordplay as intellectual candy for the upper class. He mastered the art of saying one thing and slyly meaning something else entirely.
However, today’s attitude towards puns has taken a complete 180. Instead of praising them for their original, witty humor, they are given an audible sigh or an obnoxious groan. Now, many pun-haters consider puns as the lowest form of humor. But why do people groan at puns now? How have puns fallen from grace?
Why people hate puns
To be fair, not all puns are created equal. Puns are oftentimes forced into a conversation with no real purpose or benefit. Rather than enhancing a discussion or adding new insight, they are often used just to annoy others for the punster’s enjoyment. According to Jo Firestone, a producer of the Brooklyn pun competition Punderdome, puns are often “a totally frivolous unnecessary thing to say most of the time.” Even as a pun-lover, she admits “it usually is just to derail the conversation or to add wordplay when wordplay doesn’t belong there…kind of like the annoying younger brother or sister of the comedy world.”
However, despite these abused instances that hurt the pun’s reputation, there are still fantastic puns that deserve more than their bland groans and sighs. The real reason that people despise them is rooted deep in psychology.
The psychology of pun-hating
Those that truly hate puns (and don’t just groan while hiding a smile or chuckle) cannot stand the flexibility of the English language. They crave order and straightforwardness, and are frustrated by ambiguous meanings of words. Homophones and homonyms are like imperfections and nuances of language. These people desire an order over English that simply does not exist.
For others, even if they secretly enjoy clever wordplay, they refuse to acknowledge a pun-lover’s successful joke. To them, acknowledgement of somebody’s funny joke is admission that he/she has mastery over language. The groaners will avoid giving the punster any satisfaction or sign they actually appreciated the pun. Instead, they will groan and shake their head, showing their dissatisfaction of the poor taste in humor. This way, the groaners can project their sense of mental superiority by implying they have a much more tasteful sense of humor.
Sadly, many people will reject original humor. Instead, they flock to recycled, reused jokes that never change. Unlike the clever pun that makes them think, they take comfort in the reliability in old jokes.
Obviously, I love puns and wish for others to appreciate them more. I have reluctantly learned to treat others’ groans and eye rolls as successes. However, there is still hope for the pun. If pun-makers uphold their responsibility and we all are a little more open, maybe the pun can again be the respected high form of comedy it once was.
If you made it here, maybe you have a soft spot for puns too. Or maybe you previously thought you had a burning hatred for them, but are undergoing an epiphany.
Just remember to pun wisely. Puns can be very offensive. For example, if you ever meat a vegetarian that you have beef with, it would be a misteak to lamb-ent your past or fish for solutions when there is so much at steak.
And if you get good, you can cram 2, 3, or even 4 puns into a single phrase. For instance, stealing money from Washington, D.C. should be a CAPITOL PUN-ISHMENT.
Thanks for making it through the thorough article, though.
C’mon, that wasn’t even a pun. I’m not sorry.