Skip to main content
Select Source:

PUN

PUN, also paronomasia [Stress: ‘pa-ro-no-MAY-si-a’].

1. The conflating of HOMONYMS and near-homonyms to produce a humorous effect: (in speech and writing) Is life worth living?It depends on the liver; (in speech alone) At his funeral, four of his drinking companions carried the bier/beer.

2. A comparable play on words and phrases with similar sounds, sometimes requiring the (often forced) adaptation of one word or phrase to fit the other: My wife's gone to the West Indies.—Jamaica? (Did you make her?)—No, it was her own idea. In the 16–17c, puns were common among dramatists and writers. In SHAKESPEARE's Romeo and Juliet, when Mercutio is dying, he says, ‘Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man.’ In Macbeth, when Lady Macbeth plans to incriminate King Duncan's attendants in his murder, she says: ‘If he do bleed, I'll gild the faces of the grooms withal, for it must seem their guilt (gilt).’ On this liberal approach to puns, Ernest Gowers has observed (in his 1965 edition of Henry Fowler's Modern English Usage): ‘Now that we regard puns merely as exercises in jocularity, and a pretty debased form even of that, we are apt to be jarred by the readiness of Shakespeare's characters to make them at what seem to us most unsuitable moments.’

The pun lost status in English, despite (or perhaps because of) a wealth of homonyms. In the 18c, Joseph Addison considered puns false wit, and increasingly since then critics have taken the same view. Currently, puns are widely considered so low a form of wit that they prompt a ritual groan, but despite this apparent disapproval the pun continues to thrive. They are, for example, common as a means of attracting attention in journalism and commerce: (1) In newspaper headlines: Honoring a Pole Apart (Time, Oct, 1980), on Nobel Prize winner Czesław Misłosz; Rejoycing with the Ulysses set (International Herald Tribune, 22 June 1984), on James Joyce's novel Ulysses; Regimental ties (Observer, 6 Oct. 1985), a title for reviews of military books. (2) In the names of businesses: Lettuce Entertain You (a restaurant); Curl Up and Dye (a hair stylist); Molly's Blooms (a Dublin florist, playing on the name of the Joycean character Molly Bloom). Part of the problem of the pun, however, is straining for effect, working with near-puns rather than with puns properly so called: as the woman said when she received greenery instead of flowers, ‘with fronds like these, who needs anemones?’ See DOUBLE MEANING, HUMOUR, JOURNALESE, PLAYING WITH WORDS.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"PUN." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"PUN." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/pun

"PUN." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/pun

pun

pun / pən/ • n. a joke exploiting the different possible meanings of a word or the fact that there are words that sound alike but have different meanings: the pigs were a squeal (if you'll forgive the pun). • v. (punned , pun·ning ) [intr.] make a joke exploiting the different possible meanings of a word: his first puzzle punned on composers, with answers like “Handel with care” and “Haydn go seek” | [as adj.] (punning) a punning riddle. DERIVATIVES: pun·ning·ly adv. pun·ster / ˈpənstər/ n.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"pun." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"pun." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/pun-2

"pun." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/pun-2

pun

pun, use of words, usually humorous, based on (a) the several meanings of one word, (b) a similarity of meaning between words that are pronounced the same, or (c) the difference in meanings between two words pronounced the same and spelled somewhat similarly, e.g., Thomas Hood's "They went and told the sexton and the sexton tolled the bell." Puns have also been used seriously, as in the Bible, Mat. 16.18: "Thou art Peter [Gr. Petros], and upon this rock [Gr. petra] I will build my church."

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"pun." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"pun." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/pun

"pun." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/pun

pun

pun a joke exploiting the different possible meanings of a word or the fact that there are words which sound alike but have different meanings. Recorded from the mid 17th century, the word may be an abbreviation of obsolet pundigrion, as a fanciful alteration of punctilio, a fine or petty point of conduct or procedure.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"pun." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"pun." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/pun

"pun." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/pun

pun

pun sb. XVII. perh. short for † pundigrion, of uncert. orig.
Hence vb. XVII. punster XVII.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"pun." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"pun." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/pun-3

"pun." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/pun-3

pun

punbegun, bun, done, Donne, dun, fine-spun, forerun, fun, gun, Gunn, hon, Hun, none, nun, one, one-to-one, outdone, outgun, outrun, pun, run, shun, son, spun, stun, sun, ton, tonne, tun, underdone, Verdun, won •honeybun • handgun • flashgun •air gun • sixgun • popgun • shotgun •blowgun, shogun •speargun • scattergun • homespun •endrun • sheep run • grandson •stepson • godson • kiloton • megaton •anyone • everyone • someone

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"pun." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"pun." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/pun-1

"pun." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/pun-1