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"Puns are little plays on words that a certain breed of person loves to spring on you and then look at you in a certain self-satisfied way to indicate that he thinks that you must think that he is by far the cleverest person on Earth now that Benjamin Franklin is dead, when in fact what you are thinking is that if this person ever ends up in a lifeboat, the other passengers will hurl him overboard by the end of the first day even if they have plenty of food and water."
Dave Barry, "Why Humor Is Funny"

A pun (also known as a pune, or a play on words) is a form of word play where a word with more than one meaning is exploited to make a joke or Riddle based on this double meaning. This can also take the form of substituting one word for a different, similarly sounding word. Usually done for humorous effect.

The problem with puns is that they are seen as the lowest form of humor, (although poetry is verse), and often are not very punny, at least in English - at best, they're So Bad, It's Good. On the other hand, languages such as Chinese or Japanese, where words can be chosen for sound, character, or meaning, allow for puns of incredible complexity, working on multiple levels, and they are often viewed as an art form.

The stigma against puns in the English language is a contemporary attitude. Within historic fiction, esteemed authors pun freely including in situations that modern tastes would regard as most inappropriate. In A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens has Ebenezer Scrooge tell the ghost of Jacob Marley "There's more of gravy than of grave about you," and Shakespeare uses a similar pun in Romeo and Juliet where Mercutio is fatally wounded (3.1.94-95) yet plays on the different noun and adjectival meanings of grave with "Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man." Even prim and proper Jane Austen gives Mary Crawford the line, "Certainly, my home at my uncle’s brought me acquainted with a circle of admirals. Of Rears and Vices, I saw enough," in Mansfield Park, leaving later generations of readers wondering whether Crawford is talking about different ranks of admirals or something else. Each of those examples reveals something within the larger context of the work: Scrooge puns when seeing the first ghost because he thinks the apparition is a hallucination caused by a bad meal, Mercutio is upbeat and witty concealing the seriousness of his wounds (alternatively he is panicking at having just been mortally wounded, and he is desperately trying to hide his fear with a joke), and Mary Crawford's speech foreshadows that her wealth and connections have not really made her genteel.

Shakespeare puns so frequently that the original version of the "disco tent" meme illustrating this page ends in a different pun: "Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York." Richard III was the last of the Yorkist kings during the English Wars of the Roses, so that plays on the homophone sun/son of the house of York.

Puns are challenging to recreate in another language when a work is subtitled, dubbed, or translated. The translator may have to use a different example to get a pun in the new language. In some cases in novels, the translators can't recreate the pun, so they put a footnote.note 

For trope names that are puns go to Punny Trope Names. For tropes that are pun names of other tropes, you want Snowclones.


Examples that don't fit the sub-tropes:

Video Games

  • A Bear's Night Out: If you try to remove your night shirt, you'll get the text: "Why change the habit of a lifetime?", using "habit" both in the sense of "tendency" and its older sense of "attire".
  • Eat Me: A couple instances of antanaclasis:
    • In the intro text, the narrator describes a lack of dinner as a "mean repast by the meanest measure". The first "mean" is meant in the sense of "ungenerous", while the one in "meanest" is meant in the sense of "unkind".
    • If the player persists in eating the mound of filth, the narrator comments:
      Whatever's gotten into you, my dear, I couldn't guess. Now more filth's gotten into you, at any rate, as you swallow what's in your mouth again.
      The first "gotten into you" is meant figuratively, while the second is meant literally.

Western Animation

  • Hazbin Hotel: In "Radio Killed the Video Star", Vox sings about Alastor, "Now his medium is getting bloody rare!" This is referring to Alastor's medium of radio becoming "rare" as in "scarce", with "bloody" being used as an intensifier. The sentence also has meat-related meanings which are expressed through a Visual Pun of Vox pulling a deer head out of an oven — "medium" and "rare" as in doneness levels for meat, and "bloody" as in literally bloody, which rare meat looks like.

Alternative Title(s): Punny Index, Incredibly Lame Joke, Punny Stuff, Incredibly Lame Pun


A Sirius Accident

Ron rushes to tell Harry that Dumbledore's gotten into an accident, but when Harry asks if it was serious, Ron clarifies that it wasn't Sirius; it was Snape.

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5 (7 votes)

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Main / Pun

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