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“It’s all pun and games until someone gets curt”: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pun November 20, 2013

Posted by TimTheFoolMan in Humor, Parenting/Children.
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I find it interesting, and generally amusing, when people complain to me about my love of puns. It’s been often said that puns are the “lowest form of humor,” and are no doubt where many people begin with humor. Hopefully, they don’t end there.

However, there are also arrangements and formations of puns, particularly in compound sequences, that can demonstrate the breadth of one’s vocabulary and intelligence. (I’m not claiming that this is always the case with the puns you might read here.)

Don’t Get Cross-Disciplinary with Me

Learning to pun means learning to watch for cross-disciplinary and cross-contextual patterns. Teaching children to pun, in my opinion, is fundamental to them learning, since watching for such patterns speeds learning new subjects. For a pun to be really good, there needs to be more than just an aural tickle–it needs to have meaning that works well in the new context.

One of the earliest jokes that I taught the boys was a simple bit of wordplay:

After finding a Genie in a magic lantern, a little boy says to the genie, “Hey… make me a milkshake.”

The Genie waves his hand, there’s a puff of smoke, and then he says, “Okay… you’re a milkshake.”

According to Wikipedia, puns are “a form of word play that suggests two or more meanings, by exploiting multiple meanings of words, or of similar-sounding words, for an intended humorous or rhetorical effect.” Puns can be as innocent as “Pi/pie” connections, or as tawdry as a homophone of “hormone.”

Puns can even be found in research labs. One day, I was filming a researcher putting some (now dead) lab mice into an ice bucket and then moving it into the fume hood, when he offhandedly said, “Then… I put these guys on ice in the hood.”

For some reason, the image of a research scientist saying this, and not recognizing how hilarious it sounded, made me giggle uncontrollably. (I eventually stopped laughing.)

Now that My Sons are Fully Groan

Not teaching your children to pun puts them at a disadvantage. (I am dead serious about that.)

When they were growing up, my sons and I would regularly engage in “pun offs,” where we would make Pun A, then the other would make Pun B (which had to refer to Pun A). The original punner would then have to make Pun C on Pun B, which would lead to Pun D, and would eventually be quite Pun-E. When things worked well, the “topper” (finishing joke) would circle back around and connect Pun (x) to Pun A.

Over time, my sons and I would be able to spot the thoughtful expression on each other’s faces that signaled that we were processing something that had been said in our midst. Then, a new game emerged, which was a race to see who could take the “pun opportunity” and run with it. We would all get a good groan out of it, but frequently, one of us would say, “You should’ve said ____ instead,” which then encouraged us to ramp up our game a bit more for the next opportunity.

All of this, and I mean all of it, was intentional parenting and instruction on my part. You can lightheartedly razz me about this being cruel, but don’t expect me to ever have any regret for teaching and encouraging my sons to “love the pun.” Doing so taught them pattern recognition, which helps them solve problems in every area of their lives. Puns were never just by making people around them groan (or maybe laugh).

“I’ve Been (Re)Framed”

The “reframing” of information into a new context is at the center of all humor. Accordingly, the eloquence of a simple pun, especially when it’s conjured up on-the-spot, reframing fresh moments of social interaction with a sudden shift of perspective, is what makes me love them so much.

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