Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Puns and Punning

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Puns and Punning

Article excerpt

Puns and Punning

A color picture on Page One of the Los Angeles Times had the Mt. Rushmore sculptures as a background and the words "A Heady Celebration" as a caption. This is a good example of the cuteness that has regrettably seized some headline writers.

I have nothing against cuteness, provided it comes off, but some cute heads, like this one, are failed attempts at puns, and in the annals of witticism there is nothing worse. The one cited was intended as a takeout on the sculpted heads. The word heady is the key, but the writer obviously did not know what it means and sadly assumed it has something to do with head or heads. The dictionary defines heady as "Tending to upset the mental balance of the senses . . . intoxicating." Instead of amusing the newspaper reader, the heading leaves him baffled and annoyed.

What, then, is a pun? Dictionaries tell us a pun is a play on words, "sometimes on different senses of the same word and sometimes on the similar sense or sound of different words. Also called |paronomasia,' to call by a different name" -- American Heritage.

A well-shaped pun must make sense both (or more) ways. Take, for example, the definition "A lady is a woman who always remembers others and never forgets herself." The pun here turns on "never forgets herself," which can be taken to mean (a) always keeps her own interests in mind and (b) never behaves in an unseemly manner. The counterpart, so to speak (not a pun), is "A gentleman is a man who never insults anyone unintentionally. …

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