I just learned that I suffer from paronomasia. Actually, I may cause more suffering than I experience myself, since this “disease” is the act of punning! I was raised in a liberal environment where punning was not only tolerated, but actually encouraged! My family enjoyed all forms of wordplay, but punning was the most common.
When I left home, I soon learned that many people felt as Samuel Johnson did, when he said that “punning is the lowest form of humor”. So, I started to become more selective in exposing my social disease to strangers. To those close to me, I was still just as “punny” as with my family. When I got married, my friends put the typical “Just Married” and other writing on my car. But then they added on the passenger side, “Mary’s punishment!” I accepted that as a fair statement of our new life together!
To a person with paronomasia, the brain is always “listening” to words spoken or written, to check for places where “homonyms can be treated as synonyms”, as Walter Redfern put it. Any word connection that might be made with the words being “heard” is any opportunity for a quick pun. This skill is rewarded in word games like crossword puzzles and cryptoquips, where puns or double meanings are often used to “spice up” the challenge.
Although some may consider the pun to be a “low” form of humor, I would submit to you that it has some advantages over much of what passes for humor. It does not rely on making fun at the expense of others, as so many jokes do. There is no mention of ethnicity, religion, political party, sexual orientation, economic status or any other concept that is used to separate us from each other. So, in this sense, I would call it a “higher” form of humor!
If you think puns are uncultured, then I would like you to know that it has been used by many writers, including those as respected as Alexander Pope, James Joyce, Lewis Carroll. It has been estimated that Shakespeare used over 3,000 puns in his plays!
Of course, puns are only one of many different forms of wordplay. You can check some of the other forms at fun-with-words.com. Words and play go together more than you may know – children at play have created many of the words and even languages of the world! It’s just our need to communicate expressing itself creatively. Your mother may not have let you play with your food, but I hope she let you play with your words! Speaking of food, here is my diet for a better world: peas and hominy.
I hope I have given you a better appreciation for the under-appreciated pun. Remember: PUNishment should not result in suffering!
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