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Posts Tagged ‘puns

“Punning is a talent which no man affects to despise but he that is without it”*…


The English language is almost nightmarishly expansive, and yet there is no good way to respond when someone drops a bad pun in casual conversation.

“Stop” seems ideal, but it’s too late—they already did it. If your esophagus cooperates, you can mimic a human chuckle, or you can just steamroll through, ignoring the elephant now parked in your conversational foyer. Either way, having to deal at all with the demand that wordplay be acknowledged is probably the reason so many people think they hate puns.

Those people are wrong…

More on this variety of not-merely-meretricious merriment at : “If You Think You Hate Puns, You’re Wrong.”

* Jonathan Swift


As we ponder Alfred Hitchcock’s assertion that “puns are the highest form of literature,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1969 that Monty Python was formed.  Graham Chapman was trained and educated to be a physician, but that career trajectory was never meant to be.  John Cleese was writing for TV personality David Frost and actor/comedian Marty Feldman at the time, when he recruited Chapman as a writing partner and “sounding board”.  BBC offered the pair a show of their own in 1969, when Cleese reached out to former How To Irritate People writing partner Michael Palin, to join the team.  Palin invited his own writing partner Terry Jones and colleague Eric Idle over from rival ITV, who in turn wanted American-born Terry Gilliam for his animations.

The Pythons considered several names for their new program, including “Owl Stretching Time”, “The Toad Elevating Moment”, “Vaseline Review” and “A Horse, a Spoon and a Bucket.”  “Flying Circus” had come up as well.  The name stuck when BBC revealed that they had already printed flyers, and weren’t about to go back to the printer.



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May 11, 2018 at 1:01 am

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Some pens are mightier than others…


More of Timothy Leo Taranto‘s  “Literary Puns,” via The Rumpus, here, here, and here.


As we rethink our reading lists, we might recall that it was on this date in 1973 that first graduates from the Open University (OU) were awarded their degrees after two years studying from home.  Britain’s (and one of the world’s) first “distance learning” universities, Open University opened in 1971 with 25,000 students– at a time when the entire student population of conventional universities in the U.K. was only about 130,000.  OU currently has over 250,000 students on its rolls, 50,000 from overseas, and has so far served over 1.5 million learners.  It was ranked 43rd (second quartile) in the Times Higher Education Table of Excellence in 2008 (between the University of Reading and University of the Arts London); it was ranked overall as a nationally top forty, and globally top five hundred university by the Academic Ranking of World Universities in 2011; and it has regularly ranked #1 among U.K. universities in student satisfaction.




Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 11, 2014 at 1:01 am

That’s sick…


…no, I mean actually ill– pathological…

From Chaucer through Shakespeare to Pynchon, puns have amused, even illuminated.  But, as readers will know, too much of a good thing is, well… not so good.

Lest we chastise those who offend, Dan Lewis, of Now I Know fame, reminds us that over-punning is in fact a recognized pathology:

… there are some out there who cannot control themselves. Discussions of livestock result in udder failure. Conversations about geometry always end up going on some sort of tangent. Trips to the bakery are a piece of cake — but camping trips are in tents. These people insist that North Korea is evil (it doesn’t have a Seoul), wonder why Ireland is so small (as its capital is always Dublin), and if you’re Russian, argue that you best not be Stalin.

For these people, puns aren’t just a character trait — they’re a neurological disease called Witzelsucht.

Witzelsucht, as summarized by a team of Taiwanese researchers in a paper (pdf here) published in 2005, is marked by “a tendency to tell inappropriate and poor jokes.” Wikipedia, citing another studynotes that a Witzelsucht patient has an “uncontrollable tendency to pun,” finding the jokes “intensely amusing.” These tendencies are caused by an injury to the person’s brain, specifically in his or her right frontal lobe, often caused by stroke. One neurologist, who told MSNBC that he sees several Witzelsucht-afflicted patients each year, described a particularly “dramatic” case: “[He] appeared to be attracted to my reflex hammer. After I checked his deep tendon reflexes and put my hammer down, he picked up the hammer and started to check my reflexes, while giggling.” The humor, of course, was lost on the doctor — and would be to any outside observer as well.

The Taiwanese study speaks of a 56-year-old stroke victim who punned uncontrollably — using a lot of “witticisms and quips,” as the paper describes. The sheer volume of the jokes also interfered with patient’s physicians’ ability to examine him; as the study notes, the man “was euphoric, outspoken, prankish, and was so talkative that an interruption was usually needed to pull the conversation back to the topic or to complete a test.” But like many with the condition, the man was not responsive to the jokes of others.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for Witzelsucht. Io9 notes that some behavioral therapies may be able to blunt the punning, and various medicines may help calm the afflicted down, but in the end, the allure of another pun will certainly prevail.


As we retreat to more refined raillery, we might recall that it was on this date in 1961 that the first issue of Private Eye was published.  A kind of print forerunner of That Was the Week That Was, The Onion, and The Daily Show, the satirical fortnightly remains Britain’s best-selling current affairs magazine.



Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 25, 2012 at 1:01 am

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