To pun or not to pun, that is the question. The lowest form of wordplay, or an ancient art form embraced by the likes of Jesus and Shakespeare, asks Sally Davies.
No pun is an island. Within less than a mile of my house in Brooklyn, a wanderer will find:
- Fish & Sip, a coffee and seafood joint
- Prospect Perk Cafe, an allusion to the restorative properties of caffeine and of nearby Prospect Park
- The Winey Neighbor, a liquor store that pays homage to the venerable New York tradition of grumbling about the noise from the apartment next door
Where good humour and refreshments abound, puns seem to follow.
Yet this neat little linguistic device – which exploits the multiple meanings of words or phrases that sound the same or similar – is considered by its detractors to be as irritating as it is irrepressible.
In the English-speaking world, punning is viewed as more of a tic than a trick, a pathological condition whose sufferers are classed as “compulsive”, “inveterate” and “unable to help themselves”.
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