As you can probably tell from our character names, we love to have a laugh – and a play on words is one of our favourite ways to raise a smile. But when did our love affair with puns begin? And what makes a page filled with double meanings literally hilarious?
Tales of the punexpected
Whether you think they’re the lowest form of wit or the height of humour, it’s safe to say that puns have been around for a long time. According to John Pollack, author of The Pun Also Rises, you can find evidence of puns in Sanskrit, The Bible and the philosophical works of Wittgenstein. Even the "Princes of Babylon challenged each other to riddling duels whose answers depended on puns."
Despite being the Marmite of writing techniques, puns have played a crucial role in our literary heritage. Oscar Wilde is attributed with writing this one-liner about a certain renowned philosopher: “Immanuel doesn’t pun – he Kant”, while Shakespeare filled his works with hidden meanings. For example, in Romeo and Juliet, when Mercutio declares, “That dreamers often lie”, he is referring both to lying down and speaking untruths.
Punderstanding. The art of understanding puns.
Believe it or not, there are actually many different types of pun. There are ‘homophonic puns’, when two words sound the same but are written differently - like William Shakes-Feet making so many puns he gets bard.
There are ‘homographic puns’, when one word can be pronounced in two different ways – caution, putting this type of pun on paper can make you tear up – and there are homonymic puns, when words are spelt the same way and sound the same, but have two different meanings. For example, when Isaac Newtoe has a lightbulb moment, it means he’s very bright.
‘Compound puns’ contain at least a couple of word tricks, while ‘recursive puns’ only reveal themselves to those in the know, which is why science-lovers chuckle when our Albert mug character ponders the theory of relativi-tea.
Why do we get so much joy out of a little word trickery? Puns put ‘a smile in the mind’. With the two sides of your brain working to understand the joke, you get a wonderful (or groan-inducing) ah-ha moment. It’s like cracking a code or deciphering a riddle and for some, it’s a highly competitive pastime.
We discovered John Pollack’s book because he also happens to be a World Champion punster. Yes, that’s right, there’s a global competition for pun-lovers (or should that be punthusiasts?). Held in Texas each year, punsters meet to battle it out, trying to out-do each other with witty word play.
If this sounds like it rings your bell, there’s also a national event held in the UK. Competitors take on glorious names, such as ‘The Pundertaker’ and ‘Thor, God of Punder’, and stand in a boxing ring slinging zingers inspired by a seemingly punending list of topics.
Of course, you don’t need to enter a national competition to show off your punbelievable word play skills. Take your inspiration from our heelarious products and have a little fun with your own name. We’d love to see what you come up with over on Twitter. @ChattyFeet #punbelievable