A Serious Post About Puns—No really

Years ago, a close friend remarked, “I don’t like puns.”

I was stunned.  Not that there could be someone who doesn’t like puns, but that such a person could be a close friend. I mean, I’m me. Like pretty much everyone who loves language, I can’t help but be aware of the acoustic properties of words.  And this will inevitably cause connections in my head between words, which will of course lead to connections between the ideas those words carry with them, and sometimes that connection will take the form of a line of a song (or, god help you all, a poem), or a nice sentence, but very often it will take the form of a pun.  This word sounds like that word, and here is how their subject matter can connect.  What I mean is, on a certain level, I cannot help but be aware of word play, and when one comes to mind that passes my not-terribly-high standards of humor, I’m inclined to let it out.  Therefore, I was amazed that someone could actually like me but not like puns.

Then she went on, and the proverbial light bulb went on in my head.

“It’s just that sometimes I have conversations with people and it seems like they aren’t interested in what I’m saying, they’re just waiting for the next opportunity to make a pun.”

Oh.  Ouch.  Yeah.

How can I argue?  I’ve not only done it, but I realized, as she spoke, that I’d been irritated by the same thing.

This does not, in my opinion, mean, “stop making puns,” it means, “be aware of the context.”  If someone is talking about something that matters to him or her, that is actually important and meaningful, or even a subject that person is interested in and believes you are too, turning it into an opportunity for humor can be rude, disrespectful, hurtful. Of course, it isn’t easy, because sometimes it can be exactly perfect in the sense of breaking the tension in an agreeable way.  That’s the thing about interactions with us monkeys: nothing is simple, nothing is easy.

But, anyway, this is something for those of us whose minds work that way to think about.