Points to pun­der

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY -

RE­CENTLY WHEN a Trinida­dian man was charged with bigamy, one of my friends re­marked that it was the first time he had ever heard of two rites mak­ing a wrong. Of course, the bigamist loved not wisely but two well.

Jokes like th­ese are based on puns. Ac­cord­ing to Wikipedia, the pun, also called parono­ma­sia, is a form of word­play that ex­ploits mul­ti­ple mean­ings of a term, or of sim­i­lar-sound­ing words, for an in­tended hu­mor­ous ef­fect.

A good ex­am­ple is a pun by one of the great Amer­i­can co­me­di­ans, Ge­orge Car­lin, “Athe­ism is a non-prophet or­gan­i­sa­tion.” Puns go way back in history and were found in An­cient Egypt, China, Me­sopotamia (around 2500 BC) and in the He­brew Bi­ble.

Some peo­ple, like the fa­mous English critic, Dr Sa­muel John­son, con­sider puns the low­est form of wit. They would refuse to laugh at Car­lin or any other pun­ster. The great film­maker, Al­fred Hitch­cock, how­ever, viewed puns as the high­est form of lit­er­a­ture. John Pol­lack, author of The Pun Also Rises, says, “For most of Western history, puns were a sign of high in­tel­lect. They were a tool, and they re­main a tool, to pack more mean­ing into fewer words.”

It is no joke that a study by the Univer­sity of New Mex­ico found that hu­mor­ous peo­ple are more in­tel­li­gent than those who take life and ev­ery­thing else too se­ri­ously and, as a bonus, are more at­trac­tive as mat­ing part­ners. Talk­ing about mat­ing part­ners, here is an ex­am­ple of an ex­tended pun that shows not just dex­ter­ity with words but also how much mean­ing can be packed into just a few words.

Two tall trees, a birch and a beech, are grow­ing in the woods. A small tree be­gins to grow be­tween them and the beech says to the birch, “Is that a son of a beech or a son of a birch?” The birch ad­mits the he can­not tell. Just then a wood­pecker lands on the sapling. The birch says, “Wood­pecker, you are a tree ex­pert. Can you tell if that is a son of a birch or a son of a beech?” The wood­pecker takes a taste of the small tree. He replies, “It is nei­ther a son of a beech nor a son of a birch. It is, how­ever, the best piece of ash I have ever put my pecker in.”

IN DAN­GER OF SPLIT­TING

As that joke showed, we pun­sters are indis­crim­i­nate in our tastes and are like the vul­ture who boarded an aero­plane car­ry­ing two dead rac­coons. The flight at­ten­dant looked at him and said, “Sorry, sir, but only one car­rion per pas­sen­ger.”

In Venezuela, I once met a glass­blower who in­haled and got a pane in the stom­ach. When global warm­ing hit the Arc­tic Ocean, sci­en­tists were as­signed to watch glaciers in dan­ger of split­ting. Nat­u­rally, all the re­searchers were re­quired to have good ice sight. At the Queen El­iz­a­beth Hos­pi­tal in Bar­ba­dos, pass­ing the nurse as he ar­rived at the hos­pi­tal the doc­tor cau­terise and smiled. She, in­tern, smiled back. The doc­tor, un­for­tu­nately, was a pae­di­a­tri­cian who had very lit­tle pa­tients.

There is the sad case of the London Un­der­ground. Fall­ing in love with a woman who trav­elled on the train every day, the ticket sales­man asked her to marry him. She agreed and de­cided to have their wed­ding re­cep­tion in a huge room on the up­per floor of the build­ing. So many of their friends and fam­ily showed up that their com­bined weight caused the plat­form to col­lapse. The moral of the story is that you should never marry above your sta­tion.

In the an­i­mal king­dom, cows are the most grate­ful an­i­mals. They re­alise that all they have, they owe to ud­ders. In Switzer­land, where dig­i­tal watches and clocks have re­placed the old me­chan­i­cal in­stru­ments, the crafts­men have vir­tu­ally dis­ap­peared. One of the last of the old clock­mas­ters, Hans Pfall, de­cided to write a book about his craft. When it was pub­lished, all the crit­ics said it was about time. There is the story of the young woman mar­ried to the 90-year-old man. Com­plain­ing about her sex life, she said, “It’s the same thing weak-in, weak-out.”

In ed­u­ca­tion, there was the Amer­i­can school board that banned Sir Wal­ter Scott’s clas­sic English novel, Ivan­hoe, be­cause it con­tained too much Saxon vi­o­lence. Then there is the at­tor­ney who in­tro­duced him­self to his client, a psy­chol­o­gist, as a crim­i­nal lawyer. The client com­mended him for be­ing so self-aware. There was an­other at­tor­ney who worked day and night to break the young wi­dow’s will. Of course, lawyers are a unique breed. In no other pro­fes­sion would some­one write a 50-page doc­u­ment and call it a ‘brief ’.

Politi­cians fare no bet­ter. Dur­ing a whis­tle-stop cam­paign, the pres­i­den­tial can­di­date’s train went com­pletely off the track and ca­reened through a farmer’s field killing sev­eral an­i­mals. The politi­cian had no choice but to agree to re­im­burse the farmer for his losses. This was the first time in history that a politi­cian ac­tu­ally took re­spon­si­bil­ity for the bulls hit.

Univer­sity lec­tur­ers also suc­cumb to the pun­demic. One fa­mous Chi­nese scholar, on a lec­ture tour, was speak­ing at a col­lege cam­pus when light­ning struck the au­di­to­rium and the lights went out. Dis­cov­er­ing that all the bulbs had to be re­placed, the sponsor of the lec­ture got some re­place­ment bulbs, handed them to the au­di­ence, and asked for their help to re­place the burnt-out ones. When the hall was once more il­lu­mi­nated, the lec­turer said, “You have all shown the truth of the old Con­fu­cian say­ing, ‘Many hands make light work.’”

Tony Deyal was last seen talk­ing about the house­wife whose hus­band had surgery five times for the same prob­lem. “I am tired of peo­ple open­ing my male,” she com­plained.

Tony Deyal

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