The pun, of course, is a much maligned form of humor. Noah Webster, in his first edition of the American Dictionary of the English Language (1828) defines the pun as “an expression in which a word has at once different meanings; an expression in which two different applications of a word present an odd or ludicrous idea; a kind of quibble or equivocation; a low species of wit.” Sigmund Freud, in his seminal work Wit and Relation to the Unconscious (1917), added: “Puns are generally counted as the lowest form of wit, perhaps because they are cheaper and can be formed with the least effort.” Sounds like the father of psychoanalysis suffers from pun envy. In an article for the New York Times, Joseph Tartakovsky posits: “Puns are the feeblest species of humor because they are ephemeral: whatever comic force they possess never outlasts the split second it takes to resolve the semantic confusion.” Punsters will counter that if the pun is the lowest form, then it is the foundation of all wit. Known for his razor-sharp wit, comedian Oscar Levant declared: “A pun is the lowest form of humor — when you don’t think of it first.” Take that, Noah and Siggy! On the other hand, legendary British film director, Alfred Hitchcock (“Master of Suspense”) believed just the opposite: “Puns are the highest form of literature.” Proving that you don’t have to be a psycho to take a stab at a good pun!
For punsters, the internet, serves as a giant sandbox, where they can all step in, gluttons for punishment, and hurl puns at one another, howling with devilish glee (and not a single groan!) that only a true paronomasiac can appreciate. In 2014, Benjamin Branfman published a book of 250 puns titled The Little Book of Giant Puns. The following year, he published a sequel, The Rather Large Book of Puns containing 515 puns. Here are some of the best of puns or the worst of puns, depending on your perspective (pun purists will note that some of these are not technically puns, but rather clever wordplay). Some have been edited for brevity.
I just ate a liver sausage — it was literally the wurst.
Balloon prices have increased recently due to inflation.
If aromatic candles irritate you then you might become incensed.
There was once an artist who made sculptures out of electric cords because he needed a creative outlet.
My friend painted a fish that was hundreds of feet long. But since the canvas was small, the fish wasn’t to scale.
Two horses got married. Their friends gave them a bridal shower.
Never go to war with apes because they are masters of guerrilla tactics.
The other day I saw a monk’s apprentice working in a fast-food kitchen. He was a friar.
The ocean is slowly eroding many beaches. Sadly the future of the coastline is not a shore thing.
Japanese carp are very shy fish — they’re koi.
Illiterate people have a hard time playing the clarinet because they cannot reed.
What’s your favorite clever pun?
For further reading: The Rather Large Book of Puns: Over 500 Excellent and Original Pieces of Wordplay by Benjamin Branfman, CreateSpace, 2015.