05 May 2021

Review: The Pun Also Rises by John Pollack

The Pun Also Rises by John Pollack book cover
The Pun Also Rises - How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, and Made Wordplay More than Some Antics
by John Pollack kicks off with a bang! Recalling his attendance at the eighteenth annual world pun championships, the author had me chuckling early on and it continued throughout the book.

Pollack explains many different types and styles of puns, why they're clever, why we find them funny and naturally how they've been decried by some circles throughout history. In basic terms, a pun is a phrase or word that contains layers or multiple meanings. Sometimes it can be a word that has multiple meanings, such as: "An architect in prison complained that the walls were not built to scale." Other times it can be a play on words or the sound of words, such as: "The excitement at the circus is in tents."
"So what's the alchemy at work here? How do the best puns manage to layer so much meaning, humor, even irony into just a few words? And why in the world is punning so intrinsic to human expression that it sparks such mischievous delight?" Page xxiv
There are many different types of puns and early on in the book Pollack also takes pains to say:
"And while linguists have defined the pun's principal forms, its many variations actually defy easy categorization." Page xxiv
Pollack outlines the many ways we can manipulate language for our own amusement and the entertainment and enjoyment of others. The author explains that puns fall into two principal categories, homophonic puns and homographic puns. Homophonic puns are those using words that sound alike (such as 'in tents' and 'intense') and homographic puns involve a word that is spelled the same but contains more than one meaning. There are also paradigmatic puns requiring the listener to grasp a greater context in order to get the joke, and syntagmatic puns where a sequence of similar or identical words are used. A great example of a syntagmatic pun is provided:
"The wedding was beautiful. The bride was in tears, and the cake was in tiers, too." Page 12
It was fun to visit spoonerisms in the book, which is when a person speaking transposes letters or words in a sentence that still manages to makes sense, but in a new and funny way. A well known example from the Oxford don after which spoonerisms are named, occurred when he met Queen Victoria and thanks to a slip of the tongue, said "a half-warmed fish" instead of "a half-formed wish". Whoops!

Pollack gives the reader two definitions of puns from a 1719 essay by Thomas Sheridan the first of which was an absolute highlight of the book. Sheridan described the physical definition of punning as the:
"art of harmonious jingling upon words, which, passing in at the ears, and falling upon the diaphragma, excites a titillary motion in those parts; and this, being conveyed by the animal spirits into the muscles of the face, raises the cockles of the heart." Page 81
Brilliant! I just love this description!

As soon as I started reading this book, I began to notice puns everywhere. I've noticed copious puns showing up in news headlines and articles and they're definitely a firm favourite of the TV host of Lego Masters. 

John Pollack clearly loves puns and provides a detailed history in The Pun Also Rises. I'll admit much of the content was a little dry, however Pollack keeps whetting our appetite by weaving in clever little puns throughout the content. I chuckled at the 'harmonious jingling upon words' reading this, and finished the book with a newfound appreciation for this linguistic talent.

So, where do you sit when it comes to puns? Chuckleworthy or groan inducing?

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

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