A Journal for Western Man

 

An Analysis of the Various Kinds of Humor:

Puns and Humor Through Wordplay

G. Stolyarov II

Issue CXI - June 30, 2007

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Principal Index

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Old Superstructure

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Old Master Index

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Contributors

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The Rational Business Journal

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Forum

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Yahoo! Group

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Gallery of Rational Art

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Online Store

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Henry Ford Award

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Johannes Gutenberg Award

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CMFF: Fight Death

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Eden against the Colossus

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A Rational Cosmology

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Implied Consent

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Links

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Mr. Stolyarov's Articles on Helium.com

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Mr. Stolyarov's Articles on Associated Content

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Mr. Stolyarov's Articles on GrasstopsUSA.com

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Submit/Contact

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Statement of Policy

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Humor can be created by the placement of same-sounding or same-spelled words with different meanings in close proximity and/or in the same context, a technique often referred to as "punning," and unduly scorned by the vulgar among men, who fail to recognize its fineries.

The purpose of humor through wordplay is not to win an argument or advance a serious case; rather, it is to demonstrate the wit, cleverness, and linguistic abilities of the person who makes a successful pun. The more words on which a given pun can play while introducing the multiple possible meanings of these words into the conversation, the more successful the pun can be.

Let us consider an example of humor through wordplay from William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream:

"HIPPOLYTA. He says they can do nothing in this kind.

THESEUS. The kinder we, to give them thanks for nothing." (5.1.94-95)

Theseus's wordplay on "kind" and "nothing," in response to Hippolyta's use of these words, employs them in alternate meanings to produce an answer that supports Theseus's position in the discussion by using Hippolyta's own words. The reader or listener knows this device to be but a trick, a convenience allowed by the accidents of the English language rather than by any objective fact.

The pun is not in itself a convincing argument, but it is a witty one; it is not meant to win one's case, but rather to evoke a laugh in appreciation of the verbal skill and/or quickness of insight needed to create it.

For example, Joe may urge George to tell the truth in a given situation. "Be frank," Joe would say. George would respond, "But I am not Frank. I am George." George knows the true context in which the question was asked, and, by using the word "frank" in an entirely different context, he cannot hope to obscure the issue in Joe's or the audience's mind. Yet, the very fact that the context is misplaced in the remark makes it a departure from the expected in the minds of the discerning audience, and, thus, humorous.

Humor through wordplay is most effective when the multiple meanings of the word which is being exploited are not typically associated with one another in the minds of the audience; that is, the listener's ability to anticipate a pun often diminishes its power. Furthermore, a highly effective pun can take advantage of multiple meanings of words, both of which are highly relevant to the topic being discussed.

G. Stolyarov II is a science fiction novelist, independent philosophical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, composer, contributor to Enter Stage Right, Le Quebecois Libre,  Rebirth of Reason, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Senior Writer for The Liberal Institute, weekly columnist for GrasstopsUSA.com, and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, a magazine championing the principles of reason, rights, and progress. Mr. Stolyarov also publishes his articles on Helium.com and Associated Content to assist the spread of rational ideas. His newest science fiction novel is Eden against the Colossus. His latest non-fiction treatise is A Rational Cosmology. His most recent play is Implied Consent. Mr. Stolyarov can be contacted at gennadystolyarovii@yahoo.com.

This TRA feature has been edited in accordance with TRA’s Statement of Policy.

Click here to return to TRA's Issue CXI Index.

Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here..

Read Mr. Stolyarov's new comprehensive treatise, A Rational Cosmology, explicating such terms as the universe, matter, space, time, sound, light, life, consciousness, and volition, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's new four-act play, Implied Consent, a futuristic intellectual drama on the sanctity of human life, here.