What is a Pun?
A pun is a play on words that takes advantage of two things: (1) the fact that some words with different meanings sound the same, such as "air" and "heir"; and (2) the fact that other words have more than one meaning, such as "case," which can mean either a piece of baggage or a instance of a disease.
"Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana," Groucho Marx’s famous pun, cleverly uses "flies" both as a verb and a noun and "like" both as an adverb and a verb. Our mind, accustomed to the rhetorical device of parallelism, wants to think there is something profound here. But in fact Marx has simply created a pun with a comic effect.
How Do you Identify a Pun in Writing?
In literary texts, puns serve a couple of important functions. They may reveal the clever, duplicitous, or frivolous nature of the character who uses them to excess. They sometimes highlight the author’s self-consciousness about the ambiguous nature of language itself, which can lend itself to different interpretations.
Examples of Puns
1. "A horse is a very stable kind of animal."
2."Corduroy pillows make headlines." Get it? Head lines.
3. "Santa’s helpers are subordinate Clauses."
4. "On the contrary, Aunt Augusta, I’ve now realized for the first time in my life the vital Importance of being Earnest,” puns the character Jack Worthing in Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest. In the play, Jack leads a double life and sometimes goes by the name of Ernest; when he claims to be "earnest" (sincere), he is both lying and not lying.
5. "I can’t believe I got tired by the calendar factory. All I did was take a day off."
6. "I’m glad I know sign language; it’s pretty handy."
7. "We need a 12-step group for compulsive talkers. They could call it On Anon Anon."
(View all literary devices)