Paul Ford has an essay on the art of the pun. He's quite right; among those of us that value this form of literary one-upmanship, "pun-delivery is sport." It's the adult equivalent of Calvin's gross-out game (via Dave Tweed's fantastic Calvin and Hobbes Index), where kids attempt to say something even more gross than the previous contestant. We, as adults, play the more erudite version, but the aim is essentially the same; to make the other contestants physically sick at the awfulness of our latest pun. It's a great game. Improves your vocabulary no end. And everyone, everyone, groan as they might, finds the puns funny.
I have to keep telling myself that.
My favourite literary example is from Charles Lamb's Essays of Elia, in Popular Fallacies: That The Worst Puns Are The Best, quoting Swift: "An Oxford scholar, meeting a porter who was carrying a hare through the streets, accosts him with this extraordinary question: 'Prithee, friend, is that thy own hare, or a wig?'" As Lamb has it, "There is no excusing this, and no resisting it." If I was Swift I'd consider that pun my masterwork; forget the satire and Gulliver's Travels (satire though it was).
Try yourself a pun today. If someone punches you in the face, consider that a celebration of its appallingness, and feel proud.
© sil, September 2002