When people laugh at a pun, they’re really just being polite, and it’s possible the ones who laughed didn’t catch the word play. But when someone groans, well, that’s the sign of a clever pun with the added message that the groaner “got it,” as in caught on.
A pun, according to the dictionary, is “a joke exploiting the different possible meanings of a word or the fact that there are words that sound alike but have different meanings.”
While in an elementary grade at Immaculate Conception School, we actually had a nun with a sense of humor. She had opened the door by uttering a pun, a play on words. She said something like “Egyptian history lies in runes.” Only the brighter pupils caught it, usually the girls, the teacher’s pets. The nun, Sister Mary Mucha Risa, had used “runes,” ancient carvings alongside “ruins,” related to disintegration.
I still have no doubt the nun’s play on words came by accident. She seemed surprised when she received a raucous reaction from the class and then took it upun herself to let the contagion spread around.
Ever been in a situation where you don’t quite get a pun or a punch line but laugh anyway, so as not to appear uninformed? Well I laughed that time, and as luck would have it, our homeroom teacher asked, “Arthur, what did you find funny about that pun?” She’d asked me politely, trolling to elicit a hoped-for intelligent response, not as a means of putting me on the spot, which happened anyway.
At that age I’d never even heard the word “pun.” I stumbled through an explanation that, “You sounded funny when you said ‘ruins/runes,’ so I laughed.”
Our teacher wasn’t amused that I was amused over how she sounded. But good-naturedly, she said my answer had earned me a half hour of pounding those wretched chalkboard erasers after school.
That experience, coupled perhaps with a few other attempts at humor, which I eventually suspended, caused me to take a long furlough from word play. But that wasn’t me, or, as Sister Mucha Risa would say, “but that wasn’t I.”
I enjoy laughter and seek it out whenever I can. One of my early love-interests, Carol, whom I met when I worked in Illinois, once gave me a serious talking to. She explained that any attempt at humor needs to be relevant. In other words, you may tell jokes about food only when eating. The second condition was that each attempt at humor needed to be prefaced with (what was to me) a long, drawn-out narrative with a clear punch line.
After listening to Carol for several minutes, I asked myself, “Self, what planet does she come from? She’s trying to pass herself off as the Greatest Humorist of All Time. When she tells a joke, she expects all of us to laugh for days and days.” It was shortly after that conversation that we stopped dating each other.
Eventually, I decided, “What the hay? Who decides how humor is spread?” Many years later, Carol explained that her way of making people laugh was as she had explained — a long, copious narrative — “because that’s how my dad used to tell jokes.”
Can an almost-engaged-to-be-married agreement be cancelled because of different humor etiquette? In our case, yes, obviously. But around that time she’d found a fellow who could tell jokes the way Carol ordered.
Using a popular computer application called “Facebook,” I’ve enjoyed exchanging puns and other forms of word play with friends. Please understand that when a person describes a punch line as “atrocious,” it really means “nice going. I wish I’d said it.”
Lately, I’ve received contributions to my Facebook from several friends:
- Cheryl Scott, from Roy, sent a photo of a greenish spice smeared over her hands, with the words, “I have too much thyme on my hands.”
- As if she hadn’t punnished us enough, Cheryl sent an image of a thirteenth century monk, clad in brown vestments, with the message: “Never buy flowers from a monk.” And why is that, Cheryl? “Because only you can prevent florist friars.”
- Jean Hill sent a photo that contained an overhang on a rickety cage that enclosed some veggies: “This is the awning of the cage of asparagus.”
- My friend John Geffroy earns a resounding groan on the basis of a horrible pun he uttered: “There’s a creamy, buttery sauce that people often serve on a china or crystal dish in December. Well, experience has shown that the sauce is best served on a chrome platter, not on china or crystal. And that proves ‘There’s no plate like chrome for the hollandaise.’”
A classic, whose inventor I cannot recall, told about Mahatma Gandhi, the anti-war activist who in his later years ministered to people, walking along the streets until his sandals wore out and his health deteriorated, making him frail. A side effect caused his breath to become unpleasant.
Thus, Gandhi became a super-calloused fragile mystic hexed with halitosis.
Maybe you, the readers have groan tired of these puns. So, on to another topic.
• • •
I believe part of the success of the Highlands University Media Arts Department is due to the efforts of the late Bruce Papier, a long-time professor at the college. I am proud of having been the chairman of the search committee, back in the mid-‘80s that recommended his hiring. We were members of the same department when there existed a journalism division.
The department has made tremendous strides since Bruce retired some dozen years ago. The sophisticated technology that he introduced to the program might just be obsolete today, but at the time, it defined high-tech.
Bruce moved to Santa Fe after retirement and spent much time traveling and even flying small planes. He devoted much of his retirement years with dogs he adopted. Among the several canines he were Yofi, Angel and Shorty.
Bruce became an animal rights activist while in Santa Fe. Bruce died of cancer Aug. 15. Highlands University is much richer now for having had the services of this great professor.