Friday, February 18, 2011

Puns classified

I have another contribution to make to linguistics. Puns come in two forms: strong and weak.

A weak pun is a confusion between two very different usages of the same word (or a part of a word that is the same word root). Here is an example:
The best way to communicate with a fish is to drop them a line.
The word "line" in both sense derives from the same historical usage; a line is a connector, be it a string, telephone wire, or an arc of lead on paper.

A strong pun is a confusion between two words of entirely different etymology. Here is an example:
When the detectives on the police force observed suspects dining in the city's best restaurant, it was their favorite steak out.
As far as I know, stake has nothing to do with steak besides pronunciation. This makes the pun strong. Strong puns are not necessarily more funny, and in fact they tend to be more convoluted. Based on a quick survey over the list of puns provided here, weak puns are far more common than strong puns, and probably easier to create. Here is my attempt at at strong pun.
I wished that I had not put money down on the boat after the sail fell through.


Anonymous Brian K said...

My response at

6:20 PM  

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