- A pun is a primitive jest; was common in Shakespeare’s days.
- Is not literary, and not to be included in figures of speech.
- Called, “The lowest form of wit.”
- Can be very amusing at times.
The fact that words with similarity in sound can be confused so as to produce odd meanings is the origin of the pun. It is a very simple form of humour, appealing mostly to uneducated and noncritical people. In Shakespeare’s days, the uneducated mob used to roar with delight at the puns and mistakes in the meanings or words. which they heard in the plays. When Shylock was sharpening his knife on his shoe, to cut the pound of flesh from Antonio, he was told,
“Not on thy sole, but on thy soul, harsh Jew,
Thou makest thy knife keen.”
where a play is made on the meanings of “sole” and “soul”.
In a book of grammar, the other day, I noticed the pun was given a place in the chapter on “Figures of Speech.” It is not so; a pun is an offence against speech. One great English writer defined a pun as, “The lowest form of wit,” and another thought that it should be punishable by law. Puns would never be found in any good-class writing, but are left to music-hall comedians and clowns, as in Shakespeare’s day.
Thomas Hood, a writer of the 19th century, produced many puns in his verses. Ben Battle was a soldier, and, when a cannon ball took off his legs, “Then he laid down his arms.” The same soldier was said to have “left his leg, In Badajos’s breaches (breeches).” So he said, “Here I leave my second leg, and the 42d Foot.” The 420 Foot was the name of an infantry regiment. It was the same writer who sang:
“Be thou my gift, and I will be thy giver,
Be thou my life, and I will be thy liver.”
Another example was the officer who told his servant to take away his shoes and have them sold; the servant returned, and said, “sir, I sold them for three rupees.”
The pun is amusing, but, as we have said, a childish form of wit. It is an outcast, a poor-relation, in the family of literary wit and humor, and is not welcomed in the gatherings of the scholarly. But a pun has given us many a good laugh.
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