Monday, July 20, 2015

This is not my anemone


      "This is not my anemone," I said, with mock surprise. My wife looked down, at the flower bed in front of us at the Chicago Botanic Garden, read the sign I had just read, and sighed.
     A pun, and not a very good one. I pronounced it "enemy." But it's really "ane-mone."
     So worse than a pun, a mangled pun.
     Humor itself is a low form of writing—fragile, fleeting—and puns are a subchamber of that. "He who would pun would pick a pocket" Alexander Pope wrote, in the Duncyiad, perfectly capturing the sense of disrepute related to gimmicky wordplay.
     What's the appeal? I think it has something to do with connecting words. There's some kind of hardwired joy, for those unfortunates afflicted with a propensity to pun, with drawing a line from one word to another.
      Being funny is secondary. For instance, like many boys, I played with slot cars, and of course became familiar with their various little motor parts. The brushes, the armature. When I came to Chicago, seeing the street name "Armitage" conjured up "armature" in my mind. It wasn't in any way witty, so I didn't say it aloud, but I think that automatic connection, one word to another close to it, flipping meanings, is what drives the punster.    
     The link forms in mind and there's nothing to do but toss it out.  My wife, since she's usually the one around, in usually the victim.
     Or benefactor. Sometimes puns are funny. You might remember the Pope quote being spoken by Doctor Stephan Maturin in "Master and Commander," after Russell Crowe's Captain Jack Aubrey makes a pun. He points to a pair of weevils crawling on the table and asks the ship's surgeon to pick one. After some goading, Maturin picks the larger one. The captain is triumphant.
    "Don't you know that in the service one must always choose the lesser of two weavils?"
    That sets the table aroar, but there was a lot of drinking going on, which usually helps a pun.     
     Though sober puns can sometimes hit. My wife and I were working in the garden, it was hot, and we were thirsty. She mentioned that she had made some mint iced tea that was waiting inside.
     "I put some of this mint in it," she said, gesturing to our tub crowded with fresh mint, which has to be restrained so it doesn't take over the garden.
    "That's good, that'll make it extra-minty," I said, then paused, the the pun forming before my eyes. "As opposed to excrementy, which would be bad."
     I'm not sure whether that was funny, but she laughed, and  I laughed too. Maybe you had to be there.

30 comments:

  1. Here is a shout out to the pun master of Chicago, Robert Jordan, with the conjugating wincing of straight woman Jackie Bange.

    ReplyDelete
  2. found on Facebook yesterday: "Did you hear about the chameleon who couldn't change colors? He had a reptile disfunction."

    love the groan of a good pun in the morning.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Your photos are always striking and energetic -- better than coffee to start the day.

    John

    ReplyDelete
  4. Where would headline writers be without puns?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My proudest moment, headline-wise, was at the old Wheaton Daily Journal. I ran a "Point-Counterpoint" section, where one story was written by a follower of Rev. Moon and his Unification Church. The other story, by a critic, carried my headline: "Ex-cultist reveals dark side of Moon."

      Delete
    2. With me, it was a feature about a fencing club:

      "Young fencers feint from enthusiasm"

      Delete
    3. I'm rather fond of the Roman History Class: "Don't Run with Caesars."

      Delete
  5. good one for Pink Floyd fans

    ReplyDelete
  6. If people ask me where I'm from, I tell them I grew up in Crete, but now I'm an excretion.

    Love the dark side headline.

    ReplyDelete
  7. The only people who don't like puns are those who cannot think of them fast enough.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're wrong there -- even we slow-witted folk admire a pun well spun.

      Delete
  8. My mother always said that a pun is the lowest form of humor, but that didn't stop her from being a master of them. In her later years, when I took her on visits to the Arboretum, I was always able to get her with the old dogwood joke.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Is that Morton Arboretum in Lisle? nice place

      Delete
    2. I think she was referring to my comment, rather than to your (lovely) photo.

      Delete
  9. A fellow O'Brian fan? I'll have to share this entry with the Aubrey-Maturin appreciation society. The Aubreiad is full of puns, mostly execrable.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I highly recommend you check out Andy Zaltzman from the podcast The Bugle for some epic pun runs (link below).

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BdnO0Z7KFk

    ReplyDelete
  11. An observation that the pun is the lowest form of humor has been attributed to both Dr. Johnson and Voltaire. However, James Boswell, Dr. Johnson's well known biographer, who also chronicled his visit to the famous Frenchman, took a more measured view. He wrote "For my own part I think no innocent species of wit or pleasantry should be suppressed, and that a good pun may be admitted among the smaller excellencies of lively conversation."

    While most of us would, I think, agree with this more measured assessment, it is certainly true that one can have too much of a good thing. A surfeit of puns, I would like to propose, might be termed an "overapundance."

    Tom Evans

    ReplyDelete
  12. This may be that rare time and place for the famous quintuple pun story.

    There once was a man who loved his pet dolphins and porpoises. The love grew to adoration, and then to a form of madness - - he became obsessed with finding a food that would prevent his pets from ever getting sick, and thus live forever. After years of effort he located a rare species of seagull, which, when fed in abundance to his pets, proved to innoculate them against sickness. They lived and lived and lived.

    The game warden needed to stop this, and formed a posse to arrest the guy. At the same time a lion escaped from a traveling zoo in the area, but he was an old, harmless lion, who decided to stretch out right by the dolphin owner’s front door.

    The pet owner was running from the posse, heading for his home with a large supply of seagulls. Just as he jumped over the peaceful lion, the game warden caught him, and arrested him. The charge? (please accept my apologies): “Transporting gulls across a staid lion for immortal porpoises.”

    ReplyDelete
  13. This reminds me of a series of novels written by Piers Anthony that I enjoyed in my youth. His fantasy series about the world of Xanth revolved around puns. Very entertaining and that's not a "Crewel Lye" (A Caustic Yarn).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I still love that series, I read the new one every year. I guess I never got "Board Stiff" with his puns.

      Delete
  14. The English language is particularly well suited for puns as, being a vernacular of vernaculars, it has many homophones, words that are spelled differently but sound the same. And also words with multiple meanings. An illustration of the former, as I found to my cost a few days ago, would be "toed and towed." A little religious joke demonstrates the latter.

    Young nun rushes into the Mother Superior's office exclaiming. "Holy Mother, they've found a case of gonorrhea in the convent."

    The venerable abbess responds. "The good lord be praised. I was getting so tired of Chardonnay."

    Tom Evans

    ReplyDelete
  15. Funny, Tom. But you'd think a six-pack of gonorrhea would be plenty.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Lol, bad pun-your wife should kick you in the shins-I would.

    ReplyDelete