I need more puns in my life. Where should I start?
January 5, 2019 3:55 PM   Subscribe

Nothing makes me happier than when someone works a well-placed pun into a conversation. I'd like to do more of this in my own speech. Where do I start? Of course, there are plenty of lists online, and any comment thread inevitably starts punning once it's long enough, but I want to build a skill of punning (rather than just memorizing a bunch of well-worn puns). Has anyone come across a good (1) resource or (2) exercise for building this type of skill?
posted by johnxlibris to Writing & Language (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
There's a Twitter pun account.
posted by KazamaSmokers at 4:07 PM on January 5

I have no idea if it would work but you could start with a subject or word and just see how many different puns you could come up with relating to it.
For example, a tree. Words that could be punny relating to trees.... branch, sap, leaf (I'm an arborist but need to branch out. Don't call me a sap. Leaf me alone).
Or... cows. Utter, milk, calf. (Did you hear who won best cow at the state fair, I'm in utter disbelief. They milked it for all it's worth. I ran from a bull but hurt my calf.)
Might be a good activity as you're lying in bed trying to fall asleep.
posted by starman at 4:14 PM on January 5

I used to write punny ad copy for my job! Working with trying to make many puns around one theme seemed to both make the puns easier to come up with over time, while also building pun muscles (because you'd run out of the obvious ones and need to think of more).

As an exercise, you could try coming up with a pun theme (trees, cows, water) and writing a little story with as many puns worked into it as possible.

Alternately but similarly, do a pun battle with a friend where you pick a theme and trade punny retorts.

As for how to develop new puns, take your theme and start coming up with mental associations -- if it's an animal, where does it live? What does it eat? What sound does it make? What unique actions does it take? Are there any equipment or accessories associated with it? Then look at all those words you came up with and see what other words they sound like or rhyme with, and start contemplating if those words can be slotted into any other expressions!
posted by space snail at 4:25 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

The way you get better at it is by making lots of puns, metaphors, similes, and other creative comparisons.

Keep making them.

In the meantime, also check out books of kid jokes. Loads of punning. Roll them off your tongue. Noice patterns. Animals. Body parts. Nature. Distant connections.

Notice the puns and other word play in all the media you consume (one that has stuck with me was about an immigration raid when I was in high school. It read “Can you cache a Czech?” This is horrible and offensive and instructive. Two words with similar sounds, making a new meaning.
posted by bilabial at 4:36 PM on January 5

I give you... the "Pun Intended" board game! It's meant to be a team sport, Taboo-style, but it's a collection of cards where you can guess the missing pun -- ex., When the nut left a recent party it said, "_______" on the flip side. (Cashew). You could study the cards yourself, or play with one other person - doesn't have to be a big group game.
posted by rogerroger at 4:39 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

I can recommend British comedian Tim Vine, who is the current master of the short, pithy pun-liner. "The advantages of simplified origami are two-fold"...
posted by Devonian at 5:35 PM on January 5

I did a whole thing when I was in 8th grade about how the Egyptians used puns in their language. So maybe look into that. I was also into Phonecian language at the time, it was pretty rad.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:04 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

Wow, tough question, it's like someone pointed a pun to my head.

Practice to improve your quick verbal free-association. Pull some nouns and verbs from a book or article and for each word, say the first word that comes to mind, then go back and say the first word that rhymes with it or sounds like it. Keep working at it until you can easily come up with an absurd association that makes you laugh. The beginning of a pun is good mental-verbal dexterity.

Then when you finally realize my advice is crap, try the Web.

And of course, don't be afraid to fail. And remember, a groan from a pun-hater scores the same as a laugh from a pun-lover.

If you fail after all this, get thee to a punnery!
posted by zaixfeep at 6:48 PM on January 5 [2 favorites]

So, Dr Bored for Science and I both love to pun, and we'll just riff off each other at pretty much any opportunity. How do you get good at punning? By practicing, and embracing the silliness, and finding puns that work and don't.

How much do we like to pun? When we got married in 2016, she wrote an entire letter of puns that she read to me as part of our wedding. Things like "You're one in a melon. You make my heart skip a beet..." just two solid paragraphs of them. There's a great picture of me laughing my ass off at this.
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 6:51 PM on January 5 [2 favorites]

Also, if you want high-test puns, pick up any of Spider Robinson's Callahan's stories / novels. He's got some awe-inspiring (and inspirationally putrid!) stinkers in there.
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 6:52 PM on January 5 [2 favorites]

Dare I say it and unleash this on your world? There is a pun generator. Good luck.
posted by limeonaire at 7:15 PM on January 5

Surround yourself with an appreciative audience. They don't have to make puns themselves, but they have to react -- I've found that some people have been trained out of? reacting to verbal humor, and that can discourage even the most motivated punster.
posted by batter_my_heart at 8:37 PM on January 5

Learning another language really upped my pun game, even in my native tongue.
posted by CottonCandyCapers at 5:30 AM on January 6

I think the ability to come up with puns on the fly AND (as you say) work them into conversation effectively is very different from the ability to remember and deliver jokes well.

As others have said its about verbal flexibility and wordplay in general; the more constantly you put yourself in the mode of looking for hidden possible meaning in all the language you're exposed to, the more likely those gems are to burst into your head fully-formed ready to drop (or choke back from blurting out inappropriately).

Cryptic crosswords (UK style - Times, Guardian etc.) are probably the best tangible training tool I know of for building intuition and habit around finding multiple levels of meaning in language.

For inspiration around how subtle and creative the art of puns can be, the Uxbridge English Dictionary, which is a round from the BBC comedy show I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue (there has been a whole book of them published too), is well worth a look.
posted by protorp at 11:41 AM on January 6

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