Review: The Pun Also Rises

The Pun Also Rises, John PollackWhat exactly is a pun, and why do they exist? What’s the point of them? And should they be considered the highest form of language…or the lowest? For the answers to these and other questions, look no further than The Pun Also Rises: How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, and Made Wordplay More Than Some Antics.

Glorious

If you’ve known me for longer than a day, you’re probably aware of my love of puns. Many people dislike puns because they think they’re stupid; but like author John Pollack, I think they’re the highest possible form of humor.

Understanding puns requires both wit and intelligence, and making successful puns requires quick thinking, a certain amount of silliness, and the smarts to say the clever one instead of leaning on the obvious:

So just when exactly do people groan at puns, and what does it mean? Sociologists at Central Michigan University who actually studied the pun-related groan determined that it’s not necessarily related to a given pun’s cleverness or banality. Rather, it’s often triggered by the mere fact that, under certain conditions, someone has made an obvious and deliberate pun.

Why puns matter

There’s lots going on in this book, from the history of puns to describing how our brain takes in and interprets sound, words, and puns to the importance of the pun in humanity’s development. Pollack makes a strong argument for the value of this overlooked mode of humor, and indeed declares the pun as foundational to human advancement:

Ultimately, [the pun is] a demonstration of the remarkable human capacity for creative, abstract association. This is the same ability that enabled someone to see a rolling log and conceptualize a wheel…to pick up a stout branch and imagine a lever, or to visualize boiling some water to create steam to drive an engine. It’s about freeing our imagination to leap from one idea to the next to the next, even when those leaps seem illogical or impossible. And it is precisely that capacity to link wildly disparate ideas that enabled people, through thousands of generations of trial and error, to move from cave to skyscraper to space station, and from drum to telegraph to iPhone.

If you’re a lover of language, etymology, how the brain works, and of course puns, pick up a copy of The Pun Also Rises. The text itself is full of puns (in this sentence, for example), and it’s a funny, educational read.

What do you think of puns? Have a favorite “punny” joke? I’d love to hear it!

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