Why I Love Puns
On the art and science of the pun (paronomasia), to a select few who understand its hidden sensibilities.
Most understand wordplay, yet few find it capable of leaving one in uncontrollable hysterics. I take the opinion that it is a fabulous, superlative form of humor.
“Pun processing from a psycholinguistic perspective: Introducing the Model of Psycholinguistic Hemispheric Incongruity Laughter” was a study published in Laterality: Asymmetries of Body, Brain and Cognition in 2016, describing an experiment looking at the responses of visual fields to puns.
Professor Lori Buchanan and Tara McHugh (from the Psychology department at the University of Windsor in Ontario) found that the interaction between the two hemispheres of the brain is crucial to whether one finds puns p-underwhelming or not. The left hemisphere processes language, but it’s the right brain that clues into the word’s unanticipated meaning, delivering the pun-chline. When the two work in tandem, the dissonance between what’s said and what’s meant (what we interpret due to primed social context) create confusion, followed by a startling moment of realization, a few seconds too late. This interaction is key to enjoying (or not) a good pun — the sentence primes us to understand the words in a specific way by the left hemisphere of the brain, but the kick by the right hemisphere prompts the understanding of the joke.
“To understand puns is to understand misunderstanding…a worthy philosophical goal.”
They work almost like metaphors, in a way, by presenting a new picture of a thing by relating it to another idea. Puns, however, establish uncanny relationships built on twisting lexicon. The process of sifting through similar enough sound patterns and embedding it within a sentence is like finishing a puzzle while the shapes are changing — a most riveting endeavor.
Messing With Meaning
I enjoy them, perhaps, due to what they impose on language. Puns threaten the arbitrariness of language, packing more than two, three, even four meanings into smaller framework. They exist beyond our preconceived notion of semantics and pragmatics. They don’t require a heavy undertaking of learning an entirely new skillset — one works…