What is Pun?

The pun is a device of word game in which a word with two meanings is playfully used in a context. The pun usually gives rise to ironic or humorous gap between the two meanings of the word. The punning on a word or expression may be due to same spelling and same pronunciation of two words. For example, it is possible to pun with stable (house-shed/constant), service (job/funeral) because of the same spelling.

Similarly with hole/whole, sun/son, etc, due to the same pronunciation of two words. Pun is a play on words that are either identical in sound (homonyms) or very similar in sound, but are sharply diverse in meaning. Puns have had serious literary uses. It is essentially a kind of metaphor that can be used lightly and superficially or for more serious purposes.

The pun is usually considered as a "low" form of wit and unfit for serious poetry. In fact, we find it mostly in humorous or satiric poetry, and it does sound a bit too playful in serious poetry. However, if used properly, the pun can also have serious effects in serious contexts. For instance, Shakespeare is a master of punning, and he does often use the pun in very serious contexts with profound meanings. For example, in his play Hamlet, Hamlet comments on his uncle's remark about his being very much a son as: "Not so, my Lord, I am too much in the sun". He seems to agree with his uncle who calls him a "son" in two ways. But in fact, he uses the idiom "in the sun" to mean that he is exposed to danger, unprotected and out of shelter. The pun can create serious ironical gaps of meaning even with somber subjects like death, as in Thomas Hood's lines:
And even the ‘stable’ boy will find / This life no stable thing…
All, all shall have another sort / Of ‘service’ after this – in short
The one the pastor reads…

It is thought provoking that life is not ‘stable’ and we will all have the same ‘service’ at the end of life.

Published on 24 Jan. 2014 by Kedar Nath Sharma

Related Topics

William Shakespeare: Biography

Shakespeare's Hamlet as a Great Tragedy