Monday, March 30, 2009

In Defense Of Punning, NY Times column by Joseph Tartakovsky.

"Universal experience confirms the adage that puns don’t make us laugh, but groan." --Tartakovsky.

That's the point, the groaning amplifies the creator's joy and unabashed laughter. I'd even say the effective pun often makes a sober, sane, witless, grown man cry. (Is fucking another term for ingrown foreskin? And there's, at times, an awful lot of groaning going on in that act.) Ahh, I can't stop! ....

"It is said that Caligula ordered an actor to be roasted alive for a bad pun." -- Tartakovsky.

It's interesting that a contemporary "roasting" of someone involves puns as endearment and respect, something the crankypants Tartakovsky can't recognise in his churlish jeremiad.

"Puns are the feeblest species of humor because they are ephemeral: whatever comic force they possess never outlasts the split second it takes to resolve the semantic confusion."-- Tartakovsky

So what? The average human male orgasm lasts for 4 seconds, yet that hasn't stopped the practise of sexual intercourse to lag not far behind in popularity than television surfing. And punning, like orgasms from the fairer sex, can be serial before they're toast.

"Most resemble mathematical formulas: clever, perhaps, but hardly occasion for knee-slapping."--Tartakovsky

Logical formulas? Perhaps the groanery is a result of realized obtuseness on the part of the hearer. The best puns are created out of lively, quick wit. And why should every joke be a "knee-slapper"? I should think that terminology would more appropriately fit a cracker hooked on Roseanne Barr or Jerry Springer. You know, the kinda guy or gal who supposedly delights in punning.

"The worst smack of tawdriness, even indecency, which is why puns, like off-color jokes, are often followed by apologies."--Tartakovsky

Not in my experience. Off-colour jokes are only embarassing if they're unfunny, which has nothing to do with their level of propriety. Trinkets can be tawdry, as can the kink-set of those who stifle social silliness only to have it turn up in bizarre, repressed actions when the corsets and high collars are inevitably unbuttoned.

"Shakespeare, however, does [use puns]. Many are bawdy: puns operate, after all, on double entendre. Yet the poet is guilty less of punning than wordplay..."--Tartakovsky

Hmmm, so his prior argument seems a little inane: Twain and Wodehouse didn't pun, so punning is beneath literary esteem. But Shakespeeare .... well, his wordplay was more common (or, rather, "common", ironically). Face it, Tartakovsky, lit gents and ladies often dislike punning because they can't reconcile the tactic with "great" literature, which is just another euphemism for pretentiousness and marketing ambition. I'd like to see any of Shakespeare's fools (from his darkest tragedies) turn up in those narratives, unannounced and bemused.

"the least intolerable puns are those that avoid the pun’s essential puerility."--Tartakovsky.

Au contraire, Mr T. Puerility, like groan-inducement, is often the point. Puerility is a useful strategy when a conversation becomes pompous and somber. Again, Shakespeare's Malvolio, here, is a good example. Would you rather have a beer with that Twelfth Night drudge, or with any of hundreds of counter-forces in S's works?

"Surely puns silence conversation before they animate it."--Tartakovsky.

See my last point, above. Sometimes it's a very good thing when a conversation is silenced, if for no other reason than the self-preservation for those present who have imagination and wit. It's a law of physics that inertia is self-perpetuating. How else to break things up than by shock, in this case the non-harmful punning kind. The bores aren't insulted, and hopefully the conversation can change direction from how the fourth footnote of a religious transcriber was misrepresented in a Thoma a Kempis' sleep-inducing treatise. Then again, sometimes there's no other alternative than to head for the exits prematurely after your attempt at immature humour falls on superior ears.

"the similitude between puns and fruit flies, both of which die practically the instant they are born, but not before breeding others."--Tartakovsky.

Ah ha! The inmates are punning the asylum! They're breeding like rats!

Will Tartakovsky's column engineer its way into the soul of the NY Times reader for more than a millisecond?

"But low as puns may be, they have been known to appeal to the loftiest minds."--Tartakovsky.

Thank you very much, sir.

"Punning, it seems, like every non-deadly sin, is easier to excuse than to resist."--Tartakovsky.

It's irresistable, naturally so. Let yourself go, tart tongue. Sprinkle on a pun, life is sweet.

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