This weekend I downloaded the first episode of this radio programme made by Stephen Fry about the English language. In it he talks about puns and why we (the Brits, particularly) enjoy them so much. Predictably enough, he makes a lot of painfully self-conscious puns on the way.
Various theories are put forward in the programme about why puns are so awesome, but for me none of them quite rang true.
Perhaps my favourite puns of all are Graham Rawle’s Lost Consonants – a series of surreal cartoons based on a phrase in which one word is missing a consonant to change the meaning (“The collected woks of Shakespeare”, “The policeman’s bulletproof vet”, etc). It’s the pictures and captions that crack me up – not just a play on words but a whole world of weirdness that springs up from a play on words.
I suspect it might also come down to contrariness – the kind of jokes that most people dismiss as “bad” are generally my favourites, and I like it that way. This means, of course, that I’m an enormous fan of the likes of Tim Vine and Milton Jones, who excel at this sort of thing.
Anyway, my favourite bit of the programme was when the droning academic demonstrates the STANDUP (System To Augment Non-speakers’ Dialogue Using Puns) computer, which produces the following joke:
“Why is a majestic field different from a gaudy shrimp?
One is a proud lawn, the other is a loud prawn.”
Apparently, this sort of thing is supposed to help kids with language difficulties to have a laugh with their mates – which must make for some pretty weird sleepovers. But it made me laugh, and if you enjoyed it too, I recommend spending some quality time with the Wikipedia page ‘Computational humor‘.