A pun is loosely defined as a play on the sound of words to achieve a certain effect. In other words, a pun can:
Many puns rely on simple homophones (words that sound alike); for instance, “atheism is a non-prophet [non-profit] organization.” Other puns have much deeper meaning.
Puns throughout works of literature add so much to the way the text may be interpreted, and underscore the cleverness of the characters and those who wrote the characters. Brilliant minds from Jesus Christ to Shakespeare used puns to great effect, and these puns continue to resonate with new readers.
An ancient treasure-trove of puns is included in many religious texts, but the Christian Bible takes the cake. From the Old Testament to the New, biblical heroes and villains (and the authors of biblical texts) have used puns.
thirty sons, who “rode around on thirty burros and lived in thirty boroughs.”
While these words rhyme in English, they were also very similar in the original Hebrew: ayirim for and ‘ayarim for boroughs.
Both halves of the Bible use puns, some of which do not translate to English, but all of which were clever in their own language.
Perhaps no writer is greater known for his use of the pun than William Shakespeare. Some people even believe he, as a translator of the King James Version of the Bible, inserted a pun on his name into a Psalm!
Some of his puns were relatively simple plays on words, such as
However, some of his puns were more complicated. For example, in Romeo and Juliet:
Great poetic works of literature have included puns as well.
Poet John Donne, whose name rhymed with “done,” often punned his name in his own poetry. In one of his hymns, he even puns the name of his wife Anne More, with the line
“Thou hast not done, For I have more.”
Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter asked how a raven is like a writing desk, and answered with
“it is nevar put with the wrong end in front!” Obviously, the word “never” here is misspelled in order to appear as “raven” written backwards.
In his book Ulysses, the great Irish writer James Joyce included the brief poem,
If you see kay
Tell him he may
See you in tea
Tell him from me.
The words to the poem, when spoken phonetically, spell out some rather obvious swear words that would have been readily apparent to a sharp observer.
In modern literature, from the James Bond series to the Harry Potter books, authors have used puns to entertain some of the more perceptive, clever readers.