Saturday, December 24, 2011

For Every Silly Pun I Shed...

I like words and wordplay.  Words are the mechanism by which we humans communicate most.  Some experts have suggested that less than half of communication takes place with words; balderdash, says I.  Were that the case, the video telephone would have come into prominence much more quickly than it has.  The capacity to develop such video devices has been readily available for decades; the market for it wasn't strong enough to justify the added expense because there wasn't enough demand.  Talking works well enough in the complete absence of visual cues and referents.

There are other means via which we get our points across.  Sign language, both formal and informal, does a lot.  Body language is often culturally influenced; hand waves in North America don't mean what they do in, for instance, Japan.  But I'm not going to go into that right now.

My favorite form of wordplay is the pun.  Many words have more than one meaning, and other words sound exactly like other words: homophones.  So you can say one thing, mean another, and the juxtaposition of the two meanings creates a stress.  But the fact that the confusion is deliberate lets the stress off.  This is almost the clinical definition of  a joke.  Building the anticipation generates the stress, telling the punch line concludes the stress and it's over.

You can ask yourself, "what the hell is he talking about?  Stress isn't fun."  Not generally, no...but if that were completely true, nobody would ever get on a roller coaster, would they?  They're supposed to be perfectly safe, right?  So what's all that screaming about? You're getting jerked around and flung upside down and ohmygod ohmygod we'reallgonnadie and when you don't die, the stress comes off because you knew all along you were perfectly safe, and that endorphin release manifests as smiling and laughter.  It's not as vigorous an experience as all that when you tell a pun, but some of the physical reactions, strangely enough, are about the same.

Actually, when I tell puns it manifests as groans and thrown spoons, but that's me.  Sometimes I do tell some stinkers.

But sometimes I don't.  And though some decry puns as the "lowest form of humor," I think that's a denunciation held in reserve by people who either don't get puns, or are envious that I was able to formulate mine first.  Shakespeare included puns throughout his written works.  So did George Carlin.  Right there we've spanned the humor spectrum from what is generally considered cultured and highbrow, to what is generally considered rough and, at best, middlebrow.  The fact is that Shakespeare wrote an awful lot of very bawdy, ribald stuff that hides its nature in what is now obsolete prose, and George Carlin, his Seven Dirty Words (very very bad language warning!) notwithstanding, was wicked smart.  They both tossed words around like juggling balls in a Cirque du Soleil act.  Just when you think you know where this one is going, you don't...or do you?  And there's smiles and laughter.

Happy Christmas to all.

No comments:

Post a Comment