Since time immemorial, humor has been a topic of interest for many scholars because of its inarguable power in building and maintaining social relationships.
According to the philosophical view, humor occurs because humans inherently find pleasure in feeling superior to others.
Whereas, psychology asserts that humor takes place because people make use of it as a channel to release negative energy and inhibitions.
Based on the lenses of language studies, though, humor is theorized to be a product of incongruity of ideas; where the “inappropriate” gets paired with the “appropriate.”
Put simply, we find hilarity when things do not meet our logical expectations, such as Anthony Jesselnik’s comedy style, which is kind of dark, by the way.
So, it may not be for everyone.
The incongruity framework may also be used in shedding light on “puns,” which owes its existence to ambiguities perpetrated by linguistic elements.
Puns can be created by playing with sounds, word meanings, sentence structures, as well as context.
When we deliberately manipulate these elements to create ambiguities for the purpose of making other people laugh, we can therefore say “pun intended.”
What is the meaning of “pun intended”?
“Pun intended” is a phrase suggesting that the humorous wordplay done by a speaker or writer is purposeful or deliberate. We can use “pun intended” when we want to prompt the reader or listener to understand the punning attempt as quickly as possible.
Using “pun intended” in context
Now that we’ve understood how puns work, let’s also put the phrase “pun intended” under the microscope to also get the hang of it.
The main point of using “pun intended” is to create emphasis toward the writer or speaker’s ambiguous statement, whatever it is.
It is also often written inside parenthetical marks to inform the reader that a certain punning mechanism is present.
As puns are heavily laden with ambiguities, audiences may not easily, let alone immediately, understand the language user’s intended meaning.
So, a visual or verbal prompt in the form of the phrase “pun intended” is helpful in achieving the desired humorous effect.
The intentional punning technique in the example above is in the word “rooted” inasmuch as the context of “plant growing” is concerned.
When an idea is “rooted in x,” it means that its existence can be deeply traced into an original source.
In the same vein, a plant’s growth can also be traced back into its physical “roots” which are deep-seated in the ground.
I hope you got humor behind the example pun above. But if not, then here’s another example to make things even clearer.
A: Bear in mind not to get too close to the bear (pun intended).
B: That’s not even punny at all, mom (pun intended too).
In the example above, there are two wordplays going on: one is in the word “bear,” and the other on the term “punny.”
“Bear in mind” is an English idiomatic expression that means “to remember or be aware of,” and “punny” is supposed to be “funny” instead.
(I hope you’re also seeing the other side of the story here…that it’s apparently so uncool when a joke gets explained.)
In a nutshell, we can use “pun intended” when we want to prompt the audience that we are deliberately using a punning mechanism either in written or spoken language.
It’s as simple as that.
Puns are a product of clever language manipulation which requires the audience’s immediate comprehension in order to be considered funny.
Puns are otherwise known as “dad jokes” at present, which makes young people cringe more often than not.
In language studies, the mechanisms behind puns are argued to be universal, which means that punning can be done across all languages.
Punning is language at play with sound, word meaning, or sentence structure. These are also more technically known as phonology, semantics, and syntax, respectively.
Let’s have a look at examples of puns that are based on each facet mentioned above.
Language sound-based puns
One way for humans to interpret meaning is through sounds, wherein we may find humor in how words are particularly uttered.
Words may sound similar to other language elements, like letters. Mix this up with accent and culture-related jokes, and you’ll get a sound-based pun like the example below.
The British people are known for their love for tea, as well as their particular way of pronouncing the letter “t” called t-glottalization.
These aspects help in the interpretation of the pun, while the lack of such background knowledge can lead to confusion.
Word meaning-based puns
Humorous puns may also occur at the word level, in which a person’s knowledge of multi-lexical meanings is also necessary during interpretation.
In the next example, the punning mechanism occurs on the word “subordinate” which is incongruously paired with another word to create a different sense.
For sure, the pun below may work better for audiences who aced their English subject before or those who are interested in how languages work.
On the flip side, an engineer or a physicist may find the following pun rather cringe-worthy. This thereby emphasizes the importance of context in which humor operates.
Q: What are Santa’s assistants called?
A: They’re subordinate clauses.
The humorous tendency is embedded in the two different senses of the word “subordinate,” the knowledge of the legendary character’s full name “Santa Claus,” and the pluralization process in the word “clauses.”
“Subordinate” could refer to a relatively lower-ranking employee in business organizations, especially because of the presence of the word “assistants” in the build-up part.
The joke’s punch is in the phrase “subordinate clauses,” which is a technical term used to refer to sentence elements that cannot stand alone.
Being able to know the basic pluralization rule of adding the suffix “-es” to words ending in the letter “s” such as in “buses” and “biases” is also crucial in the successful interpretation of the pun.
All these factors are based on the ambiguity of word meanings, which is also one reason why such kinds of puns will be more successful among people with advanced to native language proficiency levels.
Sentence structure-based puns
Thirdly, puns may also occur because of how the words are arranged in a sentence, which then makes the entire unit meaning lopsided or askew.
If you’re keen enough, you’ll actually notice that this is pretty common in newspaper headlines, billboards, and road signs.
The most common reasons for syntactical puns to occur are limited textual space, and, by and large, the intention to evoke an emphatic effect to the audience.
The next example shows a pun that plays with the two possible meanings of the sentence, existing particularly because of how the words are ordered or structured.
Did the police just help a dog “attack” a victim? Or, did the police provide help to a victim who got bitten or attacked by a dog?
That’s how punning works at a syntactical level, which is apparently not a very good way to explain how English grammar works to beginner language students.
Frequently Asked Questions on “Pun Intended”
What is a synonym for “pun intended”?
A pun is also known as a quip or epigram in humor studies. So, “quip intended” or “epigram intended” could also be other ways to say “pun intended, but they are less commonly used.
What is an example of an intended pun?
“He shot an elephant in his pajamas,” is an example of an intended syntactical pun, where the ambiguity lies in the two possible meanings of the sentence. Did he shoot an elephant while wearing his pajamas? Or, did he just shoot himself?
Humor is therapeutic and free, and it should remain this way for as long as humans still find joy and amusement in the obscure.
So, the next time you hear a dad joke around, just think that the person producing the joke or pun is only reminding you to take life easily.
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.