Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Saturday's New York Times featured a column on puns by op-ed contributor Joseph Tartakovsky. His basic premise seemed to be that all puns are bad and that writers with any talent invariably eschew them. (Of course, he couldn't help admitting that Shakespeare was a notable exception, and he cited several other examples of extremely clever puns made by extremely clever people, but for some reason he didn't seem to feel that these counterexamples in any way undermined his central argument.)

Well, I suppose that I, though a dedicated lover of puns, shouldn't have bothered to take umbrage at this. After all, this guy isn't exactly a noted literary critic (in fact, he's a law student at Fordham, so I'm not sure what makes him fancy himself an expert). He's obviously just a grouch who starts off every morning by sucking half a lemon and then taking a brisk sneer around the block. In fact, the very fact that a person like him hates puns seems like a better argument than any other for making them. But I couldn't help being a bit nettled by his supercilious sneering at puns as "low" humor, especially since he didn't bother to get his facts straight. He cited the fact that "The 20th century’s finest humorist, P. G. Wodehouse, doesn’t use" puns as evidence that puns are inherently unfunny. Well, as it happens, we're still on our Wodehouse kick at home, and the very same day I read this article, I happened on this passage in Thank You, Jeeves:
"Mr. Stoker, sir. He is inquiring about Miss Stoker's whereabouts."

Well, of course, there's always that old one about them being at the wash, but this seemed to me neither the time nor the place.

Now if that isn't an example of how a well-aimed pun can strike directly on the funny bone, what is?

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