The unintended pun in everyday life.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Puns Just Keep on Comin'

As 2011 draws to a close, and the first year anniversary of Baring My Sole beckons, herewith are a number of puns I have collected recently. They come from all quarters, socio-economic strata, and lifestyles. Unintended Puns, in fact, know no comfort zones, and rear their delightful heads wherever our brains are taken by their utterers' association webs.

These first two would be interesting to rate in our Pun Factoring scales.
--they are funny, at least based on context, they are fitting, and they are subtle.
December 17, 2011
I wanted to dress warmly to an office Christmas party, which I thought might be held outside (remember, this is Phoenix--it was a high of 70 degrees that day), but I also accept my city-slicker fashion sensibilities: "I don't think I could pull off boots."

November 14, 2011
My daughter Claire had recently moved into an apartment with two other girls. Since there wasn't a lot of furniture, including no kitchen table chairs, she started thinking about how she could make the apartment more comfortable: "I wonder what I can bring to the table."

This next one brings up another way to notice that you have just said or are about to say an Unintended Pun.

November 14, 2011
A colleague at work explained that he never knows if the product he gets at the cafeteria will be fresh: "The potato chips, for lack of a better term, are a mixed bag."

Continuing in the potato vein, this one is from an e-mail chain in which various contributors to a Christmas dinner were discussing what they would bring. The pun may be on purpose, but I don't think so.

December 13, 2011
To end the back and forth about a particular item on the menu, one of the dinner guests suggested to the hostess: "I can make the mashed taters if you want that off your plate."

So, that's a wrap on the first year of Baring My Sole. I hope you have enjoyed reading and thinking about these creations of our subconscious minds, fabricated by the very neurons that make up our brains. I suspect that, just as with dreams, headaches, personality types, and just about everything to do with the mind and brain, Unintended Puns will never be understood much beyond the behavioral level. But it's fascinating and fun to dig into them as much as we can.

Happy New Year, everybody!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Two More Fun Puns

Our daughter woke up with horrible abdominal pain a few weeks ago, so bad in fact that we took her to the ER. The problem was not life threatening, but something that required a procedure (an endoscopy, or "scope" in the gastro-intestinal biz) that my wife the physician had suspected might be necessary based on symptoms from the previous day, and therefore had already set up an appointment for later that day. But because Claire had been admitted to the hospital, we cancelled the appointment, and therefore needed to set up another appointment with a different doctor.

October 11, 2011
Christine explained that she wanted to do a little research into this second doctor's practice: "I want to scope up the new doctor's office before I make the appointment."

Here is another one, also with a medical theme.

October 10, 2011
A colleague at work explained that he wanted to know the cost of the glasses before he bought them: "I wanted to know what I was looking at."

These Unintended Puns are so much fun--just don't point them out to anybody who isn't familiar with this blog. As we have discussed, they'll just look at you with a strange expression. But as you create a circle of friends and family (as with my family), you can point them out to each other and get a good laugh as you say them, or even get a good laugh as you stop yourself from saying what you were about to say.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Some Fun Puns

More about my job. I was researching a problem we are having at work. We are loading the operating system Linux on to a computer that doesn't have a monitor, which requires us to use a terminal emulation program.
October 17, 2011
During my research, I ran across the following description of a problem. Note: the term "X" is short-hand for a software program called "X-Windows," which is used to display data from one computer to a different computer: "I was just reminded that the changes I mentioned in the last comment are probably related to a different issue that appeared later in the install, after X actually started. We are seeing the video corruption at the very beginning of the install so X isn't even in the picture yet."

October 2, 2011
During his sermon, our pastor was describing that the Bible has some very strong proof for many of its claims, including even historic and archaelogical evidence: "When you start digging into the archaeology..."

October 3, 2011
I requested that my financial advisor purchase shares in the company Transocean on April 20, 2010. As it happens, that is the very day that the oil rig Deepwater Horizon, which was owned and operated by Transocean, exploded off the coast of Louisiana. Transocean owns and operates such rigs all over the world. The stock price, needless to say, has not done well since that day, though we have continued to hold on to the shares because it is a well-run company that generates a large amount of revenue. My wife Christine was pondering its low price recently: "Wow, that price has really tanked."

I really love the "X" pun--it is literally true that "X isn't even in the picture yet." The other two are just fun ones to start your week.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Burst Continues

There was another burst. This burst, however, was very different from the one I blogged about last time: In a period of about 20 hours, I heard an Unintended Pun, my wife heard one at her medical practice, and my daughter thought one. So this burst was just in the ether, and therefore probably has a different explanation. It couldn't be due to "heightened awareness"--instead, perhaps there is an Activation Web that connects familial nerve endings. Okay, I'm just kidding. But it was fun having the last two reported to me after having just heard the first one.

September 22, 2011
At a meeting of a number of pastors of my church's denomination, one of the pastors was describing that another of the pastors was doing a great job leading his region's churches in the missions work they are doing. The missions-oriented pastor's name is John Pickett. The first pastor said: "He is leading the charge in New Mexico."

September 23, 2011
Claire had made a comment about a strong odor in our house, which led to a fairly heated discussion. Later, she thought to herself: "I didn't think I was making that big of a stink."

September 23, 2011
My wife, Christine, is a physician. She recommended that a patient begin using a powder that is mixed with water. The patient expressed concern that it might not taste very good. When Christine suggested she could mix the powder, water, and some frozen fruit in a blender, the patient said: "I could give it a whirl."

Claire and I discussed an aspect of the Association Web/Unintended Web theory: using the "Pickett's Charge" pun as an example, if the pastor had said "He is leading the way," we of course would think nothing of it, and we would have just gone on our way (accidental pun). So of course, the vast majority of sentences are NOT Untintended Puns. I guess I would say this simply means that the really "perfect" puns, like Pickett's Charge, are so awesome and enjoyable, and accidental, that there must be something to them, and we should just be glad our brains work that way.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Unintended Puns Come in Droves?

Now I'm beginning to wonder if Unintended Puns come in bursts, or if maybe one has heightened awareness of them during certain stretches because of some reason or another.

Over the past two weeks, I've spoken four that I know of, read two in a magazine, and heard another one. I'll tell on myself, especially one that I have actually said before and didn't notice--giving rise to the "heightened awareness" theory.

September 5, 2011
My wife and I are terrible vacation packers. We always take more than we could ever need, resulting in extra luggage, making sure to be prepared for any kind of weather, etc. As we we were leaving from our Labor Day weekend getaway, I was tossing our laundry into a suitcase, not needing to fold anything. I said: "This method of packing suits us."

September 10, 2011
Claire and I were discussing Henry Ford (I think it started when I mentioned that he said you could have any color of Model-T you wanted as long as it was black.) Anyway, Claire remembered that he had the famous interview technique of watching the candidate over dinner. If the person added salt to everything without tasting it first, he wouldn't hire him. Claire thought that seemed a little unfair. I was defending the practice, saying that it didn't mean that Ford didn't like the candidate as a person, but rather thought that the person would make bad business decisions. I said: "He wasn't expressing a distaste for the person."

September 12, 2011
Claire and I were discussing physics, and the various properties of light. In particular, I wanted to point out that light has both wave and matter characteristics. I said: "Light is a different matter."

And now for the one that makes me lean toward the "heightened awareness" theory, because I had said this exact same thing a few weeks before, and not noticed it as an Unintended Pun.

September 6, 2011
A work colleague asked me how things were going. I told him I was beginning to feel more at home in my new role. My new role happens to be working on a team that writes software that will be downloaded into very small computers. In the technology world, we are building what is known as an "embedded system"--the software is embedded into the small computer. I said: "I'm pretty much embedded on the team."

So, in about 10 days, I uttered four Unintended Puns, one of which I had used before and not noticed. That makes me wonder if either the Puns themselves are cyclic, as are so many things in the world, or awareness of them, or I suppose, both. What do you think?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Is This an Unintended Pun?

New York City is currently experiencing the effects of very bad weather. (By the way, I refuse to open my thesaurus to find all the words that most of the media outlets always use to describe hurricanes in the most graphic human terms.) I hope folks are okay, and took the preparations they needed to stay safe. One article I read quoted Mayor Blumberg saying something, which I can't tell whether to count as an Unintended Pun, or what it is exactly. I'll need you to weigh in.

Click here for the article. "Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned New Yorkers Irene was a life-threatening storm and urged them to stay indoors to avoid flying debris, flooding or the risk of being electrocuted by downed power lines. "It is dangerous out there."

August 17, 2011
Later in the article: "New York is the greatest city in the world and we will weather this storm."

I don't think anybody would purposely make a pun in this situation. I've discussed that scenario in several previous posts. Of course, politicians talk so much that he may have just said so many word that he said something silly like this, and the author chose to quote these particular words. People usually use "weather this storm" in a metaphorical sense, such as weathering the storm of a divorce, or some other bad season in your life. But I can't remember hearing somebody use it in the sense of weathering the storm of a storm.

What do you think? I'd appreciate your comments.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Obvious But They Really Oughta Know Better

Okay, this post shows a little more about what I do at work. Last time, I described a conversation about satellites, hinting that I work on communication systems, which happens to be the case. This time, I'll again reveal a little more, describing part of an article I read at work. This shows that as part of my job I need to understand some fairly esoteric issues with regard to technology.

In an article on the SSWUG website, Ben Taylor wrote about virtual machines. Click here for the article. In this technology context, "virtual" means "acts like something else." For example, in the movie The Matrix , the characters had to make the choice to stay or leave the "virtual" world that had been created by the bad guys. But Mr. Taylor used the same word in its more common meaning in the same sentence as its technology meaning, when another word could have been used, which would have been much clearer.

August 17, 2011
Here is the sentence: “With the ability to use a virtually free host operating system such as Linux, the licensing costs for virtual machines has fallen.”

Mr. Taylor could have used "essentially" or "almost" or one of several other words to get his meaning across. Linux can be downloaded for exactly free for those who know what they are doing. There are other costs, such as maintenance, etc., which I think is what he means be "virtually." But of all people, in all contexts, you would think he would have chosen just about any word besides "virtually." I mean, the title of the article is "Are You Virtual?" But perhaps this is either an intended pun, in which case I've just wasted my time on this post, or this is futher proof that the human brain cannot be stopped when it comes to the activation web.

What do you think?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

How Do You React to Unintended Puns?

A work colleague and I were discussing a company he used to work for in the nineties. Part of the company was sold.
August 12, 2011
He described it this way: “[Company name omitted to prevent slander charges] bought the satellite business and drove it into the ground.”

As usual, I didn't laugh even though I thought it was pretty funny, because my colleague didn't notice that he had made a pun. I wanted to say something like "Did they drive the business into the ground because they kept driving satellites into the ground?" but I was afraid he wouldn't get my comment, or he would get my comment, and think I was making fun of him. You know, the usual reactions when you try to expand on the enjoyment of an Unintended Pun.

Have you come up with any non-offensive ways to further the enjoyment when you make or hear an Unintended Pun? Let us know here at Baring My Sole.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Multi-Sensory Unintended Puns

This Unintended Pun combines the visual and taste senses, along with the word usage itself.

My daughter, a regular contributor to, and encourager of, this blog, and definitely a verbally fluent person, was struggling to screw the cap onto a bottle of S. Pellegrino sparkling water. A few inches away from the S. Pellegrino bottle, there was a bottle of Refreshe Raspberry-Acai flavored sparkling water on the table because Claire likes to have some of both waters with dinner.

You'll need to have an image of the dining room table in your mind as you contemplate the following words.

July 21, 2011
As the cap spun uselessly in her hand, she said: “It's fruitless.”

This seems a little different from the multi-modal puns we discussed a few months ago, since it includes different senses. What do you think?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Pun as a Boundary Line and an Integrator

I am about 30% through a fascinating book called Boundaries of Order by Butler Schaeffer. Click here for the book's Amazon page.

In what I have read so far, the author describes how today's technologies, especially but not only social media, have started to lead to the disintegration of centralized, institutionalized, hierarchical, vertical structures, in favor of decentralized, organic, horizontal associations. He uses examples from nature, including biology and chemistry, as well as species other than humans, to show how they are organized in the second way. He also discusses that though institutional structures try to emphasize human dualistic thinking to segregate us into various groups ("You're either with us or against us"), human language and thinking can show us that our minds actually often subconsciously integrate what our conscious minds segregate.

This may be the strongest evidence yet of the reason behind Unintended Puns, or the activation web, that I described from Dr. Motley several months ago. This activation web, perhaps, subconsciously integrates two thoughts that our conscious minds had segregated. Here is a long quote from Dr. Schaeffer's book:

"Humor seems to be a reflection of our unconscious mind’s awareness of the harmony found in seemingly contradictory relationships. Whether we are considering jokes, puns, sight gags, witticisms, irony, or satire, humor provides a pleasurable meaning because it gives us the opportunity to integrate what our conscious mind tells us is to be segregated. James Thurber described “humour” as “emotional chaos remembered in tranquility.” It operates along the boundary lines separating the expected from the unexpected, sometimes bouncing back and forth from one side of the line to the other, giving us glimpses of the complementary nature of the world. This is what gives puns their potency: a word or phrase used to communicate different meanings than when such expressions are used in a different context. Puns challenge the boundary lines of what we like to think of as the mutually-exclusive meanings of our abstractions."

In terms of the purpose of investigating Unintended Puns, I think Dr. Schaeffer is saying that puns, as abstractions, allow us to mean two different things at the same time, which allows us to integrate two thoughts into one. Unintended Puns are often silly or mundane, but show that our brains are perfectly capable of doing such a thing; therefore, as an example: we as humans can handle the fact that a person might be of a different race or nationality, but not want to kill or harm us just because of that difference (as Dr. Schaeffer discusses in a different part of the book)--our brains can deal with that fact, even though some institutional structures in some contexts would have us keep those facts separate.

We don't have to think in terms of the simple segregated groupings that many of us have been taught most of our lives. Our brains are capable of integrating things that we've been told can't be integrated.

Let me know what you think. This seems right to me, but maybe it's too big of a leap to think that Unintended Puns show that we are capable of holding two disparate thoughts in our minds at once, especially thoughts that have been inculcated by years of teaching.

Friday, July 15, 2011

If you catch yourself saying "literally" or "so to speak"...

Today, I'd like to share a way to tell if you've just uttered an Unintended Pun; at least it's a way I notice them when I have. It's when I say something, and then I trail off a little, then say "literally" or "so to speak." Example: "This brewed iced tea is a hot to speak," or "I hope you had some striking views of lightning...literally." This technique also works even if you just think "literally" or "so to speak," as in the second example, when you don't want your listener to notice that you just uttered something you don't want him or her to notice, and kind of wish you hadn't said it.

And here are a couple of Unintended Puns to start your weekend right.

June 19, 2011
After friends of ours who had just gotten married described getting lost in the desert near Sedona, my wife explained that every marriage needs those tough experiences at the beginning: “After we drove into the cloud hovering over Mt. Washington, and Bob couldn't see two feet in front of the windshield, it was all downhill after that.”

April 23, 2011
On the TV show Psych, Henry was being pursued by a lady. I said: “We'll have to see how Henry makes out with his lady friend."

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Okay, one more related to heat, which may not even count...

Today's word usage may branch us into a new category of puns; at least I don't think I've catalogued one like this before. It involves the mis-spelling of a word, which results in a homonymic pun with the correctly spelled word. You'll see what I mean in a second, and you'll have to help me decide if it counts.

July 9, 2011
As we came home from the grocery, just before she pulled into the driveway, my wife hesitated, trying to decide on which side of the driveway she should park based on which car in the garage she should park behind. I said, as I pointed toward the back of the car: “Whatever you decide, do it soon, because this meat is bakin'.”

I said "bakin'" just like that--not "baking". It sounded just like bacon. So, it wasn't a pun of just one word having two meanings, it was a case of two different words, sounding the same, creating the pun. Does that count as a pun? You help me make the final determination. I would like to add it to my catalogue, because I think it should count. But I'd like your opinion.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Last Heat-related Pun (maybe)

Amazingly, the temperature here dropped to the high 70s on Sunday evening (compared to about 105 the past several days). I mentioned two posts ago that my son had found a job working outside. He and I had talked about the need to work whenever the weather gave him a chance--not so much in Phoenix, but in many parts of the country, landscapers work 12 hour days when the weather permits, because they don't make money when they can't work, and they can't work when the weather doesn't let them. Here, you need to take advantage when it's a little cooler, I said.

This morning at 8:45, as I walked past his closed bedroom door, I thought about our conversation.
July 4, 2011
I said to myself: “You better strike while the iron's hot.”
He doesn't use iron tools, but he does use metal tools. And he will be working in a very hot environment if he doesn't get going soon.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Another Phoenix Heat-Related Pun

To celebrate Saturday's 118 degree scorcher here in Phoenix, I thought I'd pass this one along.

My wife owns her own medical practice. All of these 110-degree-plus days in a row has revealed a serious flaw in her office suite's A/C system. Apparently, the mechanical engineer had recommended a certain size unit for the compressor, but a smaller size was actually installed three years ago. Thus, several of the rooms cannot be cooled sufficiently to make them comfortable for the staff or patients. This, of course, is going to lead to some tricky negotiations--who is going to pay for an upgrade to the A/C system--the landlord should pay, but since the "feeling" of air differs from person to person, how can one really prove that a bigger system is needed, or that some other remedy must be investigated and installed.
July 3, 2011
My wife explained the dilemma like this: “The feeling of air is subjective. Warmth is a matter of degrees.”
This use of words shows that a pun can be a true statement taken either way.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Chilling Out in 115 Degrees

After a long search, my son has managed to find a part-time job.

(As a brief excursus from our normal pursuit of word play, if you are interested to learn about the reasons why he and millions of others including his older college-graduate sister cannot find full-time work, read the chapter entitled "Business Cycle" in Ron Paul's book Liberty Defined. I quote from it here:
The answer involves looking not at the downturn itself, but at the structure of the preceding boom...Because artificially low interest rates cause an expansion of the money supply, these invented rates are central to understanding what causes booms...When interest rates fall below their market rate, a false signal is sent out that there are more saved funds available for lending, so naturally, everyone starts to do more business and expand production...This boom is usually worsened by government promising bailouts to banks...Simply put, if we want to cure the bust, don't create the boom."
Click here for a link to the book.
Back to my son. Unfortunately for him, the job is outside, it's heavy manual labor, it's summer, and it's Phoenix, Arizona. And he happened to start the job on a day that the high temperature hit at least 110 degrees.
June 23, 2011
In explaining this to a work colleague, I said: “The good news is that the house where he's doing the landscaping is near our house, so he can go home over lunch and chill out.”
As I caught myself, I quickly glanced at my colleague. He had not noticed what I was afraid he would take to be a lame attempt at humor.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Pun I Thought, at First Didn't Say, But Then Said Anyway

Apparently schools have begun to conduct mock hostage and/or shooting situations, so SWAT teams can practice making sure they know how to wear their armor and take control of the school and make sure they don't get hurt while they take down the suspects. In one case I read about recently, the superintendent didn't handle the experience very well, so ended up resigning due to bad publicity. He hadn't told the students, and what's worse, he had told the parents to ignore any cell phone calls or text messages from their children. Seems to me this last fact would make the whole exercise invalid--if a real situation had occurred, the parents would certainly not have ignored their children's calls.

Click here to read about this incident.

Description of this and other incidents, with a decided opinion of the practice, indicating that the superindent resigned.
June 18, 2011
In explaining this to my son, I said: “The school didn't even tell the students, which just seems ignorant. And I was about to say that the superintendent took so much flak, but that would be an unintended pun, so I'll say he got so much bad publicity, that he resigned.”
For those of you not familiar with military terms, "flak" is the junk fired from anti-aircraft artillery. SWAT team members wear "flak" jackets to protect them against injury.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Unintended Pun as Self-Entertainment

Perhaps the best part about saying and then noticing Unintended Puns is their self-entertainment value. The tricky part, of course, is to not notice them too soon, and therefore cut yourself off before you get to say (or think) them. If you do sense one coming, and cut yourself off, you risk the danger of a brain hiccup and/or unpleasant mouth distortion, either of which in the presence of others leads to embarrassment and social ostracism. Of course, if you make puns on purpose too often, as an Unintended Punster/Verbally Fluent person would tend to do, you may be familiar with the ostracism.

I have a relatively old one (date unknown--perhaps a year or two old), and a brand new one to share today.
circa 2010
I had just read from a book called The Novel 100 by Daniel S. Burt. (It discusses the novels' themes, characters, and style, and I am reading it as part of my curriculum so I can gain insight on how better to write my novel.) It was the end of the day. As I turned out the light, thinking it had been a productive day, I thought to myself: “That's another Saturday in the books.”

June 10, 2011
As my son and I were watching the NHL finals, and saw a puck go flying into the stands, my son wondered aloud why there wasn't more netting to protect the fans. I thought to myself: “Maybe they think it would look too rinky-dink.”
Both puns provide me some amusement. In the second case, I didn't tell my son what I had thought, knowing his reaction would be either a groan or something along the lines of "Really, Dad?" In the first case, I suppose you could say it was the perfect cap to my day, except I hadn't had a night cap in either the literal of figurative sense, so it doesn't work to say that in this blog. It was, however, the perfect word play--since I had just read a book about books, and indeed in the parlance of accounting, the day was in the books.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

First Sighting of "No Pun Intended" in a Novel

I am reading through a series of novels by J.R. Rain called Vampire for Hire on my Amazon Kindle. Those of you who know me are thinking "Vampire? What?" But, I'm enjoying the stories, because the main character was attacked by a vampire six years before the start of the first book, and therefore was a normal human being for thirty-one years. She is a mom who loves her kids, who works for justice, and who as the books progress, is figuring out but hasn't yet figured out just what the whole vampire thing is about. A metaphor for the changes many of us go through, but obviously on a much scarier, deeper level.

Anyway, I believe for the first time in a novel, I have run into the phrase "no pun intended" (twice no less) in American Vampire (Vampire for Hire #3) . I'm wondering if the author accidentally made the puns, then upon realizing it decided to let them stand, or intended them from the beginning. Either way, by noting that he had made the puns, I think the author wanted to make sure that we the readers noticed the puns. That is, he liked the word play, and didn't want us to miss them. More discussion below.

Click here for the book's Amazon Kindle page.
(read by me) June 2, 2011
American Vampire, Location 1910, by J.R. Rain: The narrator is the vampire, and one of her love interests is a werewolf (I'm not sure if that's what the pun is "not" intended to be.) “Private investigators seem to hold a certain allure for many people. I get that. TV has certainly made the work appear glamorous; after all, there's something exciting about being a lone wolf (no pun intended), working when you want...”

(read by me) June 2, 2011
American Vampire, Location 2075, by J.R. Rain: The narrator is explaining that she agrees that her current client correctly hired her, as well as others, to work the case. “When a customer found a human finger in a bowl of Wendy's chili, Wendy's hired over ten private eyes to break the case, which one of them finally did. The finger belonged to one of the customer's friends, a finger he had lost in an industrial accident. The friends then cooked up a scheme, no pun intended, and it might have worked if not for the tenacity of one detective, and the foresight of Wendy's to hire a slew of them.”
These aren't especially clever or deep puns, and compared to others we've quoted here at the pun forum, they'd probably be overlooked. But I note them because of the author's use of the phrase "no pun intended." I think he may have put that in there as much because the narrator is kind of a tough talker (though at times due to circumstances, we are shown a tender and soft mom/vampire), so although there is a lot of humor, maybe the author doesn't want us to think that she would think that puns are part of her humor repertoire.

I also think it's another layer of word association, as this or any author plays with words, and tries to phrase his or her thoughts in the most appropriate way for the context, that puns are going to happen, as they do in everyday conversation.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention--another reason I like these books is that I'm a sucker for stories in which the hero/ine shows a gentle/weak side, which allows the reader to relate, and learn to cope with life along with him/her. But I almost didn't mention it, since "sucker" and "vampire" practically falls out of one's mouth as a word combination, and barely qualifies as an unintended pun. But what kind of a blogger about unintended puns would I be if I didn't mention it?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Hunger Games and Unintended Puns?

I just finished reading the very engaging novel The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, on my Amazon Kindle. You won't find a review or summary here, though maybe I'll branch into blogging about such things in the future. Click here for the book's Amazon page.

Instead, as befits the intent of our subject material, you'll find a couple of possible unintended puns, which will give you a hint at the book's contents. They'll also give us a chance to think about a published author's word choice, and her editor's missing the pun and/or leaving it in the book on purpose. Discussion below.
(read by me) May 20, 2011
The Hunger Games, Chapter 6, by Suzanne Collins. The narrator and another character had worn costumes that imitate fire during the Opening Ceremonies of the Hunger Games. Then during a replay of the procession, she notes: “A few of the other couples make a nice impression, but none of them can hold a candle to us.”

(read by me) May 23, 2011
The Hunger Games, Chapter 21, by Suzanne Collins: “I've nine arrows left in all. I debate leaving the knife with Peeta so he’ll have some protection while I’m gone, but there’s really no point.”
The first pun is beautifully subtle. Context: Before the Opening Ceremonies, the characters had worried that when their costumes were "lit" to give them the ultimate effect of looking like fire, the costumes would in fact consume them in real fire, that their fashion designer was a maniac bent on watching them die before the Games even began. Turned out that it was some sophisticated chemical that didn't produce heat. Then, as they watched the replay, the author has the narrator say something so perfect, so appropriate--if the other characters, who will soon be their competitors in the Games, had indeed lit a candle to them, maybe they really would have died in flames, intead of just looking like they were flames.

The second one, more straightforward, nonetheless has a nice twist. For Peeta at this time in the plot, is unable to defend himself, so in fact a knife, which has a point, would have no point for him. And the arrows never would have a point for him, though of course they have a point, because he does not know how to use the bow that would make them a truly useful weapon.

What do you think? Do these particular word choices seem to be on purpose?
Do you know of other Unintended Puns, especially good, subtle, multi-layered or multi-modal ones, that sneak into books?

Let us know.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

You've Got to Be Kidding Me

In the many articles about the death of Osama bin Laden, I guess there was bound to be an Unintended Pun. But did it have to be so morbid? 
Click here for the article.
May 3, 2011
Phone call by Kuwaiti courier led to bin Laden, By ADAM GOLDMAN and MATT APUZZO, Associated Press:The revelation that intelligence gleaned from the CIA's so-called black sites helped kill bin Laden was seen as vindication for many intelligence officials who have been repeatedly investigated and criticized for their involvement in a program that involved the harshest interrogation methods in U.S. history.
'We got beat up for it, but those efforts led to this great day,' said Marty Martin, a retired CIA officer who for years led the hunt for bin Laden.”
I think Marty Martin wanted to indicate that the press and the American public had given the CIA a hard time for their methods, and I'll grant that as a retired CIA officer, he probably tends to use "tough talk" a lot. But in this case, couldn't he have picked one of the dozens of other ways to say it? Maybe "we got a lot of bad press" or "we felt like we were the enemy all those years" or something that didn't evoke the very thing he and the CIA were being accused of? But I think this is a classic case of his brain choosing words that were almost unavoidable given the association web of the context.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Royal Pun

I didn't follow too much of the "royal" wedding coverage, but I admit I read some of the blogs on it. Most of what I read was pretty mundane, but I did enjoy this one, especially because I doubt the writer (Piper Weiss, in an obvious ode to Diana) meant her words to have the association that they do. Click here for the article.
April 30, 2011
Prince William and Kate Middleton honor Diana’s memory: “During every step of their path down the aisle, Kate and William have made a point to keep Lady Diana’s memory alive. Their wedding was no exception.”

I think the writer meant to say something like "during every facet of their wedding, before, during, and after," but instead ended up with a great Unintended Pun, which implies that somehow the "path down the aisle" was not during the wedding. If it isn't a pun, it's just bad writing.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Multi-Modal Unintended Puns--The New Nemesis?

On March 10, I reported that as I was blowing my nose, without actually thinking the word "blow," I said to myself that "it blows me away"--the feeling of my head about to explode. I called that a "multi-media" pun, but I realize that a better term is probably "multi-modal." If you have a better term, let me know. But now, I'm starting to notice these non-verbal/verbal combinations a lot. And the last one was painful, in many more ways than one.

My wife, Christine, a wonderful woman, happens to be a great doctor who specializes in headaches. Click here to read about her practice. As she was injecting Botox, which helps prevent headaches, into various parts of my head and neck, our daughter Claire was discussing something with her. A little context: Christine has said that of all her patients, I probably react most negatively to the needle. I guess I have a very low tolerance to the sharp jabs.
March 26, 2011
Right as she was sticking the needle into the back of my neck, Christine said: “It's not so much the money but the time that's the pain in the neck.”

As I said, painful in more ways than one.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Daily Pun # 3

I had to get this in as soon as I saw it/them. If the second one is on purpose, it's still a beautifully subtle and nicely written pun. And if it's not intended, it is the best Unintended Pun and covers the most ground, so to speak (that itself was unintended) of any unintended pun I've ever seen. It's from an AP article in Yahoo! today. Click here for the article.
March 17, 2011
Chunk of Calif. coastal highway falls into Pacific
AP: “"There is too much going down here (pun 1) to allow an extended closure," Alan Perlmutter told the newspaper. Perlmutter is a partner in the Big Sur River Inn, one of the many inns and lodges that depend on the dollars of tourists drawn to dramatic coastal vistas, where forested mountainsides plunge into blue seas (pun 2).”

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Obvious Bad Puns Block Subtle Unintended Puns?

I've begun to wonder if the proliferation of very corny, very bad, very un-funny, intended puns in the headlines of many web articles makes it more difficult to perceive the more fascinating and elegant unintended puns, which, as I've pointed out many times, are all around us. That is, we get so used to the stupid puns we see that we become innoculated to subtler word play, or our brains block us from noticing what would be more enjoyable word combinations, simply to protect us from going insane from the bad word play, and the very unenjoyable word combinations that blast us way too often.

What do you think? I know that when I have on occasion alerted a friend to a pun he just unintentionally said, the response is often, "But that isn't funny." I have tried to explain that I'm not saying it's funny, only that it's interesting (not embarassing) that he happened to choose those particular words. But usually the person is still unhappy and feels the butt of a joke he doesn't get. I now wonder if it's partly because of the widespread use of bad puns in the media, which make people "gun shy" about puns.

On to some recent puns:

Here is a "multi-media" pun:
March 10, 2011
I have had a cold for a while, and now my head is totally filled with unpleasant fluids. While attempting to empty my head of some of this stuff, I was thinking that my head felt like it was going to explode, and I said to myself that the feeling was like: “ blows me away.”

The next one was spoken during announcments at our church.
March 6, 2011
We have a small mercy/outreach effort, in which we collect non-perishable food items and bottled water from the congregation, put these things into plastic bags, and then ask folks to give them to those in need. We are supposed to hand them out from our cars and say something like, "This is to show God's love for you." The ministry is known as "Meals in Wheels." The announcer was explaining about a time he did it when he could tell the recipient was surprised by the gesture, and started thinking about it.
He said: “The person took the bag, looked at the contents, and you could see the wheels turning.”

Please post your comments and puns. I look forward to hearing from you!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

I Don't Need to Rely on My Collection...

I'm discovering that I don't need to rely on my collection of Unintended Puns, most of which are on 3 x 5 index cards, to be able keep this blog filled with puns. Between Claire and me, it seems that the two of us can keep this blog populated with new ones forever, just based on our own experiences. She posted one in the Comments section after the last post, called me with another one yesterday, and I have two new ones today--one that I heard in a conversation, and one I received in an e-mail. We would love it if you would give us yours, to spice up the blog a little, and give us some variety.

As Claire mentioned in her other comment to my last post, our verbal fluency probably contributes to our noticing puns, and therefore our perception that Unintended Puns are rampant. But the objective reality of them is not diminished just because somebody doesn't notice them--if a tree falls, and there are no ears to hear, there are still sound waves generated. So the brain is doing the same, amazing, behind-the-scenes work, even if nobody notices.

On to the puns:

Here is a multi-lingual pun, based on the German word "spiel" meaning "game":
March 1, 2011
While describing that a fellow student may or may not want to engage in a complicated, time consuming task, Claire finished an e-mail with: “If you're still game after that spiel, e-mail me back.”
The next one was spoken by a pastor friend of mine. He is doing some great work in South Phoenix, showing the love of Jesus to people in great need.
March 3, 2011
Pastor Dave was telling me about his daughter, who is finishing her training to become a fully certified air traffic controller; about his dad, who was a pilot in the military; and despite all that, he himself never became a pilot. “ was never on my radar screen.”
The last one for today could be on purpose, but it seems very unlikely. It's from a review of a book about the economic crisis in Iceland. Click here for the article.
March 3, 2011
Deep Freeze: Iceland's Economic Collapse by Philipp Bagus and David Howden: “Iceland in 2008 experienced an unprecedented economic meltdown...”

Friday, February 25, 2011

How Common Are Unintended Puns?

Here are three puns from today, and one I read the other day. The first is from a work colleague who said it with absolutely no look that he meant to be funny. The second is from a quote in a news story, again I think said with no intention to make a pun. The third is a pun from a Yahoo! article which might be intentional. You'll have to decide. The last can't be intentional, because it is too morbid and sad for somebody to try to make a pun about such a thing.

I include these very recent ones to help us see how common these Unintended Puns must be. I'm one person, reading a few web pages a day, talking to a few people a day. And yet I've collected about five this week. I'm pretty sure our brains are up to something--and the activation web has a lot do with it.

Here are the puns:
February 25, 2011
While describing his excitement about finding a new gym, a work colleague said: “Have I told you about my new gym? It's worked out great!”
 The next one is subtle--the pun involves a person living in a town called Klinger using the word "cling" to describe people's reaction to a great young basketball player. Click here for the article.
February 25, 2011
Philly teen a legitimate phenom, by Cameron Smith: “...the Klinger (Pa.) Middle School student is focused on being a middle school student...He is a nice kid, and people are going to cling to him.”
 This next one could be on purpose. It's from an article about spouses sharing household chores. Click here for the article.
February 16, 2011
Economics: the key to happy couples' division of labor, by Dory Devlin: “Once you’ve ironed out all disagreements/agreements of splitting chores between the two of you, get ready for some new battles over what chores the kids should do.”
Finally, the morbid, sad one. The headline contains the pun.  Click here for the article.
February 25, 2011
Article by the Associated Press: “Daycare Fire Raises Questions, Sparks Investigation”
So, today's question: How common are Unintended Puns? If I notice them all around me, am I just a crazed victim who can't escape the taunts and abuses of a vast conspiracy? Or does the brain generate these word combinations on a frequent basis? Please help me decide. My sanity may depend on it. Not really--this is a guilt-free blog.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Daily Pun #2

This was sent by a friend of mine--the same friend who told me the "No pun in ten did" joke when we were in Scotland together. He heard it on ESPN the other day.

        "We do not yet know the impact of all of the hard hits in the NFL."

Is this Unintended or not? You decide.

If it is Unintended, here are my assessments for the factors (see January for the blog on my suggested "Pun Factors"):
  1. Fitting: It is exactly fitting--hard hits leave impacts on human bodies.
  2. Humor: It's pretty funny to me, mostly due to being fitting. I realize it's a little morbid, but it gets extra points for being on national TV.
  3. Subtlety: It's not very subtle--I think most people would see it as a pun--but I get puns often before the person says them, due to my warped mind.
  4. Context: The sentence stands alone as a pun.
  5. Depth: I think it is two deep, because it is absolutely true that we do not know the impact, both metaphorically (as in the full scope of potential rules and equipment changes, how coaches might change how they teach tackling all the way down to the smallest players, etc.) and literally (as in the impact on the players who have been hit--what damage it has done to them).

Monday, February 21, 2011

Verbal and Physical Slips--Unintended Pun Counterparts?

It occurred to me that verbal slips, as discussed in the previous two posts, based on Dr. Motley's research, probably have their equivalent in physical slips, with both probably coming from mental confusion and/or overlap of conflicting intentions. I'm thinking of the tennis player who has positioned herself to hit a lob, and then at the last second changes her mind in favor of a passing shot. The result is that she ends up hitting a perfect setup to the opponent waiting at the net, who then creams the cream puff (unintended pun) for a winner.

Or the baseball outfielder, who upon picking up the line drive base hit, looks up to see the lead runner rounding third. He wants to make a great play at the plate, but then remembers his team is ahead by four runs, so should keep the hitter at first. He attempts to stop his throwing motion, but instead of completely stopping, he only partially stops and lets go of the ball, so the ball ends up rolling toward home plate--and the hitter uses that delay to run to second, and the lead runner scores anyway.

When I mentioned these thoughts to my main sounding board, Claire suggested that this sounded a lot like the comedian Brian Regan, who discusses mixed up common sayings in one of his hilarious bits. See at 1:40 particularly: "Take luck."

Click here for a few good laughs.

Some of the "puns" I have collected are actually kind of like "mixed media"--not just "word play" but more like play between words and other stuff--the word "curry" said in the presence of the smell of the spice curry. The feeling of being tired combined with having trimmed hedges leading to saying "I'm bushed." In other words, so to speak, it seems that the brain doesn't just combine words in its "activation web." (Dr. Motley's term) It seems (to me, anyway), that it combines other things we are sensing or feeling--perhaps much like throwing the ball part way between two places we meant to, or saying parts of two things we meant to say, as in Brian Regan's piece, or smelling and saying "curry." The activation web takes over, and brings these elements together somehow, at a subconcious level.

Today's Unintended Pun, ripped from today's news:
February 19, 2011

Scientist finds Gulf bottom still oily, dead by Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer: “That report is at odds with a recent report by the BP spill compensation czar that said nearly all will be well by 2012.”

The irony is, of course, that "all will be well"--oh, you know what I mean.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Verbal Fluency and the Unintended Pun

After reading Dr. Motley's article, which I discussed last post, I started to wonder if people with high Verbal Fluency would be especially prone to both saying and noticing Untintended Puns. People with high Verbal Fluency basically have lots of connections in their brain to words that are related in different ways--perhaps saying they are good at Word Association, which I will discuss in a future post, would be another way to say it.

I started wondering this because as with much research, the results are aggregated and then reported, disregarding the subjects' native ability. But it seems to me that different people would have different results, based on how their brains are organized. The best that Dr. Motley's research could show, unless the subjects were first tested on Verbal Fluency and other measures, would be the "average" person's response to the stimuli. Someone with low Verbal Fluency would perhaps respond with more mundane word responses; someone with higher Verbal Fluency might range farther through their web of word associations and answer with a more interesting word. See below for an extract from Dr. Motley's article.

Perhaps an experiment could be constructed that would normalize the results, such that the different levels of Verbal Fluency would be taken into account, allowing the basic human tendency of verbal slips and double entendres to be revealed. I guess the experiment might yield very similar results, since the largest part of the bell curve would predominate.

That's where this blog comes in--we need more contributed puns and stories so we can figure out how these things work!

Click here for a Wikipedia article that describes Verbal Fluency.

Here are references to Dr. Motley's two articles:
  • 1985 Motley, M.T. Slips of the tongue. Scientific American. 253:116-126.
  • 1987 Motley, M.T. What I meant to say. Psychology Today 21(2):24-28.
From the 1987 article:
“a person’s lexicon, or mental dictionary, is organized so that each word in it is interconnected with other words associated by meaning, sound or grammar—somewhat like the interconnection of point in a complex spider web. When we prepare to speak, the relevant parts of the web are activated, causing reverberation within the system. Activation spreads first to the most closely related words, then to words associated with them, and so on. Each word activates an alternate part through the web. The cumulative activation for each word is tallied by checking how often each ‘point’ in the web ‘vibrates,’ and the word with the highest accumulation activation (the most vibration, in our web analogy) is selected. Verbal slips would be explained as the result of competing choices that have equal or nearly equal activation levels.”

Today's Unintended Pun:
August 14, 1992
A roofer and I were discussing the less than first class work that a previous roofer had done, which led to incorrect drainage: “That's water over the dam.”

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Actual Science Behind the Unintended Pun

My somewhat scientific bent led me to want to add a somewhat scientific bent to these musings. So I googled “Freudian slip unintended pun,” which led me to an abstract of an article entitled The Production of Verbal Slips and Double Entendres as Clues to the Efficiency of Normal Speech Production, by Dr. Michael Motley of UC Davis. I had added “Freudian slip” to the search, because
  1. "Unintended Pun" on its own was returning mostly people reporting their own puns (which of course helps prove the subtitle of this blog), but didn’t get me any scientific information.
  2. My daughter Claire, a regular contributor to these pages, had noted that in one of her college classes, she was studying Freudian slips, or parapraxis, which seemed somewhat like Unintended Puns.
I figured adding a more “science-y” term might yield more science-y results. And lo, Dr. Motley's article was the primary result.

Click here for the abstract of Dr. Motley's article.

It’s probably a good thing that I only found the abstract, since the full article would most likely be well beyond my understanding. But it did lead me to Dr. Motley. I e-mailed him, who kindly replied, pointing me to two articles he wrote for popular consumption. I could not find links to these articles, but they would be available at most large public libraries, and would make great reading for those of us interested in how “slips” and Unintended Puns lurk just behind so much of what we say.

Here are references to the two articles:
  • 1985 Motley, M.T. Slips of the tongue. Scientific American. 253:116-126.
  • 1987 Motley, M.T. What I meant to say. Psychology Today 21(2):24-28.
Claire found the 1987 article and sent me a copy. Dr. Motley describes a theory known as “spreading activation,” in which
“a person’s lexicon, or mental dictionary, is organized so that each word in it is interconnected with other words associated by meaning, sound or grammar—somewhat like the interconnection of point in a complex spider web. When we prepare to speak, the relevant parts of the web are activated, causing reverberation within the system. Activation spreads first to the most closely related words, then to words associated with them, and so on. Each word activates an alternate part through the web. The cumulative activation for each word is tallied by checking how often each ‘point’ in the web ‘vibrates,’ and the word with the highest accumulation activation (the most vibration, in our web analogy) is selected. Verbal slips would be explained as the result of competing choices that have equal or nearly equal activation levels.”
This sounds so much like how I’ve attempted to explain what I’ve called my Unintended Pun theory—the brain being organized in such a way that words, metaphors, word pictures, and similar-sounding words come tumbling out when we least expect them, creating a combination of words that we don’t mean to come out, but that nonetheless do come out. Thank you, Dr. Motley, for doing this research.

Pun for the road: This one's a little subtle, but you movie buffs will get it.
August 19, 1991
After learning that George Lucas had just contracted to do three more Star Wars movies, a friend said: “He's the driving force behind those movies.”

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Another Side to the Unintended Pun Theory

I promised I would write about a time I almost drove myself into an accident, as I realized a possible side effect of the Unintended Pun Theory. Here is the story.

First, a little background. I had travelled to Scotland in September of 2008 with a pastor friend of mine. He had been invited there by church leaders to discuss ways the church in the U.S. and the church in Scotland could work together; he had asked me to go along with him, which meant we had a lot of time together on the plane and in the car. Among more sophisticated topics of conversations, we got to talking about puns. He told me a joke, whose punch line is “No pun in ten did.” Very funny. That of course prompted me to explain my now-famous Unintended Pun Theory.

Then in late October of 2008, my pastor friend and I were meeting about our trip. He had been making some home improvements, prompted us to try to remember the word for the thin layer of wood that is used to cover composite material to make it look nicer. We couldn’t think of it, and went on to discuss more important matters. Then, as I drove home from that meeting, a Lynyrd Skynyrd song played on the radio. As I often do when I hear Skynyrd songs, I started trying to think of the lead singer of the band who died in the 1977 plane crash. “Ronnie, Ronnie…what was his name. His brothers are Donnie and Johnny…” both also rock singers. Then I thought of it. And at the exact, I mean the exact instant I thought of the singer’s name, I thought of the word I was trying to think of earlier. The name is “Van Zant”, and the word of course is “veneer”. That’s when I almost drove off the road. Fortunately, I didn’t.

Remember, I am not a cognitive neuroscientist, or research scientist of any sort, but that strikes me as pretty strong anecdotal evidence that something very interesting is going on in the brain, with regard to word/sound/metaphor organization.

Please let me know what you think about this, both metaphorically and literally--what strange things have your brains led you to think or say?

Here's a recent one for the road.
January 24, 2011 During a discussion on the institution of baptism, and whether or not infants should be baptized, someone in the conversation said: “We have to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water.”
I view this as a "two-deep" pun, since we are talking about babies, and we use water during the baptism. It might even be three-deep, since we throw water on the baby (in a "spinkle" type baptism, or throw the person in the water, in a "dunking" type baptism). Either way, it was very hard for me not to laugh when the person said it, given the solemnity of the conversation.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Puns to Spice Up Your Midweek

A few Unintended Puns from 1992 to spice up your midweek cider.
June 28, 1992
While praying for a friend, who worked as an usher at Baltimore Orioles baseball games, I said: “...that his knees would stand up to the work.”

about April, 1992
I don't have the exact context, but this one is a stand-alone pun: “Spending four dollars a day shouldn't eat up so much of my money.”

July 11, 1992
After a story about several killings at post offices, and how it seemed that supervisors were driving postal workers to anger, Barbara Walters, the famous broadcast journalist, said: “We'll keep you po...informed on any changes at the post office.”
Seems to me that Ms. Walters caught herself as she was about to say: “We'll keep you posted on any changes at the post office”, but realized she didn't want us to think she was making a joke about such a horrible situation. Even people who make a living from crafting words can't stop their brains from making these unintended word associations.
Next time, I'll discuss another side of the Unintended Pun Theory, which hit me so hard while I was driving I almost had an accident.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Factoring the Unintended Pun

In thinking about Unintended Puns, I came to realize that there are a number of ways to slice them--something like a CAT scan--to give us a way to approach their infinite variety. I originally called this a Rating Scale, but that name carried such a heavy implication that one Unintended Pun is "better" than another, I decided to take the neutral, scientific route, and call them Pun Factors. This shows that one pun may have more "flavor" or "strength" in one area or another, but mainly it gives us a way to discuss the brain's ability to generate words beyond the conscious level.

I present this as a starting point, hoping to spur conversation and feedback.

Pun Factors

  1. Fitting: How fitting is the word play based on the context—is the word/term fairly commonly used, or is it “just right” and fairly rare?
  2. Humor: Is the word play outright funny, or simply fun—does it make you laugh, or is it simply interesting that the brain would work that way to produce that combination of words?
  3. Subtlety: How much explanation does the word play require—how obvious or subtle is it? The subtler the better (I think), because that shows the deeper levels of the brain’s organization. On the other hand, this characteristic may link directly with "fitting," such that it is harder to be subtle when it is quite fitting.
  4. Context: Is the quoted sentence a pun on its own, or is it a pun only based on the context? Which is more interesting or complex?
  5. Depth: How "deep" does the word play go--does it deal with one part of the context, or more than one--In all of my records, I think I have only a few that are more than one.
  6. Others?
We have had our first contributed Unintended Pun (thank you, Rachael!), and I would like to use it as our example to apply the Pun Factors.
January 2011 During a workshop discussion on various fabrics, a student asked about fur. The instructor said: “That's a whole 'nother animal.”
  1. Fitting: I would say "very fitting"--"whole 'nother animal" is not a common expression (at least I don't use it very often--if the teacher uses it commonly, then the "fitting" factor would be lower), and it fits the context very well.
  2. Humor: This made me laugh out loud, but of course I'm something of a Pun Aficianado, so I may not be a good judge. What do you think?
  3. Subtlety: Animals have fur, so not much explanation beyond that is needed; but some folks might not get it that quickly. Comparing it to my the Unintended puns in my records, I would say it's about average in subtlety.
  4. Context: The quoted sentence is not a pun on its own, and it does require context. Discussion point: Which is more interesting or complex--a standalone pun or one that requires context?
  5. Depth: This pun is only one "level" deep. I'm thinking if the teacher had said "that's a horse of a different color," which would have had the same basic meaning, we could count it as two deep--1) horses have fur, and 2) fabrics have been dyed, so they have color.
That's it for now. Please post your comments or Unintended Puns.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Psychology of the Unintended Pun

In my first post, I mentioned that I started thinking that Unintended Puns were more than coincidental, and fairly common, when I offended a colleague by laughing when she seemed to be making fun of her own difficulties:
“My stove isn't working, and my refrigerator isn't doing too hot.”

It is these awkward social situations that I am hoping we can help each other avoid.

The first step, I believe, is that when we hear a pun, we must realize we are immediately faced with a one of two dilemmas. If the speaker is not too subtle after saying the pun, the dilemma is easily resolved--we will be faced with a metaphorical or physical poke in the ribs, followed by the speaker saying something like Get it?! , and we can either laugh, or groan, or whatever seems appropriate at that moment.

It is when the speaker is more subtle in general that we have to tread lightly. If he or she never uses puns, you can probably assume this pun is unintended, and simply make a mental note to send it in to your favorite Unintended Pun forum. If he or she is known to tell a pun or two, or if you do not know the speaker well enough to know if he or she uses puns, you have to go on alert. This is where the following guidelines may help. Please feel free to comment on these to help improve them. I have developed them over the years from trial and error, but as with any good scientific endeavor, I would love for these guidelines to improve through further testing.
  1. The speaker says it with no glint in their eyes, and no hint that they expect you to get anything.
  2. To probe a little, you play along as if you think it's an intended pun, and the person still doesn't react. Remember, we don't want to become social misfits, never getting puns, either, in our thirst to not offend anybody.
  3. Important to note: It doesn't have to make you laugh to be worth contributing to the Unintended Pun Forum--many of my recorded Unintended Puns are not funny, except when you take them in their context. In other words, the Unintentional Word Play itself may not be funny--it is the context in which it is said that makes it interesting.
What about guidelines for the radio, TV, or the written word, when you don't know the speaker or writer at all, and they certainly aren't looking at you for a reaction? I think that's a lot of fun, and just the other day, I brought one example to this forum for you to help decide. Part of the Psychology of the Unintended Pun is to determine how and why they are uttered, and perhaps when we have no context, due to its not being spken within a conversation, we have the best scientific soup in which to test our theory. A few more for the road:
December 14, 1991 While describing his dislike of the commercialization of Christmas, a work colleague said: “Sometimes we get wrapped up in the presents.”
January 6, 2011 After explaining options for dinner to my son, which included heating up a can of corn and making hamburgers, I said: “Okay, we'll play it by ear.”

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Meditation on the Unintended Pun (Link)

Here is a lovely meditation on the Unintended Pun, and how much joy and beauty it can bring into our lives. Ms. Cohen sees this marvel of our brains, from "some force not strictly in our command," not as something to discard as vulgar or crude, but as a jewel to admire: "existing in fantastic invisible abundance, contained for example in the very alphabet blocks of our humble speech, and if only seldom deigning to arrange themselves into patterns that met the eye, glittering rather marvelously when they did."

Click here for Ms. Cohen's meditation.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Daily Pun #1

This is the first discovered pun since the blog's inauguration-- which just goes to show that puns really are everywhere in everyday life.

This Yahoo article (click to view) on January 4, 2011 has this line: 
        "This so-called January effect for gold doesn't always pan out."

Is this Unintended or not? You decide.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Introduction: Fun with Puns

Puns are all around us. But many of us go through our lives and never notice, except when somebody says one on purpose and punctuates it with an elbow in our ribs. Many more puns emanate accidentally, and in that case, the observant receiver may end up poking the would-be punster in the ribs and saying, “Oh, I get it!” only to be greeted with a blank stare. This phenomenon is the “Unintended Pun.” My goal is to be the elbow in your ribs—to help you hone your ear (and eye, as we’ll discuss), to discern those puns, and react appropriately and collegially, as the situation warrants (and dodging the blank stare).

Since I could talk, I have enjoyed making puns, and enjoyed receiving other people’s puns. In the 1980s, I read a book named The Society of Mind by Marvin Minsky. One of the points of that book is that connections in the brain are formed around various things, including word sounds as well as word pictures. Later, a work colleague was explaining her home appliance problems: “The stove quit working, and my refrigerator isn’t doing too hot.” I laughed out loud, thinking she was trying to be funny, despite her woes. She looked at me and thought I was making fun of her broken appliances, and was quite offended. This soon led me to think that there was more to Unintended Puns than meets the ear, and I began recording them for some possible future use. The more I thought about it, and the more I heard (and verified by asking loved ones and close friends) Unintended Puns, the more I wished I had the expertise to investigate the brain and deeply understand the connectivity of words and metaphors and speech.

For now, instead of pursuing a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience, I’ll start this blog. I’d love to hear from you and get your impressions and experiences. If you’re anything like me at all, we can enjoy this quest together.

I’ll leave you with a New Year’s gift—some of my collected Unintended Puns from the past few decades to whet your appetite and spur your contributions.
November 30, 1989
While discussing aches and pains and broken bones, I said: “I sprained ankles all over the joint.”

August 14, 1992
A contractor had just removed half of the concrete which had covered the backyard of our property in Baltimore. We were hoping to make a nicer yard for our children in addition to improving water drainage. The first step the contractor had done was to pour lots and lots of dirt in the yard. He said: “If I didn’t do it right away, my name would be mud.”

May 20, 2005
I was thinking about how to explain the weather to my Midwestern cousin, who was visiting Arizona. It occurred to me that you have to watch yourself in the summer because of how hot the sun gets. I thought this, but caught myself before saying it: “Out here, everything revolves around the sun.”

May 1, 2009
A work colleague was explaining to me that his girlfriend wants to have a cooking contest, during which a bunch of people will cook meals with the same set of ingredients, all doing it within an hour. He says he’s not sure it will work, since there’s only one stove: “I’m not sure how it will pan out.”

September 23, 2009
My wife is a physician, who specializes in seeing patients with migraine headaches. An e-mail from someone helping her set up a solo practice said: “What I mean is that your positive asset is your practice, though it has many headaches attached with it.”
In the next few days, I’ll share some ideas I have for some “guidelines” on how to distinguish an Unintended Pun from its lesser brethren, the Intended Pun. Also, I’ll posit a sort of rating scale on different axes so we can start thinking about these puns in a slightly scientific way.