The unintended pun in everyday life.

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.


  1. Hey, Dad. I heard a great unintended pun today at the club meeting. The president, who is an accounting major, was talking to the treasurer, who is also an accounting major, about whether we have enough money to put on the ball. She said that we had a certain amount of money, along with styrofoam and plastic cups.

    "Yes," he said, "but we won't be liquidating those assets."

    Thought you might enjoy that. When Rachael asked him if he meant to make the pun (she notices these things), he said no. It's a common accounting term, but Rachael and I still laughed pretty hard.

  2. That's a good one. If you don't "liquidate" a cup, there's not much use for it, is there?

  3. Which is interestingly the opposite of what would be true in the accounting sense-- you can't really liquidate cups (as in sell them for money), but you can use them at an event for drinks.