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The Pun Also Rises: How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, and Made Wordplay More Than Some Antics

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Some people may dismiss puns as the lowest form of humor. But this attitude is a relatively recent development in the sweep of history. In The Pun Also Rises, John Pollack — a former Presidential Speechwriter for Bill Clinton, and winner of the world pun championship — explains how punning revolutionized language and made possible the rise of modern civilization. Integrati Some people may dismiss puns as the lowest form of humor. But this attitude is a relatively recent development in the sweep of history. In The Pun Also Rises, John Pollack — a former Presidential Speechwriter for Bill Clinton, and winner of the world pun championship — explains how punning revolutionized language and made possible the rise of modern civilization. Integrating evidence from history, pop culture, literature, comedy, science, business and everyday life, this book will make readers reconsider everything they think they know about puns.


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Some people may dismiss puns as the lowest form of humor. But this attitude is a relatively recent development in the sweep of history. In The Pun Also Rises, John Pollack — a former Presidential Speechwriter for Bill Clinton, and winner of the world pun championship — explains how punning revolutionized language and made possible the rise of modern civilization. Integrati Some people may dismiss puns as the lowest form of humor. But this attitude is a relatively recent development in the sweep of history. In The Pun Also Rises, John Pollack — a former Presidential Speechwriter for Bill Clinton, and winner of the world pun championship — explains how punning revolutionized language and made possible the rise of modern civilization. Integrating evidence from history, pop culture, literature, comedy, science, business and everyday life, this book will make readers reconsider everything they think they know about puns.

30 review for The Pun Also Rises: How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, and Made Wordplay More Than Some Antics

  1. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    What can I say? This is vindication for punsters everywhere. Bird Brian's review was what got me interested in this, and since it's hard to top, I won't even try. The book had some engaging anecdotes, lots of historical facts and quotations, and even some lessons in brain physiology. And of course lots of wordplay. All for pun, and pun for all! What can I say? This is vindication for punsters everywhere. Bird Brian's review was what got me interested in this, and since it's hard to top, I won't even try. The book had some engaging anecdotes, lots of historical facts and quotations, and even some lessons in brain physiology. And of course lots of wordplay. All for pun, and pun for all!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Dan Bruno

    Lots of stuff going on here. There were historical anecdotes about punning through the ages, and its varying cultural import; some pop science tidbits about how the brain processes language generally and puns specifically; a few miscellaneous personal stories (the best is the one about the pun competition at the beginning); and a ton of shameless, unapologetic, wholly gratuitous, thoroughly amazing puns. (My favorite, from a passage about the alphabet: "Yes, the Romans would later modify the Gre Lots of stuff going on here. There were historical anecdotes about punning through the ages, and its varying cultural import; some pop science tidbits about how the brain processes language generally and puns specifically; a few miscellaneous personal stories (the best is the one about the pun competition at the beginning); and a ton of shameless, unapologetic, wholly gratuitous, thoroughly amazing puns. (My favorite, from a passage about the alphabet: "Yes, the Romans would later modify the Greek system [...] But conceptually, these refinements were the equivalent of hitting linguistic singles, and nothing compared to the Greeks' original homer.") Actually, that passage contained the book's most interesting assertion: that puns were partially responsible for the development of written language. To get there, we have to allow for a pretty broad definition of "pun"; Pollack includes other kinds of wordplay like portmanteaux and spoonerisms, and eventually veers into discussing Duchamp's Fountain, the FedEx logo, and emoticons (!). Essentially he uses puns as a stand-in for ambiguity, and then claims that helped bridge the gap between representational systems like hieroglyphics and cuneiform to alphabetic systems like Greek. To which I said: sure! The book did occasionally come off bit defensive -- Shakespeare used puns! advertising uses puns! puns are important! etc. -- which is understandable given their current reputation as a low form of humor. (I see the same thing in writing about video games all the time.) The apologetics were probably unnecessary though; you have to figure that the kinds of people who would even pick up a book called The Pun Also Rises are a self-selecting audience.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Марија Николовска

    A wonderful summery of the history, evolution and importance of the pun. This non-fiction read has enlightened me in many ways and has made quite a few excellent points about the crucial factor that puns play in our everyday lives.

  4. 4 out of 5

    ManOfLaBook.com

    Please excuse the puns below. "The Pun Also Rises: How the Hum­ble Pun Rev­o­lu­tion­ized Lan­guage, Changed His­tory, and Made Word­play More Than Some Antics" by John Pol­lack is a non-fiction book, in which the author tells his-story of puns. Even though this book is short in pages, it is long in content. John Pol­lack loves words and one could tell from the book. He is a for­mer World Pun Cham­pion and speech writer for Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton. In the book Mr. Pol­lack explains the sig­nif­i Please excuse the puns below. "The Pun Also Rises: How the Hum­ble Pun Rev­o­lu­tion­ized Lan­guage, Changed His­tory, and Made Word­play More Than Some Antics" by John Pol­lack is a non-fiction book, in which the author tells his-story of puns. Even though this book is short in pages, it is long in content. John Pol­lack loves words and one could tell from the book. He is a for­mer World Pun Cham­pion and speech writer for Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton. In the book Mr. Pol­lack explains the sig­nif­i­cance of the mighty pun. The author shows the reader how the pun rev­o­lu­tion­ized the lan­guage weav­ing sto­ries, his­tory, sci­ence, cul­ture and literature. “The Pun Also Rises” by John Pol­lack is a seri­ous book about a silly sub­ject. Mr. Pol­lack goes into detail telling us how he won the 1995 O. Henry Pun-Off World Cham­pi­onship, yet neglects to pun-tificate or write at least one Al-a-Gore-y about his expe­ri­ence as Bill Clin­ton’s speech writer. After a short his­tory of jokes and a neu­ro­log­i­cal les­son explain­ing how the mind works, for most of us at least, Mr. Pol­lack devotes the rest of the book to the his­tory and sig­nif­i­cance of pun­ning. The book is mostly inter­est­ing and is a short read, so I booked it in a day. Mr. Pol­lack recounts how and why puns went in and out of fash­ion and tries to explain people’s reac­tion to puns (groans, etc.). It could be that try­ing to make a point, Mr. Pol­lack fell into the trap of think­ing too much (a dan­ger­ous pas­time). I love puns, I roar at “South Park” while my beloved wife just shakes her head in dis­be­lief, but I cer­tainly don’t think too much about why I laugh. Mr. Pol­lack brings us about a twelve, or most likely a dozen, def­i­n­i­tions of what pun actu­ally is. While we think of puns as sim­ple (“What build­ing has the most sto­ries? The library”) some of them are quite com­plex and require our brains to go through hun­dreds of vari­a­tions before we find the joke (Why was May 4th picked to be the "Inter­na­tional Star Wars day"?). Besides the famous come­di­ans Mr. Pol­lack writes Abbott, the author also explores famous lit­er­ary fig­ures in a Swift man­ner. He eval­u­ates Shakespeare’s jokes which, even though old, might still get a laugh around the Globe. This is an enter­tain­ing book, Mr. Pol­lack shows much enthu­si­asm for the sub­ject and pep­pers his pages with puns which will make you laugh, or cringe, or most likely both. If you like lan­guage or lit­tle known facts, this book for you told with pun-etrating humor. All in all – this book is sim­ply a play on words. OK, I’m done! For more book reviews and bookish posts please visit http://www.ManOfLaBook.com

  5. 4 out of 5

    Elaine

    Puntiful. Punlicious. Punderful. Puntastic. Punetrating. All describe this punny book. Unfortunately, I'm nowhere near as punny as John Pollack. Considering his belief that punning is a sign of intelligence, I suppose that he would doubt mine. However, as clever as puns can be, not everyone has punability. Pollack says Noam Chomsky doesn't pun and whatever you may blame Chomsky for, stupidity isn't one of his flaws. Pollack puns his way through this surprisingly scholarly examination of the socio Puntiful. Punlicious. Punderful. Puntastic. Punetrating. All describe this punny book. Unfortunately, I'm nowhere near as punny as John Pollack. Considering his belief that punning is a sign of intelligence, I suppose that he would doubt mine. However, as clever as puns can be, not everyone has punability. Pollack says Noam Chomsky doesn't pun and whatever you may blame Chomsky for, stupidity isn't one of his flaws. Pollack puns his way through this surprisingly scholarly examination of the sociolinguistic, anthropological, historical, and anatomical facets of punning. He has done his homework, but he failed to have it corrected. Oh, this is, for the most part accurate and it's always readable. I learned a lot from it, especially on how puns are political weapons in repressive societies. Damn! Why didn't I take another year of Mandarin? So, out comes the metaphorical red pencil. My inner professor demands to be let out even though I laud this book. It's irrepressible. Sorry, but here are the corrections. First, Pollack doesn't distinguish between puns, blends, and compounding, although they all involve different linguistic processes. Then, too, compounds and blends are major ways of creating new words in a language. Puns aren't. Second, he blithely cites dates for the evolution of language. However, no scholarly field is in more disarray than that of language evolution. It's all guesstimates at this point. Third, Pollack credits punning with being the impetus for the invention of the alphabet. Yes, punning and breaking words up into component parts use some of the same linguistic skills. That in no way means that one caused the other. In fact, since puns involve whole words and alphabets involve breaking words down to the meaningless components of words, it's highly unlikely puns had anything to do with the alphabet. Also, alphabets have been devised for few languages. Punning exists in every language we know

  6. 5 out of 5

    Barbara (The Bibliophage)

    John Pollack prefaces his exploration of puns with his experience at the world pun championship. This was the most intense part of his book, The Pun Also Rises: How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, and Made Wordplay More than Some Antics. The rest of the book ranged from snoozy to informative and mildly entertaining. The book is just riddled with puns! It cries out for groans of appreciation. Over and over. You must appreciate puns to get the most out of Pollack’s writing. John Pollack prefaces his exploration of puns with his experience at the world pun championship. This was the most intense part of his book, The Pun Also Rises: How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, and Made Wordplay More than Some Antics. The rest of the book ranged from snoozy to informative and mildly entertaining. The book is just riddled with puns! It cries out for groans of appreciation. Over and over. You must appreciate puns to get the most out of Pollack’s writing. He slides puns into every paragraph, whether he’s talking about brain chemistry or England in the Middle Ages. He name checks Shakespeare, of course. But he also tells stories of history’s unknown punsters, focusing especially on times the pun was ascendant. Every variation in the punning world is explained, from visual to homophonic and homographic. Pollack leaves no stone unturned. My conclusions I’m both a reader and a writer. I like learning about language, although the book wasn’t on the top of my list by any stretch. Another member of my postal book club suggested it. And after learning everything about lexicography in last year’s selection, we all thought this would be an interesting addition to our knowledge base. Despite a few flaws, I liked this book. Pollack is wordy, since he pushes puns into every topic. The Pun Also Rises suffers from the dreaded mid-book slump. Although it’s only 150 pages long, the middle third was slow and plodding. And I’m not sure I buy Pollack’s theory that puns drove the course of human history. Just because they have survived doesn’t mean they made history happen. That’s like saying insects are the reason humans accomplish anything. Insects survive cataclysm but they don’t execute the rebuilding. Neither do puns. But, puns make life more enjoyable. The wink, wink, nudge, nudge of language used effectively is a beautiful thing. If you love the English language, or want to learn more about this aspect of it, grab a copy of Pollack’s book and dive in. For more reviews of the books I'm reading visit my book blog, TheBibliophage.com.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jason Edwards

    I’m going to start this review with some self-indulgence, which is really par for the course when it comes to my style of reviewing. I’m just a tiny bit drunk, and I could swear I've already written a review for this book. But I can’t find that review anywhere. I have a phrase in my head, that I feel I must have written already, something about how John Pollack peppers The Pun Also Rises with puns, which is to be expected. But I can’t for the life of me find on any of my several hard drives and I’m going to start this review with some self-indulgence, which is really par for the course when it comes to my style of reviewing. I’m just a tiny bit drunk, and I could swear I've already written a review for this book. But I can’t find that review anywhere. I have a phrase in my head, that I feel I must have written already, something about how John Pollack peppers The Pun Also Rises with puns, which is to be expected. But I can’t for the life of me find on any of my several hard drives and cloud drives and others depositories for expository writing any such file. So, I apologize if this winds up being redundant. I also apologize for discussing other than the book at hand in this review. The truth is, there’s not much to the book itself. Which is not a castigation on my part. More of a revelation, or whatever the appropriate word is for when someone shows you what you already knew was there: what can really said about puns, at book length? Their history and development over the course of the evolution of language itself warrants not much more than a Wikipedia entry. Puns are, simultaneously, too vague and too specific a subject to say much about, other than to denote their usage. As analyses go, The Pun Also Rises does its best, but can’t help to wander around. A more philosophical or even argumentative treatment might a larger tome make, but Pollack ’s book is not that. He does start off with an engaging anecdote, and frankly, I would have liked to see more of that kind of thing. A biography of a man’s life in punning would have been worthy of several hundred pages. Instead, we get a kind of history of social attitudes towards puns, some of the rationale behind their usage, a tiny bit of the linguistics involved. But not much else. And yet, for all that, the book was engaging. I started it when I was on a visit to a friend, came upon the paperback edition, and decided to finish via the ebook. Pollack doesn't bog the reader down with too much, and treats the subject for what it’s worth: quasi-lightly. It’s a quick read, and a good read, and not a waste of time in the least. As I write this, I have to say, I’m becoming less and less convinced that I wrote anything about this before now, afterall. Don’t know what that says about me, or about the pilsners I’ve just swallowed. But never mind all that. The dedicated Punshmith will find in Pollack's book a nice light history, and the language enthusiast, too, will find enough of a treatment to speak on the subject with a tiny bit of requisite authority. As for me, an unabashed fan of puns and punning, I liked the book enough to get drunk and write about it. Enough said.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Daryl

    I was very excited to read this book when I ran across the title on a blog recently. It was fine, a nice little overview of how and why we may have come to pun. Neither obsessive and terribly thorough history nor simple humor writing, the book occupies for me a weird spot that falls short of rigorous scholarship (which would have been interesting) but goes beyond the simply light-hearted treatment. I sort of found myself wishing Pollack had picked one extreme or the other. It's a quick and prett I was very excited to read this book when I ran across the title on a blog recently. It was fine, a nice little overview of how and why we may have come to pun. Neither obsessive and terribly thorough history nor simple humor writing, the book occupies for me a weird spot that falls short of rigorous scholarship (which would have been interesting) but goes beyond the simply light-hearted treatment. I sort of found myself wishing Pollack had picked one extreme or the other. It's a quick and pretty entertaining read. Sometimes he sneaks puns in that I wish he hadn't. Puns do belong in a book like this, and there were plenty that made me giggle -- some that I shared with my family -- but some he sprinkled in were too big a reach for the payoff. He could have let those go. (I will say that it's less annoying even at its worst than Lederer's pun book, which I read years ago.) I'm glad I read it but think my expectations may have been too high.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    I was very disappointed. What little history Pollack could scape together was mostly used to set up unimpressive puns. The writing was mostly dull and the author seemed much more impressed with himself than I was. The best part was his account of the national punning competition at the beginning of the book. An entire volume dedicated to that event would have been a much better read.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Owen Townend

    The Pun Also Rises is a perfect celebration of all that I love about the humble pun: it's creativity, it's spontaneity, it's cleverness. Pollack is a likeminded pundit who commentates on the science and history of this particular form of wordplay. As I've always suspected, the development of a pun is no mean feat: it requires a mad dash of thought processes made in a relatively short run of time. Even the silliest, most forced pun is born of a reflexive and reflective approach to meaning. My favo The Pun Also Rises is a perfect celebration of all that I love about the humble pun: it's creativity, it's spontaneity, it's cleverness. Pollack is a likeminded pundit who commentates on the science and history of this particular form of wordplay. As I've always suspected, the development of a pun is no mean feat: it requires a mad dash of thought processes made in a relatively short run of time. Even the silliest, most forced pun is born of a reflexive and reflective approach to meaning. My favourite facts from this book are the linguistic names for everyday puns such as homophonic (involving two words that sound the same - e.g. 'I haven't herd back about that cattle job.'), homographic (involving two different definitions of the same word - e.g. 'the autopsy remains to be seen.') and paradigmatic (requiring an understanding of information not featured in the pun - e.g. see the Kermit Jagger joke ending with its riff on the Knick Knack Paddy Whack song). Of course it's not all cognitive linguistics, Pollack also explores the thought-provoking history of puns, charting their history from the Epic of Gilgamesh through to the Norman Invasion, before spilling the beans about the intellectual coffee houses that sprang up during the reign of Charles II. What I would have given to sit in the Wits' Coffee House, listening to the likes of Samuel Pepys and Jonathan Swift trading quickfire quips. Pollack then Stuarts in the decline of the pun and names some of those who are responsible. If you aren't a fan of puns, it's fair to say the Age of Enlightenment is partially responsible for taking such a dim view. Then again Pollack calls out some theories as to why people groan at puns. Groaning could be perceived as an absurd form of recognition of the wordplay or even appreciation, albeit in the ear of the beholder. Of course some puns are just overused and disruptive to general conversation. Regardless of how you feel about the pun, this book is a fantastic lesson in how semantic wit has changed over the years and what we have learned from it. It did not always make me burst out with laughter but it certainly lit a fire under my sense of humour. I recommend The Pun Also Rises to those who like to bend the rules and turn a phrase.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sharyn L.

    Interesting, a bit dry at times. Lots of puns.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jo-Ann Houde

    Given that I married into a family of punsters, this book was a must-read... Certainly not a captivating page-turner, but it was interesting to learn about the history of the pun, and I picked up some new material along the way!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sherry

    My father loved to pun, and he promoted such fun, zany good times punning together as a family. We were silly, true, but it was often smart humor, that made us think on our feet. Once my sister, father, and I tried to see how long we could keep a balloon up in the air, hitting it upward each time we made another pun. If you failed to make a pun when you hit the balloon, you were out. We kept it up for over an hour. The mental gynmastics it required to think like that are akin to speaking a forei My father loved to pun, and he promoted such fun, zany good times punning together as a family. We were silly, true, but it was often smart humor, that made us think on our feet. Once my sister, father, and I tried to see how long we could keep a balloon up in the air, hitting it upward each time we made another pun. If you failed to make a pun when you hit the balloon, you were out. We kept it up for over an hour. The mental gynmastics it required to think like that are akin to speaking a foreign language while traveling about. It keeps you on your toes. I loved that someone took the time to write an in-depth book on the art of the pun. Author John Pollack won the O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships in the mid-nineties. He was a novice competitor then, and since has given a lot of thought to the history, nature and importance of punning. I can do no better than to repeat here some of what he said at the conclusion of his book. "Koestler, in "Act of Creation", wrote that punning requires regression to "earlier, more primitive levels in the mental hierarchy, while other processes continue simultaneously on the rational surface." Tapping into these deeper, hidden mental resources while still operating one's conscious mental machinery is, Koestler argued, intrinsic to the creative process itself. A great deal of creativity, whether in the arts, science or comedy, requires a subtle interplay between both conscious and unconscious mental processes. Often, these yield spontanious insights-sometimes in the shower, or just after waking up-that often seem to spring from nowhere. "The prerequisite of originality," Koestler wrote, "is the art of forgetting, at the proper moment, what we know." "Human beings love uniting things that seem disparate... We love finding significance in what appears to be swirling data." "...Lederer believes that the increasing us of digital technology actually heightens people's inclination and ability to make connections, both logically and lexically. "I think we're in a renaissance for puns..." "Research has suggested that the single most important predictor of intelligence, academic performance and later social success is how many words a baby hears on a regular basis, as long as those words are spoken by an engaged and present person, not broadcast over radio or TV. So if encryption theory-the idea that humor requires shared, unspoken information to "get" the joke-actually explains the evolutionary advantages of verbal humor, the most verbal among us might just end up getting in the last word for generations to come. If such wordplay does offer an evolutionary advantage, a propensity for it might well be hardwired within us." "Inevitably, some people will never like punning because it fogs up the lens of clarity through which they view the world and impose order, or at least the illusion of order. But if puns seem, at times, to confuse, they actually enlighten us through both laughter and insight. They keep us from taking ourselves too seriously, and sharpen our capacity for creative thinking. Ultimately, puns keep our minds alert, engaged and nimble in the quickening world, revealing new connections and fresh interpretations. And that's why, even as we hurtle into a future of uncertain opportunity, puns will always be more than some antics." Pollack says he owes a special debt of gratitude to the New York Public Library, and especially to librarian Jay Barksdale.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Roy Lotz

    This book was punderwhelming.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Bruce

    This is a nifty swifty: it's only 150 pages, a highly readable dissertation on the etymology, history, anthropology, and taxonomy of puns, itself replete with subt(it)le wordplay. The last 30 pages or so feel extraneous (they read like Pollack is padding for publication), but the whole is worth the weekend it will take you to consume. A representative sample from pages 109-110:So just when exactly do people groan at puns, and what does it mean? ...[T]hat response can spring from several distinct This is a nifty swifty: it's only 150 pages, a highly readable dissertation on the etymology, history, anthropology, and taxonomy of puns, itself replete with subt(it)le wordplay. The last 30 pages or so feel extraneous (they read like Pollack is padding for publication), but the whole is worth the weekend it will take you to consume. A representative sample from pages 109-110:So just when exactly do people groan at puns, and what does it mean? ...[T]hat response can spring from several distinct urges. These include the listener's desire to acknowledge that he or she got the joke, however lame; irritation at having been momentarily taken in by the punster's verbal subterfuge; displeasure at a punster's perceived overreach; frustration at the punster for interrupting the listener's train of thought; a desire to discourage further punning; or even to disguise the fact that he or she didn't actually get the joke…. In addition to conveying criticism, a groan can also signal a listener's grudging admiration of a pun's cleverness, or even reflect someone's need to suppress deserved praise because to praise a pun outright would violate a common social norm.See? As a famous lithographer might have said, it's etch-ucational. So much for "some antics." For moron puns, see my review of Away with Words.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Shirley

    Who knew the literary device for majority of dad jokes could have such nuance and dramatic history! It's hilarious to me how people get so worked up about puns and its implications. But I guess those who takes everything seriously can and will make even the most fun and creative things solemn. I really enjoy learning about the history behind puns, and how our brain works when it comes to "getting" the pun. I find multilingual puns to be the most interesting. Every time my mom and I come up with Who knew the literary device for majority of dad jokes could have such nuance and dramatic history! It's hilarious to me how people get so worked up about puns and its implications. But I guess those who takes everything seriously can and will make even the most fun and creative things solemn. I really enjoy learning about the history behind puns, and how our brain works when it comes to "getting" the pun. I find multilingual puns to be the most interesting. Every time my mom and I come up with a good one, there's always that wink wink and raise brow, it's like a secret handshake only you and the people who gets it enjoys. My nerd heartstrings got super tickled learning there's a PUN-OFF WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP! That is amazing! I went to the author's website and saw clips of the competition. Dorky as it seems, I think it is so fantastic and I have mad respect for folks who can spit out witty puns right there on the spot. Guess who's going down a YouTube pun rabbit hole after this review! (haha, me, I'm going down the rabbit hole...) Sadly, no puns in this review. As much as I would like to be, I'm not one of the witty punister. I just groan at dad joke puns other people come up with, out of envy for their wit. Here's a borrowed pun: go tohttp://www.punpunpun.com/ to check out the O.Henry Pun-Off World Championship news!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    This book is a lot of fun to read. It is peppered throughout with puns, of course. Beyond that, Pollack refers to many other books that amateur linguists will want to also read. My "to-read" list grew by at least 10 books while reading this one. This book is very well-researched. Even so, it is straightforward and easy to read. This book is a lot of fun to read. It is peppered throughout with puns, of course. Beyond that, Pollack refers to many other books that amateur linguists will want to also read. My "to-read" list grew by at least 10 books while reading this one. This book is very well-researched. Even so, it is straightforward and easy to read.

  18. 4 out of 5

    E

    Interesting and FUNNY. Well, punny. Sometimes I was distracted from the academics by the puns. Who knew that a lesson on language could be so entertaining? Fun subject, playfully done. Very enjoyable!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    If you love language, writing, and a good joke then reading this book is a novel concept.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jon Hilty

    The book taught me about puns and also had puns in it. What more do I need, I ask? More puns. But that will happen in day-to-day life.

  21. 4 out of 5

    josep

    how is my head

  22. 4 out of 5

    Amalia Carty

    This was the perfect combination of linguistic analysis and historical insight for a big nerd like me. I loved it.

  23. 5 out of 5

    victoria.p

    The history was interesting but I think it maybe stretched the premise a little too far - might have been better as a long-read article rather than a full-fledged book.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jared

    For what it was, I think the author did really well. I'm just not a big fan of the subject. Also, there a lot of complex equivalents in this book (e.g. such and such duel began because of a pun, et cetera). And I felt like those connections were a bit of a stretch from time to time. For what it was, I think the author did really well. I'm just not a big fan of the subject. Also, there a lot of complex equivalents in this book (e.g. such and such duel began because of a pun, et cetera). And I felt like those connections were a bit of a stretch from time to time.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Barbara Ardinger

    Terrific book! The pun is not the lowest form of humor. It's one of the highest forms because you have to be smart to recognize a pun. I've always loved puns. In graduate school, I put at least one pun in every term paper I wrote. A comparison of modern plays about Oedipus--"Complex Oedipus." My book Finding New Goddesses is filled with puns. These Found Goddesses are goddesses I made up. Here's my favorite: Verbena: Goddess of Wordplay and Really Awful Verse “I don’t get no respect,” Verbena com Terrific book! The pun is not the lowest form of humor. It's one of the highest forms because you have to be smart to recognize a pun. I've always loved puns. In graduate school, I put at least one pun in every term paper I wrote. A comparison of modern plays about Oedipus--"Complex Oedipus." My book Finding New Goddesses is filled with puns. These Found Goddesses are goddesses I made up. Here's my favorite: Verbena: Goddess of Wordplay and Really Awful Verse “I don’t get no respect,” Verbena complains, and it’s true. Worship of this inconspicuous but divinatory Goddess has been likened to addiction. Falling under Her spell is contracting an infectious disease. Once you start punning, they say, you just can’t stop. Playing with words is a form of self-abuse that can start in childhood with little jokes picked up on Sesame Street. Or a child can be infected by an adult, who, finding an infant not wearing shoes, maliciously inquires, “Are you a barefoot boy or a boyfoot bear?” Then it spreads. Some little ones are taken to Dr. Seuss, but instead of offering a cure, he actually makes it worse. It was Seuss, maker-up of words, who took the French verb grincher to name that green fellow who tried to steal Christmas. The next stage is Muppetry, which is truly communicable, and if verbal frolic is allowed to grow, we reach the point where an apparently innocent child may announce—in mixed company, no less—that “transcendental” means “beyond teeth.” Left untreated, the verbenized mind continues to disintegrate. It moves into limericks and doggerel. It falls into amphigory, psalmistry, and sonnetry. It can sink as low as vers libre (during the 1920s, free verse was so shameful that one such poet was transmogrified into a cockroach named archy). The verbal abuser may become a poetaster. He may spend his days writing rock lyrics. If sent to school, the punster may stumble into houses of dithyramb and epithalamia, by which time not even a strong dose of thesaurovaccine can help. Scholars in extremis have been known to resort to figurative language and literary allusion.Sad to say, such scholars often become professors, and professors are often anthologized. The final stages of the overzealous worship of Verbena are sophistry and punditry. By then, it’s not funny anymore. But the sophists and pundits go on television. They judge, they argue, they split hairs, they bore, they earn big money. Hail, Verbena, you’re the one, Help me find just one more pun.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mark Henkel

    Did you know that making a pun is an act of intelligence? What do you really know about punning? Love them or groan at them, do… all puns matter? "The Pun Also Rises" is a surprising resource that delves into the etymology, definitions, and types of puns, the neuroscience/biology involved in punning, the history of punning/punners, the history of languages, characters, and sounds, and the impact and creative necessity for human progress. Whew! Who'd'a'thunk? It turns out that people who enjoy making puns Did you know that making a pun is an act of intelligence? What do you really know about punning? Love them or groan at them, do… all puns matter? "The Pun Also Rises" is a surprising resource that delves into the etymology, definitions, and types of puns, the neuroscience/biology involved in punning, the history of punning/punners, the history of languages, characters, and sounds, and the impact and creative necessity for human progress. Whew! Who'd'a'thunk? It turns out that people who enjoy making puns are actually performing a deep intellectual exercise, revealing a deeper intelligence, growing their brainpower. . . . BACKSTORY Before I proceed any further with this book review of "The Pun Also Rises," though, I must share the fun backstory of how I ended up getting this book - which made this all the more fun for me. My family already knows how my mind works and that I love to learn; and, they know that I am an avid book reader of non-fiction. So, when it comes to choosing presents to give me for my birthday and holidays, they know, without hesitation, that any non-fiction books in the topics of my specific interests are always an easy option. Better yet, and making that option even easier for them, they also know that I maintain an ever-present "what-next-to-buy" list of books of which I do not yet own. Easy peasy. While using that list in choosing this gift-giving option, my wife likes to always try to add one extra book that is not on that list; it is her way of adding her personal touch of extra thoughtfulness. In 2019, she thought I might also enjoy a book, "Thinking, Fast & Slow," by Daniel Kahneman. It was not on my list. Yet, it turned out that, not only was that unexpected book a proverbial "home run" (to use a baseball metaphor), but I actually so thoroughly enjoyed that book that I told her that it was a serendipitous "grand slam." We were both so happy about that result! Proceeding from that mutually joyful beginning, my wife followed it up by adding that same happy personal touch again on my following birthday. Knowing that I routinely enjoy making puns and playing with words (which I even use in some of the speeches I present as a public speaker), she gave me this book for my birthday in 2020: "The Pun Also Rises" by John Pollack. Yet again, she "hit it out of the park." One other detail that I would add to this backstory: my wife originally bought this book as a paperback from an online third party low-price bookseller. (She had not wanted to spend too much money in case I ended up not enjoying this book.) When I opened the gift, I observed that the top corner of the cover was a "Not For Sale" notice, labelling it as "Advanced Uncorrected Proofs." As we do not want to deprive any author of their legitimate royalties, I wanted to find a way to get a valid copy of the book. My wife alerted the seller that we did not want to deprive authors of income by purchasing "bootleg" books. At no additional charge, the seller instantly then shipped off a valid new copy of this book. Not only that, the new copy was also a hardcover book (which I prefer)! Happy Birthday to me indeed! . . . "Introduction" In October, 2020, I was finally ready and able to read this book. Both my wife and I had had a mild expectation that this was going to be a book that might end up providing all kinds of puns for me to enjoy sharing and for her to "enjoy" facepalming. The longer-than-anticipated Introduction of the book detailed the fun story of the author winning the 1995 O. Henry Pun-Off World Championship. Under the excitement of 5-second time-limits, in the battle against his final opponent that secured the author's victory, the back and forth of that exchange of puns was attention-grabbing and fun to read. It was also fun to read the pun that the author says was also the very first complete sentence he ever spoke at 2-1/2 years old. (As I will not spoil that pun, readers will want to read to the book.) Enjoying such great puns with such contest-excitement and intensity, I finished that Introduction, definitely looking forward to how fun this book was going to be. And then I began reading Chapter 1. . . . UNEXPECTED Dead stop. It suddenly felt like a whole new book. Mind you, the author's writing style remained the same. Moreover, the difference was not even the author's fault, as it were. Rather, it was my misperceived expectation. I had been both ready and excited to read more puns. Teaching me that my perceived expectation was inaccurate, the book then proceeded to instead provide a more-serious and comprehensive background on the whole concept of punning, and how it had gone back and forth in and out of favor throughout history. I repeat, the error was in my own mistaken expectation. I was ready for fun, yet now the book was, instead, a genuinely serious resource – even though the author's writing style was surely still enjoyable. Once I internalized the fact that it was indeed my own mistake of expectation, I easily realized and acknowledged that the book is actually both a surprising and fun resource on all the aspects of making puns. I admitted it: the fault was mine alone and this is a truly good book indeed. . . . STRUCTURE "The Pun Also Rises," is structurally organized into 5 different chapters, sandwiched between a 15-page Introduction and a 2-page Epilogue. That content is followed at the end by 7 pages of Acknowledgements, 30 pages of page-numbered Endnotes, 11 pages of Select Bibliography, and 8 pages of an Index. Hence, there are 152 pages of in-depth material delivered over the five main chapters. Each of the five chapters addresses a specific aspect of punning. . . . "Chapter 1" Chapter 1 provides the etymology, definition, and various types of puns. Quoting definitions from both Webster's Dictionary and the Oxford English Dictionary that acknowledge and make the connection of a pun as a "play on words," the book (on Page 10) then makes the distinction between the two by quoting from another book, "Upon the Pun" (1978): "A pun transforms one thing into another by relating them through sound or, in the case of visual nouns, sight. A play on words only works if the two things it relates are already intrinsically connected, either by etymology or function." From there, the book details the various types of puns - including homophonic puns, homographic puns, paradigmatic puns, syntagmatic puns, Spoonerisms (a metathesis), the French tradition of contrepeterie, chiasmus (a play on words), some Wellerisms, Tom Swifties, shaggy dog stories, Feghoots, knock-knock jokes, meld puns, and portmanteaus. Whew! Who'd'a'thunk? As "The Pun Also Rises" was published in 2011, its publication preceded - and therefore does not include - any references to the more recent type of punning (from the latter part of the same decade) now known as "Dad Jokes." . . . "Chapter 2" Chapter 2 takes the analysis to the next step. Understanding the very basic premise that a pun is the connection of two concepts that our brain processes what it hears (or reads/sees), the author walks us through the sound and neuroscience of how a pun enters our brains and how our brain processes it. (Yes, this book details ear/brain biology!) On Page 35, the chapter asks, "what happens, biologically, when two words have an identical sound but different meanings? Or, if we're reading headlines and pronouncing them silently, how do we differentiate between the sound and meaning of words with identical spellings but multiple meanings?" On pages 35-36, the author illustrates the point of that question by referencing another book, "The Language Instinct," by Steven Pinker. "Consider the following headlines which Steven Pinker offers as evidence that words and thoughts are not the same thing. STUD TIRES OUT. CHILD'S STOOL GREAT FOR USE IN THE GARDEN." The book then details the biological systems of how we humans process such information. On page 51, the author explains, "Scientists believe that this complex task - resolving ambiguous, often incongruous information – underpins the brain's perception of humor. Instinctively, all people seek to establish a coherent narrative to explain what they see and hear. It's how we make sense of the world." . . . "Chapter 3" Chapter 3 provides a rundown through the history of punning, referencing Aristotle, Plato, Cicero, and many others. The book even exclaims, on page 63, that Shakespeare was not "an average punner by any measure. He was far and away the best of his era and used puns to reveal not just his own wit but the knowledge and depth of the characters who uttered them." Providing an important clarification, this chapter also teaches on page 65, that "One should remember, though, that puns are at the core defined by multiplicity of meaning, not necessarily humor." That allowed for punning to also apply to non-humorous applications. The pun was favored through the European Renaissance era, but a century later, the course of attitudes reversed. In that new subsequent era of rising scientific thought, the book provides, on page 76, an example of the new mindset, "Physician and philosopher John Locke suggested that the study of mathematics helped free the mind 'from the cheat of words.' If the laws of nature could be reduced to mathematical formulas of unambiguous meaning, why not language? By this calculus, puns, subjective and imprecise, failed the test of rationality." On page 78, the book cites an anti-punning founder of a daily publication in the early 1700s named Joseph Addison who asserted that puns "had finally been 'entirely banished out of the learned world.'" The chapter continues the proverbial roller coaster ride of favorable/disfavorable attitudes toward punning, including the widespread use of the phrase "pardon the pun," which, as explained on page 84, was "an expression largely supplanted by 'no pun intended' about a century later." Perspectives and attitudes changed, yet again, away from Europe, and on over in the new country, America - leading to comedians in the late 19th and then 20th centuries who brought humor to their usages of puns. The book cites many big names of renown including Jack Benny, George Burns, Johnny Carson, George Carlin, and numerous others. The chapter concludes with answers to the question it asks on page 109, "So just when exactly do people groan at puns, and what does it mean?" Readers will want to read this book for those answers. Expect no spoilers from me here. . . . "Chapter 4" Chapter 4 provides another outline of history; however, this time, the direction centers on the development of languages, their associated written characters for representing them, and their connection to audible pronunciations. This is the chapter that answers the question it asks on page 122, "Do all languages feature punning of some sort?" After progressing through the history of languages, words, and the written characters/"alphabets," the book concludes the point with an amazing perspective. "In the broadest terms, alphabetic writing … enabled us to accumulate and expand upon human knowledge. …What enabled this key breakthrough? Again, it was the human capacity to recognize the distinctions between sound, symbol and meaning, and our inclination to recombine them in assemblages of infinite variety – in a word, punning! …(I)t was essentially punning that laid the foundation for alphabetic writing as we know it, which in turn made possible the accumulation of knowledge and the creation of the modern world." While I will not give the pun away here, readers will surely want to read this book in order to read the very next (which is also the last) line that follows as the final concluding sentence, to read the ending hilarious pun by which this chapter concludes. . . . "Chapter 5" Chapter 5 seeks to explain how language impacts our human ability to perceive and how punning connects to language and multiple meanings as necessary for human progress. The chapter begins by citing China's government's "curtailing their citizens' access to uncensored information" (page 136), and moves on to citing the "creation of Newspeak" in George Orwell's dystopian novel, "1984," which sought to limit how people could think "chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and by stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings, in and so far as possible of all secondary meanings whatever" (quoting Orwell's book on the author's own page 139). Those citations lay the foundation for what the author next cites as the argument made by an anthropologist named Gary Gossen (on page 140) that, "the more rigid a society becomes, the greater its reliance on subtexts, especially puns, to address sensitive or taboo topics." Essentially, as the author writes on page 142, "It is precisely this renegade character that gives language and especially puns, their subversive and creative power." On page 143, he continues explaining that connection to human creativity, "It is precisely that capacity to link wildly disparate ideas that enabled people, through thousands of generations of trial and error, to move from cave to skyscraper to space, and from drum to telegraph to iPhone." On page 149, the author proclaims, "All progress, ultimately, is the result of playing with ideas and seeing new ways of connecting existing knowledge in such a way that the sum is greater than its constituent parts. And making such unlikely connections is the essence of punning." Connecting that to developing intelligence of human beings (and, for example, babies' development through hearing words and game play), the author cites a neurologist named Max Levin, "'If there were no pleasure in the appreciation of the absurd, if there was no fun in playing with ideas, putting them together in various combinations and seeing what makes sense or nonsense – in brief, if there were not such a thing as humor – children would lack practice in the art of thinking, the most complex and most powerful survival tool of all.'" The chapter closes with another pun that readers will want to read this book to enjoy. Prior to that last sentence (and pun) of the chapter, the author concludes, "Ultimately, puns keep our minds alert, engaged and nimble in this quickening world, revealing new connections and fresh interpretations." [PLEASE READ THE COMMENTS FOR PART 2 OF THIS BOOK REVIEW] [YOU MIGHT NEED TO SCROLL DOWN BELOW THE "READING PROGRESS" GRAPHS.]

  27. 4 out of 5

    Robin

    The title just about says it all. Who knew that people have been punning since ancient Greece and Biblical times? Or that early Hawaiian natives used punning was a sort of dueling? Or that England’s coffee house wordplay other humor became so frowned upon in Victorian times that any laughter and even smiling were considered uncouth? There is plenty of history here, as well as physiological analysis of how we make puns, and how puns fog the clarity of language but keep minds alert for novel inter The title just about says it all. Who knew that people have been punning since ancient Greece and Biblical times? Or that early Hawaiian natives used punning was a sort of dueling? Or that England’s coffee house wordplay other humor became so frowned upon in Victorian times that any laughter and even smiling were considered uncouth? There is plenty of history here, as well as physiological analysis of how we make puns, and how puns fog the clarity of language but keep minds alert for novel interpretations. Of course, there are plenty of groan-tastic passages, as well as a discourse on why we ought not to groan at the humble pun after all. Anyone who enjoys puns will get a kick out of this book. I think particularly funny and thought-provoking to experience it as an audiobook. It will make an otherwise boring commute or exercise regimen entertaining.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Trisha

    The idea of linguistic history titillates me intellectually, but I must admit to not having a lot of luck with it in practice. My linguistics courses in general while in college were universally boring. But deep down inside, I knew that linguistics could be absolutely fascinating if put in the right hands. This book definitely proves that. A historical and cultural look at the role of puns, The Pun Also Rises informed, entertained, and challenged me. First, the challenging part. I have always tho The idea of linguistic history titillates me intellectually, but I must admit to not having a lot of luck with it in practice. My linguistics courses in general while in college were universally boring. But deep down inside, I knew that linguistics could be absolutely fascinating if put in the right hands. This book definitely proves that. A historical and cultural look at the role of puns, The Pun Also Rises informed, entertained, and challenged me. First, the challenging part. I have always thought - despite popular belief - that puns were a mark of genius. While some puns are rather ridiculous and easily understood, many are intellectually complex and require a higher intellect to grok. Reading this book validated that thought, and not only did I definitely not understand some of the puns used, but I am pretty sure there were puns I didn't even recognize as puns. I like this for some reason. Pollack clearly loves language. I say clearly because not only does he directly state that he loves language, but the way the book is written demonstrates a conscious manipulation of word usage and sentence structure. In other words, I enjoyed his style. He maintains a humorous, informative, intellectual, and witty tone throughout - a style I think of as a "academic chic". I love that perfect balance between geek and cool in writing. I definitely recommend picking this one up if you are interested in linguistics, like some funny in your books, or like a cultural history type of read.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Corinna

    I read this while I was on a plane to Austin, and, oddly enough, the first chapter details the author's trip to the Pun Off that happens there! His plane almost crashes; luckily, mine didn't. My students bought this for me as an end of the year present, and as I'm constantly impressing upon them all sorts of linguistic concepts, this book was quite appropriate. The history of the pun isn't as groan inducing as actual puns can be. Pollock details what happens in the brain when a pun is constructe I read this while I was on a plane to Austin, and, oddly enough, the first chapter details the author's trip to the Pun Off that happens there! His plane almost crashes; luckily, mine didn't. My students bought this for me as an end of the year present, and as I'm constantly impressing upon them all sorts of linguistic concepts, this book was quite appropriate. The history of the pun isn't as groan inducing as actual puns can be. Pollock details what happens in the brain when a pun is constructed and heard, and shows the reader that the cognitive hoops both listener and creator jump through prove that the pun is not the lowest form of humor (lowest meaning foundational, not lewd). He also outlines how we use and encounter puns every day and how we came to consider the pun the territory of children and old men. The history chapter lagged a bit, but since puns have existed since the advent of language, it would obviously have to get a little dry at some point. If you're interested in the machinations of language, this is definitely a book for you.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sarah (Workaday Reads)

    I love puns. The cornier, the better. With that in mind, I was interested to learn a bit of history about puns. I didn’t realize how old the pun is, or how varied they can be. I also didn’t know that must puns are not meant to be funny, and that at various points in history, they were used quite seriously. The book itself was at times humourous and entertaining, and at other times dry and slightly boring. When the focus was on ancedotal stories, the book was great. Both entertaining and education I love puns. The cornier, the better. With that in mind, I was interested to learn a bit of history about puns. I didn’t realize how old the pun is, or how varied they can be. I also didn’t know that must puns are not meant to be funny, and that at various points in history, they were used quite seriously. The book itself was at times humourous and entertaining, and at other times dry and slightly boring. When the focus was on ancedotal stories, the book was great. Both entertaining and educational at once. When the focus was on strict facts, that is when it became less entertaining. Overall, the book was an interesting, and a light hearted take on language. There were puns scattered throughout the book, and while I likely missed a lot of them, the ones I caught were either giggle or groan worthy, like most puns are. This is a book I would suggest to linguistic-minded people who like to be entertained while learning.

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