Follow Harriet on Twitter
Groan If You Will, but Fear No More the Heat o’ the Pun
A whimsical Huffington Post column entitled “Here Comes the Pun” sheds light on how puns have enriched the human language–and the human mind. Penned by author John Pollack, who has written an entire book on the subject, the piece is examines the development of written language-and is predictably punny.
Of course, fierce debates over the meaning of words are as old as language itself, and continue even today; in the United States alone, there are more than 750,000 working lawyers, with thousands more passing the bar (or drinking there) every year.
One area of language that remains especially divisive is the practice of punning, and in this regard people generally fall into one of two opposing camps: they either appreciate puns as a sign of intelligence and wit, or dismiss all puns contemptuously – good and bad alike – as juvenile, foolish, or the lowest form of humor.
What such critics fail to recognize, however, is that puns and punsters were actually instrumental to the very rise of modern civilization.
…The scribes who invented the alphabet did so by deliberate, increasingly complex punning. Essentially, they recognized that they could break apart sound, symbol and meaning to harvest phonetic components of deconstructed hieroglyphs, much as kids who tell knock-knock jokes break apart the component syllables of names and put those back to work in new, surprising ways.
It was by distilling these phonetic components to a set of basic sounds that scribes invented that first alphabet, which in time gave birth to alphabets that included — among others — Phoenician, Hebrew, Greek, Arabic, Latin, Persian, Russian, English, and Sanskrit. Coincidentally, the word alphabet is itself a meld pun comprising the first two letters of the Greek sequence, alpha and beta. And while that elementary pun is certainly no homer in terms of humor, it is notable for its longevity.
If you can handle a few more puns, the full column is worth a read – find it here.