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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Theodore Hook (1788–1841)

On Puns

PUNS may be divided into different classes; they may be made in different ways, introduced by passing circumstances, or by references to bygone events; they may be thrown in anecdotically, or conundrumwise. It is to be observed that feeling, or pity, or commiseration, or grief, is not to stand in the way of a pun; that personal defects are to be made available; and that sense, so as the sound answers, has nothing to do with the business.

If a man is pathetically describing the funeral of his mother, or sister, or wife, it is quite allowable to call it a black-burying party, or to talk of a fit of coffin; a weeping relative struggling to conceal his grief may be likened to a commander of private tears; throw in a joke about the phrase of “funerals performed,” and a re-hearsal; and wind up with the anagram real-fun, funeral.

I give this instance first in order to explain that nothing, however solemn the subject, is to stand in the way of a pun.

It is allowable, when you have run a subject dry in English, to hitch in a bit of any other language which may sound to your liking. For instance, on a fishing party: you say fishing is out of your line; yet, if you do not keep a float, you would deserve a rod; and if anybody affects to find fault with your joke, exclaim, “Oh, vous bête!” There you have line, rod, float, and bait ready to your hand. Call two noodles from the City in a punt, endeavouring to catch small fry, East Angles; or, if you please, observe that “the punters are losing the fish,” “catching nothing but a cold,” or that “the fish are too deep for them.” Call the Thames a tidy river; but say you prefer the Isis in hot weather.

Personal deformities or constitutional calamities are always to be laid hold of. If anybody tells you that a dear friend has lost his sight, observe that it will make him more hospitable than ever, since now he would be glad to see anybody. If a clergyman breaks his leg, remark that he is no longer a clergyman, but a lame man. If a poet is seized with apoplexy, affect to disbelieve it, though you know it to be true, in order to say, “Poeta nascitur, non fit;” and then, to carry the joke one step farther, add that “it is not a fit subject for a jest.” A man falling into a tan-pit you may call “sinking in the sub-lime”; a climbing boy suffocated in a chimney meets with a/ sootable death; and a pretty girl having caught the small-pox is to be much pitted. On the subject of the ear and its defects, talk first of something in which a cow sticks, and end by telling the story of the man who, having taken great pains to explain something to his companion, at last got into a rage at his apparent stupidity, and exclaimed, “Why, my dear sir, don’t you comprehend? The thing is as plain as A B C.” “I dare say it is,” said the other, “but I am D E F.”

It may be as well to give the beginner something of a notion of the use he may make of the most ordinary words, for the purposes of quibbleism.

The loss of a hat is always felt; if you don’t like sugar you may lump it; a glazier is a panes-taking man; candles are burnt because wick-ed things always come to light; a lady who takes you home from a party is kind in her carriage, and you say “nunc est ridendum” when you step into it; if it happens to be a chariot, she is a charitable person; birds’-nests and king-killing are synonymous, because they are high trees on; a Bill for building a bridge should be sanctioned by the Court of Arches, as well as the House of Piers; when a man is dull, he goes to the sea-side to Brighton; a Cockney lover, when sentimental, should live in Heigh Hoburn; the greatest fibber is the man most to re-lie upon; a dean expecting a bishopric looks for lawn; a suicide kills pigs, and not himself; a butcher is a gross man, but a fig-seller is a grocer; Joshua never had a father or mother, because he was the son of Nun; your grandmother and your great-grandmother were your aunt’s sisters; a leg of mutton is better than heaven, because nothing is better than heaven, and a leg of mutton is better than nothing; races are matters of course; an ass can never be a horse, although he may be a mayor; the Venerable Bede was the mother of Pearl; a baker makes bread when he kneads it; a doctor cannot be a doctor all at once, because he comes to it by degrees; a man hanged at Newgate has taken a drop too much; the bridle day is that on which a man leads a woman to the halter. Never mind the aspirate; punning’s all fair, as the archbishop said in the dream.

Puns interrogatory are at times serviceable. You meet a man carrying a hare; ask him if it is his own hare, or a wig—there you stump him. Why is Parliament Street like a compendium? Because it goes to a bridge. Why is a man murdering his mother in a garret a worthy person? Because he is above committing a crime. Instances of this kind are innumerable. If you want to render your question particularly pointed, you are, after asking it once or twice, to say “D’ye give it up?” Then favour your friends with the solution.