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

( 6 )

Overview

The pun is commonly dismissed as the lowest form of wit, and punsters are often unpopular for their obsessive wordplay. But such attitudes are relatively recent developments. In The Pun Also Rises, John Pollack—a former World Pun Champion and presidential speechwriter for Bill Clinton—explains why such wordplay is significant: It both revolutionized language and played a pivotal role in making the modern world possible. Skillfully weaving together stories and evidence from history, brain science, pop culture, ...
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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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Overview

The pun is commonly dismissed as the lowest form of wit, and punsters are often unpopular for their obsessive wordplay. But such attitudes are relatively recent developments. In The Pun Also Rises, John Pollack—a former World Pun Champion and presidential speechwriter for Bill Clinton—explains why such wordplay is significant: It both revolutionized language and played a pivotal role in making the modern world possible. Skillfully weaving together stories and evidence from history, brain science, pop culture, literature, anthropology, and humor, The Pun Also Rises is an authoritative yet playful exploration of a practice that is common, in one form or another, to virtually every language on earth.

At once entertaining and educational, this engaging book answers fundamental questions: Just what is a pun, and why do people make them? How did punning impact the development of human language, and how did that drive creativity and progress? And why, after centuries of decline, does the pun still matter?

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

It is sometimes thought that puns are the lowest form of humor (unless you thought of them yourself), but masters of the art such as Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and Dorothy Parker prove such contentions wrong. Over the decades, this universal practice has been examined ("In the pun, two strings of thought are tangled into one acoustic knot"—Arthur Koestler), dissected, and exemplified, but never perhaps as entertainingly as in John Pollack's robust new The Pun Also Rises. Its chapter titles provide pregnant hints about its contents: 'The Anatomy of a Pun," "How the Brain Retrieves Meaning from Sound," "The Risible Fall of Puns through Time," "How Puns Captured Human Imagination," and "Why Puns Matter." (P.S. Author Pollack is no knock-knock amateur. He is a former O. Henry Pun-Off World Championship winner.)

Tim Flannigan

-The Los Angeles Times

"A compelling exegesis on what puns are and why they matter."
-P.J. O'Rourke

"He tells us, with a clarity unusual for the subject, how the mind works..."
-Boston Globe

"The best books on language are the ones that encourage us to reexamine what we think we know, and "The Pun Also Rises" does exactly that."
-Detroit Free Press

"Whether you are practicing punster, interested in language or just hungry to learn something on the beach this summer as you lie on the sand-which-is there (see what happens when you talk to this guy?), Pollack's book is fun and informative."
Detroit Free Press
"Whether you are practicing punster, interested in language or just hungry to learn something on the beach this summer as you lie on the sand-which-is there (see what happens when you talk to this guy?), Pollack's book is fun and informative."
The Los Angeles Times
"A compelling exegesis on what puns are and why they matter."
Boston Globe
"The best books on language are the ones that encourage us to reexamine what we think we know, and "The Pun Also Rises" does exactly that."
From the Publisher
"Anyone with an interest in language is going to find this book fascinating." —-David Crystal, author of How Language Works
Library Journal
Pollack is a compulsive pun-maker who won the 1995 O. Henry Pun-Off World Championship. While some may think puns are a low form of humor, Pollack explains how punning helped shape our language and influenced the rise of modern civilization. He draws heavily from various disciplines to present what he considers the first known pun; explains the legendary Polynesian punning duels, Shakespeare's invention of the knock-knock joke, Thomas Jefferson's lost comments on punning; and reveals that the history of the pun goes back further than the recorded history of almost anything else. Pollack also demonstrates how the brain processes humorous wordplay. Pollack's work aims to combine punning history with modern-day use of puns, but, surprisingly, he does not include the work of many well-known punners, e.g., Richard Lederer's Get Thee to a Punnery (1988) and Pun and Games (1996) and Art Moger's The Best Book of Puns (1998), preventing this title from being the definitive choice on puns. Former New York Mets announcer Pete Larkin's resonant voice nicely balances this lively material, which will appeal to all etymologists, lexicographers, and language mavens and nicely supplements other related titles. [The Gotham pb will publish in April 2012.—Ed.]—Dale Farris, Groves, TX
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781592406753
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 4/3/2012
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 165,372
  • Product dimensions: 5.36 (w) x 8.03 (h) x 0.65 (d)

Meet the Author


John Pollack is a former presidential speechwriter, the winner of the 1995 O. Henry World Championship Pun-Off, and the author of books including Cork Boat and The World on a String.

Pete Larkin, an AudioFile Earphones Award winner, has worked in virtually all media. He was the public address announcer for the New York Mets from 1988 to 1993, served as host of WNEW-FM's highly rated "Saturday Morning Sixties" program, and has done hundreds of commercials, promos, and narrations.

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Table of Contents

Introduction xi

Chapter 1 Cutting It Up: The Anatomy of a Pun 1

Chapter 2 Labs and Retrievers: How the Brain Fetches Meaning from Sound 31

Chapter 3 To Pun or Not to Pun: The Risible Fall of Puns Through Time 55

Chapter 4 Riddles of History: How Puns Conquered Human Imagination 117

Chapter 5 More Than Some Antics: Why Puns Matter 135

Epilogue 153

Acknowledgments 155

Endnotes 163

Select Bibliography 193

Index 205

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2012

    A Punetrating Study

    Puns are not the lowest form of humor. They take a sensitivity to and awareness of language. Pollack puns these punts by punetrating linguistics, anthropology, sociology,politics, language evolution and history of English. All in all a fascinating study.

    3 caveats: (1) he confuses puns with compounds and blends, but they all derive from different linguistic processes. (2) he speaks with certainty about when language evolved, but there are few fields of study with as much disarray and conflict as that of linguistic evolution. (3) he claims puns were the cause of the development of the alphabet. Yes, puns and alphabetizing draw on some of the same underlying linguistic skills, but that doesn't make one the cause of the other. So far as we know, all languages are puntiful, but most of them have no alphabet

    Unfortunately, I'm a scholar. Of linguistics no less. Being critical is sadly part of me. Mostly, this book is informative and fun -- and Pollack's puns are punnier than mine . I'm not a punster at all

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 7, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Punsters rejoice!

    Do you get both of the puns in the title of this book? How about this: "The Risible Fall of Puns Through Time" (the subtitle of Chapter 3). Some people don't get puns and hate them. Some people get them and still hate them. But a lot of people get them, love them, and use them. These people include the classical Greek authors, Shakespeare, and modern advertisers and headline writers. Here's a book that anyone who loves language will want to read. Contrary to the dicta of Addison and Steele, Dr. Samuel Johnson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, William Shawn, long-time editor of The New Yorker, and even Humpty Dumpty, we cannot dictate to our brains how words are processed. Humans invented syntax, Pollack explains, and syntax includes playing with words. He writes that the pun was in fact, "humanity's first hyperlink, a way to identify and articulate potential connections that aren't necessarily or immediately apparent. Punning was and remains a way to sling a verbal rope, in an instant, across vast conceptual canyons. It is this same urge to imagine, explore and establish new connections that fuels creativity generally, and science specifically...Puns reveal a mind free to roam frontiers of possibility, without shame or fear of being wrong." (pg. 143) This is because, as Pollack carefully explains in Chapter 2, the brain uses many of its parts to identify sound and translate between symbols and words. In other words, it takes a powerful brain to make or appreciate a pun. It's the small-minded guys who don't get puns. The Pun Also Rises is enormous fun to read. The introduction is an account of a punning competition near Austin, Texas, that Pollack won. He says he's been punning all his life. He's not alone. Puns appear in nearly all the earth's complex languages, from Egyptian, Sumerian, Phoenician, Chinese, and Greek to French and English (and lots in between). Chapter 1 gives examples of kinds of puns-Spoonerisms, knock-knock jokes, Tom Swifties, etc.-and tries to arrive at a definition, something even the OED cannot do satisfactorily. Chapter 2 tells us how the brain works when it's sighting or creating puns. Chapter 3 gives a history of punning from the earliest times until today's standup comics. Chapter 4 traces the history of punning from babbling on in Babylon to vaudeville to the double-entendres we spot in ads and company names. Chapter 5 brings the subject up to date. Pollack concludes that "puns keep our minds alert, engaged and nimble in this quickening world, revealing new connections and fresh interpretations." (pg. 152) Quill says: Punsters rejoice! Punning proves we have nimbler brains than those other guys.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 13, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    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!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 12, 2013

    "Pun"

    Pun not inted.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 10, 2012

    Alot of pun to read!

    Pun intended

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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