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The headline read, “China bans wordplay in attempt at pun control.”

It wasn't from the satirical news website The Onion. It was from The Guardian of Britain, reporting that China is cracking down on puns in the media.

China's State Administration for Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television decreed, “Radio and television authorities at all levels must tighten up their regulations and crack down on the irregular and inaccurate use of the Chinese language, especially the misuse of idioms.”

Puns are quips that use words that sound the same and have different meanings. Or puns use single words with double meanings. Ideally, the play on words is funny.

I have a love/hate relationship with puns. A good one is golden. A bad one is painful.

I know almost nothing about the Chinese language, but I did a little research. That language has many, many written characters but fewer spoken sounds. Because of this, Chinese has many homonyms, or words that sound the same and are spelled the same but have different meanings.

These homonyms are also the basis for this idiom abuse in the media. The administration did acknowledge the importance of wordplay in the Asian nation.

“Idioms are one of the great features of the Chinese language and contain profound cultural heritage and historical resources and great aesthetic, ideological and moral values,” it said.

But apparently those puns have no place in advertising. The administration said such usage mocks cultural tradition and confuses people, particularly youngsters.

I won't attempt any use of the Chinese characters, but I'll try to describe an example of one ad that the reprimand mentioned. A character was swapped out from a Chinese saying that means "perfection" in a tourism ad for the Shanxi province. The result was "Shanxi, a land of splendors." I'm not sure whether the ad is considered to be a clever play on words or groan-worthy.

Western advertisers have thrown out a few groaners, too. You be the judge.

When UPS started delivering in Europe, one slogan was: "No time Toulouse."

When Washington Mutual offered no-fee checking, the ad had three baby chickens peering into the camera. The words read, “Free range checkin’.”

A fish and chip shop calls itself “the Codfather.”

At a pizza place: “Eat our Pizza. We knead the dough.”

The name of a place featuring flame-broiled burgers: “Hindenburger.”

Some in the advertising world shun puns. One article about puns in ads was titled, "Do not ever be tempted to use puns." (Is that clear enough?)

People tend to feel strongly about puns.

Lexicographer Noah Webster said puns are “a low species of wit.”

English poet John Dryden called puns the “lowest and most groveling kind of wit.”

Filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock said, “Puns are the highest form of literature.”

Victor Hugo said, “Puns are the droppings of soaring wits.”

Edgar Allan Poe guessed at the contempt for puns, “Of puns it has been said that those who most dislike them are those who are least able to utter them.”

Journalist Ambrose Bierce said of puns: “A form of wit, to which wise men stoop and fools aspire.” I’m not sure whether that's a vote for or against puns.

Shakespeare loved puns, which encourages me. In Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio has the fortitude to pun after being mortally stabbed. He tells Romeo, “Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man.”

I do like a few other puns.

From satirist Stephen Colbert: “What does Karl Marx put on his pasta? Communist Manipesto!”

From writer Dorothy Parker: “You can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think.”

Not just the famous are inclined to pun.

Some puns are goofy:

A cross-eyed teacher lost her job because she couldn't control her pupils.

How does Moses make tea? Hebrews it.

Some are funny (well, to me):

A vulture boards a plane carrying two dead possums. The attendant looks at him and says, “I'm sorry, sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger.”

All the toilets in London police stations have been stolen. Police say they have nothing to go on.

England has no kidney bank, but it does have a Liverpool.

Oh, none of the stories about the crackdown in China mentioned what the pun-ishment might be for breaking the rules.

Sources: The Guardian, Business Insider, Primal Trek, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal Working Humor, Pun of the Day, Buzzfeed, Brainy Quote, Huffington Post.

Style on 10/29/2018

Print Headline: Wordplay gets folks pun-ished


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