Reviewed by Shannon Hopkins
“(P)uns help us find such meaning in a chaotic world.”
John Pollack’s The Pun Also Rises features a title nearly as long as the book itself, a seemingly presumptious title suggesting that, at least in his mind, the “humble pun” is anything but. What follows is a concise (224 page) survey of the pun in which Pollack aptly makes his case to the reader.
The pun is a form of wordplay in which the punster employs a word or phrase that holds a double meaning in context. It is such a ubiquitous part of language and communication that we often make puns without intending to do so (like the time I spouted “aww, shucks” when my dad said he wasn’t telling any more jokes about cornfields…). As Pollack illustrates in Chapter 2, this is because punning plays an integral part in the development of complex language — by using and hearing puns, our brains process information on several levels simultaneously and learn new associations between the sounds that they must interpret.
Chapters 3 and 4 follow the rise and fall of punning through history as a respected linguistic form, then as a vehicle for humor and later a vehicle for bad humor, and today a hotly debated yet unarguably fundamental component of communication. Pollack peppers his study with puns from different eras and societies to demonstrate our universal familiarity with them, which also keeps the historical journey from reading too much like a history book.
The Pun Also Rises is a riveting and amusing read for anybody who is interested in wordplay or in having a deeper understanding of how humanity has stretched a limited set of sounds to encompass a limitless supply of concepts and ideas. It is also an ideal primer for the novice punster and a brilliant retort to any who may doubt the creative brilliance of the pun.
Shannon lives in Cleveland, Ohio with her boyfriend and a room full of books that she peruses when she isn’t trolling Apartment Therapy for new decorating ideas. In her free time she enjoys maintaining her blog, Reaching for the Moon, working on her first novel, and working with high school and college students in a local Model United Nations program.
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