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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: August ::
Re: Puns
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0656.  Wednesday, 30 August 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Martin Green <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 29 Aug 1995 16:45:06 -0400
        Subj:   Re: Puns
 
(2)     From:   Piers Lewis <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 29 Aug 1995 12:19:50 -0600
        Subj:   Re: insults, innuendo, ad hominem attacks
 
(3)     From:   John Lee <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 30 Aug 1995 10:53:38 +0100 (BST)
        Subj:   Re: Puns
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Green <
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Date:           Tuesday, 29 Aug 1995 16:45:06 -0400
Subject:        Re: Puns
 
I am truly puzzled by John Drakakis' posting on puns, and would appreciate any
help he can offer toward understanding his thought on this subject.
 
I have five points of puzzlement:
 
1. JD writes that "playing with words for a humorous effect (one of the
definitions of the 'pun')  depends upon a normative linguistic stability."
Well, doesn't all oral and written communication depend upon "normative
linguistic stability" [which I assume to mean something like "sounds having a
generally agreed-upon meaning"]? And if this is true of all speech, what is
special, or meaningful, about this statement, as it pertains to puns?
 
2. Why does JD focus upon the "humorous effect" of some puns? The
content/content pun which occasioned the recent postings on puns is not a
humorous pun; rather it is a pun which, by making operable the several meanings
of words having the same sound, or spelling, extends and deepens the meaning of
the sentence in which the word is found. Shakespeare uses such puns to a very
great extent and, the Sonnets, in particular,  have a great many such puns.
 
3. JD continues: "The question I am posing is what effect might be produced at
a time when that stability and standardization of meaning has yet to come fully
into being." Well, if "stability and standardization of meaning" has not come
"fully" into being, then  there can be no pun, intended or discernible, with
respect to words having no generally-agreed upon meaning. [But NB: language
changes, and sometimes puns intended and discerned in one era are not perceived
in a later era, e.g., "Loves her by the foot." "He may not by the yard." LLL,
v, 2 676]
 
4. JD goes on: "Where multiple meanings are constantly in play, then the
effects must also be multiple."  But multiple meanings are NOT constantly in
play, because a speaker or writer has to be purposeful and artful to craft
sentences which enable one word to bear two or more meanings. [Sometimes, to be
sure, people do this by accident, and then, realizing what they've done,
usually say, "No pun intended."]  Thus,  the "hang" in "We shall hang the
clothes out to dry in the yard" has one meaning only (as does also the "yard"),
whereas the "hang's" in "We must all hang together, or we shall all hang
separately" are put together in a way purposefully to invoke two separate
meanings.
 
5. JD concludes: "I am asking a question about cultural differences which the
simple label 'pun' masks." This seems to me to be a complete non sequitur, and
thus gets to the heart of my puzzlement, for I cannot grasp what it is that has
gone before which leads to this conclusion. Cultural differences?  How so? And
how masked by puns?
 
And what is the "New Bibliography"?
 
Since I am very interested in puns (especially as used by Shakespeare), I would
appreciate any help you might be able to offer.
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Piers Lewis <
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Date:           Tuesday, 29 Aug 1995 12:19:50 -0600
Subject:        Re: insults, innuendo, ad hominem attacks
 
I thought name-calling and other forms of insulting language had been ruled out
of order on this list.
 
Piers Lewis
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Lee <
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Date:           Wednesday, 30 Aug 1995 10:53:38 +0100 (BST)
Subject:        Re: Puns
 
In reply to Drakakis
 
At the risk of being labelled neanderthal, I confess I still don't understand
this simple point about puns ...
 
> Playing with words for a humorous effect (one of the definitions of the "pun")
> depends upon a normative linguistic stability.
 
What does normative linguistic stability mean, please?  Does linguistic
stability refer to the attempted standardization of grammar and spelling?
Presumably so, as language is never stable &c.  But then what does normative
mean?  Is it being used as a nuance word, to imply that linguistic stability is
bad (which it would be, if it existed)?  And can the suggestion really be that
playing with words wasn't done before the standardization of grammar and
spelling? That oral cultures, or Chaucer, for instance, don't play with words?
 
> The question I am posing is what effect might be produced at a time when
> that stability and standardization of meaning has yet to come fully into
> being.
 
Again this looses me, as I don't really understand 'that stability' and can't
imagine a time when 'standardization of _meaning_' has come fully into being.
 
> Where multiple meanings are constantly in play, then the effects
> must also be multiple.
 
When aren't multiple meanings in play?  They're clearly at play here... And why
_must_ multiple meanings have multiple 'effects'?  (effects being humour, irony
and so forth?)
 
> I am asking a question about cultural difference which the simple
> label "pun" masks.
 
Which question?  That writers of the English Renaissance don't perceive the pun
as a playful aspect of language, but rather as maleable/useful aspect? So that
we, in taking the pun playfully, reveal our distance and difference from them,
as we read into the past what is not there?
 
What of people such as Puttenham in this context?
 
What book should I read?
 
Confusedly,
John Lee
 

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