THE HIGHEST FORM OF HUMOR
John Lienhard presents
guest John Price
Today, our guest, the Rev. John Price, meditates
upon the highest form of humor. The University of
Houston presents this series about the machines
that make our civilization run, and the people
whose ingenuity created them.
When John Lienhard and I are
together, we often swap our latest puns, and after
one of these sessions, he invited me to be a guest
lecturer on his "ingenious" program to talk about
puns. Paranomasia is the dictionary's term
for a pun: from the Greek via Latin,
paronomazein, to call by a slight
Puns alternately dazzle, puzzle, and even anger
some people. Puns enliven conversation, and wake
people up from otherwise dull sermons, particularly
when unintended. So, why do the big franchise
hamburger joints not serve escargot? Well,
you see, it's part of their marketing plan, to
serve only fast food.
Puns turn a phrase and make it startle our
expectations and amuse us with the incongruity of
Garrison Keillor certainly has that fine-tuned
ability to turn those double meanings. He points
out that chicken coops only have two doors because
if they'd had four, they'd be called chicken
sedans. That pun will, like so many others,
eventually fade as calling two-door cars "coupes"
gets left behind in the dust.
That antiquing process happened to many of the
truly great puns penned by William Shakespeare. I
took a course on Shakespeare in which the professor
went to great lengths to explain why certain lines
contained terrific puns that made great sense back
in Tudor England, when the key words had different
meanings than today. In that class, we could barely
smile at the ancient puns, because explaining one
is like analyzing the biochemical contents of a
delicious entré. I'd rather go on to the
A certain automobile company makes a sleek
sportscar referred to as the Z-car. So
this snail orders one and requests S's be applied
to it instead, explaining when he drives by, he
wants people to turn their heads, watching that
A great festival of puns is hurled early in May every
year in Austin at the O. Henry Museum. It's the house
where William Sydney Porter lived when he wrote as O.
Henry in the late 1890's.
When you sign on as a contestant, you're given a
category and you must pop off a pun on the subject
within five seconds. The person standing with you
then has five seconds to respond with one on the
same subject, and so on. It's great fun. Check
Google.com for their websites on it, with archives
of old material. Look for pun-off. Why
should you eat at a big franchise hamburger joint
on Ash Wednesday, Yom Kippur, or Ramadan? Well, it
is fast food.
Sometimes puns come along in the most unexpected
ways. When I saved this piece to my hard drive,
Microsoft Word completed its filename as
Listen carefully to this program and you'll hear
dat Doc Lienhard slip in a pun from time to time,
all the funnier because we expect an engineering
professor to be so serious about a dry sub-ject.
And that's part of the unexpected spice that we all
I'm the Reverend John Price, and I'm interested in the way inventive minds work.
For a good time, go to: http://www.awpi.com/Combs/Shaggy/
For a most thorough explanation of "pun": http://www.irregardless.net/punster/puns.html
The Rev. John W. Price, is an Episcopal priest and
Chaplain at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital. He is
also Assisting priest at Palmer Memorial Church,
Houston, Texas. http://www.frjohnwprice.org
Upon hearing a pun ....
The Engines of Our Ingenuity is
Copyright © 1988-2003 by John H.