It had to happen. Yesterday, the BBC website reported the one-liner joke voted best at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. It was a joke/pun by the Swedish comedian, Olaf Falafel, who said, ‘I keep randomly shouting out ‘Broccoli’ and ‘Cauliflower’ – I think I might have florets.’ Floret/Tourette, the pun is clearly a play on Tourette syndrome wherein some people have uncontrollable repetitive involuntary movements or vocalisations called tics. Today, the Tourettes Action charity wants an apology. The charity’s chief executive, Suzanne Dobson, is quoted as saying. ‘Humour is a great way of educating people – but not only is it not funny to poke fun at people with Tourette’s, it’s not even that funny a joke, is it?’
I think Ms Dobson misses the point of puns. Here’s how my alter ego, Molly Wordmaid, described puns in my book, The Wondrous Wacky World of Words:
Sometimes we play with words, deliberately using a wrong word either for effect or because we think it’s clever or, dare I say it, because we don’t know it’s the wrong word. Here are some examples:
Homophone pun, using a sound-alike word: atheism is a non-prophet institution (George Carlin). Prophet or profit? You have to read this pun to appreciate it’s both homophonic and humorous.
Homographic pun, using a same-spelling word with different meanings: corduroy pillows are making headlines.
Or how about this one: the best way to communicate with a fish is to drop it a line, and this one: a horse is a very stable animal? These are known as funny puns, or should that be punny funs? That’s not a pun by the way, it’s a spoonerism; more on that later.
I’ve also seen many shop names based on puns. Here’s a couple I spotted locally: Melon Cauli (melancholy), the name of a fruit and veg shop; The Fish Plaice, a close-by fish-and-chip shop. Others further afield include Fishcotheque and The Codfather, more fish-and-chip shops, Eat and Two Veg, a restaurant, Surelock Homes, a locksmith, Heaven Scent, a beauty salon, Jack the Clipper, a men’s barber shop, Ryan Hair, a hairdresser, and my all-time favourite, Philglas and Swiggot, a specialist wine and spirits shop in London.
I just think it’s great when people employ puns to make us smile. When Mike Maroo read an earlier draft of this essay, he remarked that he found it hard going and, as a result, was suffering from post-grammatical stress disorder. Nice one Mike.
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Back to Olaf Falafel’s pun. I’m sure Olaf meant no disrespect to those who suffer with Tourette syndrome when he created his pun. His intention was to create yet another example of how the words of the English language could be arranged in a humorous fashion to take advantage of the diversity of meaning and rhyming richness of the words that make up the language. Consider the following sets of puns, the first taking advantage of a handicap or disability to raise a smile, followed by puns about accidents or death, and sex and LGBT issues – all serious issues but that’s not the point of the puns. As you read them, ask yourself – did they make you smile or were you offended by their content?
Puns about people with handicaps or disabilities
My girlfriend broke up with me so I took her wheelchair away. Guess who came crawling back?
My boss is going to fire the employee with the worst posture. I have a hunch it might be me.
I wasn’t originally going to get a brain transplant, but then I changed my mind.
I just found out I’m colour-blind. The diagnosis came completely out of the purple.
I’m glad I know sign language. It’s pretty handy.
My cross-eyed wife and I just got a divorce. We didn’t see eye to eye. I also found out she was seeing someone on the side.
How can you spot the blind guy at the nudist colony? It’s not hard.
I’m reading a horror story in Braille. Something bad is about to happen… I can feel it.
Why did the cross-eyed teacher lose her job? Because she couldn’t control her pupils.
I had a neck brace fitted years ago and I’ve never looked back since.
Puns about accidents or death
I accidentally handed my wife a glue stick instead of a Chapstick. She still isn’t talking to me.
My dad died ‘cos we couldn’t remember his blood type. As he lay dying, he kept insisting for us to “be positive,” but it’s hard without him.
I threw an Asian man down a flight of stairs. It was Wong on so many levels.
What was the name of the Asian pilot who died in a plane crash? Sum Ting Wong.
I overdosed on Viagra once. It was the hardest day of my life.
A kid drowned. His friends showed up at his funeral wearing life jackets because that’s what he would’ve wanted.
Puns about sex and LGBT issues
When I was very young, I felt like a male trapped in a female body. Then I was born.
Did you hear about the vegan transgender? He was a herbefore.
I bought a box of condoms earlier today. The shop assistant asked if I’d like a bag. I said, “Nah, I’ll just turn the lights off.”
Having sex in an elevator is wrong on so many levels.
These puns, and many others, can be read on the OnLineFun website. Did any cause offence?
My enjoyment of the ability of the English language to create a joke goes back to my childhood, to the sometimes-funny one-liners in Christmas crackers and the jokes I read in my comics or heard on the radio and in the school play yard. The earliest pun I recall is as follows. This joke has stayed with me all my life.
My wife’s gone to the West Indies. Oh, Jamaica? No, she went of her own accord.
Enjoy your puns.