Title: The Pun Also Rises: How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, and Made Wordplay More Than Some Antics
Author: John Pollack
Publication Date: April 14, 2011
Hardcover: 240 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction, Reference
A former word pun champion’s funny, erudite, and provocative exploration of puns, the people who make them, and this derided wordplay’s remarkable impact on history.
The pun is commonly dismissed as the lowest form of wit, and punsters are often unpopular for their obsessive wordplay. But such attitudes are relatively recent developments. In The Pun Also Rises, John Pollack-a former World Pun Champion and presidential speechwriter for Bill Clinton-explains why such wordplay is significant: It both revolutionized language and played a pivotal role in making the modern world possible. Skillfully weaving together stories and evidence from history, brain science, pop culture, literature, anthropology, and humor, The Pun Also Rises is an authoritative yet playful exploration of a practice that is common, in one form or another, to virtually every language on earth.
At once entertaining and educational, this engaging book answers fundamental questions: Just what is a pun, and why do people make them? How did punning impact the development of human language, and how did that drive creativity and progress? And why, after centuries of decline, does the pun still matter?
The Pun Also Rises by John Pollack took me by surprise as I often view puns as rather “cheap” forms of humor, yet Pollack convincingly and masterfully tells of the origin of these little snippets that have had far more important roles in the evolution of language and even in our understanding of how the brain processes information. Pollack is a truly entertaining, never resisting the opportunity to demonstrate the power of the pun; even in his book’s subtitle, one that I had missed the first time I picked it up to read. We learn of Samuel Johnson, an 18th Century school teacher who painstakingly assembled one of the largest compilations of the English language in its time, the Dictionary of the English Language. Fans of William Shakespeare will find joy in the survival of his puns even as Johnson, a self-proclaimed authority of “proper” English, worked from a bully pulpit proclaiming that puns “…are the last refuge of the witless.” This historical account is only one example of how English language aficionados reviled the pun and how the pun rose in spite of attempts to pluck it from acceptance. I was very amused to learn how some writers use puns to avoid censorship, the latter of which often relies on searching only for objectionable words and therefore misses the higher-order thinking required to pick out homonymic and homophonic puns. While discussing this absolutely enlightening book with my husband, I learned that scientists in his field of research will often place puns in their scientific publications to “test” their peers and the journal editors. An unassuming book, The Pun Also Rises, is refreshingly witty, intelligent, and informative on the importance of puns in English heritage, language, and so much more. I highly recommend The Pun Also Rises to all readers.
Former presidential speechwriter John Pollack won the 1995 O. Henry World Championship Pun-Off. Earlier in his career, he wrote for The Hartford Courant and spent three years in Spain as a freelance foreign correspondent writing for the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Miami Herald, and Advertising Age, among others. His previous books include Cork Boat and The World on a String: How to Become a Freelance Foreign Correspondent. He currently works as a speechwriter and consultant for ROI Communication, a consulting firm. He lives in New York City.
For more reviews of the book, please follow the book tour.
I received an ARC copy of The Pun Also Rises by John Pollack from TLC Book Tours to be a part of this tour and offer my honest review of the book. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of aforementioned book.