Why people don’t like puns

July 27th, 2015

I tell a lot of puns. Some people like them. Other people groan. Others hate them. This article in The Atlantic provides an interesting discussion of the varied treatment towards puns. This explanation, I’m sure, will make sense to those who like puns, and make those who dislike puns groan even more:

But the plight of any dictionary-writer is the inherent fluidity of language, which is the pun-trepreneur’s delight.

“Puns are threatening because puns reveal the arbitrariness of meaning, and the layers of nuance that can be packed onto a single word,” says John Pollack, a communications consultant and author of The Pun Also Rises. “So people who dislike puns tend to be people who seek a level of control that doesn’t exist. If you have an approach to the world that is rules-based, driven by hierarchy and threatened by irreverence, then you’re not going to like puns.”

Peter McGraw, the director of the Humor Research Lab at the University of Colorado, Boulder, has a theory about what makes things funny. He calls it a benign violation—something that subverts or threatens a norm, but not in a way that feels harmful. Puns would fall under the pun-brella of communication violations, though both Pollack and McGraw point out that they’re often more about getting an “Aha!” than a “Haha!”

“They can be a demonstration of wit, of cleverness,” McGraw says. “You’re relying on a person’s ability to parse language, to understand the nuances and complexities of words.”

I will keep using puns, rules be damned.