A pun involves a play of words which may refer to a variety of meanings of a word or two words that sound similar. The use of pun creates a rhetorical or humorous effect. Since puns largely involve a play of words, they are regarded as idiomatic expressions as their usage applies to a specific language and culture. Puns are usually used in the punch lines of jokes in comedy shows and enhance the comic effect of the show. Puns are also used in designations, titles, names of places, organizations, slogans and advertising due to its attention-garnering qualities.
Puns can be classified into various types such as Homophonic puns which make use of word pairs that sound alike but mean differently .Homographic puns play on words which have the same spelling but have different sound and meaning. Homonymic puns make use of words which are both homophones and homographs. A Compound pun refers to the usage of two or more puns at a time in a statement. Poetry may make use of Graphological puns to make the meaning more effective.
Puns are widely used in Literature with William Shakespeare cited to have used thousands of puns all through his writings. Apart from the use of a pun as a joke to contribute to the comic effect, Puns in Literature are mainly used as a rhetorical device in English poems and writings. Famous writers have resorted to the use of a variety of word play and puns in their works. Some of them include James Joyce, Robert Bloch, Vladimir Nabokov, Alexander Pope, John Donne and Lewis Carroll among others.
William Shakespeare was known for a frequent use of less serious puns, called the “quibbles” in his plays. There were some critics like Samuel Johnson with whom the use of puns didn’t go down very well and felt it to be a kind of low humor.
Visual puns make use of a picture to convey the pun element. They are mainly used in graphic symbols such as emblems, insignia, logos and other such visual media. Visual puns are also used in cartoons to convey a comic effect. The cartoons, The Far Side and Lost Consonants use visual puns to convey the desired effect. Visual puns are also used in languages which are non-phonetic in writing. In such a language the pun may occur due to similarity of the shape of a written character with objects though the words using the pun may have no phonetic similarity.
“When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done / For I have more.
that at my death Thy Son / Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore
And having done that, Thou hast done; / I fear no more.”(A Hymn to God the Father, John Donne)
In the above verse the pun on words son, done and more are homophonic and convey different layers of meanings of the verse.
“Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York.”(Richard III, Shakespeare). The pun is on the word ‘son’ (Son/sun)
“Two fish swim into a concrete wall. The one turns to the other and says "Dam!”. Pun is used on the word “Dam”