Puns and Language Play

Having understood what language play is and what a pun is, we will now try to bring these together. We will look at the table, which Cook puts forward and look at the three features of language play, which once again are pragmatic and semantic language play and linguistic form.

Firstly, I would like to touch on language play on the level of linguistic form.

Linguisitc Form and Play:

As Cook already mentions Linguistic form deals with things such as play with typography, which includes use of symbols, punctuation, combinations of symbols and punctuation, among others.

The above picture is a meme, which can be thought of as a development of a pun. Although some puns do need pictures, memes are very much picture based with a caption to tell the reader what it is about. This particular meme is a good example of how symbols are used in puns/memes and relates back to this notion of play with typography. As we can see from the picture above symbols have been used to replace words, which makes this a “strikingly playful” pun. This particular pun/meme uses the two symbols ^ and ~. This symbol (^) is a caret and this symbol (~) is a tilde, which therefore corresponds to the picture meaning “If you give me a carrot (caret) I will love you till the (tilde) end of time”. Furthermore, the words when seen (caret and tilde) can be said to relate back to one of Cook’s other features, which is that of phonology as they are somewhat spelt phonologically. Another example of a phonological pun or double-sound pun is the following when a music teacher not at home may leave a note on their door saying, ‘Gone Chopin, Bach in a Minuet’. Lastly, in terms of rhyme, there are rhyming puns, which take shape in the form of palindromes, which are words spelt the same, backwards or forwards and the punctuation is deviant too. An example of a palindrome would be:  Anne, I vote more cars race Rome to Vienna.

In conclusion we can see that linguistic form brings out playfulness in puns and makes them humorous. However, a lot of the time this humour can also be sussed out by the context itself, but the fact that language play is manipulating the words of the context makes it even more playful, intellectual and humoristic.

Pragmatic Language Play:

As mentioned in language play, another subcategory is pragmatic play. As mentioned on the previous page bilingual puns can be considered a type of pragmatic play as they try and unite people from different cultures and therefore create a sense of solidarity. Furthermore, forums where people are punning are a great example of pragmatic play. Cook’s theory is once again upheld and these forums create enjoyment for the user/reader, solidarity among those who agree and disagree with people’s suggestions, resulting in a type of asynchronous verbal-duelling. Furthermore, bilingual puns or the following are usually used in congregation and tend to, like other puns, have no direct usefulness. The following forum congregation can be said to be pragmatic play when punning:

Thread: Invent a German Pub name!

#Die Bar Bar (we only accept cash)

# What about ‘Inn Ordnung’? It could be a theme bar for sock-ironing types. If you fancy a traditional English type name, why not ‘The sock and sandal’? That one could go international.

# Prostmortem

# I’m surprised no-one has yet come up with the pub popular with Semitic male youths – Bar Mitzvah! (Oh come on, someone had to say it). 

Semantic Language Play: 

As we can see above, this pun has been taken from a tabloid paper which use puns on a regular basis. This pun can be seen as a pun, which possesses ambiguities, because it is so close to the word ‘hip hop’, one may get confused. However, if one were to read the explanation beneath it then only would the reader understand what the pun is about. For this reason it can be said that the above pun corresponds to Cook’s indeterminate meaning and reference to an alternative reality of semantic play, because of the ambiguities it possesses and how those ambiguities may make you think about music, but the reality is actually about a hip operation. Once again, this shows how playful the changing of words can be, and interacts with the reader in a sort of ‘game’, where the reader has to decipher the true meaning of the pun.


Although, the above is not a fully-fledged observation of puns and language play, it does conform to the theorists views of language play, especially Danet’s view, (insert ‘,’ or ‘:’?) that language play in CMC is strikingly playful (Danet 1997). Puns follow Danet’s four factors that foster playfulness, Cook’s view of language play, Huizinga’s view of play and Crystal’s view of language play being manipulative. As we have seen through the examples, puns are voluntary, disinterested, distinct from ‘ordinary life’, have their own rules and order and promote the formation of social groupings (via forums etc.). Not only do they possess the characteristics that homo ludens puts forward, but they are also form an interactive, dynamic and unsettled cultural frontier for the user and reader in the stages of creation.

Puns generally tend to play with words, which shows manipulation in language, which in turn shows how they possess Cook’s subcategories which are discussed above. Lastly, Marshall McLuhan’s theory of “the medium is the message” (McLuhan 1964: 9) applies very much to puns as they may not be as effective if they were only transposed verbally, therefore McLuhan states that the qualities of a medium have as much effect as the information it transmits. All in all, puns are very much frowned upon by various theorists and are seen as the lowest type of wit, but as we can see they are vital to language play because they obtain so many of its characteristics and conform very well to the strikingly playful factors that foster playfulness in CMC, therefore making them indispensable to both theories.

This is dead interesting, I need more.

Rewind, I didn’t quite understand the previous page.


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