Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Saturday, March 28, 2021

halv and halv
I had some fresh strawberries, and I had some fresh halvah (original sesame flavor). Had they not been sitting in close proximity to one another in the kitchen, I never would have thought to combine them for snacking purposes.

But they were, so I did. They make a surprisingly good combination. One worth remembering for the future.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 03/28/2009 06:23:15 PM
Category: Food
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As a former newspaperman who considers the pun an indispensable tool in the arsenal of headline writing (see above), it grates on me to read this op-ed piece deriding this wordplay art as practically the lowest form of wit:

Puns are the feeblest species of humor because they are ephemeral: whatever comic force they possess never outlasts the split second it takes to resolve the semantic confusion. Most resemble mathematical formulas: clever, perhaps, but hardly occasion for knee-slapping. The worst smack of tawdriness, even indecency, which is why puns, like off-color jokes, are often followed by apologies. Odds are that a restaurant with a punning name — Snacks Fifth Avenue, General Custard’s Last Stand — hasn’t acquired its first Michelin star…

Why do puns offend? Charles Lamb, a notorious punster, explained that the pun is “a pistol let off at the ear; not a feather to tickle the intellect.” Surely puns silence conversation before they animate it. Some stricken with pun-lust sink so far into their infirmity that their minds become trained to lie in wait for words on which to work their wickedness. They are the scourge of dinner tables and the despised prolongers of office meetings, some letting fly as instinctively as dogs bark and frogs croak, no longer concerned even with drawing applause; they simply can’t help themselves.

All of which is true, generally. But that doesn’t mean the pun has no utility. The meta-comparative between a present subject matter, and a background object, creates a frame of reference that is, if not always useful, then at least memorable. Thus you generate instant gems like the recent “BERN IN HELL” headline about high-finance swindler Bernie Madoff.

I guess it’s appropriate that this linguistic critique appear in the New York Times, which, when it comes to headlines, is probably the most pun-averse newspaper I’ve ever seen (as opposed to my old stomping grounds, the St. Petersburg Times, where hed-puns flowed with abandon). Underlining the anti-punnery is that the op-ed was written by Joseph Tartakovsky, a pre-lawyer studying at Fordham — where the indoctrination of legal-talk is, by design, negating imprecisions of the tongue:

LegalSpeak is a lot like French, but without the nasal sound. French was, for a few hundred years, the common language of diplomats. This was so because the language had (and still has) very precise meanings for words. Such adherence to meaning leaves little room for jokes or innuendo, and because of this strict adherence to form and grammar, there was for too many years, a lack of humor such as is derived from puns, witticisms, and word play in the French language and culture. To twist the meaning of a word would have been high treason against such a pure language. This may shed some light onto the popularity of Jerry Lewis as a comedy king.

So if not for the pun, we’d all be a bunch of French-speaking, Jerry Lewis-loving attorneys. Worse pun-ishment, I can’t imagine.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 03/28/2009 03:28:31 PM
Category: Creative, Wordsmithing
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