I make puns. A lot of puns. This post is my justification.
My grandfather Saul was a self-educated Russian immigrant who worked as a linotype operator for the now-defunct Philadelphia Bulletin. While that was a blue-collar job, it required an excellent knowledge of English. He was a fun guy to be around. He made a lot of puns.
My father Bob is a retired chemistry professor and college administrator. He used humor to good effect in the classroom. He was also a fun guy to have as a dad. He taught me two things. (Well, really, he taught me a lot of things, but these are two of them.) One was the love of science and discovery. The other was to always have sense of humor about things. He’s not a natural writer, but he is an incredible explainer, which is what writers really are.
While I am a third-generation punster, I know I make way more puns than my forbears. I had a friend named Stu in college. After I made a continuous string of puns, Stu told me “Josh, it’s just too many. Why don’t you just make every third one?” I replied “Stu, I am making every third one.” And it’s true. If you think you hear a lot, well, you are not hearing the ones that never make it out of my head.
The habit of making puns has done two things for me.
One is that I am constantly playing with words, how they sound, how they look, and what they mean — out loud, in my head, and on my screen. I love words as some people love good wine or great food. I am constantly savoring them.
Here’s the second thing that puns do for me. Making puns requires looking at things differently from everyone else. It means seeing a problem from a strange angle, or wondering what is under the rock that is holding up the house that we’re all living in, or imagining how the world would seem if I were Brazilian, or a woman, or three years old. I don’t look for the obvious pun. I make people groan because I come up with interpretations of situations that no one would think of.
Could there possibly be any better training to be a writer? To love words and fit them together in ways that make sense, but that no one has conceived before? Making puns, being creative, and writing are all part of the same thing for me.
Punsters are curious, dedicated, concise, clever, relentless, indefatigable, and imaginative. So are great writers. Punsters are also annoying, inappropriate, bad at taking turns, and socially awkward. While those qualities don’t make great writers, they don’t really get in the way, either.
To my friends, my family, and the hundreds of people I’ve worked with closely over the years: thanks for putting up with it. It’s part of my process. Thanks for accepting the whole package.