"Skip the pun"? Not so fast.

As Sally Fields once pointed out, “’Pun’ spelled backwards is “nup,” and a nup is a nup.

I appreciate the point that Tom Tom made about looking beyond, or beneath, the pun, is his post of June 12.

However, in searching for the deeper thought underlying the pun, As Tom Tom rightly advocates, we mustn’t dismiss or ignore or sell short the value that a good pun itself brings.

Before I explain, let me first make an impassioned plea. Can we call them “plays on words” rather than “puns”, please? I’m not trying to euphemize here. It’s just that the word “pun” is so hopelessly burdened with connotations of cheap-and-easiness, groaning corniness, etc., the stigma precludes any credible defense of this device itself.

Here are two reasons I would not be so quick to encourage simply moving past the play on words to find the deeper, perhaps more compelling thought that underlies that play.

First, in our business, there is a lot of value placed on economy of words, as well as on the ability of those words to interrupt, disrupt, draw attention, and engage the reader. The fact is, sometimes the play on words is unbeatably economical, because in letting it play on two meanings, both of which are germaine to the message, you have one headline (or whatever) doing the work of two. I think of it as two barbed hooks sinking into different points in the brain.

Second, because it cleverly plays on two meanings, the headline catches the eye and the brain and makes the reader think about it for a second, netting you a pretty dang effective headline. It’s possible that there is a deeper, more substantial thought that anchors this play on words, but if it takes two lines to express that thought, it may not be worth the tradeoff. Or it may be.

My point is, let’s not assume that the play on words will always be the lesser option.

One last thought. As with most everything else, the industry-wide disdain for plays on words is based, not on the play on words per se, but rather, on all the badly executed plays on words out there. The fact is, most are obvious, not really funny or clever, off message or in some other way deeply flawed and inadequate. Very often the brilliant play on words is not even seen as such because everyone’s too busy admiring the thought that it doesn’t occur to anyone to credit the play on words as the source of that thought.

I join Tom Tom in lamenting the reality that creative directors are, as a group, predisposed to trash the play on words out of hand. But I think this is all the more reason to confront the CD with great plays on words anytime you work hard enough to uncover one.

29 comments:

M Guy said...

Is there even a possibility of the single-entendre?

Lally said...

Let's just say Think Hard Before Using a Pun. Danger lies this way.

In the words of the poet, "It's a fine line between clever and ... stupid."

Jim Morris said...

m guy: Yes. But only in France.

lally: Agreed. But then, "think hard before using is pun" is simply a subset of "Think hard." which what we all need to do more of, all the time.

purplesimon said...

I think it's also worth remembering the audience that the line is aimed at.

Sometimes a 'play on words' is just what's needed to get under the skin of the audience.

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