AskDefine | Define paronomasia

Dictionary Definition

paronomasia n : a humorous play on words; "I do it for the pun of it"; "his constant punning irritated her" [syn: pun, punning, wordplay]

User Contributed Dictionary



Latin paronomasia, from the Greek παρα- + ονομασια ‘naming’.


IPA: /pærənə'meɪzɪə/


  1. a pun or play on words
    • 1984: he gloomily regarded his new digital watch, faintly fascinated by the onward march of the square figures which turned one into the other with insolent ease, a kind of numerical paronomasia. — Anthony Burgess, Enderby's Dark Lady
    • 1997: Ev’rywhere but at Norfolk, where talk of Passion far outweighs its Enactment,– indeed, the Sailors’ Paronomasia for that wretched Place, is ‘No-Fuck’. — Thomas Pynchon, Mason & Dixon

Extensive Definition

A pun (or paronomasia) is a phrase that deliberately exploits confusion between similar-sounding words for humorous or rhetorical effect.
A pun may also cause confusion between two senses of the same written or spoken word, due to homophony, homography, homonymy, polysemy, or metaphorical usage. Walter Redfern has said: "To pun is to treat homonyms as synonyms". For example, in the phrase, "There is nothing punny about bad puns", the pun takes place in the deliberate confusion of the implied word "funny" by the substitution of the word "punny", a heterophone of "funny". By definition, puns must be deliberate; an involuntary substitution of similar words is called a malapropism.
Puns are a form of word play, and occur in all languages.


The word pun itself is thought to be originally a contraction of the (now archaic) pundigrion. This Latin term is thought to have originated from punctilious, which itself derived from the Italian puntiglio (originally meaning "a fine point"), diminutive of punto, "point", from the Latin punctus, past participle of pungere, "to prick." These etymological sources are reported in the Oxford English Dictionary, which labels them "conjecture." (There is no creditable documentation for the notion that the word is a backronym for "play upon names".)


Comedy and jokes

Puns are a common source of humor in jokes and comedy shows. They are often used in the punchline of a joke, where they typically give a humorous meaning to a rather perplexing story. These are also known as feghoots. The following example comes from the movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (though the punchline is at least five decades older):
Captain Aubrey: "Do you see those two weevils, Doctor?...Which would you choose?"
Dr. Maturin: "Neither. There's not a scrap of difference between them. They're the same species of Curculio."
Captain Aubrey: "If you had to choose. If you were forced to make a choice. If there were no other option."
Dr. Maturin: "Well, then, if you're going to push me. I would choose the right-hand weevil. It has significant advantage in both length and breadth."
Captain Aubrey: "There, I have you!...Do you not know that in the service one must always choose the lesser of two weevils?"
The last line uses a pun on the stock phrase "the lesser of two evils".
Puns are particularly admired in Britain, and form a core element of the British cult comedy show I'm Sorry, I Haven't A Clue and in times past My Word. The late Richard Whiteley was famed for his endearingly clumsy use of puns as host of the UK words and numbers game show Countdown. British stand up comedian Tim Vine's act is characterised by rapid delivery of unrelated pun-based jokes. British comedian Dance Drier is also known for his extensive and often many layered puns woven into his stories. In his own words, "A pun is its own reword."
Gag names based on puns (such as calling a character who is always almost late Justin Thyme) can be found in Piers Anthony's Xanth novels, The Eyre Affair, Asterix, Hamlet, The Simpsons, the Carmen Sandiego computer games, and many works of Spider Robinson, including the Callahan's Crosstime Saloon series.

Formats for punning

There are numerous pun formats:


The term punning is sometimes used to describe either unintentional muddled thinking or intentional deception where the same word (such as a homographic pun) is used with two subtly different meanings. For example, in statistics the word significant is usually assumed to be a shortened form of "statistically significant", with the associated precisely defined meaning. It is punning to use significant with the meaning "of practical significance" in contexts where "statistically significant" would be plausible interpretation.

Computer science

A programming technique that subverts or circumvents the type system of a programming language in order to achieve an effect that would be difficult or impossible to achieve within the bounds of the formal language is commonly known as "type punning" in computer science.

Punny quotations

  • "A pun is its own reword." — Dance Drier, British comedian
  • "A pun is the lowest form of humor, unless you thought of it yourself." — Doug Larson
  • "A pun is the shortest distance between two straight lines." — original source unknown
  • "As different as York from Leeds" — James Joyce in Finnegans Wake, a play on "As different as chalk from cheese".
  • "Blunt and I made atrocious puns. I believe, indeed, that Miss Blunt herself made a little punkin, as I called it" —Henry James
  • "Congratulations you have one, it's a year's subscription of bad puns" — Kurt Cobain, "Opinion"
  • "Hanging is too good for a man who makes puns; he should be drawn and quoted." — Fred Allen
  • "Heralds don't pun; they cant." SCA heralds' expression
  • "If puns are the lowest form of humor, are buns the lowest form of bread?" — Piers Anthony, Author
  • "Immanuel doesn't pun; he Kant." — Oscar Wilde
  • "In the beginning was the pun." — Samuel Beckett, Murphy
  • "Paris of Troy was so named because his mother had a considerable amount of gaul and married a Frenchman." — Original Source Unknown.
  • "Pun (n.): the lowest form of humour" —Samuel Johnson, lexicographer
  • "Puns are the last refuge of the witless." —another way of stating the above
  • "The goodness of the true pun is in the direct ratio of its intolerability." — Edgar Allan Poe, Marginalia, 1849
  • "'The man', says Johnson, 'that would make / A pun, would pick a pocket!'" ." — Lewis Carroll, "Phantasmagoria", 1869
  • "The pun is mightier than the word." — original source unknown
  • "You can tune a guitar, but you can't tuna fish. Unless of course, you play bass." —Douglas Adams
  • Baloo (a bear): "look for the bare necessities, the simple bare necessities....". —The Jungle Book (1967 film)
  • Explorer: Then one afternoon I bagged six tigers. Six of the biggest tigers I ever saw. Hostess: You captured six tigers? Explorer: I bagged them. I bagged them and bagged them to go away, but they hung around all afternoon. They were the most persistant tigers I ever saw. —Groucho Marx and Margaret Dumont, Animal Crackers
  • Max: I like your nurse's uniform, Guy.Peter: Actually these are O.R. scrubs.Max: Oh, are they? —Rushmore
  • Scholar 1 [to scholar 2];"Have you read Marx?" Scholar 2;" Indeed I have my good sir, I believe they are from these cane chairs."

More puns

  • A backward poet writes inverse.
  • A bicycle can't stand on its own because it is two tired.
  • A boiled egg in the morning is hard to beat.
  • A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion.
  • A dyslexic man walks into a bra.
  • A Freudian slip is when you say one thing but mean your mother.
  • A gossip is someone with a great sense of rumour.
  • A hangover is the wrath of grapes.
  • A lot of money is tainted - It taint yours and it taint mine.
  • A man drowned in a bowl of muesli. A strong currant pulled him in.
  • A man needs a mistress just to break the monogamy.
  • A man's home is his castle, in a manor of speaking.
  • A pessimist's blood type is always b-negative
  • A plateau is a high form of flattery.
  • A successful diet is the triumph of mind over platter.
  • Acupuncture is a jab well done.
  • Alarms: What an octopus is.
  • An invisible man marries an invisible woman. The kids were nothing to look at either.
  • Bakers trade bread recipes on a knead-to-know basis.
  • Condoms should be used on every conceivable occasion.
  • Corduroy pillows are making headlines.
  • Crick: The sound that a Japanese camera makes
  • Dancing cheek-to-cheek is really a form of floor play.
  • Dijon vu - the same mustard as before.
  • Do you want some cheese to go with your whine?
  • Dockyard: A physician's garden.
  • Does the name Pavlov ring a bell?
  • Energizer Bunny arrested: charged with battery.
  • Every calendar's days are numbered.
  • He drove his expensive car into a tree and found out how the Mercedes bends.
  • He had a photographic memory that was never developed.
  • He often broke into song because he couldn't find the key.
  • I used to work in a blanket factory, but it folded.
  • I went to a seafood disco last week... and pulled a muscle.
  • I went to buy some camouflage trousers the other day but I couldn't find any.
  • If you don't pay your exorcist, you get repossessed.
  • In democracy your vote counts. In feudalism your count votes.
  • Incongruous: Where bills are passed.
  • Khakis: What you need to start the car in Boston.
  • Local Area Network in Australia: the LAN down under.
  • Once you've seen one shopping center, you've seen a mall.
  • Pasteurize: Too far to see.
  • Practice safe eating - always use condiments.
  • Reading whilst sunbathing makes you well red.
  • Santa's helpers are subordinate clauses.
  • Sea captains don't like crew cuts.
  • She was engaged to a boyfriend with a wooden leg but broke it off!
  • Shotgun wedding: A case of wife or death.
  • The man who fell into an upholstery machine is fully recovered.
  • Those who jump off a bridge in Paris are in Seine.
  • Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
  • Two peanuts walk into a bar, and one was a salted.
  • What do you call a fish with no eyes?... A fsh.
  • What happened to the butcher who backed into his meat grinder? He got a little behind in his work.
  • What's the definition of a will? (It's a dead giveaway.)
  • When a clock is hungry, it goes back four seconds.
  • When two egotists meet, it's an I for an I.
  • When you dream in colour, it's a pigment of your imagination.
  • Why are ellipses romantic? Because a kiss is a lip tickle.
  • With her marriage, she got a new name and a dress.
  • Without geometry, life is pointless.
  • You feel stuck with your debt if you can't budge it



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  • Greek Grammar
paronomasia in Bulgarian: Каламбур
paronomasia in German: Paronomasie
paronomasia in Esperanto: Kalemburo
paronomasia in Spanish: Calambur
paronomasia in French: Calembour
paronomasia in Galician: Paronomasia
paronomasia in Hebrew: לשון נופל על לשון
paronomasia in Ido: Kalemburo
paronomasia in Italian: Paronomasia
paronomasia in Japanese: 駄洒落
paronomasia in Dutch: Woordspeling
paronomasia in Polish: Kalambur
paronomasia in Portuguese: Paranomásia
paronomasia in Russian: Каламбур
paronomasia in Chinese: 雙關語
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