Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
An interesting article from the Beeb on the history of the pun and its detractors:
John Pollack, a former Clinton speechwriter and author of the book The Pun Also Rises, thinks it fell out of favour during the Enlightenment, when the form’s reliance on imprecision and silliness was out of kilter with the prevailing spirit of sophistication and rational inquiry.
“Arrant puns” were the subject of attacks by the likes of Joseph Addison, 18th Century London’s pre-eminent literary tastemaker. He decried them as debased witticisms and exulted that they had been “banished out of the learned world”.
Yet Addison’s campaign was not enough to expunge the pun from the capital’s coffee-houses, where the poet Nicholas Rowe once fell victim to a pun-fuelled prank, described in The Percy Anecdotes. After nagging one of his fellow patrons to borrow a diamond-encrusted snuff box, the owner succumbed, but not before scribbling in its lid the Greek letters phi and rho, or “Fie, Rowe!” An onlooker spoke for many when he remarked that “a man who could make so vile a pun would not scruple to pick a pocket”.
The piece goes on to point out that punning was approved of in the Classickal world by authors such as Cicero and Quintillian and also notes that the Bard and even Jesus himself couldn’t resist using it from time to time.
Regular friends of the decanter will of course know that ol’ Robbo loves to dally in paronomasia himself. Indeed, I even sometimes go for the particularly awful ones with the deliberate intent of causing the involuntary groan. It’s my gift to you.
As for those bloodless rationalist bedwe’ers who would ban such light-hearted nonsense, all I can say is aw, you’re no pun anymore.