“For every person who loves a clever play on words, there exists another who absolutely despises them; in mixed company, puns are, along with politics and religion, best left alone.”
That’s the advice from Ted Trautman, who shares in the Paris Review his experience of travelling from his Mexico home to the Texas for the O Henry Pun-Off World Championships.
What a name. And yet Trautman warns: “Despite its grandiose name, there is no qualifying round ahead of this ‘championship’, and, with the exception of a lanky Englishman in a chicken suit, all the participants were American.”
The tournament, attended by about 200 keen wordsmiths, has as its “marquee event” the “Punslingers”, explains Trautman.
Competing pairs “are given a theme — Disney, weather, et cetera — and forced to make thematically relevant puns every ten seconds or so until one contestant runs out of ideas”. Our correspondent doesn’t fare so well, failing to get far on “the theme of horses”.
Trautman’s pick of the event was the effort by one punslinger, tackling the theme of “groups”, who had a pun rejected by the judges. His retort: “Next year, this topic ought to be band.”
The Texas event is not America’s only pun event. Minneapolis, for example, is home to Pundamonium – “a monthly ‘pun slam’ where amateur wordsmiths lob jabs and jokes at each other and the audience, roughly in the style of a poetry slam,” according to a post at the Wall Street Journal. The efforts from the competitors (all nine of them) “ranged from clever to crass to curiously off-base”.
In the online comments under Trautman’s piece, meanwhile, a reader offers this: “Oscar Wilde claimed he could make a pun on any subject. Somebody said – ‘The queen’. Without missing a beat, he replied ‘The queen is not a subject.’”
See also: The best sentences in literature
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