In another question, the whimsically yclept Yoichi Oishi asks

What does "Without padding one’s end zone" mean?

and Robusto replies,

'End zone' is a pun, because the object of American football is to have one of your team carry the ball across the opponent's goal line into their end zone.

I'm thinking, no, it's not a pun. Calling a football fan's buttocks his end zone is just an ad-hoc slang phrase, since padding the end zone is not, I believe, something done in football.

By comparison, imagine you were at a football game and another fan said in reference to a comely cheerleader, her back-field is in motion. Again we have a metaphorical reference to someone's bottom (in football, the back-field is all the offensive players who do not start at the line of scrimmage) but there is a pun, since back-field in motion is a real football term (meaning, I believe, one of the back-field players is already moving when the ball is snapped).

So, is my understanding of football too weak or my definition of pun is too narrow?

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    BTW, Yoichi Oishi is a Japanese name. It is not intentionally whimsical, even though it seems to amuse you. Someone who did not know Twelfth Night might not know that your screen name here is a kind of self-mockery, and that the character in the play is the butt of so many jokes. They might think it downright forbidding. – Robusto Feb 2 '11 at 2:56
  • I realized it was Japanese -- and presumably his real name -- but it's also a tongue twister. Say it five times fast. Actually, I selected my nom de ordinateur not from Twelfth Night but from Romeo and Juliet. Benvolio just sound too ... benevolent. It wasn't until much later I made the connection with the other play. – Malvolio Feb 2 '11 at 3:50
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    Let's just call it "a play on words" and be done. :-) – Scott Mitchell Feb 2 '11 at 4:35

I’d call this a borderline case. It’s certainly a play on double meanings of words — both ‘padding’ and ‘end zone’ are terms from [American] football, but by an obvious double entendre, in this case they refer to gaining weight around one’s posterior. On the other hand, googling for phrases like "padding their end zone", "padding the end zone" confirms that this isn’t, as a whole, a standard phrase from football. So as you say, there is only one plausible reading of the entire phrase.

So — is this a pun? This seems a matter of hair-splitting. Like most concepts in any language, pun turns out to be fuzzy around the edges when you look closely enough. You could reasonably argue that this is a pun — or that it’s not a pun — or that it’s two puns… But by this time, we’ve dissected it far enough that what we found in the dissection is more informative than an answer one way or the other would be — and, indeed, should convince us that as often with borderline cases, no simple answer quite applies.

  • You say "hair-splitting" like it's a bad thing... – Malvolio Feb 2 '11 at 3:51
  • Yes, hair-splitting was probably the wrong word — carrying arguments down to very fine detail can be great fun, and occasionally even useful :-) I can’t think of a pat word or phrase for what I mean, but I’m sure there must be one: that when you take an argument down to such fine detail, the terms of the original question become too coarse to be useful. Asking “Is this colour blue or green?” can lead you down an interesting path, but you may end up finding that neither “blue!” nor “green!” is a good answer — that a better answer is something like “aquamarine”, or “hex code #66CDAA”. – PLL Feb 2 '11 at 5:12

While it is a play on words, I think "padding one's end zone" is more of a mixed metaphor than a pun.

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