Many times I've heard of 'pun intended' or 'pun not intended', which I see as a form of excuse in the English-spoken world. However, I can not wrap my head around why are you constantly excusing/explaning something so innocent(?) as pun.

What I am giving off constantly saying 'pun intended'? What's the purpose of constantly saying 'pun (not) intended'?

We don't excuse puns in my native language, in my country, we just laugh it off.


3 Answers 3


It's not generally to excuse a pun, but to draw attention to it.

Sometimes "no pun intended" is an edit, or when the author/speaker realised an accidental pun (and in the case of writing decided to leave it in). In speech sometimes the accidental pun (or indeed any humour) may be inappropriate but it can't be edited out once said. In that case an excuse may be needed.

Sometimes puns are regarded as a low form of humour when planned, so "no pun intended" can mean "that just came out by itself" and may not be true. Other times they can be rather subtle and "(no) pun intended" highlights the wordplay and gives a pause to process it.

There are some cases in which it is used to excuse a pun: In technical writing the choice of terminology can be very restricted — everyday synonyms can mean completely different things. In this case the best phrasing may well lead to an inadvertent pun that is kept and the reader is asked to ignore it.

  • 9
    I agree with the 2nd and 3rd paragraphs, but not the first. In textbooks, in particular, potential puns arise because of the terminology being used (and as a math student who prefers the more conversation style of textbook, I see this rather frequently)...and when the author says "no pun intended," I take it to mean "please interpret that literally, because that's how it's meant to be read." I wouldn't calling that "drawing attention to a pun," unless it's to point it out before you say "...and now that you know it's there, please ignore it." (Like a tempting self-destruct button, perhaps.)
    – steve_0804
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 14:34
  • @ghorahn that's a good point. I hadn't considered technical writing where a pun was a direct result of using the most appropriate language. Edited. Do you have an example?
    – Chris H
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 15:45
  • 10
    This derogatory attitude towards puns is strictly part of our culture. In many if not most other cultures what we call puns -- word play, double meanings, joking around, refusing to be pompous -- is highly valued and not derogated at all. Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 20:08
  • 1
    @JohnLawler it's only in some contexts though. Perhaps formality and pomposity are too closely linked in English culture - otherwise wordplay might be more useful in things like debating.
    – Chris H
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 21:37
  • Nice answer. It would be fun to see it fleshed out with examples. Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 0:42

However, I can not wrap my head around why are you constantly excusing/explaning something so innocent(?) as pun. [...] We don't excuse puns in my native language, in my country, we just laugh it off.

I think you might be slightly overthinking how much we actually care about puns.

You've probably seen references to puns in internet comments, mostly because that's an informal context and because it's easier to make puns using written language. But in "the real world" you won't hear people referring to puns nearly as often as you do on the internet. This is a non-issue for us, just like it's a non-issue in your native language.

I will say that this depends entirely on context. Obviously you wouldn't include a bunch of puns in a speech you're giving at a funeral or at an important work meeting, but that's probably true in your native language as well.

  • 22
    I bet there were a few at Terry Pratchett's funeral, among others, but on the whole you're right.
    – Chris H
    Commented Nov 21, 2016 at 18:40
  • 11
    Yep, I get the feeling OP has been spending too much time on reddit.
    – Navin
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 9:03
  • Depends ... the band rehearsals of my band Arcsign could probably be filmed and presented as stand up comedy. Everybody is trying to one up the puns and an Arcsign High Five, a high five from every other band member, is only given to the best of puns.
    – fho
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 9:15
  • 5
    @ChrisH those were punes, or play on words :D
    – Herr Pink
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 16:29
  • To be honest, I've never been to anywhere near real English speaking world. (And that sucks...)
    – PeterBocan
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 20:49

Dispensing with Distraction

Mostly I think it is the speaker saying either I’m clever, I spotted the accidental pun or else I’m funny, I made a pun, but there is a possible third reason: distraction.

Puns can be distracting, provoking internal questions such as:

  • Was it deliberate or not?
  • Did they realise?
  • Does this guy think he’s funny?

If people start thinking about questions like those about the pun, they may become so distracted by that pun that they may then lose the thread of whatever was being discussed.

By acknowledging the pun, this gives everyone a chance see, appreciate, and instantly forget it so that everyone can concentrate on the actual substance of whatever is being said.

  • @T.E.D. You're probably right - it could all be distraction - the speaker is distracted by the pun and fills the gap with the acknowledgement of the pun.
    – Mr_Thyroid
    Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 17:28
  • Note: Since I made my comment, this answer was edited. Not complaining about the edit, but it had the side-effect of making my comment obsolete. I was expressing support for the "third reason" : explaining something that the reader is liable to notice and wonder about (thus distracting from what you are saying).
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 19:04
  • There might be fourth reason and fifth (which probably is variant of 3rd). Fourth might be to tell "I made a joke but I don't believe that it is true", "I'm not being serious". Fifth is also a distraction, but distraction from possible negative effect of the pun itself or current discussion in general, using the pun and addendum to it as a bucket of water on feline "concert".
    – Swift
    Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 12:06

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.