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Pardon me for feeling a bit sheepish; this is my first time posting a question here.

I am known - and revered, as far as I can tell - as something of a pun wizard at my workplace. Today, on our internal work chat, the topic turned (as it does) to raiding barbecues, prompting me to make the comment:

"We stole the beef, now we're on the lam!"

Needless to say, thought my pun was mutton short of amazing... All but two, who criticized my using the word "lam" (i.e. the 'correct' meaning of the phrase) rather than "lamb" (i.e. the meat, as it were, of the pun).

I maintain that using the word "lam" was funnier, as it better pointed out the usage of a somewhat uncommon phrase, as well as making the pun seem more thought-provoking and high-brow (yeah, right). But it made me wonder if perhaps my delivery was baaad.

As another example, for this very post I considered writing that writing my first question here evoked "shear terror" (or something to that effect - it was a work in progress!) but would have used the word "shear" (the substitution) rather than "sheer" (the original meaning) - which is the opposite to my original pun.

So my question is whether there is a specific convention when it comes to wordplay of this nature, of is it more dependent on the artistic whim of the punsmith?

Thank ewe in advance for any input.

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  • Have you checked online for transcriptions of puns? Jun 21, 2017 at 18:11
  • Just to put one issue to bed, "on the lam" is by far the more common term, since it first raised its head in the 20s.
    – Hot Licks
    Jun 21, 2017 at 18:25
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    You wool always run into criticism when you try to put things in sheep shape.
    – Sven Yargs
    Jun 21, 2017 at 18:48
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    ...wether you like it or not.
    – Sven Yargs
    Jun 21, 2017 at 18:53
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    If there were "a specific convention" for wordplay, wouldn't that lose the humor of surprise? Jun 21, 2017 at 22:06

1 Answer 1

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So my question is whether there is a specific convention when it comes to wordplay of this nature, of is it more dependent on the artistic whim of the punsmith?

In my experience, punsters usually call attention to the pun in some way, simply because the sentence usually sounds inane otherwise. (To someone who missed the pun, your example will sound just like if you said, "We stole the beef, now we're on the run!") But if you trust your audience to be alert for puns, I think you can take the risk and leave it subtle.

That said, there's more than one way to call attention to a pun; re-spelling/re-pronunciation, as your coworkers suggest, is extremely common (when possible); but other approaches I've seen include intonation and/or facial gestures (in speech), formatting and/or emoticons (in writing):

  • We stole the beef, now we're on the LAM!
  • We stole the beef, now we're on the lam! ;-)
  • We stole the beef, now we're on the *lam*! :-D

and/or asides (in either):

  • We stole the beef, now we're on the lam! (Pardon the pun.)
  • We stole the beef, now we're on the lam! (No pun intended.)

(Note that you probably want to save "No pun intended" for cases where the sentence actually works as more than just a vehicle for the pun.)

But in your case, I'd probably HAM it up:

We stole the beef, now we're on the LAMB!

;-)

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    In the specific case of the phrase "on the lam", I'd estimate that most times I hear it it's in the context of a sheep-related pun. So for this, and similar uncommon but pun-friendly turns of phrase, it might be safer than usual to "trust your audience to be alert for puns"; when I hear it I'm simply conditioned to expect one. Jul 5, 2017 at 5:58
  • @KernelPanic: Really? I think of "on the lam" as a perfectly normal expression. I don't know if I've heard it used punnily before; quite possibly I have, but not so often as to condition me to look for the pun.
    – ruakh
    Jul 5, 2017 at 6:42
  • maybe I just tend to spend time with unusually punny people, then! Jul 5, 2017 at 6:43

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