I've just learned of the event within the (UK) Labour Party known as the 'Chicken Coup' and it made me wonder: is it still a pun if it's a play on writing, and not the spoken word?

According to the Oxford Living Dictionaries, a pun is:

A joke exploiting the different possible meanings of a word or the fact that there are words which sound alike but have different meanings.

Neither of those criteria apply here, so the answer would seem to be 'No'.

My question is: if it's not a pun, what is it?

  • Tain't punny, McGee!
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 20, 2018 at 18:02
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    Perhaps you're looking at too narrow a definition of pun. Did you see the line in the answer by @k1eran: "and coup I assume means both coup d'état and implies perhaps that Westminster is somewhat like a chicken-coop where MPs behave like (stupid) chickens." Besides, English speakers are free to pronounce the coup in coup d'état to rhyme with the coop in chicken coop. Aug 20, 2018 at 18:44
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    Puns don't have to be spoken. They don't even have to (directly) involve words. See "visual punning".
    – Jim Mack
    Aug 20, 2018 at 18:54
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    This is extremely confusing, but the dictionary that you're citing isn't the "Oxford English Dictionary" (or OED), it's "Oxford Dictionaries [Online]" (ODO) or "Oxford Living Dictionaries". The difference is explained here.
    – Laurel
    Aug 20, 2018 at 19:07
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    That's a rather narrow definition of pun. As a native English speaker I've always understood 'pun' to mean basically any humorous 'play on words' that isn't 'dirty' or sexual in nature (which would qualify it instead as a double entendre), but if you only want to consider that small subset of wordplay as puns, then it's still a "play on words".
    – 3D1T0R
    Aug 20, 2018 at 23:11

1 Answer 1


I think that, in that definition, "words which sound alike" means words that sound similar, and may or may not be homonyms.

Other dictionaries, such as the Oxford English Dictionary (i.e. the premium dictionary at OED.com) make this clearer:

The use of a word in such a way as to suggest two or more meanings or different associations, or of two or more words of the same or nearly the same sound with different meanings, so as to produce a humorous effect; a play on words.

Wikipedia also mentions something to the same effect:

Often, puns are not strictly homophonic, but play on words of similar, not identical, sound as in the example from the Pinky and the Brain cartoon film series: "I think so, Brain, but if we give peas a chance, won't the lima beans feel left out?" which plays with the similar—but not identical—sound of peas and peace in the anti-war slogan "Give Peace a Chance".

  • Yes! So many definitions other than the one cited by the OP could clear this up: pun A play on words, sometimes on different senses of the same word and sometimes on the similar sense or sound of different words (AH); A joke or type of wordplay in which similar senses or sounds of two words or phrases, or different senses of the same word, are deliberately confused (Wiktionary); An expression in which two different applications of a word present an odd or ludicrous idea (GNU); A humorous use of a word or phrase that has several meanings (Cambridge); A humorous play on words (FD).
    – J.R.
    Aug 20, 2018 at 22:35
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    I like this definition which I found here: the use of words or phrases to exploit ambiguities and innuendoes in their meaning, usually for humorous effect; a play on words. (Their example's not the greatest, and shouldn't really be written as if it's part of the definition, but if we leave it off, it's one of the better definitions I could find online.)
    – 3D1T0R
    Aug 20, 2018 at 23:20
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    @3D1T0R Yes, that's a good one - it seems to cover all the sorts of things I can think of. I guess the main thing to come out of my question is that "chicken coup" is just a bad (and I mean unsuccessful, not groan-worthy) pun. Aug 21, 2018 at 19:48

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