I came across the line, “In the orphanage he shared with Puss, H.D. was the youthful butt of excruciating jokes (or eggscruciating yolks).” in Time magazine’s review of the newly released animation, “Puss in Boots” under the headline “Antonio Banderas in Puss in Boots: One Cool Cat.”(October 28).

"Humpty is Puss’ childhood frenemy: pal, rival and seemingly inept marplot to our hero’s suave efficiency in a crisis. In the orphanage he shared with Puss, H.D. was the youthful butt of excruciating jokes (or eggscruciating yolks). Ever since, he has sought revenge against the world, Puss possibly included, as he searches for the magic beans from yet another fractured fairy tale."

I don’t understand the meaning of the line “H.D. was the youthful butt of excruciating jokes (or eggscruciating yolks).” Though I think it is a pun of “excruciating jokes” and “eggscruciating yolks,” it is difficult for a non-native English speaker to grab the fun or gist of this phrasing.

What is the connection of “excruciating jokes” and “eggscruciating yolks”? I mean, what is the fun and humor of putting “ excruciating joke” and “eggscruciating yolks” in juxtaposition but for rhyming? After all, what does this line means?

Besides, I can’t find the definition of “eggscruciating” in neither Cambridge nor Merrimu-Webster Dictionary. Is it the writer’s coinage in an attempt to make a play of word?

  • It is at least self-referential. – JeffSahol Oct 29 '11 at 6:13

You won't find "eggscruciating" in a dictionary because it's a pun, "also called paronomasia, is a form of word play which suggests two or more meanings, by exploiting multiple meanings of words, or of similar-sounding words, for an intended humorous or rhetorical effect". For example:

  • Atheism is a non-prophet institution.
  • You can tune a guitar, but you can't tuna fish. Unless of course, you play bass.
  • Time flies like the wind; fruit flies like a banana.

Humpty Dumpty from the nursery rhyme is a most commonly portrayed as an egg who falls off a wall and cannot be mended.

In the film, they make lots of egg-based puns (and cat-based puns). Puns can become tiresome, especially when these jokes made to the extreme. This is why the author says these jokes are excruciating. To demonstrate this, he makes his own pun: "eggscruciating yolks".

Here's an example from the film:

  • "I'll tell you this. It ain't over-easy." This should be either "It ain't over" or "It ain't easy" (depending on context), but they've crowbarred in over-easy, a way of frying an egg. And note the cat at the side groaning at this terrible gag, which it does throughout the film.

I eggspect the film has many more eggtremely eggxellent, eggceptional, eggtraordinary yolks as we egg Puss on and find out if Humpty is a good egg, a rotten egg, or a deviled egg. The yolks will really crack me up when I shell out for a ticket on Frieday and it will no doubt receive a standing ovation. Of course, I will ineggitably buy the soundtrack albumen. Omelette DreamWorks off easy this time, but if they fry it again they'll be poaching their cluck.

Why do you only get one egg for breakfast in France? Because one egg is un oeuf.

Sorry, I'll give you a break, I call an eggs ban edict.

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    To @Hugo. Your pun of egg seemed to me eggstremely eggciting, eggloquent and eggnlightening. Yours looks far more eggtertaining than Richard Corliss’ eggxhausting egg joke. I like it. Plus one O. – Yoichi Oishi Oct 29 '11 at 11:43
  • + a bunch for such relentless punishment. – UnconditionallyReinstateMonica Oct 29 '11 at 15:22

This is a tough one to communicate to a non-speaker - analyzing humor even in one's own language is difficult and fraught with peril.

A native ear hearing "eggscruciating yolks" would hear and understand it as a play on “excruciating jokes”, but the mental stretch is itself truly excruciating. (A "groaner" of a pun, we'd say.)

"eggscruciating" is a word constructed spontaneously strictly for the purpose of the joke, which both connects "egg" to "yolk" while self-referencing “excruciating jokes” by its slight slippage in pronunciation.

The sentence illustrates both the degree and nature of the jokes, by becoming an example of one itself.

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    And it's worth pointing out Humpty Dumpty is an egg. – Hugo Oct 29 '11 at 7:28

As Humpty Dumpty is an anthropomorphized egg, the pun follows quite naturally.

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  • is humpty dumpty an egg? – Matt E. Эллен Oct 29 '11 at 8:05
  • @Matt 3nneH. I think you know humty dumpty better than I do. According to Kenkyu-sha’s Readers Plus English Japanese Dictionary at hand. Humpty-Dumpty is the leading character of a popular British nursery rhyme, Humpty-Dumpty, and it is a personified character of an egg that fell from the fence, and was broken to be unable to resume its original shape. – Yoichi Oishi Oct 29 '11 at 8:46
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    @YoichiOishi - I think it is fair to think Humpty Dumpty is an egg, but reading Hugo's wikipedia article gives two other meanings: a short, clumsy person and an alcoholic beverage. I think the egg portrayal is a caricature of the short, clumsy person. – Matt E. Эллен Oct 29 '11 at 8:58
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    Just to put the record straight, Humpty Dumpty was an egg only after Lewis Carroll made him one. Before that, he was a gun. – Barrie England Oct 29 '11 at 9:18
  • But nowadays, say Humpty Dumpty and people will think egg. – Hugo Oct 29 '11 at 10:32

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