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Suppose I am writing to an audience of mathematics teachers, and I want very much to tell them that "I initially had an irrational fear of" a certain subject in mathematics.

But in that subject, the word "irrational" is a technical term in math that all mathematics teachers are familiar with. So if I just used it in that context, it is likely that many will interpret it as an attempt at paronomasia — in other words, punning.

I cannot think of any other word that is even as accurate as, or more accurate than, the word "irrational" used for what I am trying to say, so I am loath to give that up.

This is my main issue:

I would like to convey the idea of "no pun intended" — or in other words: "I am not trying to be funny" — in the most graceful and brief way, preferably without having to spell out the whole phrase "no pun intended" or use the abbreviation "n.p.i." that I have seen (but which some may find obscure).

I expect to need to use this just once in my essay. But it is a central point that I need to make.

Any suggestions?

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    The only way to do this is to use a different word than "irrational". Illogical or unreasonable might be what you need.
    – dclxvispqr
    Sep 14 at 2:17
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    Google "irrational synonym"
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 14 at 2:31
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    Maybe you can say you have an acute fear of… Oh, never mind…
    – Jim
    Sep 14 at 5:19
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    The word is appropriate. If your audience is so single-minded as to think it only has the specialist meaning of their trade, you are wasting your time on them. How would you handle other words such as imaginary, matrix, plus, subtract, commute, set etc? They all have general and special meanings that must be distinguished by context. Say what you need to say and do not try to second-guess your audience’s misinterpretations.
    – Anton
    Sep 14 at 7:40
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    If you don't draw the audience's attention to the supposed pun, but just talk naturally, they may not even notice, but it seems you are trying to fix a problem of your own making. OTOH if you want to add a bit of humour, you could do this by the phrasing and your body language. Sep 14 at 8:29

2 Answers 2

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I think the word you're looking for is "phobia". Irrational fear is essentially the definition of phobia (as someone who has several specific phobias, see also APA Dictionary of Psychology).

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  • It would make a better answer if you reference or link to a dictionary definition of "phobia", such as merriam-webster.com/dictionary/phobia which indeed has the meaning you describe.
    – Stuart F
    Sep 14 at 8:49
  • @StuartF Thank you. New here so still learning the ropes. Sep 14 at 13:20
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I think if you said "No pun intended" it would come out funny on its own. This is not your goal. For that reason you should use another word. Illogical or unreasonable as suggested above would do. I think more of a childlike view which is itself irrational at time. If you were to express a childish fear of the topic it would give just the right sense of ignorant and even irrational without saying so explicitly.

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  • Another option: unreasonable.
    – Xanne
    Sep 14 at 7:28

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