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No Pun Intended - De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
No Pun Intended
You know how people will make a pun and then state, "No pun intended"? Well, I've been thinking about the structure of that confession for a long time and have concluded that its usage is really, really interesting. The only way someone can claim that a pun wasn't intended is to recognize that it's there to begin with. In conversation, that recognition usually happens right away, before the speaker moves on to her or his next statement. In that context, the confession serves as a break in the flow of speech, a reminder that the speaker is reflecting on her or his words in the wake of their utterance. But it also seems to confirm that the self-reflexive moment lags behind the moment it comments upon. Because if the speaker were policing her or his statements in advance, the pun would presumably have failed to made the cut.

What are we to make, though, of the same confession in writing? Almost any piece of writing that is made public undergoes some editorial revision. If both the pun and the confession that it wasn't intended remain in the finished product, then, their presence testifies to a decision not to edit them out. Consider this passage from a Pitchfork feature on onetime teen idol Arch Hall Jr.:
Arch Sr. produced The Choppers in 1961 as a starring vehicle (no pun intended) for his 15-year-old son, who rides around in a beaut hot rod as the leader of a local gang that strips abandoned cars and befuddles the police.
I'm fairly certain that this piece received some editorial attention. Yet the confession stands, confusing our perception of intention in the process. For the decision not to edit the confession out has to be regarded as intentional. Indeed, the sort of intention that manifests itself in the editorial process tends to conform much better to the stereotype of the rational actor who deliberates prior to doing than does the sort of intention that manifests itself in the writing process. In short, the person who confesses in writing that there was "no pun intended" is also confessing a desire to make that confession, as well as the decision that follows from it.

I just returned from a music conference where the theme was "Guilty Pleasures." I hope to compose an entry on the experience later this week. For now, though, I want to suggest that puns seem to function as guilty pleasures. Why else would someone bother to make the confession that there was, "No pun intended"? Personally, I believe strongly that the puns we make are intended, even if they tend to slip out a side door of our minds instead of through the foyer of self-reflexive consciousness. Something is doing the intending and it's inside us whether we deny it or not. Whether we want to conflate that agency with the deliberative "I" who enters into legal contracts or not, it seems foolish to pretend that it's not there. Unless, that is, there's some ancillary benefit to making the confession of a lack of intention. As far as I know, though, instances where someone was punished for making an intentional pun have been rare. So why is there such a hurry to disavow our pun-making powers?

Tags: ,
Current Location: 85721
Mode: toffee fey
Muse: I Don't Want To See You - Camera Obscura - Underachievers Please Try Harder

20 comments or Leave a comment
morimur From: morimur Date: May 3rd, 2006 10:48 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I have seen "No pun intended" statement used to highlight and bring the pun to the attention of the listener/reader; to make sure that a clever pun has been noticed and acknowledged.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: May 4th, 2006 04:12 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Right. There's often something disingenuous about the statement. And when there isn't, it's just plain odd from a logical standpoint.
From: cut_dead Date: May 3rd, 2006 11:08 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I tend to say "pardon the pun" in conversation when I can't come up with a more sufficient alternate word. That statement is also the assumption that the person I'm speaking to will cringe at the lame pun made on my part.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: May 4th, 2006 04:12 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
But are you only recognizing the pun after the fact?
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 3rd, 2006 11:08 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

A Wonderful Poet...

Thinking upun this post, this poem came to mind:

"Let us take them in order. The first is the taste,
Which is meagre and hollow, but crisp:
Like a coat that is rather too tight in the waist,
With a flavour of Will-o-the-wisp.

"Its habit of getting up late you'll agree
That it carries too far, when I say
That it frequently breakfasts at five-o'clock tea,
And dines on the following day.

"The third is its slowness in taking a jest.
Should you happen to venture on one,
It will sigh like a thing that is deeply distressed:
And it always looks grave at a pun.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: May 3rd, 2006 11:36 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: A Wonderful Poet...

Ooh, I like that. But who are you?
cpratt From: cpratt Date: May 3rd, 2006 11:17 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Toffee fey? Nice one!
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: May 4th, 2006 04:13 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Vielen dank, großer Bär!
flw From: flw Date: May 3rd, 2006 11:40 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)


"no pun intended" is an example of "apophasis" in my opinion. Pointing something out by pointing out that you aren't pointing it out.

"Out of common decency, I'll not mention my opponent's tendency to get pulled over with dead hookers in his trunk."
From: ex_benlinus Date: May 4th, 2006 03:57 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: apophasis

cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: May 4th, 2006 04:14 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: apophasis

You win best example of the week!
From: laurag1 Date: May 4th, 2006 12:57 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

puns and Camera Obscura

Really interesting stuff on the confession happening during the middle of speech, and even more interesting about the written "no pun intended." In speech, it seems to me people want to make sure everyone caught the joke, something that could be accomplished with raising the eyebrows, rolling the eyes, or other facial/visual cues, as well. So the desire to call attention to one's cleverness is part of what's interesting.

But I'm also intrigued by how you frame this as confessional. Is it more or less confessional in writing? I'm also wondering if there are ways other than confession to think about how it functions in writing. I think confession works really well in the verbal example. But is confession time-specific? As you point out, writing is so much more planned and edited, how does time and self-reflexivity fit in when the pun has been written?

I was additionally motivated to respond to this b/c you were listening to Camera Obscura. That album is sweetness and melancholy.

Laura G
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: May 4th, 2006 04:15 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: puns and Camera Obscura

I love that record too. I wondered whether to use the term "confession" or not. That I did is a sign that the paper I gave Friday hasn't worn off yet. I was talking about confessions in relation to musical guilty pleasures. But I can see reasons to use the term in this context too, though it's certainly loaded. Thanks for writing!
From: marcegoodman Date: May 4th, 2006 02:25 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I never say, "No pun intended." I love making puns. I hope that my puns are not too obvious, too silly, too inappropriate, etc. (i.e. too ineffective) but never too unintended.
frostedfuckhead From: frostedfuckhead Date: May 4th, 2006 03:21 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I guess I've always thought the 'pun' part needn't be intended if the words themselves are apt. In other words, if I was intending to say what I just said but what I just said happened to be a pun.

It's like going to the store to by coke only to discover you get a free coupon for a mail-order ashtray with every purchase. It wasn't my intention to get a coupon... just to buy a coke.

Of course, I've also used it as a means of bringing attention to my horrible pun, because horrible puns are awesome.
From: ex_benlinus Date: May 4th, 2006 04:03 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I go through phases that sometimes last days where I speak in nothing but awful, unfunny puns. I can assure you that I have, in fact, been pun-ished for it by certain friends who have low pun-tolerance. With these people, sometimes in order to avoid being bitchslapped, I have to say "PLEASE PARDON THE PUN DON'T HIT ME!" Or lie and say, "NO PUN INTENDED DON'T HIT ME!"
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: May 4th, 2006 04:11 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I liked the first version of this comment even better. It had the virtue of being utterly baffling!
From: ex_benlinus Date: May 4th, 2006 04:12 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 4th, 2006 03:10 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Two Things About Puns

1. I've always read the "no pun intended" disclaimer as a way of highlighting the pun, as if to say "In case you missed it, there was one hell of a pun back there. Gosh, I'm clever." Puns can also be the mark of linguistic agility, and in that case pointing them out can have benefits to larger rhetorical structure of a piece of writing. For example, think about how Derrida puns incessantly but never points it out, while his translators frequently include footnotes letting the reader in on the joke.

2. I have a friend who relishes puns. Rather than follow up with "No pun intended," he'll often take an extravagant pause right before the offending comment, and then look you straight in the eye right afterwards - he's the only person I know who puns aggressively.

-- Mark
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: May 4th, 2006 03:41 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: Two Things About Puns

I like the idea of aggressive punning! I guess what I'm gathering from this comment and others is that it's pretty common to regard "No pun intended" as a bald-faced lie. Even in that case, though, the structure of the confession is mighty odd to me.
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