Sunday, August 23, 2009

Chiron’s Keyword Corner: Puns

© 1993- 2009 by Joyce Mason

Puns or plays on words: Some people consider them the lowest form of humor—others, the highest.

The mere fact that people react to puns from one extreme to the other suggests they’re Chironic, for
wholeness (Chiron’s key-most word) is achieved by integrating opposites. Practitioners of paronomasia, another word for punning, get ample opportunity to do that, while their audiences react to their “routines” with anything from amusement to anguish.

In Lily Tomlin’s one-woman show, The Search for
Intelligent Life in the Universe,
her character, Trudy the Bag Lady, keeps her perspective by doing “awe-robics” daily.

Why else are puns Chironic? Because they combine many concepts associated with the centaur/comet:

~ They are a bridge between Uranus and Saturn. Especially when spontaneous, puns are lightning bolts of wit, striking and upsetting the meaning of otherwise orderly sentences. They are clear acts of rebellion in the well-kept world of “straight” communication. They usually disarm “serious types” and lighten them up, bridging the gap between heavies and those of a lighter variety. (For a brilliant discussion of Chiron and humor, read Chiron and Humour: Wounded Clowns That Heal Us by Mimi Christ.)

~ The word pun comes from the Italian term punctiglio, meaning a fine point. When a comedian, professional or otherwise, is a really good punster, he or she might elicit a response such as “you just slay me!” The pun’s piercing source word reminds me of Chiron’s wounding by a stray arrow. But even the most pointed pun isn’t lethal—it lingers like Chiron’s wound (“a real groaner").

~ Puns bring a different perspective and a maverick refusal to keep within the bounds of the Queen’s English (or the Commoner’s Everyday American). Like Chiron in its erratic orbit, puns are often somewhat unpredictable. And like those who just don’t “get” puns, Chiron goes over some people’s heads (no pun intended).

~ Puns span “the Chiron Sector” from Virgo to Sagittarius. Very Virgoan, the compulsion to create them comes from loving words. One of my favorite comedians is Virgo Lily Tomlin. In Lily’s one-woman show, her character, Trudy the Bag Lady, keeps her perspective by doing “awe-robics” daily. Puns keep people off-balance (Libra). They transform (Scorpio) through laughter (often on Scorpionic subjects, especially sex), and they often exaggerate certain words or syllables (Sagittarius). What’s more, people who like them tend to “puntificate!” If you’re into anagrams, you’ll note that the adjective Chironic contains the word ironic, which puns often are.

At least I think so, but if it turns out that my theory has a few wrinkles in it, just let me know so I can Chiron them out!

Then maybe I can take a stab at becoming Comedian of the Centaury. Unfortunately, I suspect that when it comes to fame, it’s not my cen’taur or even my 15 minutes.


Tim@awe with shopping list bullets by Joyce.

This article first appeared in the December 1993 edition of Chironicles.

Extra Pun: If you love puns, you’ll love this site! is the official site for the annual O. Henry Pun-Off in Austin, TX. Attending the Pun-Off at least once in my life is on my Bucket List. Next May 22? A Radical Virgo meet-up at the pun equivalent of the Pillsbury bake-off? Let me know if you’re in!
Update: I just got the O. Henry Museum's report of the last pun-offs winners. It says that the event started in 1977, the year of Chiron's discovery--more proof that puns are associated with Chiron!

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