A merry look at competitive wordplay.
Punning may not seem a viable path to winning any kind of championship, but Fast Company editor and reporter Berkowitz (co-author: You Blew It!: An Awkward Look at the Many Ways in Which You’ve Already Ruined Your Life, 2015) discovered a new world of competition when he first attended Punderdome, where punsters with monikers like Punky Brewster, Forest Wittyker, Words Nightmare, and Black Punther gather to outwit one another. That experience led him to the O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships, “the Olympics of pun competitions,” held in Austin, Texas, and many other such events throughout the country. English, Berkowitz learned, “is uncontestably the best language to pun in” because it has the largest vocabulary, with many words drawn from hundreds of other languages. Only English allows for a pun like, “Paris is a site for soirees.” The author defines four kinds of puns: homophonic, with words that sound the same but have different meanings; homographic, with words “spelled the same but sound[ing] different”; homonymic, with words spelled and sounding the same; and portmanteau, with words that combine two other words to mean something different. The book is filled with examples of puns, many of which do not seem funny on the page; some, as Berkowitz readily admits, are simply bad. A great pun, he writes, “is its own reword. A mediocre pun, though, is just awkword.” The author chronicles his interviews with a host of punsters, investigates the history of punning across cultures, and discusses his experience at the North East Texas Humor Research Conference, “among Earth’s least funny places.” Linguists and other experts hardly enlighten him about what makes a good punster, but he does learn from contestants that practice is important. He also reproduces a digital exchange on the topic of weather, which elicits such remarks as, “spoken like a raining pun champion” and “I’m losing my cloudt.”
Lighthearted and occasionally witty.