John Pollack’s new book The Pun Also Rises is more than just a defense of the humble pun, considered by many to be among the lowest forms of humor. It’s a study of the evolution of the English language, how words came to have two meanings in the first place, how our brains deal with double entendres and just how and why we find things like knock knock jokes, “Swifties” and other wordplay funny in the first place.
Pollack, a former champion of
’s world famous “O. Henry Pun-Off,” begins by examining just how a pun comes together, in all its various forms. He examines the origin of many of the most famous varieties of pun (yes, they have names), how they evolved, and how they’re assembled in the brain. He also provides plenty of examples, among them: “’Next time, I should probably use a chair to fend off Leo,’ the lion tamer sighed off-handedly.” Austin
After establishing the basic structure of everyone’s favorite kind of wordplay, Pollack examines the history of the pun, from its roots in the ancient world to its heyday in the Shakespearean age to its decline and denigration. And then it really gets interesting.
The Pun Also Rises would be entertaining enough if Pollack just stuck to the history and evolution of the pun, and threw in a few choice examples for added chuckle. But he goes further, delving not only into how puns are constructed, but why they work on us at all. It’s a curious thing for your brain to consider when someone hands you one word with at least two meanings. Strange things happen up there, and Pollack explains how and why in an engaging, plainspoken fashion peppered with puns of his own.
The Pun Also Rises is one of those simple pleasures of the book world: a thoroughly entertaining book that’s also academic, so you can feel smart and learn new jokes at the same time.