The problem with promising to include no puns in this blog is that I will likely fail quite quickly to stick to it. That’s cause puns are fun. (Puns are also, by now, fairly well anchored into my writing style.) Yes, there are way too many weak and overused ones in the land of food scholarliness, and these must be eradicated like the scourge that they are. A trite pun drags down whatever good content is associated with it (the policy article entitled “Come to the Table”, the speaker series headlined “Food for Thought”). It also creates a sense that the person who deployed the pun just didn’t think very much in advance (or worse, did think, and thought she was being really clever).
The Concise Oxford defines a pun as a “humorous use of word [sic] to suggest different meanings, or of words of the same or similar sound with different meanings; play on words.” (It also offers the meaning, “consolidate (earth, rubble) by pounding or ramming,” but that is less useful here…) Wikipedia contributes additional details: the synonym paronomasia; the note that puns are used for rhetorical effect as well as humorous; the tidbit (drat!) that Sumerian and Egyptian writing (cuneiform and hieroglyphs) originate in punning. [W also gives us these juicy (double drat!) links to the related usage forms, paraprosdokian, syllepsis, and eggcorns.]
Samuel Johnson called punning the lowest form of humor; Alfred Hitchcock named it the highest form of literature. And if puns are just middling “word play,” are they really so bad?
I pun for two reasons (in the wordplay sense, not the rubble consolidation one). The first reason is that it can build engagement between writer and reader, or between speaker and listener. This connection is useful and ordinary, facilitates communications, and creates enjoyment. The second reason is that, in writing and talking gastronomic-like, puns also point to the ways that discourse (language, meaning, text, images, and their encompassing contexts) makes food both complex and humanistically integrated. That is, food puns show the linkages with other systems of knowledge and understanding; they are, in a Latourian sense, translation actants. They reside at the creases, the intersections, the wormholes, the boundaries. They reveal the parallel universes of food and other stuff, the simultaneity of this and that, the spaces we might want to probe in order to find new answers to old questions, and maybe even some responses to the food issues that many of us seek to address. In other words, puns (some of them) are important markers for food study, and not all of them (sigh) should be eradicated.
So there are going to have to be some puns here. I will aim to keep them useful, and not overuse those that appear. I hope. Call me on my shit if I overstep, if they become too unctuous or half-baked, watered-down or out of season. [insert winky thing] But before you do shout out is pun protest, pause and ask what that pun might also be usefully revealing, and whether there’s some alt-dimension food thing just beyond its pap-like appearance.