The Prodigal Pun

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Simon Akam mourns the distinctly American transformation of a butchered pun, “replaced by something grosser, dumber, uglier”:

Examples abound: Take one of the most read websites in the world, Wikipedia, a “pun” on encyclopedia that shares nothing but its suffix. Or techpreneur, the loathsome fusion of technology and entrepreneur. Likewise mansplain, a coinage popular with Internet feminists that adroitly glosses a man addressing a woman in a condescending fashion (e.g., “Akam mansplains that mansplain is not a functioning pun.”) but is still not a functioning pun. Manscaping, the removal of all or part of male body hair, is better—there is at least assonance between the vowel sounds in man and land—but as a pun it remains perilously borderline. …

One erudite friend of mine suggests that the current crisis in American wordplay can be traced back to the Watergate scandal of the 1970s and the subsequent tendency to append any scandal-related noun with the suffix -gate. Before Nixon fell, my friend suggests, “All American puns rhymed perfectly and snappily, as if the whole country were a Cole Porter musical.”

Kottke tried to sit through the entire 2012 O. Henry Pun-Off World Championship but found it too, um, “PUNishing”. Above is a clip from the “Farms & Ranches” portion of the competition. Update from a reader:

The author seems to suffer from an inability to distinguish puns (where words are manipulated for wit and pleasure by playing on sound, meaning, and even spelling) and portmanteaus (where words are combined into one for brevity or concision). Wikipedia is not a pun; it is simply a portmanteau of wiki and encyclopedia. Ditto techpreneur, mansplain, and the -gate scandals. None of these are puns, because none of them are intended to be. They are just meant to make communication faster and simpler by combining words so that they do not have to be fully expanded every time.