Figures of speech are literary devices which are used to convey ideas that go beyond their literal meaning.
In English, there are more than 200 different types of figures of speech. The ‘pun’ is one of them.
A pun is a figure of speech where different meanings of the same word are exploited for poetic or comic effect. In a clever way, it gives the word a “double meaning.” It exploits both the literal and the figurative meaning of the word.
- A pessimist‘s blood type is always B-negative. (It is a play on the word negative because pessimists always have a negative outlook on life.)
- An elephant‘s opinion carries a lot of weight. (The word ‘weight‘ stands for the elephant‘s weight in the literal sense and for its figurative sense.)
“winter of our discontent…made glorious summer by this Son of York.”
—Shakespeare, Richard III
(The word ‘Son‘ also puns on its homophone ‘Sun‘ since summer and winter are referenced in the sentence.)
“I always told you, Gwendolen, my name was Ernest, didn‘t I? Well, it is Ernest after all. I mean it naturally is Ernest.”
(The speaker puns on the word ‘Earnest‘. Along with stating his name, he also wants to emphasise his earnestness.)
Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest
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‘You see the earth takes twenty-four hours to turn round on its axis–’
‘Talking of axes,‘ said the Duchess, ‘chop off her head!‘
—Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
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“Not I, believe me. You have dancing shoes with nimble soles; I have a soul of lead”
(The words ‘sole‘ and ‘soul‘ are homophones.)
—Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet