Puns in life and puns in dreams

February 17, 2017 at 1:17 am | Posted in dreams, Father/son memoirs, humour, Puns, puns in dreams, Shakespeare | Leave a comment
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Fraught father/son relationships

Last post was about the memoir I Am Brian Wilson. There’s an interesting aside in it that involves a pun. I’m not a big fan of puns (notwithstanding the visual one on this site – a sharp pen) but they can be interesting, specially when they involve a Freudian slip.

Brian’s father, Murry Wilson’s relationship with his sons was fraught. He used to hit them, sometimes with his open hand and sometimes even with his fist. When the sons became old enough to decide that they didn’t want him to manage their band the Beach Boys any more, they essentially fired him.

Murry quickly found another band to manage, called the Sunrays. One day Murry brought the Sunrays’ new record in to the Beach Boys’ studio and played it. It was called ‘I Live for the Sun.’ The chorus was originally ‘Run, run, run, run’ but the song was rewritten and got changed to ‘Sun, sun, sun, sun.’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yus7IvioR_A&list=RDYus7IvioR_A#t=84

Brian Wilson recalls: ‘That made it make sense with the title and made it more of a surf song. But it was also so weird for my dad to be bringing in a song he was working on with all those suns in it when he had all those sons who weren’t working with him any more.’ (p. 148)

This would not be the first time a sun/son pun has been uttered in the often fraught relationship of father/son. There’s a famous pun on sun in Hamlet where his uncle and stepdad Claudius asks Hamlet, “How is it that the clouds still hang on you?” and Hamlet replies, “Not so, my lord.  I am too much in the sun.”

Hamlet is using ‘sun’ as a kind of triple pun. Sun meaning son – that he is actually his dead father’s son and can’t forget it; son meaning that he is now the (step)son of Claudius since Claudius has married Hamlet’s mother, and this is also why his mood is cloudy; and sun meaning a symbol of royalty and now Claudius in King and Hamlet is too close to the sun, to the throne of someone he regards as a false king.

Playing with words

How does my old Handbook to Literature define a pun? ‘A play on words based on the similarity of sound between two words with different meanings. An example is Thomas Hoods’ “They went and told the sexton and the sexton tolled the bell.”’ That sounds particularly unfunny to me. But a magnet on my friend Sylvia’s fridge has one that makes me smile: ‘Bad grammar makes me [sic]’.

Other puns are so lame or contrived that they give my brain a brief squeeze of pain and I wish the person hadn’t spoken. Advertisers of Canberra’s ‘Can Turf’ use puns like that on their roadside signs and I must always remember to avert my gaze. I punish companies like that by never buying their products. (I’m not under the illusion that it has much impact on their profits because there are not enough people like me. Yeah, you might think: crazy. But I reckon I just have the courage of my convictions!)

I can recall some jokes that rely on bilingual French/English puns. Some of these I found unbearably contrived but one of them had me guffawing – unrepeatable here because it was absolutely filthy. (Which brings to mind a question: has the whole possibility of dirty jokes disappeared? Very probably, since in these times when everything is permitted and hard core pornography has gone mainstream, nothing is shocking any more and so that impulse to laugh at something that’s not usually spoken of in polite company must have vanished.) Still, sadly no space here to tell the joke about the English widower in Paris.

Samuel Johnson called the pun the lowest form of wit but some claim that John Dryden said it. Others reckon that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit and still others say that sarcasm is not wit at all, only an attempt to wound.

Arthur Koestler defined a pun as ‘two strings of thought tied with an acoustic knot’. Webster believes that a pun is ‘a low species of wit’. My favourite is from Ambrose Bierce, who called a pun ‘a form of wit, to which wise men stoop and fools aspire’.

Dreaming in puns

Ancient Egyptians often used puns to interpret dreams and to inspire mythology. I’ve noticed that our unconscious occasionally does use puns to try to tell us something in a dream. Back in the mid-1990s, after the publication of my first novel, Full House, a friend and I each applied for a writing grant.

In the dream (sadly, not in real life) we were successful. I dreamt that we went to England to be mentored by famous people. My friend got Yehudi Menuhin. She was running through a green field with him (a new field?) and was deliriously happy to be suddenly learning how to play the violin from the great master. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dagrn_9V4jE

I got Hugh Grant. Although I know for a fact that in real life he read English at Oxford, he didn’t seem to know or care anything about writing and he wasn’t as attentive to me as I thought he should be. He was almost at the point of being actively mean to me! This was when he was at the height of his charisma and handsomeness and I had a picture of him in an open-necked white cotton shirt on my fridge, so that was pretty disappointing.

In my dream I got the Grant. I understood that part easily enough but I had no idea what the dream was trying to tell me, if anything. It only occurs to me now, many years later, that my unconscious might have been warning me that I was paying more attention to men than to my writing career.

If the Hugh Grant experience had been the fulfilling and wonderful few weeks I anticipated, that interpretation would make more sense. But, given that it was anything but, another interpretation is that my unconscious was telling me that my time given to men would not make me happy.

Was that message correct? Probably, up until I met a soul mate, who, three years and one month later, died, but that’s another story. Until I met him I did find it hard to make a commitment and was a bit of a ‘bolter’ but that’s another story too. (One I was reminded of at a reunion with an old friend from that time. She described me to her now adult son, who was a baby at the time: ‘Penny made a career out of being single.’)

Oddly enough, most of my book titles are puns but that’s because usually the editor or publisher chooses them. And they all work and they don’t make me wince so that’s okay.

Creative company

The most satisfying part of starting your own small business (apart from the making money part, assuming that happens) is probably naming it and puns are really popular.

There is a fish and chip shop called ‘Frying Nemo’; an Asian restaurant called ‘Wok This Way’ and a Thai one called ‘Thai Tanic’. There’s a bureau de change called ‘Cash 22’. I saw a beauty clinic called ‘Hair Today and Gone Tomorrow.’

An excellent Canberra Thai reflexology massage place is called ‘Foot and Thai,’ which has to be a play on ‘thigh’. See www.footandthai.com.au (I say, ‘I’m off to get my feet and Thais massaged!’ Groan.) I called my own company ‘Penny Hanley’s Creative Company’ and that’s a bit of a pun as well, but not too bad plus very expressive of me and what I can do for you.

It’s such a personal thing: some puns seem okay and others are cringe-worthy. It’s not even that I dislike the simple ones and like the sophisticated ones. Some simple ones I don’t mind and some sophisticated ones are too contrived. Often my friends around me are cracking up at a pun someone makes and I’m just standing there frowning. As someone said once, ‘One man’s meat is another man’s poisson.’



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