Drop Back and Pun

November 7, 2009

I’ve been thinking about titles lately. No, not like the Earl of Sandwich or Sir Loin of Beef. I was listening to a friend’s new R & B album and was wondering how they come up with titles for instrumentals. I imagine folks must get pretty proprietary about their titles. After all the work and creative genius that goes into a great jazz song, would it have been as great if Duke Ellington had called it “Take the #47 Bus?”

Novel writers must agonize over titles. I’ve never written anything longer than a couple of pages, but the idea of choosing a word or a phrase to optimize your 150,000 word magnum opus seems really intimidating to me. Sometimes they really hit the mark-“Grapes of Wrath,” sometimes not so much-“Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and sometimes it just doesn’t matter-“Peer Gynt.” Songwriters and short story writers have to come up with a title every week or month or so as the create new pieces, but they often have the benefit of simply lifting a line out of their song or story.

But us bloggers, man…now there’s some pressure. I have to come up with 5-7 titles per week that are vaguely informative and occasionally entertaining. So what is the last bastion of the overburdened author? That’s right, the pun. Paronomasia has the potential to attract derision like no other literary device, yet I can’t avoid it. Drawing from a proud literary history ranging from Shakespeare to Ogden Nash, the ability to turn a homonym into a synonym is harder than most people think.

Samuel Johnson called the pun “the lowest form of humour.”

I got your Samuel Johnson, right here.

Oscar Wilde would be so proud.