Too Weird: Animal Puns from the Associated Press
In James Geary’s Wit’s End, the first chapter is all about puns.
In poems, words rhyme; in puns, ideas rhyme. This is the ultimate test of wittiness: keeping your balance even when you’re of two minds.
According to Geary, “puns reveal previously unseen relations among things.”
Shakespeare loved puns. You know who else loves puns? The Associated Press. Check out these recent titles from their AP Oddities twitter account:
- CATapult: Cat jumps out of a window.
- Unpheasant: Turkey vultures damaging homes in Florida.
- The camera wasn’t lion: A mountain lion was seen on a doorbell camera.
- Striking a paws: A bear climbed up utility poles.
- Chance for romance seems beak: The last wild macaw in Rio de Janeiro.
- Fowl play: Giant condors are terrorizing one woman’s home.
- It’s been a whale: Two endangered whales embrace.
- Fang-tastic: Vaccines available at Dracula’s castle.
Readers may find the wordplay a bit much, if the subject matter itself wasn’t already bizarre. Most of the stories revolve around strange animal behavior.
We find animals odd, for simply being different from us. Or for acting exactly like us.
What makes us so special, anyway? Our language, right? Our ability to convey complex ideas through language. This funny language where two words sound exactly the same, but they mean different things.
Our weird, weird language. (Too weird?)
Words that sound the same have opposite meanings. The word “fast” can mean “to move quickly,” but it can also mean “to be immobile.” For example: The door is stuck fast.
People often apologize for using puns. (No pun intended, they say). Geary argues that puns are impressive, precisely because they allow us to hold two opposing thoughts at the same time.
The best puns have more to do with philosophy than with being funny. Playing with words is playing with ideas, and a likeness between two different terms suggests a likeness between their referents, too. Puns are therefore not mere linguistic coincidences but evidence and expression of a hidden connection — between mind and material, ideas and things, knowing and nomenclature.
Our language may seem like the defining factor that sets us apart from other living creatures, but the truth is, we use language to better understand the animals around us, and thereby, we learn more about ourselves.
If I think a fowl is acting foul, does that tell me something about birds? Or does it tell me something about the strange superiority of human nature?
After all, we came up with those similar-sounding words. The fowl doesn’t think of itself as a fowl. The fowl doesn’t speak our language.
Imagine if a fowl understood this phrase: It’s for the birds.
With all this wordplay revolving around animal behavior, you might think we would recognize the implications: Despite their oddities, or perhaps because of their oddities, we have more in common with animals than we like to believe.
What’s for the birds should be for us, too. Otherwise, we can expect something like the dickens to come home to roost.