Saturday, June 1, 2013

No PUN intended.

Do you notice ads & signs on the subway? They could be unexpected English lessons!

Have you seen this ad on the New York City subway? It's actually a good example of a PUN or A PLAY ON WORDS. You've probably heard someone say, "NO PUN INTENDED" and sometimes the person smiles as if he or she has just said something amusing. Do you know what this means? 

Well, PUNS are usually clever ways of using words so that a word has two purposes in the sentence. One purpose has to do with what the sentence is saying or the meaning of the word in the sentence. The word LAND in the ad means to get or acquire something. For example, you can LAND the perfect job or LAND an exciting assignment in your company--perhaps one that lets you travel to an exciting destination. Journalists try to LAND interviews with famous people. Similarly, if you're applying for a job, you'd be thrilled if you LANDED a job interview at the company where you'd most like to work.

The second purpose of a PUN usually has to do with the topic or the sound of the word. This is usually what makes the use of the word clever, amusing, and often funny. The word LAND in the ad, for example, is purposely used here to cleverly refer to airplanes since the ad is for an airline. The writer of this ad could have used another verb. He or she could've said BUY or SECURE or SNAG (grab quickly) the perfect flight. Instead, he or she uses LAND specifically because the ad is for an airline, and LAND is what airplanes do. :-) Get it?

PUNS can be intentional or they can be made by accident. If they are said by accident or supposedly "by accident" in order to be funny, the speaker will usually say, "NO PUN INTENDED," to draw attention to the PUN.

PUNS are common in newspaper and magazine headlines, as well as in ads because they are good at drawing people's attention and amusing them. In this other ad for the same airline, the PUN uses a homophone (a completely different word with the same sound). Can you tell why this PLAY ON WORDS is clever? (You can read the explanation below.) Are you amused by it? 

To AIR or to ERR, that is the uh, PLAY ON WORDS. 

This PLAY ON WORDS uses homophones, which are different words that sound the same. The sentence should read "ERR on the side of humanity." The verb ERR means to make a mistake or make an error. You may have heard the saying "To ERR is human, to forgive divine." This means people make errors, but God forgives. 

However, this sentence means make your decision for the good of humanity. It's similar to another saying you may also have heard, which says "ERR on the side of caution." This means decide or choose the safe option. Does it make sense? The PLAY ON WORDS here is the use of AIR instead of ERR because the ad wants to say that this AIRline makes its decisions for the good of the people who fly with them--their customers. Get it? So, are you amused? 

PUNS or PLAYS ON WORDS are quite common in English as they probably are in your native language. We'll keep our ears open and keep an eye out for them so we can post more of them here. The more you see them, the more you'll recognize them and know how to use them yourselves. If you see or hear them yourselves, share them with us here, on NYLC's page on Facebook, or at NYLangCenter on Twitter. Tag your posts #ilovenylc. Until next time, stay cool! Summer is here, and it's becoming very hot and muggy (humid)! :-)

-- Joe Yu, ESL instructor

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