|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?
|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