Wordplay: Puns

“By words we learn thoughts, and by thoughts we learn life.”
Jean Baptiste Girard, a Swiss Franciscan educator

Wordplay is the witty exploitation of the meanings and ambiguities of words, especially in puns. A pun is a humorous use of a word that has two meanings, or of words with the same sound but different meanings.

Example 1:

– When is a door not a door?

– When it’s ajar.

The adjective ajar means slightly open, and a door can be ajar. However, ajar sounds like “a jar,” which is really not a door.

Example 2:

I tried to sue the airline for losing my luggage. I lost my case.

A case is a legal matter that is to be decided in a court. If you lose a case, the verdict is not favorable. But case can also mean a container for holding a large number of separate things. It can also mean a suitcase, so by losing luggage you might mean losing a case.


Puns are abundant is various genres of comedy. Do you have any favorite puns? If you do, please share them in the comments. Here is our list:

# 1

Screen Shot 2019-11-18 at 10.36.56.png

from “The Simpsons”

A chum is a close friend, and if you consider a buyer your chum, it should be good – it means you treat him or her exceptionally well. But in this particular place, being a chum may be undesirable because chum is also fish and other scraps thrown into the water as bait, to attract fish.

# 2

Phoebe: Come on Ross, you’re a paleontologist, dig a little deeper.

(from “Friends”)

A paleontologist is someone who studies fossils, which are the remains of prehistoric plants or animals. Extracting fossils includes digging, but one of the meanings of the verb dig is to try hard to find out some information. Phoebe makes use of both meanings, which makes what she says funny.

# 3

Timon: Pumbaa, with you everything’s gas.

(from “The Lion King”)

When Pumbaa says he’s always thought that stars are gas, which they really are, Timon mocks him hinting at Pumba’s bad manners. Thus, Pumbaa speaks about gas stars are, and Timon means wind produced inside the body by the stomach.

# 4

Screen Shot 2019-11-19 at 15.26.02

from “Zootopia”

Do you see what real-world companies the creators of “Zootopia” had in mind? “Just Zoo It” must be a pun on Just Do It, and Preyda – on Prada. Note that zoo is not used as a verb, but in this case such use is justified and clever. Preyda is witty too, isn’t it? Not only does it sound a bit like Prada, but it also exploits they meaning of the word prey, which is an animal that is caught by another animal and eaten. The goat in the advertising would normally be considered prey, but not in Zootopia City…

# 5

Judy Hopps: We are good at multiplying.

(from “Zootopia”)

Officer Judy Hopps is a rabbit, and rabbits are famous as very prolific animals. To multiply is to increase in number by producing new animals. Rabbits are said to be good at multiplying, aren’t they? But what Judy is trying to say is that they are good at maths. If you multiply one number by another, you add the first number to itself as many times as is indicated by the second number. For example, 2 multiplied by 3 is equal to 6. Are you good at multiplying? 😉

# 6

Danny’s mother: The baby is sleeping like a baby.

(from “Full House”)

How else could a baby sleep? Being a baby, it sleeps like a baby. What makes the line funny is that “to sleep like a baby” is a common simile, which is usually used to describe adults’ peaceful sleep: I can’t believe you finished a triathlon! You’re going to sleep like a baby tonight.

# 7 

D.J.: Did you decide about my drums yet?

Danny: No, honey, I want to sleep on it.

Kimmy Gibbler: Isn’t it more comfortable to sleep on your bed?

(from “Full House”)

When Danny says he needs to sleep on it, he means that he’d like to wait till the following day before making the important decision concerning his daughter’s drums. Thus, to sleep on it is an idiom. But Kimmy makes a joke using the basic meaning of the verb to sleep. Indeed, it’s more comfortable to sleep on a bed.

# 8

Max: I don’t even have a bed now! I’m sleeping on the floor, like a dog!

(from “The Secret Life of Pets”)

Max is the main protagonist of “The Secret Life of Pets” and he is a dog. This joke is similar to pun #6 here. A dog sleeps like a dog (often on the floor) because it’s a dog. Note that the simile “to work like a dog” is quite common. It means to work very hard: Lately I’ve been working like a dog.

# 9

Emily: You can use your mother’s old golf clubs. They’re upstairs, gathering dust, along with the rest of her potential.

(from “Gilmore Girls”)

If you say that something is gathering dust, you mean that it has been left somewhere and nobody is using it or doing anything with it. So, the old golf clubs literally gather dust – they are getting dusty. As for somebody’s potential, it can’t get dusty because it’s not an object. However, Emily Gilmore wittily compares her daughters unused talents to the things in the attic, emphasizing her disappointment.

# 10

Alain: Be sure to wear a condom, not everything stays in Vegas.

(from “Two & a Half Men”)

The phrase “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” is used to say that any scandalous activities that happen when one travels in a group shouldn’t be discussed with others afterward. Alain refers to the saying, but in a more literal way. He encourages his brother to be careful because if he’s not, there can be consequences.

# 11

What kinds of music do planets sing? Neptunes.

(from “The Big Bang Theory”)

Do you remember the when-is-a-door-not-a-door pun? This Neptunes joke is similar to that one. Neptunes sounds like a few Neptunes, which makes little sense since there is only one planet Neptune. But it also sounds like a kind of tunes, and a tune is music. This is a good example of a pun whose humorous effect depends on the similar sound of words rather than their meanings.

If you have any questions about the puns we have covered, or some puns to share, we’ll be glad to hear from you. Thank you for reading!

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