The Pun Is the Most French Form of Humor

I’ve often been struck by how much French humor relies on puns and wordplay. I suspect that this has to do with how easy it is to make puns in French vs. English. For instance, every time I pass the canned foods aisle at the grocery store, I think of how “ravioli” in French is a near-homonym for “delighted in bed”. And I just ran across the song “Aux sombres héros de l’amer”, meaning “To the dark heroes of bitterness”; but as TehPedia points out, this can also be heard as “O Sombrero of the Sea”.

These aren’t isolated incidents. It’s fairly easy, in French, to construct whole phrases that can be heard in two different ways without too much forcing (more or less, and depending on the punster’s skill with words, of course), and that opens up whole areas of wordplay. I’ve occasionally heard sentences in casual conversation that could be heard two ways (usually in just one or two words, though) and had to ask the speaker which one they meant.

In English, in contrast, the only three-word pun that I’m aware of is the story of the man who gave his three sons some land, so they decided to turn it into a cattle ranch called “Focus” because that’s where the sons raise meat (sun’s rays meet).

I don’t know whether anyone has studied phoneme frequencies in French and English, but I suspect that it would show that in French, phonemes are much more clustered than in English, i.e., the same sounds and groups of sounds tend to be used over and over. Maybe word length has something to do with it as well.

In English, puns often seem forced, which is probably why they’re looked down upon. Whereas in French, it’s comparatively easy to come up with a pun that flows much more naturally in both interpretations.

On the other hand, if it’s any consolation to English monoglots, a sentence like “Windows just went tits-up; Microsoft is full of fail” is practically untranslatable.

This entry was posted in Miscellaneous, Things I've Learned and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Pun Is the Most French Form of Humor

  1. Olivier says:

    Just having a chat with my French aunt about puns, trying to explain in English what they are. Jumped on google to see what they are called in French, and I find this website. Very informative and incredibly interesting. But Christ, the last line is one of the funniest things I’ve ever read!

    I burst out laughing, and then had to attempt to explain and translate – indeed an impossible feat.

    Thanks for the read mate.


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