Accessible Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton August 7, 2019

Once a pun a time: Exploring factors associated with perceptions of humorous punning

Richard H. Smith, Charles E. Hoogland and Edward G. Brown
From the journal HUMOR


Using participants’ reactions to puns (words or phrases with two or more possible meanings) embedded in hypothetical scenarios, we investigated how perceptions of punning are influenced by characteristics of both the social situation and the punster. Consistent with the reversal theory of humor, Study 1 (N=185) showed that puns are considered funnier and more appropriate in playful than serious situations and less appropriate when they interrupt conversation than when they complete a conversation sequence without causing an interruption. Consistent with age-based developmental expectations of punsters, Study 2 (N=333) indicated that obvious puns told by children are perceived more favorably than those told by adults of varying ages and levels of expertise in the subject area of the pun. Future research might benefit from using more naturalistic settings and examining the extent to which various contemporary humor frameworks (e.g. benign violations theory) apply more specifically to punning in context.

Keywords: puns; humor

1 Appendix

Outcome Measures, Studies 1 and 2

  1. The pun was funny.

  2. The pun was inappropriate.

  3. The pun was clever.

  4. The pun was surprising.

  5. The pun made me groan.

  6. The pun was a good one.

  7. The pun was a bad one.

  8. The pun was disruptive.*

  9. The pun fit the situation.

  10. The pun helped move the interaction along.

  11. The situation before the pun was playful or lighthearted.*

  12. The situation before the pun was serious.*

  13. The pun was humorous.

  14. The pun was fresh and original.

  15. The pun was obvious and ordinary.

  16. The pun was an irritating interruption.*

  17. The pun made me smile.

  18. The pun should not have been said in this situation.

  19. The person who said the pun was very young.**

  20. The person who said the pun had in-depth knowledge about the topic related to the pun.**

Note: *Item present in Study 1 only. **Item present in Study 2 only.


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Published Online: 2019-08-07
Published in Print: 2020-02-25

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