A punny thing happened…

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IT was only a small story, but my eye wandered to the item beneath this headline: “Police say sorry for egg theft appeal full of puns.”

Ah, dangerous things puns. Now I like a good pun and a bad one even better. In my time I have been a bit of a pun-slinger, but an addiction to wordplay can go too far.

Puns divide people, but they are hard to avoid if you work on newspapers. Always tripping over the things in those places. Perhaps that was why the police in Lancashire behaved as they did, thinking: well, it’s what newspapers do. Or maybe like the film director Alfred Hitchcock, they believed that “puns are the highest form of literature”.

Whatever the case, they were certainly not in the same league as Dorothy Parker, whose puns were as sharp as her tongue, as witnessed by the following: “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.”

No, it is safe to say that the police in Lancashire were more in the league of the newspaper reporter who reaches for an oft-used pun, blows off the dust and pops it into a sentence in the spirit of dreary duty.

The pun is question was the egg one. That might almost be enough information if you’ve read a newspaper or two, or worked on a newspaper or three.

Anyway the police in Morecambe originally put out an appeal about the theft of eggs from a chicken sanctuary. In this they said: “We are asking for assistance with an eggtraordinary crime! We need to identify the chap in the picture who we need to speak to regarding the theft of eggs. We have scrambled the troops to try our best to detect this crime!!”

There was more, including a parting: “Thank you yolks… sorry I mean folks!!”

Tina Wilkinson, the owner of the chicken sanctuary, was not amused and asked for an apology, as reported in her local newspaper. How she felt about all those exclamation marks is not recorded.

Inspector Kirstie Banks-Lyon issued an apology on Facebook, proving that everything happens on Facebook these days.

Now the trouble with puns is that sometimes they try too hard. A good pun, like a good joke, should appear effortless. The difficulty comes when you can see the strings. Variations of the egg pun fill newspapers up and down the land at Easter. After which time they should be poached, coddled, fried – or boiled and cracked on the head.

What happened here was that the chicken lady of Morecambe saw the puns as somehow lacking in respect. She thought the police were not taking the crime seriously, and was offended.

There is a lesson here in the use of puns. Not everyone will be amused. No, scratch that – no one in all the far raddled corners of the universe will be amused by the egg pun. So either drop it or think of something better.

Now you might think that pun is a short word, and so it is, but it does have a posh cousin with more syllables up its sleeve: paronomasia. I confess that was new to me until a moment ago, but it comes from a meeting of Latin and Greek, and means “to make a slight name change”.

The British have long liked a pun. Think of all those old Carry On films that knitted hoary puns using a clacking pair of innuendo needles.

In a sense a pun is language pinching itself to check it is still awake. We know a pun is silly, but most of us enjoy a good one. Tired old puns a little less. And egg ones not at all.

Some comedians build a living out of puns. Here are two from Milton Jones, who always makes me laugh.

“When I was young I baked an apple tart. I took it to Leeds, Liverpool and Reading. All because my teacher said make sure you take pie to 3 dismal places.”

The second one even nuzzles up to topicality as we think of David Cameron’s ducking and diving: “People are hiding money offshore and you’ve got to really know what you’re doing with that. ’Cos I fell out of the boat six times.”

Incidentally, we now know why the chicken crossed the road. It was to get away from all the awful eggs jokes.

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