A Careful Consideration on the Best Puns of All Time

It sometimes falls to a writer to dissuade his readers from the patently false conclusions made by other, lesser scribes. Judgments are passed, critiques are made and even entire books are written on the subtleties and merits of a wide variety of artistic and scholarly works. Indeed, in this day and age, every scholar and nitwit will have his say.

The more erudite scholar, on the other hand, will hold his expertise close to the vest. With this fact in mind, it would be imprudent and ignoble of me to cast aspersions upon the meanderings made by my fellow critics in most of those other lofty and rarefied arenas. Instead, I will offer my expertise in the small, confined area of wordplay known as the pun.


The Basics

While a keen eye and ear can readily identify the most ostentatious, though shallow, examples of punnery, it takes a credentialed punnologist to identify the best of the best. Mere instances of shoddy banter will not suffice. Do not bother me with the story of the three-legged dog who walks into a bar and wants to find the man who “shot his paw.” It is clearly identifiable as poorly executed and not identifiable as the best type of pun. In short, it will be dismissed out of hand. Pardon the pun.

I also, most certainly, do not refer to the obviously contrived stories such as the one involving the staid Englishman, Qantas Airlines and the destination city of Mercy where the punch line of the story is “the koala tea of mercy is not strained.” For shame, that punch line is hardly worthy to include the single word, “pun” much less the rest of the phrase. Without a doubt, it is a mockery of the Bard, spelling in general and animal rights.


A Sense of Subtlety

Instead of contrived overstatement, I have looked for a compelling story, a truly egregious pun but, all the while, one that is not anticipated by the listener; a story that, unlike the queue in Jonestown, Guyana, must not be left because the punch line is too long.

Here then are three of the most incredibly bad, read that GREAT, puns of all time.


The Physics Student

A noted mathematics student strolled through the halls of Princeton on his way to differential calculus. A wizened professor of particle physics stopped him and asked his name. The student answered and was shocked when the Nobel laureate told him, point blank, that he was wasting his talents in the mathematics department. Instead the professor cautioned that he should become his protégé in the physics world.

The student more than nonplussed agreed to make a decision by the next day. The student asked all his friends and mentors and was advised by each to take the position offered by the esteemed professor. And so he did.

On the day of his arrival in the physics class, the professor was visibly relieved to see the young student and immediately set him upon the task of cleaning the inside of the barrel of a main gun taken from an obsolete battleship from World War II.

Though the gun itself was massive, the barrel was quite narrrow. Still, the student, due to his diminutive frame, was just able to enter it. It was explained that since the cleaned -out bore was to be used in an advanced particle detector that it must be absolutely spotless.

Naturally, the student followed the professor’s instructions and worked diligently to clean the inside of the gun but, after three weeks of nothing but filth and cleaning chemicals, he became disillusioned at his role in the physics experiment. Over time, he became more and more distressed at his predicament.

Finally, he determined to confront the professor and resolve the situation. On the following morning, when the professor arrived, the student, in a tremulous voice, confronted his teacher with the words, “Professor, I gave up a promising career in mathematics to follow YOU into physics and yet, all you have me do is clean the inside of this gun barrel. Sir, I quit.”

At this, the professor became quite agitated and exclaimed, “My boy, you can’t do this. Where shall I find another student of your caliber?” 

You think that was bad? It gets far, far worse.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

At the time of this story, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Quasimodo was employed as the sole bell ringer for the Cathedral of Notre Dame. As such, it was his responsibility to find a replacement when he went on vacation. To this end, in the middle of July , he put up an advertisement in the village square requiring the services of a bell ringer for two weeks.

Some time passed and Quasimodo grew worried that no one would answer the ad. But, in due course, a young man arrived desirous of the job. Quasimodo was skeptical as the man appeared to be an idiot but as the hunchback had no other takers he decided to take a chance.

He took the man to the top of the steeple and showed him how to ring the bell. “Watch,” he said, “Push the bell and then duck your head.” He then demonstrated the technique flawlessly and the bell rang out true and clear for everyone in Paris to hear.

Next the young man tried but forgot to duck and was thrown against th side of the tower when the bell crashed into him. “ No,” cried Quasimodo, “Watch.” He again demonstrated the technique of pushing and ducking.

The young man nodded his understanding and pushed the bell with all his might but again forgot to duck. He was struck most forcefully and fell from the top of tower, a height of almost 100 meters. There was no doubt, he plunged to his death. Quasimodo rushed downstairs and saw that a crowd had gathered around the dead young man and included at least one member of the police.

As the policeman went through the pockets of the dead young man he found no identification of any kind. When he asks if anyone knows the man, Quasimodo replied, “I don’t know who he is but his face rings a bell.”


Any of you who groaned can now leave the room. We have saved the best for last and for those most appreciative of an excellent pun.



The Brother

It so happens that the brother of the young man is in the crowd and also in need of some employment. He indicates that he understands that his brother was an idiot and there are no had feelings. He then begs the hunchback for the very same job. The hunchback looks to the sky for guidance but with none forthcoming decides that he would still like to go on vacation and offers the job to the brother.

Again, they travel to the top of the tower. Again Quasimodo demonstrates the proper technique and again the young man fails miserably in his attempt and is thrown from the tower. As the hunchback enters the square, he sees the same crowd and the same policeman. He doesn’t know what to do. As he approaches, the policeman again says that the young man has no identification and wants to know if anyone knows him. The hunchback can only shrug his shoulders and say, “I don’t know who he is but he is a dead ringer for his brother.”


In the End

Some may say that these are not the three greatest puns of all time but we are not cowed by your criticism. We have done our homework. We have tested countless stories and puns. On average only the eleventh made everyone laugh. The others didn’t. Seriously, no pun in ten did. Make of them as you will.