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use of words, usually humorous, based on (a) the several meanings of one word, (b) a similarity of meaning between words that are pronounced the same, or (c) the difference in meanings between two words pronounced the same and spelled somewhat similarly, e.g., Thomas Hood's "They went and told the sexton and the sexton tolled the bell." Puns have also been used seriously, as in the Bible, Mat. 16.18: "Thou art Peter [Gr. Petros], and upon this rock [Gr. petra] I will build my church."



a stylistic turn of phrase or the epigram of a particular author based on the humorous use of the identical sound of words that have different meanings, of words or phrases that have similar sounds, or of different meanings of the same word or phrase. Some of the forms of puns are as follows:

(1)Juxtaposition of homonyms:

OPTIMISTENKO: … U vas es’ zakliuchenie? (Are you finished?; Have you reached a finding?)

WOMAN PETITIONER: Net, batiushka, nel’zia emu zakliuchenie davat’… Mozhno, govoriat, ego na nedeliu zakliuchi’, a ia chego, batiushka, kusha’-to budu? (No, sir, he can’t be confined…. If he’s confined for a week, say, what will I eat meanwhile?)

V. V. Mayakovsky, The Bathhouse

[The pun is on the two meanings of the noun zakliuchenie and the verb zakliuchit’, which may mean “finding” and “to find” or “imprisonment” and “to imprison,” respectively.]

(2)Sound similarity of words in a narrow context:

Na vsiakogo zaveduiushchego est’ svoi zaviduiushschii. (Every director has one who envies him.)

E. Krotkii, Unwritten Fragments

[The similarity of the words zaveduiushchii, “director,” and zaviduiushchii, “one who envies,” is used.]

(3)Contrast of homophones:

Priiatno polaska’ ditia ili sobaku, no vsego neobkhodimee poloskar’ rot. (It’s nice to pet a child or dog, but to wet one’s whistle is even more important.)

Koz’ma Prutkov, Thoughts and Aphorisms

[The words polaskat’, “to pet” or “to caress,” and poloskat’, “to rinse” or “to wet one’s whistle,” have virtually identical pronunciation.]

(4)Juxtaposition of homographs:

la priekhal v Moskvu, plachú i plachú. (I came to Moscow, and now I’m paying and crying.)

P. A. Viazemskii, letter to V. F. Viazemskaia,

May 31, 1854

[The stress is the only means of distinguishing plachú, “I pay,” and plachú, “I cry.”]

(5)Breakdown of set phrases and imparting a new meaningto them:

On nes vzdor, no nes ego v zhurnaly. (He talked nonsense but took it to the newspapers.)

E. Krotkii, Unwritten Fragments

[The verb nesti is used here first in a figurative meaning, in nesti vzdor, “to talk nonsense,” and then in its literal meaning, “to carry,” “to take.”]

(6)Various meanings of the same word or phrase:

Est’p’esy nastol’koslabye, chto ne mogut soiti so stseny. (There are plays so weak that they cannot leave the stage.)

S. J. Lec, Unkempt Thoughts

[The word slabyi, which in the context would normally mean “of low quality,” is taken in its literal meaning, “weak.”]

(7)Jocular etymologizing:

—Khochesh’ chaiu, Nikanor? … (Want some tea, Nikanor? …)

—Net, spasibo, ia uzhe otchaialsia. (No thanks, I’ve already fallen into despair.)

E. Petrov, The Jokester

[Here a new, impossible meaning, “to have had enough tea,” is made up for the verb otchaiat’sia, “to despair,” based on its sound similarity to chai, “tea.”]

The use of the pun in conveying a thought imparts to it particular expressiveness, emotional coloring, and entertaining quality, enhancing the humorous or satirical effect.


Shcherbina, A. A. Sushchnost’ i iskusstvo slovesnoi ostroty (kalambura). Kiev, 1958.



the use of words or phrases to exploit ambiguities and innuendoes in their meaning, usually for humorous effect; a play on words. An example is: "Ben Battle was a soldier bold, And used to war's alarms: But a cannonball took off his legs, So he laid down his arms." (Thomas Hood)
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