Let’s Talk Seriously About Puns

In this article I want to discuss the most commonly used creative approach. We see it in advertisements and Art, and it originated in the English speaking countries.

Usually people take a set phrase, which is well known to the wide public, or at least to the target audience, and change one word with another one.

An example could be substituting the title of the popular book Arabian Nights with Arabian Days. I did that to name a pair of earrings, which were looking very Arabian to me with their style. They were yellow like the bright sunshine during the day, which became the reason to use days instead of nights.

Another example could be a pun with the megapopular book name Harry Potter and turning it to Happy Potter. This is the name of a shop that sells pottery. Happy and Harry sound very much alike, only one sound is different.

The words should either sound alike or be antonyms.  Another option could be to use words under the same “umbrella” like seasons, days of the week etc.

This is possible both visually and verbally.

The old set phrase and the new one are interacting with each other, they remain together and are interrelated. This creative approach is used to deride, or on the contrary – to take a bow to a great person and his or her creations.

The Video to the Song “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley

Crazy by Gnarls Barkley
A video inspired by the Rorshach inkblot test

Gnarls Barkley is an American duo. The song they made a splash with is called “Crazy”.  Its video is what fascinated me. The director is Robert Hales and he won numerous awards for his creation.

The base for it is the popular Rorschach Inkblot Test, which is more commonly used and known in the USA than in Europe, though it was first created by a Swiss psychologist – Hermann Rorschach.

This is a test that is used to diagnose psychological problems. The subject of the research is given an inkblot and he should explain what it looks like to him. Each of the colorful spots is a stimulus for associations. The test is based on the assumption that what a person sees determines his personality.

But let’s go back to the video. I should admit that its visual part and the lyrics are intertwined in an exquisite way. It is impossible to separate them. The author of the text is asking if he is crazy and the Rorschach inkblot test gives an answer to this.

Hales illustrates the lyrics with all kinds of objects that can be seen in an inkblot. For example – heart-shaped smoke coming out of guns, birds and all kinds of insects like bugs and caterpillars. Everything is moving and is interconnected.

Suddenly, we see Cee Lo Green (the vocalist) with horns on his head. They are usually associated with the devil – the reason for all evil, and madness could lead to wrong-doing.

This was a visual representation of this creative approach. Let us discuss a verbal one.

 Watergate Scandal

In a nutshell, the Watergate scandal started with the burglary of the Democratic party headquarters, situated in Watergate office complex, by five people related to the then president Richard Nixon. It lasted for two years and eventually led to his impeachment.

Since then journalists started adding “-gate” suffix to different words when referring to political scandals. Its usage has spread beyond English speaking countries.

As a CBC News column noted in 2001, the term may “suggest unethical behavior or cover-up”.

One example is CamillaGate – the relationship between Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles. It shocked British society, which was madly in love with his lawful wife Princess Diana. When Prince Charles admitted he was in love with another woman, and even said he wanted to be her bikini, Britain was shocked.

MAGGI Advertisements

Another great example of good weaving of separate elements we can see in Maggi’s ads.

The products of this company save a lot of time to modern women, or to those who occasionally have to cook. All you need is the magic powder from the packet, some hot water, a spoon to stir it, and that is it. The dinner is ready in a matter of minutes.

Two of Maggi’s advertisements show us what could happen “If women spent less time cooking”.

On the first one we see mount Rushmore, but if we look closely, we will notice that instead of the heads of the four of the greatest presidents of USA, we see the heads of four women. The visual anecdote says that if women did something more important than cooking, they could become the presidents of the “country of the unlimited opportunities”. Or, like in the famous idiom, “they put their heads on mount Rushmore”.

To Put Someone's Face on Mount Rushmore
Like in the famous idiom “they put their heads on mount Rushmore”.

Here is the link to the advertisement:

https://www.adforum.com/creative-work/ad/player/6688918/mount-rushmore/maggi

On the other one we see a poster to the movie The Godfather. But again, instead of Marlon Brando, there is a woman with earrings. It is not The Godfather but The Godmother. The slogan is the same. By saving time away from cooking, we could achieve much more.

The Godmother

Here is the link to this one : https://www.adforum.com/talent/5160-alexandru-dumitrescu/work/6688920

What I think about all this is that food is a very important factor for our health and wellbeing. Lots of people are suffering from obesity caused by consumption of foods with high quantity of sugar, salt and additives, and Maggi’s products have loads of them.

But we should admit that the two ads are very original and innovative. Though this creative approach is typical of the English speaking countries, as I already mentioned, it was made by a Romanian agency.

To understand these puns, you need knowledge of certain facts and attention to detail.

The Winter of Our Discontent

The first person to use this expression was Shakespeare. It was mentioned in Richard III, and it means that the unhappiness is in the past.

This set phrase keeps being transformed by changing the word winter with another season. Martin Luther King uses „summer“ in a speech of his. In relation with what happens in the Arab countries, we started hearing “the spring of our discontent”.

Here are some other examples of the same creative approach:

No Country for Old Men (Coen brother’s movie) became No Country for Young Women (a BBC podcast) – antonyms used.

Make America Great Again (Donald Trump’s campaign slogan) became Make America Peaceful Again.

The hostile politics of the Trump’s administration to some foreign countries causes many people to wish that he was less aggressive, and Americans felt like their country was a peaceful place again.

Arab spring became Russian spring.

Probably some people expect that what happened in some Arab countries like Egypt and Tunisia in terms of rebellions against the political system, will happen in Russia too.

Godzilla became Work-zilla (a site where you can find a job).

The suffix –zilla is often used to mean that something is huge and very powerful.

Girl power became Grey Power.

The population of the developed countries around the world is aging. There are more people who are at an advanced age (that have grey hair) and they become a factor in the elections. Girl power was a slogan used by Spice girls, and it is closely related to feminism.

The prefix „wiki“ is often used to take some of the authority that wikipedia has gained, like in wikileaks, wikium and wikihow.

If you want to read more about puns, check this article out:

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