Jewish World Review August 22, 2002 / 14 Elul, 5762

Richard Lederer

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Consumer Reports

Jest for the pun of it | This past May, Gary Hallock invited pun-up girls and pun gents from all around the whirled world to sharpen their pun cells at the 25th Annual O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships, in Austin, Texas.

Wise guys of both major sexes
Have traveled to battle in Texas,
  With motor-mouths running
  And linguistics cunning.
In punning we all find our nexus.

What every non-punster suspects is
That surely loud groaning will vex us.
  But don't call us "Shirley."
  Just show up there early.
Remember our lexis protects us.

Austin is, of course, the capital of Texas and the perfect place for capital pun-ishment. The event, held the first weekend in May nearby the 1891 home of turn-of-the century short story writer O.Henry, began in 1977. The Pun-Off typically attracts upwards of 400 pundits and punheads. "They just keep coming back because everybody is so annual retentive," winks Hallock, the event's lone arranger and cheerman of the bored.. "We don't mind people who are not punsters in the audience because we can enroll them in our Witless Protection Program."

As International Punster of the Year, an honor I received in 1990 from the International Save the Pun Foundation, I was invited to judge and to perform during the break between the first and second competitions. I continue to bask in the bright after glow of my rewording experience at the Pun-Off. The throng may be over, but the malady lingers on.

Punsters can compete in two events. In Punniest of Show, entrants have up to two minutes to perform a prepared monologue. In High Lies & Low Puns, punslingers shoot from the quip at each other, two or three at a time, dueling and fooling with a topic given on the spot. Subjects include body parts, music, sports, food and money, and each punslinger is allotted five seconds to fire off a topical prey on words. When contestants run out of bullet surprises, they're outta there. The last punster standing - this year it was Brian Snider, of Austin - wins the coveted first-place trophy. It's shaped like the nether part of an equine -- a blue ribbin' made horseflesh.

Jim Ertner, of Boston, Massachusetts, was voted Punniest of Show, after a tie-breaking clap-off with Tiffany Wimberly, of Fayetteville, Arkansas. Jim is my co-author of The Biggest Book of Animal Riddles, and his beastly monologue reveals what a party animal he is:

There's a little known animal that begins with the letter X. It's actually a Greek swordfish, spelled X-I-P-H-I-I-D-A-E, and it's pronounced ZIFF-EYE-IH-DEE.

As Paul Harvey might say, "Now for the rest of the story." I'd like to present an ABC primer on animal puns.

AARDVARK a million miles to put 26 animal puns in alphabetical order. I'd BADGER you and I'd keep CARPING on the subject, until I have no i-DEERs left. I'd have no EGRETs, however, as I FERRET out more animal puns. If necessary, I'd even GOPHER broke. Some may say it's a HARE-brained attempt; but, IGUANA tell you, I'm no JACKASS -- and I KID you not. I'm not doing this for a LARK (although maybe just a MITE).

So don't NAG me. In fact, you OTTER try to PARROT me. But don't QUAIL from the challenge. After all, you don't have to be a RACCOON-teur. So just SALMON up some courage, before you take a TERN for the worse. Don't be afraid of people saying to you, "UNICORNiest person I know." Stop crying and VIPER nose. Then say, "WALLABY a son-of-a-gun," and start singing, "Zip-a-dee doo-dah, XIPHIIDAE ay." Soon you'll be a YAK-of-all-trades, and can put all of these animal puns in a book called "Who's ZOO."

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JWR contributor Richard Lederer is a language maven. More than a million of his books, which have been Book-of-the-Month Club and Literary Guild alternate selections, are in print. He is the host of "A Way With Words," on KPBS, San Diego Public Radio, and a regular guest on weekend "All Things Considered." He was awarded the Golden Gavel for 2002 by Toastmasters International. Comment by clicking here.


08/08/02: Hop up to the kangaroo words
08/01/02: A pouchful of synonyms
07/11/02: Poli-Tickle Speeches
06/27/02: Suppository questions
06/20/02: George Orwell is looking at you
06/06/02: Jest for the health of it
05/30/02: It is truly astonishing what havoc students can wreak on the chronicles of the human race
05/16/02: A bilingual pun is twice the fun!
05/09/02: What's in a president's name?
05/03/02: Slang as it is slung
04/25/02: Abstemious words
04/19/02: This Riddle Isn't Letter-Perfect

© 2002, Richard Lederer