The Atlantic

Why Do Puns Make People Groan?

The once-exalted form of wordplay takes a lot of heat these days.
Source: Eckehard Schulz / AP

Sometimes in life, I’m just trying to have a little fun with some wordplay, and the people around me aren’t having it. They’d rather have no pun at all.

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I imagine a good portion of readers saw that and are now groaning, cursing me, or just not reading this article anymore. When it comes to puns, it often seems like people are either lovers or haters—they can take them or leave them, make them or grieve them.

The pun-haters are in storied company. They can count among their ranks Samuel Johnson, author of the 1755 —not the first English dictionary, but one of the most influential before the came along. It took him nine years to nail 42,000 slippery definitions to the page, so it’s understandable that he might take it a bit personally when people messed with

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