This Headline Contains No Puns

Here is the beginning of the New York Times stylebook’s entry for “puns.”

puns have a place in the newspaper, but as a trace element rather than a staple. A pun should be a surprise encounter, evoking a sly smile rather than a groan and flattering the intelligence of a reader who gets the joke. Plays on personal names never qualify; no one will be flattered to read, say, that a pitcher named Butcher carved up the opposing team.

It goes on from there, too longwindedly for my taste, but the basic advice seems sound for a newspaper (or hell, even for a blog) that aspires to a dignified tone (who could begrudge the Post or Daily News their front-page puns?). I don’t know if the Los Angeles Times has any similar guideline, but an article in Friday’s LA Times, about Czech women who choose not to add the feminine “ova” to their last names, bore the following headline and subhead:

Being a Czech mate can cause women pain and suffix

Their society and the very language have an ‘ova-reaction’ to eliminating last names’ feminine endings

I count three puns in 25 words (a 12 percent pun rate!), and none of them particularly flatter me. “Pain and suffix” is especially clumsy. The article itself is unobjectionable—even interesting!—and blessedly pun-free until the final few paragraphs. Is this what happens when you halve your editorial staff in less than a decade?

14 Responses to “This Headline Contains No Puns”

  1. wordnerd says:

    It’s not a pun, but the last word this paragraph from the front page of today’s Times amused a certain 9 year old:

    Mr. Zelaya, a leftist aligned with President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, angrily denounced the coup as illegal. “I am the president of Honduras,” he insisted at the airport in San José, Costa Rica, still wearing his pajamas.

  2. ruth gutmann says:

    Did you count “ova”? – funny to me since that is the syllable some of these women want to get rid off.

  3. dc says:

    I counted “ova-reaction” (over-reaction) along with “Czech mate” (checkmate!), “pain and suffix” (pain and suffering: groan!). Did I miss any others? They put “ova-reaction” in quotation marks because the article quotes a Czech website which made that pun first, so the LA Times is only half responsible for that one.

  4. wordnerd says:

    They switched to “bedclothes” in today’s paper. Does the stylebook discuss the respect due Central American coup vicitims?

  5. dc says:

    Doesn’t “bedclothes” typically denote clothing for the bed, such as sheets and blankets, rather than clothing for the person who sleeps in the bed? The NYT needs to get its story straight!

  6. wordnerd says:

    Here’s the quote:

    The crisis in Honduras, where members of the country’s military abruptly awakened President Manuel Zelaya on Sunday and forced him out of the country in his bedclothes…

    They sound pretty impolite, stripping the bed after abruptly awakening its inhabitant.

  7. avoice says:

    I stand firmly in favor of pun infliction even if it devolves to punishment. I have been abused by punsters so why shouldn’t the world as a hole suffer the same indignity? As for the “ova” reaction,well, as a card-carrying Slav whose language almost always requires an alteration between a man and woman’s cognomen as in Constantinopolikiewicz vs. Constantinoplolikiewiczowa, I say, what difference does it make?

  8. avoice says:

    There should be a standard developed for how best to treat victims of coups. It seems that if the victims are people we as a great nation like, they are treated with much greater sympathy and with references to communist plots than if the victims are unliked by America, in which case puns are often offered. I think a committee should be formed to consider this anomaly and develop strategies to correct the imbalance.

  9. avoice says:

    Apparently the recently removed President of Honduras is out of his bedclothes and has garnered the support of most of the governments of North/South America who are demanding his return to power in Honduras mostly on the grounds that he, after all, despite his many faults, was elected and that, notwithstanding local customs, this should count for something.

  10. ruth gutmann says:

    Apparently Mr. Zelaya was both transgressor and victim. It’s the usual “other side of the story.” He disobeyed the Honduras Supreme Court among other transgressions. And I wonder whether Hugo Chavez is the right defense lawyer. The military is now said to have been ordered by said Supreme Court to ship Mr. Zelaya out. The military did not take over the government. Even so, it was not the most democratic method to depose Zelaya.

  11. dc says:

    The main excuse for toppling Zelaya seems to be that he was scheming to engineer an extension of his tenure. If that’s grounds for a coup, then I guess Bloomberg should fear being removed from the mayor’s office by the NYPD, since he is also scheming to engineer an extension of his tenure. I doubt Schwarzenegger will try any similar schemes next year — I would guess he’s had enough of being governor by now. We’ll probably end up with Jerry Brown again. What a world…

  12. wordnerd says:

    Jerry Brown might wear his pajamas to the office.

  13. avoice says:

    That’s a possibility. I don’t think he wears socks.

  14. avoice says:

    “We will not retreat,” she said, “and Zelaya’s return is not negotiable.” A quote from the Honduran Assistant foreign minister. That’s it then, I suppose. The great people of Honduras have drawn a line in the sand. They will be ousted from OAS, but they’re spunky and they wouldn’t be pushed around.

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