What is the primary source for the quote "the pun is the lowest tipe of wit"? How is it connected with Dr. Samuel Johnson and John Dryden?  

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ms-mcgregor | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Actually, the quote "The pun is the lowest form of wit" is attributed to the English dramatist John Dennis who wrote this opinion about 300 years ago. However, the pun, which is also known by the term "paraonomasia" has been around much longer than Dennis. Homer's Odyssey has one of the earliest known literary puns. "In the epic, Odysseus identifies himself as “Nobody” when he’s captured by a one-eyed giant. Later, when Odysseus puts out the giant’s eye, the giant cries for help, yelling, “Nobody is killing me!” Shakespeare plays are full of puns. In fact, books have been written simply on the puns of Shakespeare.

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teachersage | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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This quote appears in various iterations that trace back to John Dennis, a playwright of the early eighteenth century. In The Gentleman's Magazine he remarked that "A man who could make so vile a pun would not scruple to pick a pocket." According to at least one account, Dennis was responding to a particularly bad pun, in which the lack of a waiter, called a "drawer," in a tavern was likened to the lack of a drawer in a table.

John Dryden was a friend of Dennis's who disliked punning in general, saying it would "torture one poor word ten thousand ways."

Samuel Johnson agreed, calling puns the lowest form of humor. 

All three men were products of the Augustan or Neoclassical period in English literature of the 18th century, in which the elegant and dignified literary forms of the Greeks and Roman were much admired and imitated. Words should slide off the page easily and transparently, preferably in smoothly rhyming couplets. Any writing that would "torture" language, from metaphysical poetry, with its unusual metaphors, to puns was looked down upon. Of course, the tendency to pun nevertheless remained and remains irresistible. 

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