Guide to Literary Terms

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What is the definition of pun?

The definition of pun is a humorous phrase that plays on the multiple meanings of words.

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Last Updated May 25, 2023.

A pun, or paronomasia, is a word or phrase used humorously to suggest multiple meanings and other meanings. While puns are sometimes dismissed as "the lowest form of humor," their ambiguous language can allow them to communicate complicated ideas. Puns occur in all languages and have existed since ancient times. Writers use puns to amuse and capture readers' attention and demonstrate wittiness. 

The exact origin of the word pun is unknown. Still, it may come from the Italian word punctilio, meaning "quibble," from the Latin word punctum, meaning "point."

The Odyssey by Homer contains one of the first known puns in Western literature. When trapped in a cave by Polyphemus, Odysseus tells the giant that his name is Outis, the Greek word for "nothing." When Odysseus begins attacking Polyphemus, the giant calls out, "Nobody is killing me!" As a result, his friends don't come to help him, and Odysseus escapes. 

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