The Grammarphobia Blog

Puns and other moat points

Q: During an appearance by Pat on the Leonard Lopate Show over the summer, she paused to take note of a pun by the host that scored a perfect ten on the scale of punishment. Would Pat share some of her favorite Lopate puns?

A: During the WNYC show you refer to, Leonard made a truly atrocious pun when Pat mentioned that New Zealanders seem to lose their “Kiwi” accents when they sing.

Leonard’s comment: “That’s amaori” (a pun on the song title “That’s Amore”).

We love far-reaching puns, so when we say “truly atrocious” we mean that in an admiring way. And Leonard is an incurable punster (as are we). A few random examples:

● A listener called to talk about the difference between two rhetorical devices, metonymy and synecdoche. Leonard pointed out that one of them is a town in upstate New York (a pun on Schenectady).

● When Pat offered to check out a derivation in a reference book called Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, he said, “It’s the yeast you can do.”

● Pat mentioned that she’d heard a commentator on the Weather Channel describe Albany after a snowfall as looking “like something out of a Burl & Ives print.” Leonard’s comment: “Well they weren’t going to curry any favor with that one.”

● During a discussion of military terms, a caller mentioned that four divisions made an army. Leonard’s reply: “Well, that explains long division.”

● During another discussion of military terms and the language of war, Leonard asked a caller, “Are you crying Wolfowitz here?” (a pun on the former Pentagon official Paul Wolfowitz).  

● In a discussion of the pronouns “who” and “whom,” Leonard declared that “whom is where the heart is.”

● One afternoon the word “turntable” came up, as an example of words that had become almost archaic because of changes in technology. Pat mentioned that the only place you see a turntable now is inside a microwave oven. Leonard’s observation: “That’s where you play hot jazz.”

●And in case you hadn’t noticed, Leonard has fabulous taste in music. He knows his jazz—also blues, swing, rock, pop, but particularly jazz. On one show he and Pat talked about a word coined by James Joyce, “ubicity,” whose stem is “ubi,” meaning everywhere. Leonard remarked that it obviously originated with Eubie Blake (the jazz composer and pianist).

We can’t end this without noting that one of Leonard’s puns gave us the title of a chapter in Origins of the Specious, our book about language myths and misconceptions.

When a caller asked about the garbled expression “in high dungeon” and wondered how a dungeon could be upstairs, Leonard quipped: “That’s a moat point.”

The title of our chapter on malapropisms, spoonerisms, mondegreens, etc.: “In High Dungeon: And Other Moat Points.”

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