Hear here?

Hear here challenges you on puns.

As you will have been discovering, English is particularly rich in puns (homophones) ~ pairs of words which look and/or sound identical, and can lead to confusion ... intentionally or otherwise.

How good are you at identifying and dealing with puns? Let's see!

  1. An English friend invites you to join her and her family for a weekend away: camping, perhaps, or in a remote cottage. You are a bit apprehensive about 'keeping up' in English, and also about what there will be to do; your friend appears to assure you 'there are usually plenty of bored games'.
    What is the meaning of this?
    Answer 4 is correct: yes, you misheard 'board' as 'bored' perhaps.
  2. (This Question is to be regarded only as a 'Christmas-cracker style joke', and not as a guide to psychiatric or medical illness, nor treatment of these!)
    'What is the simplest cure for water on the brain?'
    'Water on the brain' ( = hydrocephalus) is of course a serious and threatening condition; but taken in a much more simplistic sense, the best way to let water run away is to open a tap (as into a bathroom basin). Meanwhile of course, 'a tap on the head' uses the other sense of 'tap' (a quick, probably fairly light blow). None of the other Answers matches 'like with like' in quite this same silly way.
  3. 'Knock, knock!'
    'Who's there?'
    'Fred who?' ... ...
    The puns here depend slightly on poor pronunciation: Answer 1 offers 'Fred' as a common (and/or childish) mispronunciation of 'thread', while Answer 2 (probably slightly the stronger) has it as an elision for ' 'fraid' ( = 'I'm afraid [that] ... ' ).
    Answer 3 refers to a long-running newspaper cartoon strip about a dog, but there isn't really a pun there; Answer 4 was the nickname of a banker in the news around 2010 as a ruthless manager ('shredding', i.e. getting rid of employees wherever he could).
    The 'Knock, knock!' joke is a very old form of joke in English ~ usually involving some similarly awful weak pun ~ and always hinges on an unexpected name-like phrase in the final line.
  4. As you travel along a road you see a large sign warning of
    What does this mean?
    'Plant' in this context means 'machinery' (as in 'plant hire' centres, where you might go to hire a concrete-mixer etc.), so Answer 3 is right. Please ignore any nightmare suggestions elsewhere!
  5. You pay a return visit to some old friends and notice that their clock, which used to chime, is still in its position but not actually running. One of your hosts says,
    'Oh yes, we reckon something went wrong back in the spring.'
    How might you best respond to this?
    This comes down to 'spring' (a metal mechanical component which stores or responds to tension) as distinct from 'spring' (the season when 'nature wakes up again outdoors' after the winter), though of course there are other meanings (e.g. 'to spring into action', i.e. suddenly to start moving, as though powered by a spring like the one inside the clock).
    Answer 2 is therefore the best; the others are ingenious but unlikely.
  6. During your stay in Britain you need to see a doctor. There is a medical centre not far from where you are staying, with the names of the doctors listed on a signboard outside. Which doctor would you be most likely to prefer to see, if you are allowed any choice in the matter?
    The first three Doctors each have names that may seem offputting: 'Flew' sounds like 'flu' ( = influenza ), though your present writer was for several years very happily treated by a doctor with this name, long since dead himself of old age and natural causes; 'green' is the colour we associate with illness ('she was looking rather green after the rough ferry crossing') and certainly there is nothing naturally green about the healthy human body ~ except the eyes, in fairly unusual cases. 'Dr. Payne' sounds as though he may cause as much discomfort as he cures, though again there may be many perfectly good and competent doctors out there who happen to have this name and take the jokes in good spirit.
    'Dr. Shipman' sounds innocent enough, except that there happened to be a serial killer of elderly patients by this name, active in Manchester several years ago. Anybody who was alive and following British news at the time would be expected to be aware of this, and no other doctors still practising under this name should fall under any suspicion whatever.
  7. You are watching a news programme when a report comes on about European Union farming directives ~ bear in mind that many British people have strong and conflicting views about 'Brussels interfering' with the British way of life and landscape.
    In this case it seems that 'Brussels' has declared that all healthy newborn farm mammals should not only be fitted with an ID tag as soon as it is safe (medically etc.) to do so, but that the ID information should be machine-readable with a hand-held scanner, i.e. that 'the animal's unique reference number should appear in the form of a bar-code'.
    At this point, a close-up picture is shown of a little newborn lamb, and your host begins roaring with laughter; why so?
    Yes, this appears to be a pun (of sorts) on 'bar' and 'baa'.
    (Make what you like of this as an example of English humour ... though we bet your own language probably has similarly bizarre 'accidents' in it sometimes!)
  8. Another fertile field for English puns involves names of people (a bit as with the 'knock, knock!' jokes, but more so). Where a woman marries and changes her surname in the traditional manner, she may end up with an awkward and/or unfortunate name such as Chris Cross, Sally Forth (not much harm in that one actually: look it up) or Mona Lott ( = 'moan a lot' ).
    Only ONE of these names appears to be clear of any such other meaning: which one?
    Claudia (Answer 1) may be pronounced either as 'claw-di-yer' or 'clow-di-yer' (1st syllable rhyming with 'cow'), which gives a sound very like 'cloudier day' ~ a typical downbeat British weather reference. Carol singers (Answer 2) come round towards Christmas to sing seasonal songs in public places and maybe at people's doorsteps, possibly also collecting money for good causes ~ while indeed there may be many a holly berry (Answer 4), or more likely several, on people's cards and decorations.
    Meanwhile there seems to be nothing untoward about the name in Answer 3.
  9. A further eye- and ear-catching arena for puns is in the creation and advertising of trade names (for businesses such as shops, that wish to be remembered when customers are looking for such a service).
    Which is the only business listed below that does NOT use, or happen to incorporate, a pun in its name?
    The surnames in Answers 1 and 3 are entirely genuine (have a look in any phone book) but work particularly well in their contexts here: a stationery shop (not the same thing as stationAry, though presumably it doesn't move around!) sells material for people to 'read and write', and a garage will deal mainly in cars ('Kerrs'; you may not have known the slightly irregular pronunciation of this Scots family name). The bakery at Cookham (a village beside the Thames, not far upstream from Windsor, and pronounced like 'cook-'em') may well exist under just that highly appropriate name.
    The odd one out this time was Lorna's Laundry at Answer 2 ~ which contains an echo, but no actual pun as such.
  10. On the television news you catch a report about a high-profile rock group, who have (so you believe you hear) 'been detained at Heathrow Airport, on return from a sell-out European tour, for being in suspected possession of a range of band substances.'
    An English friend who was watching the bulletin with you comments, a little wryly: 'Well, they would, wouldn't they?'.
    What is going on here, at the linguistic level?
    Yes: you saw the pictures and immediately thought 'band', and when you heard an identical-sounding word, your brain was distracted into not realising it was in fact the participal adjective from the verb 'to ban' ( = to forbid). An easy enough mistake to make in the circumstances!

Author: Ian Miles

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