For the Love of Poems and Puns
Valentine’s Day is smack in the middle of February. As such, some people also call it the Month of Love – including us. To commemorate this lovely fact, this post is dedicated to celebrating the L ♡ V E of what we do best – English!
Have you ever pondered on Valentine’s Day card greetings? While the classic type is oft-adorned with simple, swirling penmanship, fancier cards may feature cut-outs, pop-ups, graphics and the like – providing a pleasant visual surprise for the recipient.
Other cards may be fancy, but the cards that we fancy are those plastered with adorable wordplay – who knew! Be it poetry or puns, linguistic surprises always catch our heart. But how do they work?
The romantic nature of poems is a tale old as time – or at least, as old as Shakespeare. Some say that it was Shakespeare’s 154 love sonnets that pioneered the modern conception of poetry as romantic.
Indeed, several of the Bard’s pieces are truly iconic in their description of love. I dare say that many of us are familiar with the first line of Sonnet 18: “Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?”
(Bonus points if you can fill in the next sentence! Answers below)
Because poetry uses both the aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language, it can be effectively used to convey depth of love for someone or something. Of course, poetry can be flipped onto its head and thought of as
humorous. Case in point? “Roses are red, violets are blue…” (What are the next two lines?)
While we’re on the topic of humour, let’s not forget puns! Puns, also known by the technical term ‘paronomasia’, are rhetorical devices that intentionally exploit the similarities between words for comedic effect. Many puns rely on linguistic phenomena such as homophones.
(Sidenote: If you were not privy to the January edition of OnCampus, our monthly e-publication, homophones are words with the same pronunciation, but different meanings. You may sign up for future issues of OnCampus on the bottom of this page.]
As you may expect, homophones and near-homophones are a prolific source of Valentine’s puns.
A pun that uses total homophones would be something like “would you be(e) mine?” In this case, ‘be’ and ‘bee’ sound the exact same. This pun is usually accompanied by bee/honey imagery, as in this vintage Valentine’s Day card.
“Would you be(e) mine” graphic:
Image Credit to https://live.staticflickr.com/5557/15189206665_ddc68211bf_b.jpg
Meanwhile, a pun that incorporates near-homophones might be something like “lettuce (let us) romaine (remain) together forever”.
“Lettuce romaine together forever” graphic:
image credit to https://live.staticflickr.com/1569/24575440269_1e6a68d86c_b.jpg
Here, “lettuce” and “romaine” (which are strewn on the ground in this picture) do not have the exact same pronunciation as the intended words, but they are close enough that the reader immediately thinks of the desired meaning behind the statement – “let us remain together forever”.
Near-homophones are more common (and perhaps, more delightful!) in Valentine’s greetings. Here are some of our favourites, for you to share with your loved ones this Valentine’s:
And here’s one for the Science kids. Can you figure this out?
1. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 begins with “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? / Thou art more lovely and more temperate”
2. The original short poem goes “Roses are red / violets are blue / sugar’s sweet / and so are you”. However, we’ve heard more than one student come up with their own creative stanzas
3. “I sulfur (suffer) when you argon (are gone)”. Sulfur and argon are
both chemical elements.