Thursday, February 25, 2016

To Pun or Not to Pun? Part II: Not to Pun!

by Colleen Joyce
Senior Project Manager

As a longtime employee at PSG, I harbored a deep, dark secret—one I kept from all my pun-loving (get it?) coworkers: I hate puns. I’m not usually one to withhold my opinions (Prefer cats? No way; dogs are superior in every way.), but I’m embarrassed to admit I felt intimidated by the overwhelming adoration of all things pun by literally every other staff member in the office, especially Annette Cinelli Trossello, senior editor and fellow project manager. I would find myself fake laughing as puns were offered up in workplace banter instead of groaning like I really wanted to. One day, I was feeling a little brave and mentioned my actual disdain for the pun to a couple of coworkers—and then was promptly outed the next day at our staff meeting. I’m pretty sure Annette will never let me live it down. The truth is, I feel better now that my secret has been exposed. Yes, I have to endure the (mostly) harmless badgering of some coworkers for my former secret, but at least now I’m free to roll my eyes when those puns get trotted out at meetings.

Puns are polarizing. Supporters find them clever and a welcome addition to a conversation. Detractors find them silly and an abrupt end to a conversation. There are really only two possible responses to a pun: “Ha, ha, I like what you’ve done there,” or (the correct), “Please, stop.” Either way, the conversation has come to a screeching halt. Charlie Hopper, contributor to McSweeney’s, hits on one reason why puns are so bad: “The pun is not your friend. The pun fools you into thinking you’ve had an idea. It pesters and woos you . . . by making you feel clever.” Kind of reminds me of the people who love puns. Why are they so desperate to prove they are funny? The internet is littered with sites claiming to offer “amusing” puns that even pun-haters will get a chuckle from. But, so far, I haven’t found a single one funny—just groan-worthy. Same goes for this one and this one. Hopper also notes, “A pun is rarely funny.” Clearly, I agree.

John Pollack, author of The Pun Also Rises (Guess which side of the argument he comes down on? There are even more puns in his subtitle—I’ll spare you.), would have you believe that pun-haters find puns “threatening because [they] reveal the arbitrariness of meaning, and the layers of nuance that can be packed onto a single word.” He thinks, “people who dislike puns tend to be people who seek a level of control that doesn’t exist.” This need for control in such situations may be nothing new, as it was once said over a century ago that  “to trifle with the vocabulary which is the vehicle of social intercourse is to tamper with the currency of human intelligence. He who would violate the sanctities of his mother tongue would invade the recesses of the paternal till without remorse. . . .”

I won’t comment on my control-freak nature or my attachment to the correct use of the English language, but these arguments are missing the main point that puns are intended to be funny, but aren’t. Case closed.

Did You Know?
Lest you think me lonely and friendless toiling away in the offices of PSG as the only pun-hater on staff, after a brief adjustment period, I am slowly gaining acceptance even with my minority viewpoint. Frequent pun-cracker Annette and I have agreed to disagree—vehemently.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

To Pun or Not to Pun? Part 1: To Pun!

by Annette Cinelli Trossello
Senior Editor and Project Manager

One morning, I emailed Colleen Joyce, Publishing Solutions Group’s senior project manager, a list of nearly a dozen puns. I hoped that they would make her laugh, but sadly, no pun in ten did.

I can already picture her reaction as she reads the opening lines of this blog post: eyes rolling, head shaking and groan internal, because she knows that any reaction, negative or positive, is indicative of a successful pun.

Here at PSG, we are all passionate about language, but in different ways. Some of us love that language is alive and growing, with new words and definitions being added to the dictionary each year. Others figuratively cried when they saw some dictionaries added an additional definition for literally as “in effect; virtually.” With puns, some of us love creating them by playing with language in clever ways, while others find them tiresome and punnecessary.

I plant myself firmly in the pun-loving camp. Whether it’s a quick quip (I hate Russian dolls, they’re so full of themselves), a pictorial pun (the “take one” pun sign in PSG’s kitchen that reads, “These are tearable puns.”) or an unintentional utterance (“Did you get your windshield fixed yet?” “Yes, and what a pain.”), I always chuckle. Others have a much different reaction, leading the Atlantic to ask, "Why Do Puns Make People Groan?"

In the article, Julie Beck notes her love of wordplay and bemoans that, while she wants to have fun, others would “rather have no pun at all.” These “all work, no pun” folks have been around for centuries; over a century ago, it was said that “to trifle with the vocabulary which is the vehicle of social intercourse is to tamper with the currency of human intelligence.”

Jo Firestone is “a pun-sulting producer for the Punderdome, a monthly pun competition in Brooklyn, hosted by her father, Fred.” Despite being a pun lover, she understands why they are considered the “annoying younger brother or sister of the comedy world.” While other types of comedy serve to speak “a truth about life” or portray things the audience can “connect with emotionally,” Firestone notes that a pun is seen by some as “a totally frivolous unnecessary thing to say.”

On the other hand, Peter McGraw, founder of the Humor Research Lab at the University of Colorado, Boulder, describes creating puns as “a demonstration of wit, of cleverness. You’re relying on a person’s ability to parse language, to understand the nuances and complexities of word.” John Pollock, author of The Pun Also Rises, notes that, “for most of Western history, puns were the sign of high intellect.”

Love them or hate them, puns are here to say. They are on Twitter, in the names of Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream flavors, on Publishing Solutions Group’s marketing materials and, if you’re Colleen, being shared gleefully by the colleague sitting to your right.

Did You Know?
Shakespeare was known for including puns in his plays and sonnets. It can be tricky for students to pick up on these since the pronunciation and meaning of some of these words are different in modern English. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

8-to-5 Isn’t a Long Work Day; It’s the Perfect Marching Band Step

by Chelsea Wilson
Fall 2015 Intern

One sweltering Monday in the third week of July, I stood in a parking lot with a hundred other students in lines exactly five yards apart—the outline of a football field had been painted in white over the yellow parking lines. One of my band directors stood on the scaffolding built at the side of the parking lot on the top of the hill where injured students stood and played. The other one stood in front of us. The perfect marching band step, he informed us, was exactly five yards in eight paces. Heels start on the white line and eight steps later, heels end on the white line. Forward and backward. Never step off with your right foot. Stay in step.

Then he turned on a white speaker and twisted the yellow dial on the black metronome to 120 beats per minute. The upperclassmen said we would soon hear the metronome in our dreams. I hadn’t believed them then. But I quickly learned they were right. Tick-tick-tick-tick, five-six, five-six-seven-eight-step.

Marching band was a point of pride for my school. We never worried about the football team bullying us as usually happens in movies. During half time the quarterback played trombone and marched with us in his bright orange jersey.

On that day in July when I stood in a marching basics block with the rest of the band, I hardly knew what to expect. The movie Drumline had come out a few years earlier, but the story of the college student with an attitude who couldn’t read music didn’t prepare me for the amount of work that went into every day of practice. Our first week of band camp totaled almost 40 hours and the temperature could easily top 90 degrees. Once school started we had our normal practice during band period, Monday through Friday, plus an early practice and a late practice once a week. We traveled at least four hours by bus every other weekend for two days of competition, where eight judges used specific criteria [PDF link] to determine which trophies—if any—we took home. Nobody took marching band for an easy credit.

It was hard and sometimes disappointing, but marching band is also what I remember most fondly about high school. We sweated in shorts and tank tops in July; we shivered in jackets and fingerless gloves in October. But before we marched out for our final competition each season, we stood shoulder to shoulder, turned our backs to the field, closed our eyes and hummed “Amazing Grace” together.

Did You Know?

Hailing from California, the Concord Blue Devils have won the Drum Corps International (DCI) World Championship more often than any other drum corps. They’ve won 17 times as of 2015, the first time only two years after earning full DCI membership in 1974.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A Laughing Matter: The Benefits of Laughter Yoga

by Tess Renault
Fall 2015 Intern

When I took my first yoga class, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew it would be a fairly quiet experience. Or so I had heard. If my instructor had told the class to lie on the floor and laugh for 20 minutes, I’m not sure what I would’ve done. (To be honest, I probably would’ve left the room.) However, when practicing laughter yoga, an instruction like that is commonplace. Yes, laughter yoga is actually a form of meditation, and it seems to be growing in popularity.

In the 1990s, Dr. Madan Kataria became interested in reading about the benefits of laughter for mental and physical health. He became so engrossed in the research that in 1995 he started his first Laughter Club, which convened in a park in Mumbai with only five people. Soon these laughter meetings were being held frequently. Dr. Kataria claims that regular laughter helps support the body’s immune system, lowers blood pressure and can help with depression. What started as a small congregation in a park has now grown into a trend of sorts, as there are around 5,000 laughing clubs today in 53 countries.

Let’s Laugh Today is a laughter yoga company in Walpole, Massachusetts, owned by Bill and Linda Hamaker. The classes they offer do not resemble the typical yoga class. There is no downward-facing dog or mountain pose. Instead, the hour-long classes incorporate a series of laughter-inducing exercises mixed with aerobic exercises, chanting and yoga breathing. It’s common to be laughing for 20 minutes at a time. Beyond the mental benefits of practicing laughter yoga, there is also a considerable spiritual component—in order to laugh on the spot you have to be present within the moment.

Also, laughter is seemingly contagious. Laura Malloy teaches laughter yoga at the Benson-Henry Institute in Boston and she encourages her students to make eye contact with each other throughout class, as it keeps the flow of laughter going. Ellen Mercer is a laughter yoga instructor in Oklahoma City and it’s not uncommon to see her students walking around the room high-fiving each other while laughing or simply belly laughing on the floor. She often works with elderly individuals, and some students are suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Mercer sees laughter yoga as a way for her students to communicate when they may not be able to express themselves verbally.

Overall, laughter yoga encourages you to approach life less seriously—at least in one-hour increments.

Did You Know?

Laughter yoga makes sure to incorporate acts of playfulness into adults’ lives, which could be attributed to the fact that on average children laugh 300 to 400 times a day, whereas adults only laugh 10 to 15 times.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Ice Cream of Tomorrow . . . Today!

by Kyle Amato
Fall 2015 Intern

Have you ever tried “astronaut” ice cream? It’s a freeze-dried treat most commonly found in museum gift shops. However, the name is something of a misnomer. Astronaut ice cream has only flown to space once since its creation, aboard Apollo 7. According to NASA, the foil-wrapped snack is too crumbly to enjoy in zero gravity, so the astronauts never request it! Us earthlings will have to eat it instead.

Dippin’ Dots fall in a similar category to astronaut ice cream. As the self-proclaimed “Ice Cream of the Future,” it can be found in some amusement parks, museums and shopping areas, but not many other places. The colorful ice cream beads represent the past—a sort of retro Jetsons’ view of the future—more than the actual future at this point. Like astronaut ice cream before it, they have a nostalgic factor that can’t be replicated.

Although astronaut ice cream and Dippin’ Dots never achieved real lift-off, people are still looking for new spins on the dessert. For example, people are starting to create ice cream using liquid nitrogen! That’s right, shops like Sub Zero Ice Cream have a special scientific recipe that includes flash-freezing the cream with liquid nitrogen while you watch. Shops such as the Ice Cream Lab in Beverly Hills have gotten in on this trend as well. This video shows their frosty process. I know I want to try it someday!  

Who knows what the future of ice cream truly holds? As long as classic ice cream sticks around, I’m fine with any kind of space-age experimentation.

Did You Know?

According to NASA’s space food manager, astronauts found that graham crackers were even crumblier than astronaut ice cream. Fortunately, they found the perfect replacement: the popular kids’ snack Teddy Grahams!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Words about Words: A Love List for Linguists

by Kate Carroll

After a lively discussion in the office about how the sounds of certain words make us cringe (moist anyone?) and others are music to our ears (my personal favorite: tabernacle; other office suggestions: mellifluous, resplendent and epiphany), I decided to investigate more examples. In doing so, I hit the jackpot. I found a word about words.

As a language lover, I’ve always delighted in discovering new terms. But there’s something extra special—something downright magical—about discovering a new word that describes words. So what’s the term for the study of how speech sounds? Phonaesthetics.

I ate the term up. I said it over and over again (fun fact: it sounds better in a British accent). I went home and looked up more and more examples of beautiful/disgusting sounding words, and when that wasn’t enough, I soon found myself digging around for more magical discoveries—more words about words. Discoveries that I had to share with fellow language lovers. Here are a few of my favorites (in alphabetical order, of course).

ambigram: a word that, if viewed upside down, is still the same word. Typeface certainly changes the game here. In fact, many artists alter certain letter styling to create ambigrams. A more straightforward example is the word dollop. (Go ahead, try to look at it upside down.)

contronym: a word with two meanings that are opposite of each other. A recent example is the word literally. Many dictionaries now include both the original “in actual meaning” definition as well as the colloquial use of “in effect.”

crutch word: maybe the least exciting of the bunch, but it is definitely the most common. Honestly, crutch words are basically like the extra words that we essentially tend to unnecessarily add in because in a weird way they don’t actually provide like further meaning to the sentence.

eponym: the fancy term for a brand name that has entered common usage. Pass me a Kleenex (because a facial tissue just won’t do).

minced oath: a euphemism for a less appropriate term. Like what the heck in place of, well, you know.

mondegreen: the term for what we’re all guilty of: mishearing the lyrics of a song. My poor cousin will never live down when he thought Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ la Vida Loca” was “Livin’ to Be the Lifeguard.”

portmanteau: a word that combines multiple words. I unofficially coin these all the time. When you’re getting a drink at Starbucks that’s inside of a Target? You’re at a Tarbucks! More legitimate examples include smog, spork and telemarketing.

syllepsis: the act of using one word to apply to two words differently, e.g., As he pondered the recent stock market crash, the man was deep in thought and debt.

I could go on, but that could literally take forever.

Did You Know?

The word portmanteau, which also means a large carrying bag, actually is a portmanteau. The term comes from combining the French words porter, to carry and manteaux, mantle. Is there a word to describe a word that is an example of itself? Of course there is: autological. The best example of an autological word is the word . . . word.