Punning around

Yesterday shoreacres brought to my attention an article which included the contention that “There’s not even a word for pun in Spanish….” That’s a punny contention to make because Spanish has several words that convey that notion of ‘a pun, a play on words.’ One is retruécano, formed from re- and the root of the verb trocar ‘to swap, exchange, trade, confuse.’ Unfortunately for this blog, not only is trocar of obscure origin, but it’s also a word for which I’ve found has no connection to anything in English. Strike one.

In Mexican Spanish, albur is another word for ‘pun,’ but it’s of Arabic origin and also seems not to have any English relatives. Strike two.

A third word for ‘pun’ is calambur, which is a Spanish respelling of French calembour. That French word, like Spanish trocar, is of uncertain origin, but at least there’s a connection to English: the Collins English Dictionary includes calembour and defines it as ‘a pun.’ That said, when I searched online I found few uses of calembour in English-language texts. At least there seems little likelihood that calembour will become a calembore through overuse. I’d better stop there because I wouldn’t want to turn into a calemboor.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Yong Huang
    May 21, 2016 @ 09:15:48

    Wikipedia considers “calambur” as the formal name for “pun”, although Google search shows “albur” to be more widely used (only in Mexico apparently).


  2. shoreacres
    May 22, 2016 @ 07:18:10

    I’m glad you o-punned the door to this exploration, and didn’t find it punishing. The search for a tenuous Spanish-English connection was as interesting as an obvious connection would have been.

    I played around with the topic of punning a bit, and laughed at this Spanish translation of “punster” that I found: aficionado a los juegos de palabras.
    And, while I was looking at some articles about bi-lingual punning, I found a story that is just so rich I had to share it. From a Butler University site:

    “The all-time prize for transmitting the fullest message with the greatest compactness must go to Sir Charles James Napier. In 1843, Napier quelled an uprising in the Indian province of Sind, and announced his triumph via telegram to his commanders in London. All he wrote was the one word, Peccavi.

    Instantly, the Foreign Office broke into cheers. In an age when all gentlemen studied Latin, Napier never doubted that his superiors would remember the first-person past perfect tense of peccare, and would properly translate his message as, “I have sinned.”



    • Steve Schwartzman
      May 22, 2016 @ 08:07:19

      I’m familiar with that anecdote, a wonderful example of a bilingual pun. Given the large number of Hispanics in the American army today, people from various parts of the world in the British army, those from four language groups in the Swiss army, etc., I have to assume some good cross-language punning still goes on, even without Latin playing a part.


  3. Maria F.
    Jun 08, 2016 @ 06:52:23

    This is interesting. However, I don’t know about “literal translations”. Can they actually exist? Particularly with “no pun intended”, or “pun” itself. Some of the idiomatic phrases are just too particular for each country I think.


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