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China's newest censorship -- pun control

Chinese media are banned from using puns.

Chinese media are banned from using puns. Photo Credit: iStock

A loaded pun can be deadly.

And now, in China, the State Administration for Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television is cracking down. "Radio and television authorities at all levels must tighten up their regulations and crack down on the irregular and inaccurate use of the Chinese language, especially the misuse of idioms," it said in a press release.

First a one-child policy, and now you can only make single entendres. This wisecrack-down must not stand.

The path of history is paved with terrible puns, both real and apocryphal. Jesus makes lots of them in the Bible, even though they made people a little cross with him. "Now, you are fishermen," he told a disciple. "But I will make you fishers OF men." "Not Angles, but angels! (Non angli, sed angeli)," punned Pope Gregory I, hilariously, on seeing a native Angle for the first time.

Puns can reinforce authority - "The peasants are revolting." "Yes, aren't they?" - or undermine it, as they've been doing in China lately, where, in a play on words, the benevolent era of "Daddy Xi" and "Mama Peng" has been transformed into the homophone "marijuana era." Name a historical figure, and you can find a pun he made. Napoleon made puns. The night before he was scheduled to take the city of Milan someone said, "Hey, you look pretty young!" and he replied, "Yes, but tomorrow I shall have MILAN!" (This is only a pun if you speak French. Then this sounds like "tomorrow I will be ONE THOUSAND YEARS OLD." Look, I did not say they were good puns.) State-controlled media, not to be confused with state-controlled meteor, which is what conspiracy theorists believe killed the dinosaurs, are justly frightened of this wordplay.

Puns traditionally abound in moments of turmoil and fusion, when people are struggling to assimilate to new ideas. And that can be dangerous. Everything is a pun. Company names. Headlines. How you can expect to live in a world of news when puns are verboten (and nounoten too, probably) is beyond me.

The pun is mightier than the sword. These are our weapun of choice in every word war.

Author and punster John Pollack told the Wall Street Journal that puns "tend to thrive in times when there's a lot of mixing going on of people and ideas." We are dwelling in a great time for puns - or a time to dwell on grating puns, depending - and if you don't believe me, just visit Twitter.

Furthermore, I don't understand how the State Administration expects news to survive without puns. You can't have a headline without a pun. You can't even take punitive measures without pun. This censorship is just one of the many red flags of communism! (This is less a pun than the figurative use of a literal statement, but I feel like it would earn me a citation regardless.) This is personal. I speak as a reigning international pun champion, winner of Punniest in Show at the 2014 O. Henry Pun-Off and an active member of the pun community. (Being an active member of the pun community means that you frequently get e-mails that say things like "Red-E two whirred play? Jeers, Gary" and, furthermore, that you are actively delighted to receive these e-mails.) And I would like, someday, to visit China, but now I can't - I could not go that long without making a pun.

And no one should have to.

This is not just for me. It's on principle. Puns have groan so much. Without puns, language languishes. Life without puns is, like this sentence, a horrible sentence.

I believe that puns should be available to everyone, unrestricted. We should start a Pun Rights association. Everyone deserves tickets to the pun show. Here in America, our right to carry puns with us to school and work and wave them around openly in Starbucks is protected by the first Amendment.

We have to stand up to this. So don't be pun shy.

Man the puns! Load your metaphors! Deploy your figures of speech! We must sink this censorship! It's not just pun and games.

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