Introduction to punnery

🏷  Greek Semitic intro pun · meta-info   —   by Gerry · Mar 2020 · 1002 words

Puns have been used for cheap encryption by our secret spooky rulers for millennia. It’s so simple you wouldn’t believe it works: They just substitute words for others that are written or spoken similar. But since they only encrypt against their own unsuspecting & powerless subjects, that is often sufficient. As an introduction, I’ll give examples of admitted puns here.

The Tower of Babel

The Bible contains lots & lots of puns. Some are admitted, for instance the Tower of Babel. In that story, God and his peers “confuse” the language of the people, to prevent them from building a city & tower to the sky. The authors explicitly state that the town is called “Babel” because of the “confusion”.

In the Hebrew text you’ll see what they mean: The word בבל bbl babel for the city “Babel” is written & pronounced similar to בלל bll balal for “confusion”. The bbl / bll homography isn’t perfect, but it’s absolutely clear from the verse that this is an intended pun.

Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.

הבה נרדה ונבלה שם שפתם אשר לא ישמעו איש שפת רעהו

Genesis 11:7

Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

על כן קרא שמה בבל כי שם בלל יהוה שפת כל הארץ ומשם הפיצם יהוה על פני כל הארץ

Genesis 11:9

Now I don’t want to offend religious people, but it should also be clear that this story has nothing to do with historic Babylon: No detail whatsoever about the actual Babylon is mentioned: no date, no king’s name, nothing. It’s just the name Babel attached to a “city & tower”. It’s often explained as a Ziggurat. But while those are impressive, they’re hardly reaching to the sky, and they’re not unique to Babylon either. This means it’s really just a pun!

The pun itself is even admitted. It’s just not admitted that it’s only a pun. Wikipedia wastes 30 chapters to “discuss” the historicity of the story, and admits the pun only in one of them:

Genesis 11:9 attributes the Hebrew version of the name, Babel, to the verb balal, which means to confuse or confound in Hebrew. The first century Roman-Jewish author Flavius Josephus similarly explained that the name was derived from the Hebrew word Babel (βαβὲλ), meaning “confusion”.

Wikipedia: Tower of Babel

The question is why even this admitted pun is downplayed so much. The literal story is about deities preventing humans from being overambitious. You could debate that idea, but it’s hardly controversial enough to censor it. But knowing about other spooky puns, many found in the Bible, we can see that the hidden meaning is usually about rulers deceiving their subjects. The cryptocrats have pun-encoded teachings about cryptocracy! And that topic certainly fits the Tower of Babel: Without a religious context, it is a story where powerful entities “confuse” powerless people, to prevent them from ever attaining power.

More research is needed on this specific story, but we already understand the following:

For another more or less admitted Bible pun, see Esther, which is also a pun with “hiding” & “veiling”.

Horn & Ivory

To give an admitted example from another language, we can study the Greek phrase “horn & ivory” in Homer’s Odyssey.

The “gates of horn & ivory” are an officially admitted pun of κέρας keras for “horn” with κραίνω krainu for “fulfillment”, and of ἐλέφας elephas for “ivory” with ἐλεφαίρομαι elephairomai for “deception”.

Stranger, dreams verily are baffling and unclear of meaning, and in no wise do they find fulfillment in all things for men. For two are the gates of shadowy dreams, and one is fashioned of horn and one of ivory. Those dreams that pass through the gate of sawn ivory deceive men, bringing words that find no fulfillment. But those that come forth through the gate of polished horn bring true issues to pass, when any mortal sees them.

ξεῖν᾽, ἦ τοι μὲν ὄνειροι ἀμήχανοι ἀκριτόμυθοι γίγνοντ᾽, οὐδέ τι πάντα τελείεται ἀνθρώποισι. δοιαὶ γάρ τε πύλαι ἀμενηνῶν εἰσὶν ὀνείρων: αἱ μὲν γὰρ κεράεσσι τετεύχαται, αἱ δ᾽ ἐλέφαντι: τῶν οἳ μέν κ᾽ ἔλθωσι διὰ πριστοῦ ἐλέφαντος, οἵ ῥ᾽ ἐλεφαίρονται, ἔπε᾽ ἀκράαντα φέροντες: οἱ δὲ διὰ ξεστῶν κεράων ἔλθωσι θύραζε, οἵ ῥ᾽ ἔτυμα κραίνουσι, βροτῶν ὅτε κέν τις ἴδηται.

Odyssey 9.1

The phrase originated in the Greek language, in which the word for “horn” is similar to that for “fulfill” and the word for “ivory” is similar to that for “deceive”. […]

Arthur T. Murray, translator of the original Loeb Classical Library edition of the Odyssey, commented: The play upon the words κέρας, “horn”, and κραίνω, “fulfill”, and upon ἐλέφας, “ivory”, and ἐλεφαίρομαι, “deceive”, cannot be preserved in English.

Wikipedia: Gates of horn and ivory

Again, we can see why cryptocrats would love this pun: It’s about deception & truth, and they pass deception for truth all the time! But there may be even another secret meaning: κραίνω krainu does not only mean “fulfillment”, it also means “ruling”! So “horn & ivory” may well be a pun about deceptive rulers, of which there are many others.

Even the gates may be a pun: The word πύλη pule for “gate” also means “gatekeeper” & “guardians”. The “gates of horn & ivory” could point to the spooks being “guardians of rulership & deception” or somesuch.

More research is needed for the Odyssey, but I hope you can see now how puns work, and that even for admitted puns, there may be secret spook meanings behind them that are not admitted. You can now try and browse the long list of spooky puns I think I found, and see whether you agree with me.

🏷  Greek Semitic intro pun · meta-info