Friday December 15, 2006

Roundly Cut Short

I'm not sure if there's a name for the following journalist's writing trick, but there ought to be because it's awesome.  First, an excerpt from this Washington Post article about the NBA returning to the old, leather ball:

The NBA has decided to go back to a traditional leather basketball, the league announced yesterday, ending an experiment with a new synthetic ball this season that has been roundly criticized by players.

Hee-hee!  "Roundly criticized"—get it?  Here's the same stunt again, this time in an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (motto: "Education?  Not high enough!") about HIV in Africa:

Circumcision of adult men appears to be a highly effective method of reducing HIV transmission, officials at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases announced on Wednesday.  At a meeting on Tuesday, the institute's Data and Safety Monitoring Board voted to cut short two large-scale randomized studies of circumcision in Africa.

"Cut short"—that's comedy gold.  (Also: ouch.)  So, does anyone know if there's a term for this sub-variety of pun often found in the first few sentences of news articles?

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Sounds like a variation on a "Tom Swifty" to me, though the canonical Tom Swifty is always a dialogue tag.

On the other hand, it could just be lazy writing...

Posted by: Andrew Wheeler at Dec 15, 2006 7:12:20 AM

Yesterday on CBC:
Stunning invention could rock lobster world

Posted by: David Janes at Dec 15, 2006 9:23:39 AM

Kind of like a modified zeugma or a syllepsis?

Posted by: Eric Anondson at Dec 15, 2006 9:42:20 AM

Neat examples!

Sidney Lamb has a discussion of this phenomenon in Pathways of the Brain (Amsterdam 1999, pp. 190ff.), where he simply refers to it as context-driven lexeme selection. He cites examples from a paper by Peter Reich (“Unintended Puns”, Proceedings of LACUS XI, 1984, pp. 314-322) that Reich claims were produced spontaneously and unintentionally. Some of his examples are:

Are you ready to zoom to the camera store?
The fast-food industry has been eating into the profits of the large grocery chains.
I think the writing was on the wall when the New York subways started getting all the graffiti.
Lamb argues for an account in terms of priming, where the main concept(s) activate the lexical fields to which they belong (in the first example, the word camera activates words like lens and zoom). When one of the other concepts in the proposition happen to have a lexical realization that is formally identical with one of the words in that lexical field, this realization is chosen due to its prior activation, even though usually a more general/less marked term would be preferred (for example, the concept of motion is expressed by the previously activated zoom rather than, say, go or rush).

If Lamb’s analysis is correct, then the puns you cite could presumably be regarded as conscious exploitations of this priming phenomenon.

Posted by: Anatol Stefanowitsch at Dec 15, 2006 12:06:22 PM

CNET today had the headline Nintendo chooses Opera to make Wii sing. The strange thing is I noticed there was something odd about the sentence and had the sense that some kind of pun was being made several moments before I made the conscious connection between Opera and sing.

This may be because Opera made me immediatley think of the browser and sing seemed like such an odd choice of verb.

Posted by: includedmiddle at Dec 19, 2006 1:29:31 PM

What's interesting about the "roundly" and "cut short" puns is that they're in the text and not the headline. I wrote a bit about headline puns a while back, but without calling them that - instead I focused on the recurrence of particular word choices for the outcomes of sports games. I know some of this wordplay is conscious and some is not, but sometimes it's hard to tell which is which.

Posted by: Bob Kennedy at Dec 19, 2006 6:45:02 PM

I found this one this morning on Digg:

Reading Shakespeare has dramatic effect on human brain

Posted by: underspecified at Dec 20, 2006 3:24:33 AM

One of my favorites:

"It's the kind of error that plagues epidemiology" from Wired magazine (issue 12.10).

Posted by: Stephane at Dec 30, 2006 5:32:53 PM

an example from Wikipedia, the article Anorak (slang)

"it stems from the use of anoraks (a type of rain jacket) by train spotters [...] only a geek would wear something so terminally unfashionable."

Posted by: volucris at Jan 3, 2007 7:21:27 PM

how actually, its very nice decide by NBA player

Posted by: mike at May 24, 2007 2:59:19 AM

Here is another neat example:

“Pogo debuted on October 4 of that year, and ran continuously until the paper folded on January 28, 1949.”


Posted by: A.S. at Oct 7, 2007 1:52:47 PM