A pun is to wordplay what dominatrix sex is to foreplay — a stinging whip that elicits groans of guilty pleasure. The word paranomasia, based on the Hellenic Greek for “to alter in naming,” has for five centuries been used in English to describe a play on words that sound alike; the poet Alexander Pope in 1741 wrote of “the Paranomasia, or Pun, where a Word, like the tongue of a jackdaw, speaks twice as much by being split.” The technique drew reproof five years later from the novelist Tobias Smollett: “Debauched from sense, let doubtful meanings run/The vague conundrum and the prurient pun.”

—William Safire, "Conundrum Beat"

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