When puns are outlawed …

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Scott Alexander ("Come ye to Bethlinkhem", 12/8/2014) does his best to generate sympathy for the Chinese authorities:

China bans puns on the grounds that they may mislead children and defile cultural heritage. Language Log is on the story, and discusses the (extremely plausible) theory that this is part of a crackdown on people who use puns to get around censorship. Obligatory link to the Ten Mythical Creatures here. There’s no censor sensibility to the law, and it seems likely to cause Confucian and dis-Orientation among punks and pundits alike in its wonton disregard for personal freedom and attempts to bamboo-zle the public. It’s safe Tibet that dissidents who just Taipei single pun online will end up panda price and facing time in the punitentiary or even capital punishment – but those Hu support the government can Maoth off as much as they want and still wok free. I Canton derstand how people wouldn’t realize that this homophonbic bigotry raises a bunch of red flags. In the end, one Deng is clear: when puns are outlawed, only outlaws will have puns.


  1. Yerushalmi said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 8:54 am

    I lost it at "homophonbic".

  2. Nathan said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 10:29 am

    Does "panda price" say something interesting about the writer's pronunciation, or was he just trying too hard?

  3. Victor Mair said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 11:04 am


    In case anyone missed it: "paying the price" — though I'm pretty sure that you got it.

  4. Mark Mandel said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 11:51 am

    I missed that one too, only could get it as "and the price". Thanks for clearing that up and frontward.

  5. Doreen said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 12:21 pm

    @Nathan et al:
    I believe the writer of Slate Star Codex lives in Michigan. If he's a native of that area, he might well have a raised, even diphthongized, TRAP vowel. I'm originally from the Upper Midwest and found it very easy to hear the pun in "/ˈpɪəndə/ price."

  6. Nathan said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 12:22 pm

    Oh, I got it; it's just too far a stretch in my accent, and I'm wondering if some other variety's vowels make the pun work.

  7. Nathan said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 12:22 pm

    Doreen posted while I was. Thanks.

  8. Mark Mandel said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 7:39 pm

    Thanks, Doreen. What Nathan said. I recognized the shift and tried to pun on it ("clearing that up and frontward"). Oh welllllll…

  9. Matt said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 8:17 pm

    You can definitely understand the Party's fears, though; after all, repurposing homophones or near-homophones in written Chinese has always resulted in radicalization.

  10. Jerry Friedman said,

    December 9, 2014 @ 11:38 pm

    You can't blame the authorities. Anyone who makes a pun in Chinese has at best an ambiguous character. Possibly the government should institute fines. A person hu makes puns on "protect" will have to pay per tiger.

  11. Victor Mair said,

    December 10, 2014 @ 8:25 am

    As long as the Potty doesn't realize that they've been lampunned, people should be able to get away with shit.

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