Moulding Words: a Pun Primer

Today in class we were learning about woodworking tools. The instructor brought out a moulding plane to demonstrate how it worked. For those of you who don’t know, a molding plane is used to carve a detail along the edge of a piece of wood. If the baseboards in your house have a fancy edge at the top, that’s moulding. One super-common shape for moulding is an “ogee,” which is a sort of “s” shape that’s real common in the sort of furniture we’ve been learning about. I like ogees. I don’t really care about the shape, but I really like saying the word: “Ogee, O.G., Oh Gee!” It’s the perfect sort of word – a homophone for something funny.

When our professor brought out the moulding plane in class he pointed out that this one was not, in fact, and ogee design, though it was similar. I couldn’t help myself: “So would that make it an ‘aw gosh’ plane?”

If you’ve ever met Our Girl History in real life (and lets be honest, most of you have. It’s not like this blog has all that big of a readership), you’ve figured out that I really, really like puns. And before you point out that puns are the lowest form of humor, or something like that, I know! Puns can be stupid, but they can also be so, so good. For me, puns are about keeping my mind in shape – thinking up puns is an act of constantly considering language. A pun is the result of a word lodging in my brain, and me flipping through every word I’ve ever heard that sounds like it, looking for something clever. Sometimes it’s about synonyms, or words that look the same on paper but sound or mean something completely different. When I come up with a pun, I’m greasing the wheels of the part of my brain that deals with language.

The good news is that those extra-strong wordplay muscles get flexed in all sorts conversation and writing. The bad news is all this practice only makes me better at coming up with puns.

If you’d like a demonstration of the sorts of things that can happen when  you just sit around and do silly things with words (or if you’re wondering where Little OGH got her start), I can’t recommend to you highly enough A. A. Milne’s delightful poem Sneezles, which I read the other night when grad school had me down. As it has done since I was very small, it pleazled me greatly, and I hope it does the same for you. And next time you hear a pun remember, it’s no joke – puns can make you smarter.


Christopher Robin
Had wheezles
And sneezles,
They bundled him
His bed.
They gave him what goes
With a cold in the nose,
And some more for a cold
In the head.
They wondered
If wheezles
Could turn
Into measles,
If sneezles
Would turn
Into mumps;
They examined his chest
For a rash,
And the rest
Of his body for swellings and lumps.
They sent for some doctors
In sneezles
And wheezles
To tell them what ought
To be done.
All sorts and conditions
Of famous physicians
Came hurrying round
At a run.
They all made a note
Of the state of his throat,
They asked if he suffered from thirst;
They asked if the sneezles
Came after the wheezles,
Or if the first sneezle
Came first.
They said, “If you teazle
A sneezle
Or wheezle,
A measle
May easily grow.
But humour or pleazle
The wheezle
Or sneezle,
The measle
Will certainly go.”
They expounded the reazles
For sneezles
And wheezles,
The manner of measles
When new.
They said “If he freezles
In draughts and in breezles,
May even ensue.”

Christopher Robin
Got up in the morning,
The sneezles had vanished away.
And the look in his eye
Seemed to say to the sky,
“Now, how to amuse them to-day?”