The amount of words within a language vastly outnumbers the set of sounds the human vocal tract can produce. To further complicate things, both ears and mouth tend to be rather easy-going, not to say “lazy”. Different people speak with manners and paces. There are mumblers, low talkers, and those who simply don’t part their teeth. But even in well-articulated speech at moderate pacing, we come across a language phenomenon called “Homophony”.
Words consist of “phonemes”, which is the linguistic term for sounds that help the human ear to distinguish meaning. Unlike syllables, which must have a vowel sound, phonemes are small units that carry meaning. Consonants help to separate the vowel sounds and form words. Homophones are words or parts of words that sound identical, but are spelled differently and have a different meaning. In the end, it’s all about articulation. The better we articulate, the easier it gets for the ear to understand what is being said. So much for theory. Sometimes when speech simply rushes by, the brain needs quick thinking. Apart from yelling “WHAT?!?” the more polite choice is to search our memory for the next most similar sound sequence and try to derive meaning from context. Context can sometimes be the only way to tell homophones apart.
Here we do not have enough context to tell the slogan from the idiom.
You’re a bore
You’re a boar
Again, we do not have enough context provided to decide which of the two insults is more grave.
We’re in a band
We’ve just been banned
In this example we can derive meaning from the grammatical context.
Once and for all
One scent for all
In this example, which otherwise does not make much cense (pun intended!), we can see that homophony can apply to whole phrases.
Homophonic Puns in Popular Culture
A splendid source for misunderstanding and awkward situations, homophones are also quite rewarding when it comes to creating puns.
What’s brown and sounds like a bell? – Dung!
(From Monty Python’s Flying Circus, “The Visitors”)
Rhotic and Non-Rhotic Accent-Groups
Homophones can be different within the same language. The English language, for example, can be divided into rhotic and non-rhotic accent-groups. The difference lies in the pronunciation of the / r / sound.
The 1995 album ‘The Silent Wales of Lunar Sea’ by English folk-metal band “Skyclad”is a homophonic pun that works for non-rhotic English accents. When pronounced in British or Australian English, the title transforms to ‘The Silent Wails of Lunacy’. Martin Walkyier, former singer and lyricist of Skyclad, has been known for his extensive and sophisticated usage of homophones and puns in his lyrics. For example, the 1996 album’s nonsensical French title ‘Oui Avant-Garde á Chance’ sounds like ‘We haven’t got a Chance’, when pronounced in English. Several of Skyclad’s song titles, such as ‘Bombjour’, ‘History Lessens’ and ‘My naked I’ also make use of homophony.
Some further examples of homophonic puns found in Walkyier’s lyrics are
“Rapt in the arms of a galaxy spiral.” (wrapped)
“such bitter whines” (wines)
“instruct us to pray – and then prey on our kids”
“final daze of the decayed” (final ‘days’ of the ‘decade’)
The 1991 album title “Cereal Killer” by American comedy rock band Green Jellÿ is also a homophonic pun.
The pun on decayed/decade is, accurately speaking, not a purely homophonic one because both words carry the stress on different syllables:
The Autist formally known as Prince
In an episode of the animated TV-Show ‘South Park’, one of the main characters is wrongly diagnosed with the autism spectrum disorder Asperger’s. When the condition gets misheard as “Ass Burgers”, it turns into a bizarrely delicate situation.
Nun shall pass
In an episode of the BBC comedy series “Blackadder”, the moronic sidekick inadvertently makes a homophonic pun:
Private Baldrick: You know my dad was a nun.
Captain Blackadder: No he wasn’t.
Private Baldrick: He was too, sir. ‘Cause whenever he was up in court and the judge asked “occupation?”, he’d say “none“.
The internet is a very rich sauce (pun intended!) for homophonic puns and pun-based picture-jokes. Here are some selected examples with one or two of my own creations in between:
“Fly away on my sofa”
(Correct lyric from Red Hot Chili Peppers ‘Zephyr Song’: “Fly away on my Zephyr”)
(“Beat it”, Michael Jackson)
“‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy”
(“Scuse me while I kiss the sky”, Jimi Hendrix)
“The ants are my friends; they’re blowin’ in the wind. The ants are a-blowin’ in the wind.”
(“The answer is blowin’ in the wind”, Bob Dylan)
For more examples go to
Sorry, we’re clothed…
When you search the internet for homophonic puns, you may find yourself overwhelmed by the tremendous amount of picture jokes that come up. Some of these jokes are extremely clever. A lot of websites have started to provide free meme generators. Below I have listed a couple of homophonic jokes that were inspired by my latest sweep. Have Hun!
Of course, he tore down pawn-shops with his bear hands. (porn-shop/bare)
How do you recognize a paraplegic toilet bowl?
It’s paralyzed from the waste down. (waist)
Clothes enough (another homo-“phony”)
A ballet dancer performing a belly dance.
A conversation in passing
Hinge: You seem so distant, lately….
Door: I have outgroan you… (outgrown)
A man got mugged. He cried out for help. No one came. Why?
He f’got t’say p’lice…!
Why will books always be superior to DVDs?
Because you don’t need a remote control to skip foreword. (forward)
Petrus, for the laugh of God:
Make up your mind. Weather or not? (love/whether or not)
“How to be a nice guy” recipe finally discovered:
2 beer = nice guy
Lion in wait
German cartoonist Ralph Ruthe made this wonderful joke about waiting loops. The German part can be translated as: “You’ve reached the 24h zoological emergency department…”
To speak ill of s.o.
Did you hear? Kim Jong Il is dead.
Well, that’s the end of his Korea.(career)
No Sax before a fight…
Why has the music shop been closed down?
They were selling sax & violins to minors.
At last numerous cannibals?
This last example is one of the oldest, yet most sophisticated ones I’ve ever heard…
Why is the six afraid of the seven?
Because seven eight nine…
A final word from Sir Chen Gin:
Try for yourselves… just type ‘homophonic pun’ or any other homophone you know into the search engine of your choice and browse the picture results. And share your experience with us…