Thomas Hood on Punning

Thomas Hood never wrote an essay on the pun, so we don't know if he distinguished among different kinds or even had a coherent view of the pun. He did, however, humorously defend the practice of punning several times.

Note: Most of the graphics below were not originally associated with the works they accompany. They are meant to illustrate other treatments of the same or similar subjects. Their sources are show in their captions.

illustration of a pun

In "Address to the Second Edition" of Whims and Oddities (3rd ed. London: Lupton Relfe, 1828) Hood noted that critics

have taken great offence at my puns: -- and I can conceive how some Gentlemen with one idea must be perplexed by a double meaning. To my own notion a pun is an accommodating word, like a farmer's horse, -- with a pillion of an extra sense to ride behind; -- it will carry single, however, if required (ix).

"Gentlemen with one idea" take "great offence" because they so not understand the true nature of the pun.

Years later he used Jonathan Swift's line that "None despise puns but those who cannot make them"1 as the epigraph to the prose piece "Johnsoniana" in Hood's Own (London: A. H. Baily, 1839), 306-308. In it a Septimus Reardon writes to the editor to contradict the claim that Samuel Johnson didn't make puns. Reardon asserts that Johnson was a punster and he gives several examples.

illustration of a pun

Hood makes a comparison between horse dealers and punsters in "A Horse-Dealer," The Comic Annual (2nd edition London, Charles Tilt, 1832):

A horse-dealer is a double dealer, for he dealeth more in double meanings than your punster (132).

illustration of a pun

Again he used a horse metaphor to respond to criticism in the Preface to the 1834 edition of The Comic Annual (London: Charles Tilt):

It will of course be objected as heretofore, by certain reviewers, that my pages swarm with puns; but having taken out a certificate to "shoot folly as it flies," I shall persist in using the double barrel as long as meanings will rise in coveys. As a Cambridge coachman, who had acquired the habit from the Collegians, once remarked to me, "I do not see why words should not now and then be put into double-harness as well as horses" (viii).

illustration of a pun

His most frequently quoted defense of the pun occurs in the long comic poem "Miss Kilmansegg and Her Precious Leg. A Golden Legend." There is a six-stanza section in which Hood emphasizes the value of doubling. He begins with the conventional view that a marriage, a man and wife united two in one, is more than the sum of its parts. He continues with a series of examples, including "double X Ale," flowers with double blooms and the double beauty of a swan and its reflection on the water. He concludes with an obvious reference to punning:

   And, however our Dennises [critics] take offence,
   A double meaning shows double sense;
   And if proverbs tell truth,
   A double tooth
   Is Wisdom's adopted dwelling!2

The repetition of double (meaning, sense, tooth) is simple word play. There is unambiguous sense pun (meaning, sense, proverb, truth, wisdom). There is also an ambiguous word pun: Wisdom resides in a double tooth which is also called a Wisdom tooth.

It's clear that Hood believed the pun was based on or produced a double meaning, but not whether he saw a difference between unambiguous and ambiguous puns. No tally has been made but he seems to have created as many of one as the other.

See also

Introduction to Thomas Hood

A Modest Defense of the Pun

Visual Puns


1There are several versions of this line. See A Modest Defense of the Pun for a fuller discussion.

2The Works of Thomas Hood, ed. Epes Sargent, Vol 1 (New York: George P. Putnam, 1862), 290.