A tribute to and a lament for Marshall McLuhan.  Five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday, I present one of McLuhan’s observations and talk about its relevance today.  300 ideas. 300 days.  300 posts.

Where do you find puns?

Marshall McLuhan (January 8, 1979, age 67).  Newspaper headlines!

Ms B. Ann Vannatta, a graduate student in journalism at the other U of T (Tennessee), asked me to comment on the effects of right hemisphere thinking on journalism.  Isn’t it obvious?  The punning that now takes place extensively in newspaper headlines is the result of electric media giving the edge to right over left brain thinking.  Puns are right brain, narrative jokes are left brain.  I used to call this contrast the difference between cool (inclusive, holistic) and hot (exclusive, fragmentary).  I now prefer to use the distinction of the hemispheres.  Love to talk about this more, but I must end here.

Me (May 2010, age 57). Just for the pun of it?

Whether or not electric media have promoted the use of puns in headlines there would seem to be a large amount of punning going on in newspapers.  On the surface, the impact of punning is simply to give a humourous spin to the story whose headline is being punned.  Presumably, the newspaper’s intention is to bring a welcome smile to their readers’ faces.  The result, however, can also be to make the subject of the story an undeserved, or unthinking object of ridicule.  This would appear to be the case in a front page story of today’s (May 18) Edmonton Journal about the closing of an old wing of a hospital for pregnant women and the opening of a new one.

The headline reads: “Pregnant Moms Labour to Make History.”   Get it?  Labour to make history.  All in good fun?  Perhaps, but I don’t think the moms are laughing.  McLuhan makes another point: the pun is smarter, more devious, than it looks.  It allows the newspaper both to report the news and in a “sneaky” way editorialize on it.

I’d love to hear from you. What punning headlines have you noticed lately in your favourite papers, magazines, newsletters, or blogs?

And, what is really going on in the punning?

Cordially, Marshall and Me


Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, pp. 541.

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Michael Hinton Thursday, May 20th, 2010
Permalink 1970s and 80s, Communication, Technology, Vol. 1 No Comments

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