A 1920 book by humor columnist C.L. Edson provided advice for the aspiring humor columnist. His biggest advice dealt with when — and when not — to make puns.
Mr. Edson has here laid down a code for the columnist, the first law in which reads: “Do not write Paragraphs with Puns on Names.” He gives as Horrible Examples: “The Russians are rushin’ the Finnish, who can see their finish” and “Austria is Hungary for a piece of Turkey.” Then he tells us that “this is the lowest depth to which humor could descend.” And certainly these Examples are truly Horrible.
Yet there are always exceptions to the rule.
A little later, Mr. Edson admits an exception to his rule — punning is permissible when it is not on a proper name and when at the same time it has what Mr. Edson terms a “news-slant,” that is when it possesses what Augustine Daly used to call “contemporaneous human interest,” when it is absolutely timely, not only up to date, but up to the very last minute. He cites as an instance of this legitimate use of what has been contemptuously called the “lowest form of wit,” this paragraph by Mr. Franklin P. Adams: “Homer Aids Boston to Conquer Giants. – TIMES headline. Yet the universities are abolishing Greek.”
Hopefully Edson would have approved of my timely pun routine in early 2019, punning on the then-current flood of Democratic presidential candidates entering the race.
The Gentle Art of Newspaper Humor
Published: Sunday, January 9, 1921