“Hi Hungry, I’m dad.”
That classic retort has become a mainstay of the bad-dad-joke arsenal and presumably is still trotted out in households to this day.
But did you know there’s actually some good science behind a well-placed dad joke?
In fact, crossword creator and self-confessed “word nerd” David Astle says research has found puns in particular tickle our brains in a way that almost no other joke does.
And Australia is rushing to embrace them, with Canberra hosting its first “pun slam” event last month and Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre holding the “Pundemonium” competition this week.
How to spot a dad joke
Simply put, dad jokes are almost always a play on words. Basically, they’re puns that involve bringing out different meanings than the literal definition of a word.
Need some examples?
- What’s the tallest building in your city? The library, because it has the most stories.
- Did you hear the joke about the high wall? It’s hilarious, I’m still trying to get over it.
- I didn’t like my beard at first. Then it grew on me.
- Switzerland is a great country. And their flag is a big plus.
Yes, there are some haters
If you found yourself groaning and rolling your eyes at those puns, you’re not alone. The humble pun isn’t exactly a favourite among the masses.
Samuel Johnson compiled the 1755 dictionary and wrote: “To trifle with the vocabulary, which is the vehicle of social intercourse, is to tamper with the currency of human intelligence.”
However, Mr Astle counters that Johnson wasn’t above a bit of word play himself.
“This is the same man who also said that eclairs are a long treat that don’t last for long,” he said.
And historic heavyweights like Shakespeare have also shown a willingness to embrace the pun; in particular with the opening of Richard III: “Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this son of York.”
If this one went a bit over your head, this blog unravels why it’s the “best pun in literature”.
“[Shakespeare] was not ashamed about using puns and knowing that they build this quick sort of lightning connection with an audience,” Mr Astle said.
So what does the science say?
Research from the University of Windsor in Canada suggest puns may actually be of benefit to kids and adults as they have a bilateral effect on the brain.
As Mr Astle explains, it’s all about taking a visual idea and twisting it.
“When we’re told, for example, ‘the baseball federation is going to replace the baseball with an orange’ you think, ‘how does that make sense? Really? That’s just going to be a complete splatter-fest’.”
“But then when you hear the pay-off, which is, ‘to add more zest to the game’, the other side of the brain, being the left side that does language processing, starts to make this kind of neuroelectric connection between the other hemisphere.
“So the visual and the verbal starts to make a connection. Unlike too many other jokes, there’s an amazing kind of holistic effect within the brain.”It breaks up the English language and creates a kind of conspiracy between the punnee and the punner.”
Mr Astle admitted he was really just trying to defend dad jokes and Christmas crackers, but still argued that puns can serve a greater purpose than a cheap laugh followed by a groan.
“This notion of promiscuous and elastic language is really wonderful for kids to build confidence with their language and also kind of social bridges as well,” he said.