Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Ignore a Pun at your own Hazard

Let us consider the rebus principle utilized in logo-syllabic scripts. Most signs were originally pictures denoting the objects or ideas they represented. But abstract concepts such as 'life‘ would be difficult to express pictorially. Therefore the meaning of a pictogram or ideogram was extended from the word for the depicted object to comprise all its homophones.

For example, in the Sumerian script the drawing of an arrow meant 'arrow', but in addition 'life' and 'rib', because all three words were pronounced alike in the Sumerian language, namely ti. Homophony must have played a role in folklore long before it was utilized in writing. The pun between the Sumerian words ti 'rib' and ti 'life' figures in the Sumerian paradise myth, in which the rib of the sick and dying water god Enki is healed by the Mistress of Life, Nin-ti. But the Biblical myth of Eve's creation out of Adam's rib no more makes sense because the original pun has been lost in translation: 'rib‘ in Hebrew is Sela no connection with Eve's Hebrew name H‘awwa:, which is explained in the Bible to mean - mother of all living

- Asko Parpola ( Is the Indus Script not a writing System)


  1. A positively potent power out there must be mysteriously pulling all pun lovers (even the ones who've never been here prior) to this post!

    Interesting tidbit on the possible role of puns in folklore (and if you'd excuse a minor indiscretion in the name of "anecdotal evidence", I'd like to share that I've always had a hard time reading Paul Bunyan stories without automatically conjuring up the mental image of a South Indian male in a banian -- talk about the overarching universality of these epics with regional roots!).

    And, since you mention "rib in Hebrew," here's a rib on that exact thing (except it's a dog, not a rib!). "Hebrew National" is a brand of hotdog whose ad slogan goes, "Answers to a Higher Authority." :-)

    P.S: Sorry to have turned a somewhat serious showcasing of ancient symbolisms into a jest-fest, but (as you'd have already divined) I find it practically impossible to use (or peruse) a pun without having some fun.

  2. Welcome to these parts.

    Bunyan imagery is inevitable. But to be faithful to the pronunciating it would be North Indian male though.

    There was one Vice President by the name Jatti. In one occasion he happened to travel along with Indira Gandhi, providing latitude for Dina thanthi to run a headline which was quite an unmentionable pun.

  3. You jest made my day, you know, letting my imagination run wild, permuting possible puns for that particular scenario, so thanks! ("Waste no part of the buffalo" is the Indian decree, and "wiener meets Jatti" achieves the perfect economy, you see?) :-)

    You're probably right taking into account geographical fidelity fostered by the Bunyan pronunciation; but either way, it makes for a wonderful East-meets-West experience don't you think? Not for nothing does Victor Borge (the popular piano player who doubles up as a class-act comic) holler that humor is the shortest distance between two people...but who listens? Sigh.

  4. p.s: I guess I'll have to content with Victor Borge continuing to haunt us with his holler from heaven, for I just looked him up (it's been a long while since my intro to him) and realized he has passed on, some eight years ago. He has the prettiet of gravestones though: A replica of The Little Mermaid sitting on top, with eyes wistfully wandering, wondering...Ah Danish folk art! Now I'm all nostalgic for Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales.

  5. Searched for Victor Borge and saw a video on youtube. Novel mix of music and humour. But, I guess he is an acquired taste.