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Miscellaneous Events: The Pun Also Rises – How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, and Made Wordplay More Than Some Antics

May 4, 2011

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    While the pun is often dismissed as the lowest form of wit and many punsters are commonly ostracized for their wordplay, such attitudes are relatively recent historical developments. In this provocative presentation, John Pollack – former Presidential Speechwriter, World Pun Champion and author of The Pun Also Rises – explains why such wordplay spans the globe, how it revolutionized language, played a pivotal role in the rise of modern civilization, and even today continues to fuel human creativity and progress.

 

    Weaving together research from history, neurology, pop culture, literature, anthropology and humor, Pollack will answer some fundamental questions: just what is a pun, and how do our brains process such ambiguity? How did punning impact the development of human language, and how did that drive creativity and progress? Just who conspired to drive the pun’s reputation from the province of divine instruction into the ghetto of low humor, and how did they succeed? And why, despite its detractors, does the pun still matter, perhaps more than ever before?

 

    John Pollack was a Special Assistant to the President and a Presidential Speechwriter for Bill Clinton. Prior to his tenure at The White House, Pollack worked on Capitol Hill as the speechwriter for the House Democratic Whip David Bonior, writing on a range of issues foreign and domestic. He began his career as a journalist, working both in the United States and, for several years, as a foreign correspondent in Spain, where he wrote for U.S. newspapers and the Associated Press.

 

    Pollack, who won the 1995 O. Henry World Pun Championship, is the author of The Pun Also Rises: How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History and Made Wordplay More Than Some Antics (Gotham, 2011).  He conducted much of the research for this book in The New York Public Library’s Wertheim Study, in which he was a Writer in Residence. Pollack’s previous books include The World on a String: How to Become a Freelance Foreign Correspondent, and Cork Boat, which chronicles the true story of his 30-year quest to build a Viking ship entirely from wine corks, and its 2002 voyage down Portugal’s Douro River.

 

    In addition to writing books, Pollack works as a communications consultant with San Francisco-based ROI Communication, helping corporate and non-profit leaders communicate more effectively. A native of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Pollack earned a BA in American Studies from Stanford University in 1988. He lives in New York City.