Someone recently posted on Facebook a cartoon in which talking horses were participating in a “Gallop” poll.
As you might imagine, this unleashed a flurry of responses using similar wordplay, many of them certifiable groaners.
Among these offenders was mine, but don’t forward it anywhere – it’s not, strictly speaking, what I wish to be known for.
Like it or not, though, for a single sentence full of egregious puns I quickly did become known, even in places as distant as Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and even Medicine Hat, Alberta.
This was entertaining on the one hand, but on the other it offered a lesson in how Facebook’s instant reach is both energizing and frightening.
You wouldn’t call the travel of my comment anywhere near “viral,” but after it appeared, my Facebook feed lit up almost every minute for two days, with the final number of likes and comments topping out at 4,520.
These ranged from accolades to an accusation that my playful suggestion for halting the flow of outrageous double-entendres was an attack on free expression.
My horsey comment sparking all the reaction was this: “These puns are bound to stirrup animosity and make people bridle. It’s time we called a halter to this before we get saddled with more of them.”
Not exactly Pulitzer material, but I guess equal to other sentiments for a shutoff, like “Leave well enough a roan” and, “It would behoof us to stop right here.”
A guy with opposite feelings wrote, “Neigh. I think we oat to give free rein to these puns.”
Some folks used the occasion to ride herd on pollsters, with one declaring that they often direct their questions at people who represent the wrong end of the horse.
All this was light banter across the continents, but in an age when social media carry uncountable messages, it illustrates how fast malignant coalitions can be forged.
Long before the likes of Facebook and Twitter, Winston Churchill observed, “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can put on its pants.” Sir Winston had no idea what lay in store for us.
Meanwhile, it’s fortunate that none of my responders seem to live in China, which in 2014 banned puns in the press and on social media.
In its announcement, the Chinese Administration for Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television — clearly possessed of a comatose funny bone (or dare I say a humorless humerus?) – declared that puns and other wordplay are “contradictory in spirit to the promotion and continuance of excellent traditional Chinese culture,” and could result in “linguistic chaos.”
How this prohibition has been enforced I don’t know, but the agency promised pun-ishment, warning that “violators will be dealt with severely.”
The ban prompted a few American publications to describe China as a place where “You can pun, but you can’t hide.”
On this side of the world, the Chinese dictum would put a lot of us quickly out of business – so we’ll continue to use only the groan as chastisement for those who, on wordplay issues, insist on sticking to their puns.
Gerry Goldstein (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a retired Providence Journal editor and columnist.