Wordplay 101


Our Daily Correspondent


John Ritchie, An Expected Rise in Stocks, nineteenth century.

It’s galling to reach adulthood and realize how many things have gone over your head. That, in a single e-mail thread, you can learn both that “Staples” is a pun and that Chips Ahoy! is an allusion to “Ship ahoy.” I mean, you like to think that if someone had forced you to consider the matter for five seconds, you would have realized. But the point is that I had not realized—and I have a sneaking suspicion that this is the definition of stupidity

That night, I tried to comfort myself by thinking of the plays on words I had recognized in the course of my thirty-plus years of relative sentience. U-Haul. The Beatles. Central Perk from Friends. That fish and chips shop, A Salt and Battery.

I couldn’t think of anything else, which was terrifying. 

But then, don’t we all have certain blind spots? In a way, doesn’t that sort of make the world a more interesting place? After all, knowledge gaps like these mean that everything is a source of potential, of child-like wonder. There are always new and exciting things to learn! Even when those things are easy puns. 

On the other hand, I’ve just read this two-year-old Reddit exchange, from a thread titled “I just realized the play on words in the office supply store, Staples. What puns have you realized far too late?” (Look, I was feeling very alone.) 

“Dora the Explorer,” someone wrote. “In Spanish, exploradora = female explorer.”

Another Redditor responded: “It’s in the theme song, man.”

Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.