15 of History’s Greatest Puns

ISTOCK
ISTOCK

While puns may make you groan and have even been called the “lowest and most groveling form of wit,” a good one is a thing of beauty that’s worth celebrating. 

1. “We must all hang together or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

Benjamin Franklin is credited with this witticism, which was a call for solidarity during the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

2. “Ask for me tomorrow, and you’ll find me a grave man.”

William Shakespeare is well known for his love of wordplay, as evidenced by this line from Act III of Romeo and Juliet, said by Mercutio after suffering a mortal stab wound from Tybalt. 

3. “Now is the winter of our discontent/ made glorious summer by this son of York”

Shakespeare employs the classic son/sun pun to great effect in the opening lines of Richard III.

4. “I see their knavery: This is to make an ass of me”

One more for the Bard! This line from A Midsummer Night’s Dream is rife with punnery and dramatic irony, as Bottom, whose head has recently been made to look like a donkey’s, says it before becoming aware of his transformation. 

5. “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.”

This now-ubiquitous pun is largely attributed to Mark Twain, although there is no evidence to support that the novelist was the first to utter it—or that he ever said it at all. Researchers have been able to trace it back to a 1936 newspaper column, but they can’t be certain Twain said it. What everyone can agree on:  It’s a tremendous pun.

6. “But swear by thyself that at my death thy Son / Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;/ And, having done that, thou hast done; / I fear no more.”

There’s a lot going on here, and you need a bit more information to fully unpack this pun from “A Hymn to God the Father,” by 16th century poet John Donne. While the play on son/sun and corresponding reference to “shining” are fairly obvious, the real kicker is Donne’s allusion to himself and his wife, Anne Moore, in the final lines (“thou has done; I fear no more”).

7. “The Mouse’s Tale” in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

The works of Lewis Carroll are full of clever allusions and wordplay, and a great example is the “Mouse’s Tale” poem found within Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The Mouse introduces the poem by saying, “Mine is a long and sad tale!” To which Alice, clearly confusing tale with tail, responds, “It is a long tail, certainly, but why do you call it sad?” The poem acts as a visual pun as well, as the text winds its way down the novel’s page like a mouse’s tail.

8. “Peccavi.”

The story goes that British general Sir Charles Napier sent the one-word dispatch “Peccavi” to his superiors after conquering the Indian province of Sind in 1843—expressly against their orders. “Peccavi,” you see, is Latin for “I have sinned.” However, Napier did not make this near-perfect pun at all—it was coined by the teenaged Catherine Winkworth in an 1844 submission to a humor magazine that mistakenly printed her bit of wit as fact.

9. “Immanuel doesn’t pun, he Kant.”

Oscar Wilde is credited with this clever (and self-referential) play on philosopher Immanuel Kant’s name.

10. “Great praise be given to God and little laud to the Devil.”

This pun may well have been the most biting one in history. Court jester Archibald Armstrong dropped the zinger on William Laud, the Archbishop of Canterbury, while saying grace at a court event during the reign of King James I. Armstrong had little love for Laud, who was notoriously touchy about his height. While Laud took the butt-end of Armstrong’s wit, the archbishop got the last laugh:  Armstrong’s punishment was “to have his coat pulled over his head and be discharged the king's service and banished the king's court." 

11. “Why should the number 288 never be mentioned in company? Because it is two gross.” 

Victorians loved their puns, and this unattributed witticism from the 19th century is still sure to get a chuckle out of any math enthusiast you’re entertaining.

12. “We Polked You in ’44, We Shall Pierce You in ‘52”

When Democratic candidate Franklin Pierce needed a boost in the 1852 presidential election, he used this slogan. By calling in the memory of James K. Polk’s successful 1844 campaign, Pierce’s supporters were able to carry their underdog candidate into the White House. Who knew a good pun could change American history? 

13. “Land-On Washington”

Of course, not even puns were enough to save some campaigns. When Republican challenger Alf Landon tried to take the White House from Franklin Roosevelt in 1936, he attempted to woo the public with puns like “Land-On Washington” on buttons showing Landon’s face superimposed on an airplane and signs reading, “Let’s Make It a Landon-Slide.” On Election Day, the New Deal triumphed over these visual puns. 

14. The Cyclops Episode in Homer’s Odyssey

When Odysseus lands at the isle of Cyclopes in Homer’s Odyssey, he tells the giant Polyphemus that his name is “Outis,” Greek for “nobody.” Later, as Odysseus blinds the Cyclops with a sharpened stick, Polyphemus cries out that “Nobody” is hurting him. In response, his fellow giants recommend that Polyphemus pray to a higher power for help instead of coming to his aid. If Homer could get away with an extended pun in one of the greatest poems of all time, we should all be able to break them out at dinner. 

15. “If you’re going through Hell, keep going.”

This sage bit of punny advice is commonly attributed to Winston Churchill. But while it’s true that Churchill was a huge fan and avid purveyor of snappy zingers, researchers have been unable to definitively attribute this one to the former prime minister. Whether Churchill or an unknown punster first said it, it’s still a truly great pun.

Amazon's Under-the-Radar Coupon Page Features Deals on Home Goods, Electronics, and Groceries

Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Now that Prime Day is over, and with Black Friday and Cyber Monday still a few weeks away, online deals may seem harder to come by. And while it can be a hassle to scour the internet for promo codes, buy-one-get-one deals, and flash sales, Amazon actually has an extensive coupon page you might not know about that features deals to look through every day.

As pointed out by People, the coupon page breaks deals down by categories, like electronics, home & kitchen, and groceries (the coupons even work with SNAP benefits). Since most of the deals revolve around the essentials, it's easy to stock up on items like Cottonelle toilet paper, Tide Pods, Cascade dishwasher detergent, and a 50 pack of surgical masks whenever you're running low.

But the low prices don't just stop at necessities. If you’re looking for the best deal on headphones, all you have to do is go to the electronics coupon page and it will bring up a deal on these COWIN E7 PRO noise-canceling headphones, which are now $80, thanks to a $10 coupon you could have missed.

Alternatively, if you are looking for deals on specific brands, you can search for their coupons from the page. So if you've had your eye on the Homall S-Racer gaming chair, you’ll find there's currently a coupon that saves you 5 percent, thanks to a simple search.

To discover all the deals you have been missing out on, head over to the Amazon Coupons page.

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

6 Too-Cool Facts About Henry Winkler for His 75th Birthday

Getty Images
Getty Images

Henry Winkler thumbs-upped his way into America’s hearts as the Fonz in Happy Days more than 40 years ago, and he hasn’t been out of the spotlight since—whether it’s playing himself in an Adam Sandler movie, a hospital administrator with a weird obsession with butterflies in Adult Swim’s Children’s Hospital, the world's worst lawyer in Arrested Development, a pantomiming Captain Hook on the London stage, or the world's most lovable acting coach to a contract killer in Barry

1. Henry Winkler made up a Shakespeare monologue to get into the Yale School of Drama.

After graduating from Emerson College, Winkler applied to Yale University’s drama program. In his audition, he had to do two scenes, a modern and a classic comedy. However, when he arrived at his audition, he forgot the Shakespeare monologue he had planned to recite. So he made something up on the spot. He was still selected for one of 25 spots in the program. 

2. HENRY WINKLER’S FATHER INSPIRED “JUMPING THE SHARK.”

CBS

In the fifth season of Happy Days, the Fonz grabbed a pair of water skis and jumped over a shark. The phrase “jumping the shark” would become pop culture shorthand for the desperate gimmicks employed by TV writers to keep viewers hooked into a show that’s running out of storylines. But Winkler’s water skiing adventure was partially inspired by his father, who begged his son to tell his co-workers about his past as a water ski instructor. When he did, the writers wrote his skills into the show. Winkler would later reference the moment in his role as lawyer Barry Zuckerkorn on Arrested Development, hopping over a dead shark lying on a pier.  

3. Henry Winkler is an advocate for dyslexia awareness. 

Winkler struggled throughout high school due to undiagnosed dyslexia. “I didn't read a book until I was 31 years old when I was diagnosed with dyslexia,” he told The Guardian in 2014. He has co-written several chapter books for kids featuring Hank Zipper, a character who has dyslexia. In 2015, a Hank Zipper book is printed in Dyslexie, a special font designed to be easier for kids with dyslexia to read. 

4. Henry Winkler didn't get to ride Fonzie's motorcycle.

On one of his first days on the set of Happy Days, producers told Winkler that he just had to ride the Fonz’s motorcycle a few feet. Because of his dyslexia, he couldn’t figure out the vehicle’s controls, he told an interviewer with the Archive of American Television. “I gunned it and rammed into the sound truck, nearly killed the director of photography, put the bike down, and slid under the truck,” he recalled. For the next 10 years, whenever he appeared on the motorcycle, the bike was actually sitting on top of a wheeled platform. 

5. Henry Winkler has performed with MGMT. 

In addition to his roles on BarryArrested Development, Royal Pains, Parks and Recreation, and more, Winkler has popped up in a few unexpected places in recent years. He appeared for a brief second in the music video for MGMT’s “Your Life Is a Lie” in 2013. He later showed up at a Los Angeles music festival to play the cowbell with the band, too.

6. Henry Winkler won his first Emmy at the age of 72.

The seventh time was a charm for Henry Winkler. In 2018, at the age of 72—though just shy of his 73rd birthday—Winkler won an Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for his role as acting teacher Gene Cousineau on Barry. It was the seventh time Winkler had been nominated for an Emmy. His first nomination came in 1976 for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for Happy Days (he earned an Emmy nod in the same category for Happy Days in 1977 and 1978 as well.

This story has been updated for 2020.