Words: pun, n. and v.

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The Independent Culture
NO SOONER had I written about Acas than came the hope that the next time negotiations stall, some headline writer comes up with "Burnt- out Acas". A way with puns stretches to the denizens of Wardour Street, in their red-rimmed spectacles, and the free-associating David Helfgott. To pun can suggest clinical mania.

One famous depressive, Samuel Johnson, noted "I know not whence this word is to be deduced." The OED posits that - like mob and snob - it was a Restoration truncating of pundigrion, from the Italian puntiglio, a quibble. Puns cause derision and guilt, inspire many variations, such as Henry James's "one little punkin" - and yet our century would be the less without the Marx Brothers' "viaduct / why a duck" routine.