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Responding to verbal ambiguity: the case of puns

Studies in Symbolic Interaction

ISBN: 978-1-84663-930-2, eISBN: 978-1-84663-931-9

Publication date: 25 July 2008


Using puns as an illustration, we examine how verbal ambiguity affects the process of discourse. Our major focus is on the responses people make to the occurrence of puns in face-to-face conversations. First, we question the notion that the groans that commonly and distinctively greet puns are responses to the perceived low or high quality of specific puns. Next, we describe the special problems of interpretation that accompany puns arising in encounters. Finally, we suggest a modification of the views of Blumer and of Goffman as to the incidental or disruptive intrusion of jocularity into encounters. We conclude that verbal ambiguity – despite its popular identification as enigmatic, “incorrect” language – does not significantly alter the processes or results of everyday discourse.


Meltzer, B.N. and Meltzer, W.J. (2008), "Responding to verbal ambiguity: the case of puns", Denzin, N.K. (Ed.) Studies in Symbolic Interaction (Studies in Symbolic Interaction, Vol. 30), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 151-164.



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