The Meaning of No Pun Intended: What It Is and How To Use It

This article will give you all of the information you need on the phrase no pun intended, including its meaning, origin, example sentences, and more!

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What does no pun intended mean?

According to Dictionary, no pun intended is a phrase that one uses to acknowledge that what they have just said could be considered a pun or play on words, intentionally or not. It is considered a humorous parenthetical comment.

Funnily, the phrase no pun intended has the same meaning as its opposite, the phrase pun intended or “punintended.” The meta phrase is a pun in itself, with the “un” in “pun” attaching itself to the beginning of the word “unintended” to make for some clever word play.

Sometimes people also use the phrase to mean no exaggeration or no lie, but this is not the correct usage of the phrase. This mistake is probably due to the fact that the phrase no pun intended is a common phrase. 

The phrase may also be used to spare someone’s ego if they make a pun that is not well received, according to Linguaholic. If someone makes a pun and nobody laughs, they may use the phrase no pun intended to insist that they were not trying to make a pun or “dad joke.”

What is a pun?

Oxford Languages states that a pun is a joke which utilizes the different meanings of a word, or similar-sounding words. These double meanings are used to create humorous – and sometimes cringeworthy – jokes.

According to Linguaholic, the point of a pun is to create a play on words. In a pun, someone may use one word in place of another, homonyms (words with the same sound), or words that sound similar to craft clever wordplay. They can use similarities in pronunciation or meaning to create these jokes. Punny people use the hidden meaning of the word in place of the obvious meaning in order to create these puns.

Nowadays, puns are often considered “dad jokes,” or jokes that make people groan and roll their eyes more than they make people laugh. Sometimes puns are deliberate and corny, but still fun. Other times, they are inadvertent but realized in the moment. If this is too funny to let pass unnoticed, the speaker or writer may use the phrase no pun intended. 

Puns are considered low brow humor, and easy jokes to make. However, sometimes, an unintended pun may slip out unintentionally by happenstance of word choice. Some think these are the worst kind of joke, while others are ticked by their cleverness.

There is even a competition for pun creation, the O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships. In this competition, punslingers (a pun on gunslingers) compete against each other to win. In one category, they present as many excellent puns as they can in 90 seconds, and in the other, competitors go head to head to create puns on a given topic in four rounds of single-elimination heats. The competition has existed since 1977 in Austin, Texas. In 2020, the competition went virtual due to the “pundemic.”

According to John Pollack, winner of the Pun-Off in 1995 and author of the book The Pun Also Rises on the history of puns, almost every major language uses puns, but English uses them the most because it is an amalgamation of so many different languages, thus having many overlapping sounds with which to craft puns. 

Where did the phrase no pun intended originate?

Dictionary states that adding the phrase no pun intended as an aside dates back to the early 1800s. It has always been a playful expression used when a writer or speaker makes a wordplay or double entendre.

One of these early examples is from a mid-1800s story about a turkey. In the story, the turkey’s antics are described as “fowl play (no pun intended)”. This is a case in which using no pun intended is appropriate, because a turkey is a type of fowl, and it is a play on the phrase “foul play.” “Foul” and “fowl” are homonyms, meaning they are pronounced the same. Thus, this clever wordplay is the perfect circumstance in which to use the phrase no pun intended.

The word pun itself originated in the 1660s, according to Etymonline. This word is of uncertain origin, but may have come from pundigron, which is an alteration of the Italian puntiglio which means “trivial objection or equivocation.” This comes from the Latin punctum, meaning “point.” The word pun is likely a clipped word that came into popular slang after the Restoration.

Some may say that the root of pun is the same as the word punishment, because listening to these terrible jokes is pun-ishment itself! (No pun intended!)

How can no pun intended be used in a sentence?

No pun intended is the perfect phrase to use when joking around with friends or family, particularly if someone makes an unintentionally funny play on words. Below is an example of how the phrase may be used. 

Davis and Dani are gossiping the weekend after the homecoming dance. Davis was not able to attend, so Dani is telling him all about it.

Davis: Did anything exciting happen at the dance?

Dani: Well, word of mouth is that Karly and Kyle got their braces locked together and had to go to the dentist to get un-stuck.

Davis: No pun intended.

Dani: What?

Davis: Word of mouth, braces, dentist?

Dani groans.

Here, Davis points out Dani’s unintentional pun made by using the phrase word of mouth about a scenario in which two of their classmates had their mouths literally locked together.

Overall, the phrase no pun intended is used when someone has created a clever play on words known as a pun, whether intentional or not. The phrase can be used to call out a pun, draw attention to the fact that one made a pun, or to spare one’s ego if the pun they made fell flat.