Read “Lederer on Language” every Saturday in the San Diego Union Tribune and on this site.
Welcome to the website woven for wordaholics, logolepts, and verbivores. Carnivores eat meat; herbivores eat plants and vegetables; verbivores devour words. If you are heels over head (as well as head over heels) in love with words, tarry here a while to graze or, perhaps, feast on the English language. Ours is the only language in which you drive in a parkway and park in a driveway and your nose can run and your feet can smell.

A set-up pun is a conspiracy of narrative and word play. In set-up punnery, the punster contrives an imaginary situation that leads up to a climax punningly, cunningly and stunningly based on a well-known expression or title. In a good set-up pun, we groan at the absurdity of the situation while admiring the ingenuity with which the tale reaches its foreordained conclusion.

Now it’s time to be a groan-up while admiring the following narratives as they lead up to the Christmas punch lines:

Rudolph, a dedicated Russian communist and important rocket scientist, was about to launch a large satellite. His wife, a fellow scientist at the base, urged Rudolph to postpone the launch because, she asserted, a hard rain was about to fall. Their collegial disagreement soon escalated into a furious argument that Rudolph closed by shouting, “Rudolph, the Red, knows rain, dear!”

• • •

A man went to his dentist because he felt something wrong in his mouth. The dentist looked inside and said, “That new upper plate I put in for you six months ago is eroding. What have you been eating?”

The man replied, “All I can think of is that about four months ago my wife made some asparagus and put some stuff on it that was delicious Hollandaise sauce. I loved it so much I now put it on everything — meat, toast, fish, vegetables, everything!”

“Well,” said the dentist, “that’s probably the problem. Hollandaise sauce is made with lots of lemon juice, which is highly corrosive. It’s eaten away your upper plate. I’ll make you a new plate, and this time use chrome.”

“Why chrome?” asked the patient.

“It’s simple,” replied the dentist. “Dental researchers have concluded that there’s no plate like chrome for the Hollandaise!”

• • •

A group of chess-playing fanatics would gather each morning in the hotel lobby to brag about their greatest victories. It seemed that each player had only triumphs and awesome feats of skill to his credit. Came a day when the hotel manager barred the group from the lobby — because he couldn’t stand to hear a bunch of chess nuts boasting in an open foyer.

• • •

One of rock ‘n’ roll’s earliest — and greatest — rock performers was the incomparable Buddy Holly. Despite his bespectacled, nerdy appearance, the man really knew how to ignite an audience. In fact, the folks who attended Buddy’s performances got so excited that many of his concerts ended with a riot. Just as soon as the fans saw that Buddy had performed the closing song, they would fly into a collective rage, smash chairs, storm the stage and tear down the curtain. As a result, no theater owner would hire Buddy because they feared that their patrons would wreck the hall with bows of Holly.

• • •

A mother was pleased with the card her son had made her for Christmas, but was puzzled as to the scraggly-looking tree from which many presents dangled, and at the very top, something that looked strangely like a bullet. She asked him if he would explain the drawing and why the tree itself was so bare, instead of a fat pine tree. “It’s not a traditional Christmas tree,” he explained. “It’s a cartridge in a bare tree.”

• • •

Three circus dwarfs decided to change professions. They reviewed their options and decided to move to China and start a business together in that burgeoning economy. They bought a factory in Beijing and started manufacturing road-building materials to use to build highways for China’s expanding transportation system. They shrewdly cornered the market on a black, sticky substance to cover the roads they were building. Thus, they became known as the three wee kings of Orient tar.

Please send your questions and comments about language to richard.lederer@utsandiego.com