The HyperTexts

The Best Puns and Wordplay
Pun Definition
Examples of Puns

The best puns and wordplay can be wonderfully entertaining ... at least as long as someone else is the object of ridicule and derision! Who wrote the best puns? The greatest punners in the English language include George Carlin, Ben Franklin, Bob Hope, Groucho Marx, Ogden Nash, Dorothy Parker, Will Rogers, Mark Twain, Mae West and Oscar Wilde. William Shakespeare may be the most famous punner of them all, since more than 3,000 puns appear in his plays!

Pun definition: A pun is a play on words in which a humorous effect is produced by using a word that suggests two or more meanings or by exploiting similar sounding words having different meanings.
Pun examples: A horse is a very stable animal. If I said you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me? Time flies when we're having pun! If Donald Trump gets elected, there'll be hell toupée.

compiled by Michael R. Burch

Related pages: The Best Donald Trump Puns

Introduction to Puns and Wordplay

This page contains some of the greatest puns and wordplay of all time, in the form of epigrams. I have worked with the interests of students young and old in mind, so if you want to learn more about puns and wordplay, hopefully you have found the right "launching pad." If you are working on a school project, I have provided definitions and examples of the various types of puns and wordplay. But I promise this class will be fun, and funnynot puny, but punny! Or let's employ a coinage, and call it pfunny! Okay, as Groucho would say, enough with the wisecracks, already! Please allow me to begin with a question:

What does this crowd of colorful characters have in common: Douglas Adams, Woody Allen, Isaac Asimov, Catherine the Great, Yogi Berra, George Carlin, Lewis Carroll, Winston Churchill, John Donne, Albert Einstein, Gandhi, James Joyce, John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, Marilyn Monroe, Vladimir Nabokov, Ogden Nash, Dorothy Parker, Dolly Parton, Plautus, Alexander Pope, Will Rogers, Jerry Seinfeld, Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Mae West and Oscar Wilde?

Answer: They all produced immortal puns! Now here, to whet your appetite for more, are some of my favorite puns and plays on words ...

The Top Ten Puns of All Time

Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.—Oscar Wilde
The ballot is stronger than the bullet.—Abraham Lincoln
It's not the size of the dog in the fight that counts, it's the size of the fight in the dog.—Dwight D. Eisenhower
It's not the men in your life that count, it's the life in your men.—Mae West
A hard man is good to find.—Mae West (But don't use this one in class, or tell it to your mother!)
A hangover is the wrath of grapes.—Dorothy Parker
We must hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.Benjamin Franklin
Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.—Ogden Nash
Nothing succeeds like excess.Oscar Wilde
You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.Dorothy Parker

Perhaps the best-known extended pun is the famous "Who's on first" skit by Abbott & Costello about a first baseman named Who.

Abbott: Who is on first.
Costello: I’m asking you: Who’s on first?
Abbott: That’s the man’s name!
Costello: That’s who’s name?
Abbott: Yes!
... and so on ...

Here's another extended wordplay pun from the movie Airplane!

Rumack: Can you fly this plane, and land it?
Ted: Surely you can’t be serious.
Rumack: I am serious ... and don’t call me Shirley!

Other Show Business Puns

If you want to see a comic strip, you should see me in the shower.—Groucho Marx
Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to live in an institution?—Groucho Marx 
I was married by a judge; I should have asked for a jury.—Groucho Marx 
I will never give up. I'm in the 14th year of a 10-day beauty plan.—Phyllis Diller
Welcome to the Academy Awards, or, as it’s known at my house, Passover.—Bob Hope

Political Puns

If Donald Trump gets elected, there'll be hell toupée. — Anonymous
When Trump is elected we will all have toupée the price. — Ryan Bourassa 
Teddy Roosevelt spoke softly and carried a big stick; Donald Trump speaks loudly and carries a big shtick. — Michael R. Burch
Americans have been mishearing The Donald: what he actually said is that he will make America grate again, after which minorities will migrate again! — Michael R. Burch
He's gonna make America grapes again! — SNL's Drunk Uncle

For a larger selection of Donald Trump puns, please click here: The Best Donald Trump Puns

The last pun above is a good example, I believe, of what one might call the "superpowers" of puns. A good pun can pack a super powerful punch into an itty-bitty word, even a seemingly innocuous one like "grapes." The pun's author may have been thinking of the Drunk Uncle's favorite vino while referring to the "grapes of wrath" of the Civil War: "He is stamping out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored." There may also be a hint of "sour grapes," as today many disaffected white Americans seem anxious to blame all their problems on people with darker skin. Mr. Trump claims that he is going to "make America great again," but how "great" was the United States when multitudes of Africans were abducted from their native lands, packed like animals onto reeking cargo ships, forced to do backbreaking labor as slaves, and then even after the Civil War lived through another century of Jim Crow laws, kangaroo courts and public lynchings? How great, when Native Americans were being forced to walk the Trail of Tears? How great, when in many states only heterosexuals have ever been allowed to marry? Where is this elusive "golden age" to be found, when the United States was truly great and everyone was treated fairly? Or are we still trying to achieve such greatness for the first time in our national history? What constitutes "greatness"? Is it having the world's most powerful military and abusing that power, as we did in Vietnam and Iraq―two terrible wars fought on completely false premises? Is it being the wealthiest nation on earth, only to favor the super-rich over the poor? Is it claiming to be a "Christian" nation―as many Americans do―while failing to follow the main ethical teachings of Jesus Christ, the apostles and the Hebrew prophets. They all taught the importance of those "with" helping those "without." But who screams the longest and the the loudest when the government tries to help anyone in need? Ironically, the people who scream the longest and the loudest today are "Bible believing" conservative Christians―just as it was "Bible believing" Christians who screamed the longest and the loudest when Abraham Lincoln tried to end the expansion of slavery. But who can believe that Jesus Christ would ever have owned a slave? And so it goes. Okay, I promise not to bore you with any more sermons, but please pay close attention to the wiser punners on this page!

Homophonic Puns

Homophonic puns exploit words that sound alike but have different meanings.

The pun is mightier than the sword.—Unknown
Denial ain't just a river in Egypt.often attributed to Mark Twain
Atheism is a non-prophet organization.—George Carlin
You can tune a guitar, but you can't tuna fish. Unless, of course, you play bass.—Douglas Adams
Immanuel doesn't pun; he Kant.—Oscar Wilde
The ballot is stronger than the bullet.Abraham Lincoln
Your children need your presence more than your presents.Jesse Jackson


Palindromes are words or phrases that read the same forwards and backwards, usually ignoring spaces and punctuation. The term "palindrome" was coined by the great English poet/playwright Ben Jonson in the 17th century. The first English palindrome appeared in 1614: “Lewd did I live & evil I did dwel.”

I prefer pi.
Ma is as selfless as I am.
Madam in Eden, I'm Adam.
Are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to new era?
A man, a plan, a canal: Panama. (A campaign slogan for Teddy Roosevelt.)


Oxymorons are contradictions in terms.

holy war
virtual reality
random order
by reason of insanity

The Chiasmus

A chiasmus repeats the same or very similar words in a different order:

It's not the size of the dog in the fight that counts, it's the size of the fight in the dog.—Dwight D. Eisenhower
It's not the men in your life that count, it's the life in your men.—Mae West
Love is either wholly folly, or fully holy.Michael R. Burch
I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing.Ronald Reagan
Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind.—John F. Kennedy

Implied Chiasmus

A chiasmus may be implied from other well-known phrases.

Time's fun when you're having flies.Kermit the Frog
A hard man is good to find.—Mae West
A hangover is the wrath of grapes.Dorothy Parker


One of the more creative types of punning wordplay is the spoonerism. A spoonerism is an aural or phonetic chiasmus: the sounds of words are reversed, rather than the same or similar words being reversed. The term is named after William Archibald Spooner, who was famous (or infamous) for mixing up words.

For instance, Spooner would say: "The Lord is a shoving leopard" when he meant "The Lord is a loving shepherd."

Here are other examples of spoonerisms:

I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.Dorothy Parker
Work is the curse of the drinking class.—Oscar Wilde
Time wounds all heels.—Groucho Marx
Don't sweat the petty things and don't pet the sweaty things.George Carlin
Norman Vincent Peale was a Protestant preacher who was quite vocal about his dislike for Adlai Stevenson. In response, Stevenson said:  "Speaking as a Christian, I find the Apostle Paul appealing and the Apostle Peale appalling."
Walter Winchell said that he never panned the opening show of a new theater season because he didn't want to stone the first cast.
Here's champagne to our real friends and real pain to our sham friends! (Unknown)
Those of us on diets know that a waist is a terrible thing to mind. (Unknown)


A malapropism (or "malaprop") is a verbal blunder. In his 1775 comedy The Rivals, Richard Sheridan introduced a humorous character by the name of Mrs. Malaprop. The name is derived from the French mal à propos, which means "inappropriate." A modern subcategory of the malapropism is the Bushism, named after George W. Bush.

O, he will dissolve my mystery!—Mrs. Malaprop
Republicans understand the importance of bondage between a mother and child.—Dan Quayle
They have miscalculated me as a leader.George W. Bush
Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.George W. Bush
Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?George W. Bush
You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test.George W. Bush
See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.George W. Bush
And so, General, I want to thank you for your service. And I appreciate the fact that you really snatched defeat out of the jaws of those who are trying to defeat us in Iraq.George W. Bush


An eggcorn is a malapropism that "makes sense." For instance:

"Baited breath" for "bated breath"
"Mating name" for "maiden name"
"Preying mantis" for "praying mantis"
"Chicken pocks" for "chicken pox"


Antanaclasis is the repetition of a word or phrase with a different meaning each time.

We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.Ben Franklin
If you aren't fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired, with enthusiasm.—Vince Lombardi

Double Entendre

A double entendre is a phrase that can be interpreted in two very different ways. 

If I said you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me?The Bellamy Brothers
Being in politics is like playing golf: you're trapped in one bad lie after another.—Unknown
I don't approve of political jokes; I have seen too many of them get elected.Jon Stewart

Great Puns in Unexpected Places

As I worked on this page, I was struck by the humor and irony of one of the world's most famous "dumb blondes." As a famous adage suggests, perhaps we really shouldn't judge a book by its cover. Please consider the wit and wisdom of Marilyn Monroe ...

What do I wear in bed? Why, Chanel No. 5, of course!
It's not true that I had nothing on. I had the radio on.
I've been on a calendar, but never on time.
I don't mind making jokes, but I don't want to look like one.
Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition.
Before marriage, a girl has to make love to a man to hold him. After marriage, she has to hold him to make love to him.
I have too many fantasies to be a housewife. I guess I am a fantasy.
A wise girl kisses but doesn't love, listens but doesn't believe, and leaves before she is left.
If you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best.

Poetic Puns

Golden lads and girls all must
As chimney sweepers, come to dust.
William Shakespeare

When I am dead, I hope it may be said:
His sins were scarlet, but his books were read.
Hilaire Belloc

Some primal termite knocked on wood
And tasted it, and found it good,
And that is why your Cousin May     
Fell through the parlor floor today.
Ogden Nash

Sex Ed

Some of the best puns are humorous commentary on sex and sexual relationships:

Behind every successful man is a surprised woman.—Maryon Pearson
Husbands are like fires: they go out if unattended.Zsa Zsa Gabor
When women go wrong, men go right after them.Mae West
Give a man a free hand and he'll run it all over you.Mae West
I believe that sex is one of the most beautiful, natural, wholesome things that money can buy.—Tom Clancy
You know "that look" women get when they want sex? Me neither.—Steve Martin
Having sex is like playing bridge. If you don't have a good partner, you'd better have a good hand.—Woody Allen
Women may be able to fake orgasms. But men can fake entire relationships.—Sharon Stone
The problem with most women is that they get all excited about nothing, then marry him.Cher
Politics is the second oldest profession; it bears a very close resemblance to the first.Ronald Reagan
Men always want to be a woman's first love; women like to be a man's last romance.—Oscar Wilde
I'm not offended by dumb blonde jokes because I'm not dumb, and also I'm not blonde.—Dolly Parton
My husband and I divorced over religious differences. He thought he was God. I didn't.Unknown

Raillery and Drollery

Raillery has been defined as "light, teasing banter," "gentle mockery" and "good-humored satire or ridicule." Drollery is something whimsically comical.

If you can't be a good example, you'll just have to be a horrible warning.—Catherine the Great
There is no glory in outstripping donkeys.Marcus Valerius Martial
As blushing may make a whore seem virtuous, so modesty may make a fool seem sensible.Jonathan Swift
Religion is the opiate of the people.Karl Marx
Religion is the dopiate of the sheeple.Michael R. Burch

Here's a bit of rather gentle raillery of my own, called "Saving Graces":

Life’s saving graces are love, pleasure, laughter ...
wisdom, it seems, is for the Hereafter.
Michael R. Burch

My epigram is dedicated to Christians who claim they'll inherit heaven at the expense of everyone else. (If you question the idea that Einstein and Gandhi will go to "hell," please read Why "hell" is vanishing from the Bible.)

Waggery, Jests, Ribald Jokes

Perhaps at the opposite end of the spectrum from raillery would be waggery (the wisecrack, the bald-faced jest, the ribald joke which is sexual, excretory or somehow offensive, to someone):

A man who says he can see through a woman is missing a lot.—Groucho Marx
A man's only as old as the woman he feels.—Groucho Marx

The One-Liner, or Zinger

Another name for Marx's method is "the zinger," a potent form of the comedian's one-liner. The zinger requires upsetting the applecart of our polite polities. But there are many other "flavors" of epigrams. One of my favorite categories is best exemplified by the Divine Oscar Wilde, who upsets the applecart in an entirely different way:

Questions are never indiscreet, answers sometimes are.Oscar Wilde

The Bon Mot

What a wickedly scathing line! This is a wonderful example of the bon mot ("good word"), the best way of saying something. There has never been a better critic of gossip, innuendo and scandal-mongering than Oscar Wilde (perhaps because so many prudes, busybodies and gossips considered him to be scandalous, when the real scandal was that they refused to mind their own business):

Scandal is gossip made tedious by morality.Oscar Wilde

Wilde is every moralist's worst nightmare, because he was wise in the ways of the world and human nature, while moralists are usually up to their eyeballs in hypocrisy. Centuries before Wilde, Aristotle proved the ancient Greeks could be scintillantly scathing:

Wit is educated insolence.Aristotle

But epigrams can also be wise, and liberating:

If you would lift me you must be on higher ground.―Ralph Waldo Emerson


Epigrams which convey truths or principles are called aphorisms:

An aphorism can never be the whole truth; it is either a half-truth or a truth-and-a-half.—Karl Kraus

The epigram is the simple, elegant black dress of literature; it leaves nearly everything bared and yet still temptingly open to the imagination. The best epigrammatists produce belle lettres ("beautiful letters" or "fine writing") en brief ("in brief"). But there is as much diversity among epigrammatists as there is in the sea. Take the one below from the master of relativity himself, Albert Einstein. Einstein, who was quite the ladies' man, was asked to explain relativity. He chose to describe the perception of time as an aspect of human nature and physical attraction:

Sit next to a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. Sit on a red-hot stove for a minute, it seems like an hour. That's relativity!Albert Einstein

The Limerick

Another popular form of the epigram is the limerick. Here's one that delves into the zanier aspects of relativity:

There once was a woman named Bright
who traveled much faster than light.
She set out one day
in a relative way
and came back the previous night!

Leg-Pulling, Horseplay, Whimsy, Monkeyshines, etc.

Einstein's epigram might be assigned any of a number of sub-terms: leg-pulling, horseplay, whimsy, a monkeyshine . . . perhaps even a hoodwink, boondoggle or snow job (since the "relativity" being discussed has little to do with physics, but much to do with physiques, body chemistry and sex). Still, Einstein's epigram, whatever we choose to call it, contains considerable wisdom. But sometimes epigrams can be entirely for amusement, such as this one of mine. I call it "Nun Fun Undone":

are not for excesses!
Michael R. Burch

An epigram like mine that is entirely for the sake of humor might earn sobriquets like: tomfoolery, buffoonery, mummery, a chestnut, a gag, a ha-ha, a jape, a jest, a lark, a rib, a sally, a quirk, a whim, a vagary.


A similar form of epigram is the comic's one-liner, or quip. One of the most famous one-liners is:

Take my wife . . . please!—Henny Youngman, later adopted by Rodney Dangerfield

Light Verse and Doggerel

Then there is light verse: poetry too un-serious about itself and its aims to assume literary airs. In its silliest and least "literary" forms, light verse is called doggerel. Masters of English light verse include Lord Byron (the author of "Don Juan") and my personal favorite, Ogden Nash:

The turtle lives 'twixt plated decks
which practically conceal its sex.
I think it clever of the turtle
in such a fix to be so fertile.
—Ogden Nash

Sports Quotes

Epigrams can be found in every genre of writing. Here's one I love, by a sports columnist:

If you win, you’re colorful. If you lose, you’re incompetent.—David Climer


Then there are "dead serious" epigrams, called epitaphs. These are the inscriptions that appear on headstones. Here's one of mine called "Epitaph for a Palestinian Child":

I lived as best I could, and then I died.
Be careful where you step: the grave is wide.
Michael R. Burch

We have epitaphs that survive from gravestones found in ancient Greece. Here's one I translated, loosely, from an epitaph attributed to Plato:

Mariner, do not ask whose tomb this may be,
but go with good fortune: I wish you a kinder sea.

Sometimes the lines blur. Here's an epitaph that is also a chiasmus, from the headstone of the famous boxer Jack Dempsey:

A gentle man and a gentleman.—Unknown


The epigram above is also an example of encomium (praise or eulogy). The opposite type of epigram, when offered as invective, is the epithet. An epithet defines or characterizes someone or something. In Homer's day epithets were often complimentary. But today epithets are generally non-complimentary, if not insulting or downright offensive. Modern epithets often descend into derogatory slang and racial invective. But in the hands of a master epigrammatist like Will Rogers, they can still be sublime in effect:

An economist's guess is liable to be as good as anybody else's.—Will Rogers
Make crime pay. Become a lawyer.—Will Rogers
A fool and his money are soon elected.—Will Rogers

Political Epigrams

Political epigrams can be equally scathing, whether aimed at liberals, conservatives or politicians in general:

I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.—Will Rogers
A conservative is a man who believes that nothing should be done for the first time.Alfred E. Wiggam
A conservative is a man who is too cowardly to fight and too fat to run.Elbert Hubbard
A conservative is one who admires radicals centuries after they're dead.Leo Rosten
A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned how to walk forward.—Franklin D. Roosevelt

Ethnic Humor

A sub-genre of the epithet consists of racial, ethnic or cultural ribbing. Southerners often poke fun at themselves and their neighbors with "hillbilly humor":

You know you're a redneck if your family tree don't fork.—Unknown
You know you're a redneck if your cars sit on blocks and your house has wheels.—Unknown

Parody and Lampooning

Another genre of epigrams engages in parody and lampooning. Here's one I hope to someday include it in a book of poems to be titled Why I Left the Religious Right:

I've got Jesus's name on a wallet insert
and "Hell is for Queers" on the back of my shirt
and I uphold the Law,
for grace has a flaw:
the Church must have someone to drag through the dirt.
Michael R. Burch


The great epigrammatists often arise from the ranks of the disaffected and oppressed. Oscar Wilde, the greatest epigrammatist of them all, served time in Reading Gaol for "indecency" (he had the temerity to be flamboyantly gay). Mark Twain wrote volumes exposing and expounding on the massive illogic of orthodox Christianity (he had the temerity to be a heretic, but had to hold up the publication of his anti-Christian opus Letters from the Earth for fifty years after his death, in order to protect his family from fire-breathing Christian fundamentalists). Albert Einstein produced many of his epigrams against the backdrop of Nazi Germany (he had the temerity to be a brilliant Jew).  Today many of our best epigrammatists are women who combine sharp minds with even sharper tongues:

Behind every successful man is a surprised woman.—Maryon Pearson
A male gynecologist is like an auto mechanic who never owned a car.—Carrie Snow
The phrase "working mother" is redundant.—Jane Sellman
If high heels were so wonderful, men would still be wearing them.—Sue Grafton
If you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman.—Margaret Thatcher

The stupendous epigrams above prove women's brains are every bit as good as men's, as they extract Eve's revenge at the expense of men's prehistoric prejudices. Here's my favorite epigram in this genre:

Whatever women must do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.—Charlotte Whitton

A great female epigrammatist can use her razor-sharp wit to deflate bigotry:

I'm not offended by dumb blonde jokes because I'm not dumb, and also I'm not blonde.—Dolly Parton

Has anyone ever made a better case for the combinatory advantages of brains, wigs and peroxide? (I will refrain from mentioning Dolly's other, even more glamorous advantages.)


Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.—attributed to Mark Twain
Immanuel doesn’t pun, he Kant.—attributed to Oscar Wilde
If you’re going through Hell, keep going.—attributed to Winston Churchill  
I see their knavery: This is to make an ass of me.—Bottom calls himself an ass in William Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York.—William Shakespeare puns on "son/sun"


Ask for me tomorrow, and you’ll find me a grave man.—Mercutio, who is about to die in William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet"


Socrates suggested that we define our terms, so for my purposes here I will use the primary term "epigram" and define it with Webster as a "terse, sage or witty and often paradoxical saying." Paradox can be both enlightening and amusing. Here's a stellar example by a contemporary writer:

Nowadays we make quick work of our courtships; it's our divorces that we spend a lot of time on.—Richard Moore

Paradoxical, indeed! But some epigrams are so paradoxical they seem to be best taken for purposes of amusement and bemusement only:

You can observe a lot just by watching.—Yogi Berra
There are some people who, if they don't already know, you can't tell 'em.—Yogi Berra
Nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded.—Yogi Berra
The future ain't what it used to be.—Yogi Berra
I didn't really say all the things I said.—Yogi Berra


To give us the most possible good material to work with, I will construe the term "epigram" to include one-liners, zingers, spoonerisms, witticisms, aphorisms, saws, pithy sayings, epitaphs, epithets, proverbs, doggerel, the chiasmus (I decline to use the strange plural: chiasmi), brief quotes, short poems, hillbilly humor, maxims, truisms, the wisdom of the ages, etc. I will take as my motto and my guiding light:

Brevity is the soul of wit.—William Shakespeare

One takes one's literary life into one's own hands when one attempts to go beyond the Masters, but then again "nothing ventured, nothing gained" (an epigram and a perfectly good truism), so please allow me to suggest that:

If brevity is the soul of wit
then brevity and levity
are the whole of it.
Michael R. Burch

But then a good epigrammatist won't let us wriggle easily off the hook of a quick assumption:

Brevity is the soul of lingerie.Dorothy Parker

The great epigrammatists will invariably do one of two things: they will either amuse and bemuse us into wisdom, or they will scathe us into wisdom. Let me give some quick examples to illustrate what I mean, before we launch this Enterprise off for the stars, to battle the Klingons (pun on "cling-ons"):

A hangover is the wrath of grapes.—Unknown

To be safe on the Fourth,
Don't buy a fifth on the third.
—James H Muehlbauer

I'd rather have a bottle in front of me
than a frontal lobotomy.
Dorothy Parker


One of my all-time favorite epigrams consists of this exchange of repartee between Winston Churchill and Lady Astor:

Lady Astor: "Winston, you're drunk!"
Winston Churchill: "But I shall be sober in the morning and you, madam, will still be ugly."
Lady Astor: "Mr. Churchill, if you were my husband, I'd put poison in your tea."
Winston Churchill: "Madam, if I were your husband, I'd drink it."

The Method Behind the Madness

Robert Frost, probably America's last major poet, said "poetry begins in delight and ends in wisdom." I would like to paraphrase him, if I may, and say:

Epigrams delight us into wisdom.—Michael R. Burch

Which is not to say that they invariably make us happy! Below is my favorite among my own epigrams; it illustrates, perhaps, how much can be squeezed into a tight compartment while still leaving breathing room for "special effects" like meter, rhyme and alliteration:

If God
is good
half the Bible
is libel.
Michael R. Burch

In brief, the epigram is the Harry Houdini of literature. Here are a few more of my all-time favorite puns and wordplay:

The Oscar Goes to Wilde: Epigrams by the Divine Oscar Wilde

Work is the curse of the drinking classes.
Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.
A man's face is his autobiography. A woman's face is her work of fiction.
A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Men always want to be a woman's first love; women like to be a man's last romance.
Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.
Bigamy is having one wife too many. Monogamy is the same.
Questions are never indiscreet, answers sometimes are.
Scandal is gossip made tedious by morality.
Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.
The public is wonderfully tolerant. It forgives everything except genius.
The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.
Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable we are compelled to alter it every six months.
America is the only country that went from barbarism to decencies without civilization in between.
Do not speak ill of society . . . only people who can't get in do that.
It is a much cleverer thing to talk nonsense than to listen to it.
The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.
The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.
Arguments are extremely vulgar, for everyone in good society holds exactly the same opinion.
The difference between literature and journalism is that journalism is unreadable and literature is not read.
Woman begins by resisting a man's advances and ends by blocking his retreat.
All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his.
The old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything, the young know everything.
A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.

If every witty thing that’s said was true,
Oscar Wilde, the world would worship You!
Michael R. Burch

The Twain Well Met: The Best Puns of Mark Twain

Denial ain't just a river in Egypt.
Familiarity breeds contempt, and children.
Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter.
What would men be without women? Scarce, sir, mighty scarce.
If you don't read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do, you are misinformed.
It's not the parts of the Bible that I don't understand that bother me, it's the parts I do understand.
There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.
It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you do know that ain't so.
To be good is noble; but to show others how to be good is nobler and less trouble.
By trying we can easily learn to endure adversity. Another man's, I mean.
Providence protects children and idiots. I know because I have tested it.
The Christian's Bible is a drug store. Its contents remain the same, but the medical practice changes.
Truth is the most valuable thing we have. Let us economize it.
Truth is mighty and will prevail. There is nothing wrong with this, except that it ain't so.
Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.
Facts are stubborn; statistics are more pliable.
There are lies, damned lies and statistics.
Don't tell fish stories where the people know you; but particularly, don't tell them where they know the fish.
Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.
Put all your eggs in one basket, then: watch the basket!
Wit is the sudden marriage of ideas which were previously unrelated.
Classic: something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.
The very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice.
It's no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.
The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.
The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between a lightning bug and lightning.
Don't let schooling interfere with your education.
Cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.
Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.
There is probably no distinctly American criminal class, except Congress.
Reader, suppose you were an idiot. Now suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.
What is the difference between a taxidermist and a tax collector? The taxidermist takes only your skin.
Sometimes too much to drink is barely enough.
Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I've done it thousands of times.
The man who is a pessimist before 48 knows too much; if he is an optimist after, he knows too little.
When your friends begin to flatter you on how young you look, it's obvious you're getting old.
Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to.
One of the most striking differences between a cat and a lie is that a cat only has nine lives.
It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog.
Good breeding means concealing how much we think of ourselves and how little we think of others.
It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.
If at first you don't succeed, try again. Then quit; there's no use being a damn fool about it.
Repartee is something we think of twenty-four hours too late.
The rule is perfect: in all matters of opinion our adversaries are insane.
Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get.
A person with a new idea is a crank, until it succeeds.
All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure.

The Elegant Epigrams and Side-Splitting Spoonerisms of Dorothy Parker

I'd rather have a bottle in front of me
than a frontal lobotomy.

Men seldom make passes
At girls who wear glasses.

If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.

Brevity is the soul of lingerie.
A little bad taste is like a nice dash of paprika.
If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn't be a bit surprised.

Mae Day: the Wit and Wisdom of Mae West

To err is human, but it feels divine.
She's the kind of girl who climbed the ladder of success wrong by wrong.
When women go wrong, men go right after them.
Virtue has its own reward, but not at the box office.
Give a man a free hand and he'll run it all over you.
A hard man is good to find.
Every man I meet wants to protect me. I can't figure out what from.
I believe that it's better to be looked over than it is to be overlooked.
I didn't discover curves; I only uncovered them.
I'm no model lady. A model's just an imitation of the real thing.
Marriage is a great institution, but I'm not ready to be institutionalized.
The best way to hold a man is in your arms.
The score never interested me, only the game.
Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often.
When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I've never tried before.
When I'm good I'm very, very good, but when I'm bad, I'm better.
You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.

Highland Hijinks: the Epigrams of Robert Burns, The Bard of Scotland

The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men gang aft agley [go oft awry]
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp; the man’s the gowd [gold] for a’ [all] that!
The wisest man the warl’ [world] e’er saw, he dearly lov’d the lasses, O. [Solomon had hundreds of wives and concubines]
O wad some Power the giftie gie us, to see oursels as ithers see us! [written after seeing a louse on a churchgoer's fancy bonnet]
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to min’? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and days o’ auld lang syne?

The Wit and Wisdom of Ronald Wilson Reagan

I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing.
I wasn't a great communicator, but I communicated great things.
There are simple answers to the nation's problems, but not easy ones.
We don't have a trillion-dollar debt because we haven't taxed enough; we have a trillion-dollar debt because we spend too much.
I've always stated that the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth is a government program.
I did turn 75 today — but remember, that's only 24 Celsius.
I have wondered at times what the Ten Commandments would have looked like if Moses had run them through the U.S. Congress.
The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help."
A friend of mine was asked to a costume ball a short time ago. He slapped some egg on his face and went as a liberal economist.
Recession is when your neighbor loses his job. Depression is when you lose yours. Recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his.
Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.
Detente — isn't that what a farmer has with his turkey — until Thanksgiving?
Politics is not a bad profession. If you succeed there are many rewards, if you disgrace yourself you can always write a book.
I am not worried about the deficit. It is big enough to take care of itself.
The difference between them and us is that we want to check government spending and they want to spend government checks.
Government's view of the economy: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. If it stops moving, subsidize it.
How do you tell a Communist? Well, it's someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an anti-Communist? It's someone who understands Marx and Lenin.

Epigrams about Epigrams

What is an epigram? A dwarfish whole;
Its body brevity, and wit its soul.
—Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief.
—William Shakespeare

To write an epigram, cram.
If you lack wit, scram!
Michael R. Burch

Humor Equals Wit Times Genius Squared: The Epigrams of Albert Einstein

The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.
Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.
Only two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the former.
The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.
Information is not knowledge.
If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be research, now would it?
The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.
The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.
If you are out to describe the truth, leave elegance to the tailor.
I never think of the future. It comes soon enough.
To punish me for my contempt for authority, fate made me an authority myself.
There are two ways to live your life: one is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle.
Sit next to a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. Sit on a red-hot stove for a minute, it seems like an hour. That's relativity.

Epigrams Reign: Michel de Montaigne

Nothing is so firmly believed as that which least is known.
Man cannot make a worm, yet he will make gods by the dozen.
Everyone calls barbarity what he is not accustomed to.
A good marriage would be between a blind wife and a deaf husband.
If you belittle yourself, you are believed; if you praise yourself, you are disbelieved.
No man is a hero to his own valet.
The way of the world is to make laws, but follow custom.
The thing I fear most is fear.
It is not death, it is dying that alarms me.
I have never seen a greater monster or miracle in the world than myself.
Age imprints more wrinkles in the mind than it does on the face.

The Church Gets the Burch Rod

There's no better tonic for other people's bad ideas, than to think for oneself.Michael R. Burch

Life’s saving graces are love, pleasure, laughter ...
wisdom, it seems, is for the Hereafter.
Michael R. Burch

If God has the cattle on a thousand hills, why does he need my tithes?Michael R. Burch

are not for excesses!
Michael R. Burch

If God
is good
half the Bible
is libel.
Michael R. Burch

Religion is the dopiate of the sheeple.Michael R. Burch

A love of appearances
produces disappearances.
Michael R. Burch

Love has the value
of gold, if it’s true;
if not, of rue.
Michael R. Burch

A love long suspended
long ago was quickly ended.
Michael R. Burch

If you would persuade me, make sense.
To dissuade me, be dense
and resort to pretense.
Michael R. Burch

God and his "profits" could never agree
on any gospel acceptable to an intelligent flea.
Michael R. Burch

Epigrammatic Poems about Poets and Poetry:

Poets aren't very useful
Because they aren't consumeful or produceful.
—Ogden Nash

Readers and listeners praise my books;
You swear they're worse than a beginner's.
Who cares? I always plan my dinners
To please the diners, not the cooks.
Marcus Valerius Martial, translated by R. L. Barth

Though Edgar Poe writes a lucid prose
Just and rhetorical without exertion,
It loses all lucidity, God knows,
In the single, poorly rendered English version.
—Thom Gunn

Pierced by Bierce: Epigrams by Ambrose Bierce

Applause, n. The echo of a platitude.
Bigot, n. One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion that you do not entertain.
Love, n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage.
Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited.
Death is not the end. There remains the litigation over the estate.

The Death of Class

I am his Highness' dog at Kew;
Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?
—Alexander Pope

He first deceased; she for a little tried
To live without him, liked it not, and died.
—Sir Henry Wotton (1568-1639), on the death of Sir Albert Morton's wife

Her whole life is an epigram: smack smooth, and neatly penned,
Platted quite neat to catch applause, with a sliding noose at the end.
—William Blake

Errors and Terrors

Treason doth never prosper; what's the reason?
For if it prosper, none dare call it treason.
—Sir John Harrington

The Errors of a Wise Man make your Rule
Rather than the Perfections of a Fool
—William Blake

Type Cast

a politician is an arse upon
which everyone has sat except a man
—e. e. cummings

This Humanist whom no beliefs constrained
Grew so broad-minded he was scatter-brained.
—J. V. Cunningham

Sagely Aging

Old age ain't no place for sissies.—Bette Davis
I can't afford to die. It would wreck my image.—Jack LaLane (a fitness guru)
Being "over the hill" is much better than being under it.—Unknown
The reward of suffering is experience.—Aeschylus
I refuse to think of them as chin hairs. I think of them as stray eyebrows.—Janette Barber
The hardest years in life are those between ten and seventy.—Helen Hayes
Some people are alive only because it's illegal to kill them.—Unknown
Adults are just obsolete children.—Dr. Seuss
Inside every older lady is a younger lady . . . wondering what the hell happened.—Cora Armstrong

It's not that every leaf must finally fall,
it's just that we can never catch them all.
Michael R. Burch

A Smidgen of Religion

Prevent truth decay. Brush up on your Bible.—Unknown
God answers knee-mail.Unknown
Don’t give up. Moses was once a basket case.—Unknown
Forbidden fruit creates many jams.—Unknown
God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.Voltaire
Some people attend church three times in their lives: when they're hatched, when they're matched, and when they're dispatched.—Unknown
The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.G. K. Chesterton

Women and We Men (Wee Men?)

A man's got to do what a man's got to do. A woman must do what he can't.—Rhonda Hansome
Behind every successful man is a surprised woman.—Maryon Pearson
A male gynecologist is like an auto mechanic who never owned a car.—Carrie Snow
The phrase "working mother" is redundant.—Jane Sellman
If high heels were so wonderful, men would still be wearing them.—Sue Grafton
I am a marvelous housekeeper. Every time I leave a man, I keep his house.—Zsa Zsa Gabor
I'm not going to vacuum 'til Sears makes one you can ride on.—Roseanne Barr
If you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman.—Margaret Thatcher
When women are depressed they either eat or go shopping. Men invade another country.—Elayne Boosler
I'm not offended by dumb blonde jokes because I'm not dumb, and I'm also not blonde.—Dolly Parton
Whatever women must do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.—Charlotte Whitton

Funny Money

It is easy when we are in prosperity to give advice to the afflicted.―Aeschylus
Money is the wise man's religion.—Euripides
When it is a question of money, everybody is of the same religion.Voltaire
The shortest road to wealth lies in the contempt of wealth.Seneca
If you'd know the power of money, go and borrow some.Ben Franklin
If God has the cattle on a thousand hills, why does he need my tithes?Mike Burch
I found out that I was a Christian for revenue only and I could not bear the thought of that, it was so ignoble.—Mark Twain

Greek Speak

Bigotry is the sacred disease.Heraclitus
Wit is educated insolence.Aristotle
By all means marry. If you get a good wife, you'll be happy. If you get a bad one, you'll become a philosopher.—Socrates

Assorted Epigrams

The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you've got it made.Groucho Marx
A man may be a fool and not know it, but not if he is married. H. L. Mencken
If life were fair, Elvis would be alive and the impersonators would be dead.Johnny Carson
Nothing is so useless as a general maxim.Macaulay
Education, like neurosis, begins at home.Milton R. Sapirstein
The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who lack it.—G. B. Shaw

Where there's a Will there's a Way: the Best Puns of Will Rogers

An economist's guess is liable to be as good as anybody else's.
Make crime pay. Become a lawyer.
A fool and his money are soon elected.
Be thankful we're not getting all the government we're paying for.
Diplomacy is the art of saying "Nice doggie" until you can find a rock.
I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.
I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.
The U.S. Senate opens with a prayer and closes with an investigation.
Congress in session is like when the baby gets hold of a hammer.
You can't say civilization don't advance ... in every war they kill you in a new way.
An ignorant person is one who doesn't know what you have just found out.
Being a hero is about the shortest-lived profession on earth.
Buy land. They ain't making any more of the stuff.
Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there.
Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.
Everything is changing. People are taking comedians seriously and politicians as a joke.
Everything is funny, as long as it's happening to somebody else.
Get someone else to blow your horn and the sound will carry twice as far.
Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.
I bet after seeing us, George Washington would sue us for calling him "father."
It isn't what we don't know that gives us trouble, it's what we know that ain't so.
Lettin' the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier 'n puttin' it back in.
Liberty doesn't work as well in practice as it does in speeches.
Our constitution protects aliens, drunks and U.S. Senators.
People are getting smarter nowadays; they're letting lawyers, not their conscience, be their guide.
People who fly into a rage always make a bad landing.
Politics has become so expensive that it takes a lot of money even to be defeated.
The best way out of a difficulty is through it.
The income tax has made liars out of more Americans than golf.
The only time people dislike gossip is when you gossip about them.
The only way you can beat the lawyers is to die with nothing.
The United States never lost a war or won a conference.
The worst thing that happens to you may be the best thing for you if you don't let it get the best of you.
There is no more independence in politics than there is in jail.
There is nothing so stupid as the educated man if you get him off his subject.
There ought to be one day, just one, when there is open season on senators.
Things ain't what they used to be and never was.
We don't seem to be able to check crime, so why not legalize it and then tax it out of business?
What the country needs is dirtier fingernails and cleaner minds.
Worrying is like paying on a debt that may never come due.
You've got to go out on a limb sometimes because that's where the fruit is.
If there's one thing we do worse than any other nation, it's managing somebody else's affairs.
The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn't get worse every time Congress meets.
I have a scheme for stopping war: no nation can enter a war till it's paid for the last one.
Advertising is the art of convincing people to spend money they don't have for something they don't need.
Alexander Hamilton started the U.S. Treasury with nothing, and that was the closest our country has ever been to being even.
Some men learn by reading. A few learn by observation. The rest have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.

Woody Allen

Eighty percent of success is showing up.
How is it possible to find meaning in a finite world, given my waist and shirt size?
I can't listen to Wagner. I start getting the urge to conquer Poland.
I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying.
If only God would give me some clear sign! Like a large deposit in a Swiss bank.
Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering ... and it's all over much too soon.
Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.
Most of the time I don't have much fun. The rest of the time I don't have any fun at all.
My education was dismal. I went to a series of schools for mentally disturbed teachers.
My one regret in life is that I am not someone else.
Not only is there no God, but try getting a plumber on weekends.
On the plus side, death is one of the few things that can be done just as easily lying down.
To you I'm an atheist; to God, I'm the Loyal Opposition.
Why are our days numbered and not, say, lettered?
You can live to be 100 if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be 100.
The lion and the lamb shall lie down together, but the lamb won't get much sleep.
It's not that I'm afraid to die, I just don't want to be there when it happens.
If it turns out that there is a God, I don't think that he's evil. The worst you can say about him is that basically he's an underachiever.

Jonathan Swift

Every dog must have his day.
Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.
Censure is the tax a man pays to the public for being eminent.
A tavern is a place where madness is sold by the bottle.
A wise man should have money in his head, but not in his heart.
As blushing may make a whore seem virtuous, so modesty may make a fool seem sensible.
Every man desires to live long, but no man wishes to be old.
Government without the consent of the governed is the very definition of slavery.
I never wonder to see men wicked, but I often wonder to see them not ashamed.
Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.
Men are happy to be laughed at for their humor, but not for their folly.
Nothing is so hard for those who abound in riches as to conceive how others can be in want.
Politics, as the word is commonly understood, are nothing but corruptions.
Poor nations are hungry, and rich nations are proud; and pride and hunger will ever be at variance.
Principally I hate and detest that animal called man; although I heartily love John, Peter, Thomas, and so forth.
Promises and pie-crusts are made to be broken.
Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their own.
Vanity is a mark of humility rather than of pride.
Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.
We are so fond on one another because our ailments are the same.
We have enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.
When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him.
The stoical scheme of supplying our wants by lopping off our desires, is like cutting off our feet when we want shoes.

Martial Law: the Epigrams of Marcus Valerius Martial

There is no glory in outstripping donkeys.
Conceal a flaw, and the world will imagine the worst.
Fortune gives too much to many, enough to none.
If fame is to come only after death, I am in no hurry for it.

Douglas Adams

Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.
You live and learn. Or at any rate, you live.
Nothing travels faster than the speed of light with the possible exception of bad news.
He hoped and prayed there wasn't an afterlife. Then he realized the contradiction involved and merely hoped there wasn't an afterlife.

Nota Bene: the Notable Epigrams of Ben Franklin

Little strokes fell great oaks.
Vessels large may venture more, but little boats should keep near shore.
There never was a good war nor a bad peace.
A man between two lawyers is like a fish between two cats.
Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do.
Diligence is the Mother of good luck.
Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.
Fish and visitors smell after three days.
Genius without education is like silver in the mine.
He that goes a-borrowing goes a-sorrowing.
He that lives upon hope will die fasting.
He who multiplies riches multiplies cares.
Hide not your talents. They for use were made. What's a sundial in the shade?
If Jack's in love, he's no judge of Jill's beauty.
If you would persuade, you must appeal to interest rather than intellect.
Necessity never made a good bargain.
Never confuse motion with action.
Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.
To find out a girl's faults, praise her to her girl friends.
To lengthen thy life, lessen thy meals.
Well done is better than well said.
We must indeed all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.
They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.


Quoting one is plagiarism; quoting many is research.—Unknown
Space is a dangerous place . . . especially if it's between your ears!—Unknown
The man who can't make mistakes, can't make anything.—Abraham Lincoln
Success comes in cans, not can't s.—Unknown
When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.—Franklin D. Roosevelt
I try to take one day at a time, but sometimes several days attack me at once.—Jennifer Whenifer
Every time I close the door on reality, it comes in through the windows.—Jennifer Whenifer

Related pages: A Brief History of the Epigram with Examples, Best Political Epigrams, Best Epigrams about Sex and Marriage, Best Humorous Epigrams, Best One-Liners and Zingers, Best Chiasmus, The Best Donald Trump Puns

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