A great yearbook page starts with great design, but a clever headline will absorb an audience.
Depending on the context, nothing is better at drawing a chuckle and a second glance than a pun. Much like a steak, a pun is a rare medium well done (see what we did there?), but some simple guidelines can help you draft a more playful and less groan-worthy headline. These tips—and eight real newspaper headlines—exhibit some of the basic “rules” for crafting perfect puns.
How to Pick a Pun Checklist
If you’re in search of a punny headline, there are a few tricks you can employ. Here are our six tips, which you can see in action in the examples below.
- Think of synonyms and homophones, or words that sound nearly the same
- Think of how the headline appears on paper rather than just how it sounds when spoken
- Try to find words with dual meanings that both work in the sentence
- Consider altering common sayings, proverbs, and song lyrics
- Allude to popular music, movies, TV shows, etc.
- Look for the hidden relationship between two seemingly unrelated subjects
Great Puns to Inspire Your Yearbook Headlines
Looking to see exactly what we mean by those steps above? Well, here you can learn from the pros, and see how we’ve applied our steps to these real (punny) headlines.
1. Watch out, even Holland’s second team are First Klaas
This is an example of the most fundamental approach to pun writing–using synonyms and homophones. Instead of saying that Holland’s football team was “top notch,” or was lead by player Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, the writer said it was “First Klaas,” which references the team’s achievement while also highlighting the talent of the particular athlete. Thinking of words that sound the same (like aid/ade, deer/dear, see/sea, teem/team) is a great first step for clever wordplay.
2. CarBen Copy: This Man Always Looks Like 100 Bucks
Like the former, this headline makes good use of synonyms and homophones. But unlike other puns, this headline translates better on print than it does when spoken. “CarBEN copy” sounds nearly identical to “carbon copy” and since both “CarBEN” and “Carbon” work in this sentence, the joke isn’t as obvious when read out loud. Yearbooks provide a great opportunity to play with puns that work better visually. The headline takes the joke one step further by saying the Benjamin Franklin look-alike always looks like “100 bucks”–a clever reference to the Founding Father’s appearance on the $100 dollar bill.
3. Soda Ban Goes Flat
A wonderful (and terrible) aspect of the English language is how many words have multiple meanings. But this quirk is perfect for puns, when you explore having several meanings in play at once. This headline plays with several definitions of the word “flat,” and the pun works well because both meanings of the word are relevant. The ban of sugary soft drinks “going flat” refers to both the law’s failure to pass and the way soda loses carbonation. Another example of this type of pun is “a badly sewn garment is unseemly.” A poorly constructed garment would be both unattractive and lacking proper “seams.” Puns are more successful when several meanings of the ambiguous word work in the sentence.
4. Breath of Fresh Heir
Common cliches and sayings are ripe for parody since they often contain words with homophones or dual meanings. Familiarizing yourself with well-known proverbs will provide you with plenty of potentially useful material. Consider short sayings like “when it rains it pours,” “patience is a virtue,” and “you reap what you sew.” This particular headline works well because “breath of fresh air” refers to something that is pleasantly new or different, and young Prince George may be described as just that. This infant “heir” is a “breath of fresh air” by ushering in a new generation of the royal family.
5. It Had To Be Chew
This silly headline makes readers smile because it’s purposefully using a word that’s not quite a homophone. “Chew” (referring to a game where a footballer infamously bit an opponent) almost sounds like “you.” Puns like these are more likely to elicit a groan rather than a laugh compared to ones using full homophones, so they should be applied more sparingly.
6. Naming Private Ryan
Alluding to the titles of popular TV shows (“Game of Thrones,” “Top Gear,” “Parks and Recreation”) books, movies, even restaurants and shops (Burger King, Trader Joes, Starbucks, etc) can provide good fodder for puns. This clever title topped an article that described the marital problems of British soccer star Ryan Giggs. Most people reading this headline recognize the headline as a reference to award winning movie, Saving Private Ryan.
7. Super Caley Go Ballistic Celtic Are Atrocious
It might take you a couple rereads to get this pun, but if you say it out loud you might notice the headline’s play on “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” from Mary Poppins. Rather than using homophones, this punny writer used similar rhyming words to craft a playful headline for an article detailing Scottish football team Inverness Caledonian Thistle’s victory over rival club Celtic. Think about changing popular song lyrics for headlines in your yearbook, like honoring the star football WR with the headline “Don’t Stop Receiving.”
8. Foot Heads Arms Body
Think of ways you can group dissimilar words and establish new connections. After British Labour Party politician Michael Foot was given charge of the Nuclear Disarmament Committee, a newspaper honored him with the headline “Foot Heads Arms Body.” This clever title exhibits a relationship between two unrelated concepts: parts of the body and nuclear weapons.
Sometimes a great pun will jump out at you immediately, other times it may take more thought. Work together as a team and share ideas, but use a traditional title if you can’t come up with anything. You can always come back and work on it later with fresh eyes. The worst thing you can do though is to overthink it, since a forced joke is usually a bad joke.
And avoid trying to explain a pun to a kleptomaniac, since they always take things literally.