Language

púnjà vu

For me, the impulse to pun is often accompanied by serious púnjà vu:  I feel quite “certain” that any pun I think of comes from the past — either I’ve heard it before or said it before myself.  Right now I have púnjà vu for “púnjà vu.” I’m sure I’m inadvertently “stealing” this pun from somewhere else, but I can’t find it in Google.  How can that be‽  I thought everything was Googlable⸮  If you come across this post at some later date, because you’ve just reinvented “púnjà vu,” and like me you have púnjà vu for it, please comment.

“púnjà vu” is a portmanteau or fusion of the words “pun” and “déjà vu.” It is supposed to mean “the feeling of déjà vu for a pun.”  It’s really a kind of déjà entendu (the feeling that one has already heard something), and so a better expression might be púnjà entendu.

I wonder whether púnjà vu, the phrase, should be considered a proper pun. Sometimes I think of a “pun” in a general sense, as any form of wordplay involving multiple meanings (and in this sense, púnjà vu, and all other portmanteaus qualify). Other times, I think “pun” should be reserved for a more specific form a wordplay where two meanings of an existing word are exploited, and in this case púnjà vu fails because it doesn’t exist (i.e. outside my own corrupted vocabulary). Since the very act of punning is mischievous, I won’t be too concerned if púnjà vu parades as a pun when it really isn’t. And while we’re speaking of parades, notice how púnjà vu parades around with the same diacritics of déjà vu without any serious intent to use them.  So feel free to write “punja vu” or “punja entendu.”

What is the source of the word “púnjà vu”–or what might it be if in fact I’m not the first to think of it? Since I grew up reading Douglas Hofstadter I often suspect the puns in my mind as originating from somewhere in his stuff, or else in the other wordplay books I carried around in high school (Richard Lederer and the like), but without the tedious effort of tracking them down, I can never be sure…

What is the source of the phenomenon of “púnjà vu”? I wonder if púnjà vu arises because the same puns really do keep occurring to people over and over again, so if you think of a pun, chances are you have heard it before.  Or is it because the mental processes involved in punning “feel” the same every time, giving us the sense that the result (the pun) already existed, when it is really only the mechanism that is familiar to us?

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