Wordplay sometimes distracts or diverts attention, on purpose, for the sake of levity. Other times, such as punning in headlines, the opposite occurs and attention is drawn to something that might otherwise have been ignored or missed. The history of the pun is not as ignoble as an English major might have thought according to this story in the BBC Magazine (click the image above to go to the story):
…”Arrant puns” were the subject of attacks by the likes of Joseph Addison, 18th Century London’s pre-eminent literary tastemaker. He decried them as debased witticisms and exulted that they had been “banished out of the learned world”.After nagging one of his fellow patrons to borrow a diamond-encrusted snuff box, the owner succumbed, but not before scribbling in its lid the Greek letters phi and rho, or “Fie, Rowe!” An onlooker spoke for many when he remarked that “a man who could make so vile a pun would not scruple to pick a pocket”.
But puncraft did not always suffer from such bad PR.
The Roman orators Cicero and Quintilian believed that “paronomasia”, the Greek term for punning, was a sign of intellectual suppleness and rhetorical skill…