Puns, Ranked from Best to Worst

Puns, Ranked from Best to Worst

By Max Candocia


April 01, 2019


Last week I put together a survey containing 30 different puns of varying quality. Each respondent rated the puns on a scale from 1 (worst) to 6 (best). How much a respondent enjoys puns/wordplay in general was also a question on the survey. 508 total responses were collected.

Additionally, demographic information was collected, as well as a few questions about languages.

When I ran some models on the scoring of different questions, there were a few notable factors in the ratings of the puns:

I will be taking a closer look at some of the intricacies of the data, but for now, here are the rankings, from best to worst.

Pun Rankings

Column descriptions: rank, bar plot of scores, "prompt" part of pun, punchline, average score, 1st quartile score, 3rd quartile score

Rank Tally Prompt Punchline Avg Q1 Q3
Did you hear about that terrible, German, all-meat diet? It's the wurst! 4.12 3 5
What did the detective say when he got stuck on an elevator when trying to leave a building? I have to get to the bottom of this! 4.11 3 5
You are on the Oregon Trail with Patrick, Terence, and Joseph. Who is the last person you'd want to insult? Terry, because you definitely don't want to die of dissin' Terry! 4.02 3 5
There's an ale made using frog legs. I've heard it's really hoppy. 3.91 3 5
What kinds of doctors have the least amount of free time? On-call-ogists! 3.82 3 5
What is an archaeologist's favorite fruit? Dates! 3.81 3 5
Why do most bartenders become ghosts? Because they are used to giving boos to people who look for spirits! 3.79 2 5
What did the horse use to burn down the tropical forest? Neigh-palm! 3.77 2.75 5
What do you call a talkative Mexican chili pepper? An hablanero! 3.66 2 5
Why do Canadian geese go well with mashed potatoes? Because they make nice gray V's! 3.65 2 5
How do you keep a young cow awake? You give it calf-ine! 3.58 2 5
What's the noisiest thing in the ocean? Choral reefs! 3.57 2 5
What rock group is the best at getting the attention of larger taxis? Van Hailin'! 3.57 2 5
The other day I heard some racists making bird noises on the train. I think they were part of the Coo-Cluck Clan. 3.55 2 5
I discovered that petting the cat during winter creates a lot of static shocks. I wonder if this could be used as a source of re-mew-able energy. 3.53 2 5
Which Lord of the Rings character had the worst childhood? Lego-less! 3.5 2 5
Why do Buddhists make the best doctors? Because they have the most patience! 3.44 2 5
What is the most common religion among bad comedians? Booed-ism! 3.39 2 5
What do you call an old man who turned into a goose? A geeser! 3.35 2 5
Why could the pianist only play softly? Because piano was his forte! 3.35 2 5
What is the best way to mine for data? Quarrying a database! 3.32 2 5
If you hollow out a mountain, its name just becomes "Mt." You pronounce the letters separately, though. 3.28 2 5
What do you call the study of how feng shui affects the joints? Room-a-tology! 3.15 2 4
How long does it take to become a magician's assistant? A deck-aide! 3.12 2 4
I have a friend who likes to fence outdoors but has a lot of allergies. That's okay, since they always have their épée-pen on them! 2.96 2 4
How do you buy a young horse? By ponying up the money! 2.9 2 4
I have a bunch of bee-related puns. They're alveary bad! 2.8 1 4
Early Christmas Eve a terrorist plants explosive persimmons in trees around the city. Only Bruce Willis can stop the Tannenbaumer. 2.74 1 4
Why are bicycles so dangerous to trains? They have de-railers! 2.59 1 3
How do historians know that J.S. Bach was also a rancher? He had many corrals! (chorales) 2.45 1 3

Interestingly, most pun scores follow a modal (one peak) distribution, as opposed to being more "divisive", with peaks near the lower and upper end. The one about the mountain, though, breaks this rule, and it is also the one with the lowest correlation in score to any of the other ones.

Additional Notes on Survey Methodology

The survey was distributed across Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, and LinkedIn, although about 85% of them were from Reddit, and very few from Twitter or LinkedIn.

Advertising was used on Facebook, targeting individuals who like "Puns", as well as a smaller number of other groups.

On Reddit, the survey was posted to /r/samplesize twice, receiving a lot of attention the second time.

Respondents were offered a chance at Amazon gift cards, with prizes of $20 (x1), $7.89 (x2), and $1 (x10), for a total of 13 winners.

One confounding factor is that the rating is conflated with "not getting" the joke, and there's no way to know if that was the cause of a lower score or not. Adding 30 extra yes/no questions may have helped with that, but doing so may have increased exhaustion and decreased completion rate.

Question order was randomized as to avoid that affecting the average results.

GitHub Code and Data

Code (and partially-cleaned data) for this is available at https://github.com/mcandocia/punalysis.


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