Warning: You might die of laughter.

By Liz Steelman
May 19, 2017

Each October, the same mysterious communicable contagion ravishes wit-inclined wordsmiths. The only symptom? The urge to make (often groan-inducing) Halloween puns. It might seem innocuous at first: perhaps they’ve just changed their Twitter name to a more spookily-influenced moniker or are dropping “boos” into conversation whenever they get the chance. But by the end of the month, they’re overcome with a full-blown infection: The final sign? An elaborate wordplay-inspired get-up worn to a Halloween party. But no need to fear—the ailment is relatively short-lived. By November 1, all signs and symptoms miraculously clear up on their own.

All kidding aside, there’s just something about Halloween that makes people pun out. Real Simple spoke to some of the experts in the field—linguists, wordsmiths, and the country’s best punslingers themselves—to find out exactly why the ghoulish season inspires wordplay.

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The most common answer? Our human need to cope with Halloween’s association with death and the afterlife. “Every October, we are forced to stare at our actual mortality and the horrifying world of the unknown,” said Tim Donnelly, journalist and runner-up in the O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships. So what do we do? Take the edge off with a little humor.

“We make signs for our stores that say things like ‘Shop Rite Presents: Night of the Living BREAD’ or ‘Now serving up home-spooked meals!’ because otherwise the thought of ghosts and things lurking in the shadows remind us that we are all going to die very soon—whether you took advantage of that bread sale or not.”

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According to Richard Lederer, award-winning linguist and author of pun-filled books like Puns Spooken Here and Get Thee to a Punnery, Halloween offers wordsmiths a rich array of vivid characters, signs, and symbols to play around with. He mentions that, in the past, making a joke about the afterlife could be considered sacrilegious, but the secularization of the holiday invites new opportunities to lightheartedly grapple with the subject matter. “In our culture, a playful tongue is not a sinful tongue,” Lederer says.

So, now that you’ve been caught up on the history, it’s time to play: Here are some of our favorite Halloween puns, shared by some of our favorite comedians.

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