A story pun (also known as a poetic story joke or Feghoot) is a humorous short story or vignette ending in a pun (typically a play on a well-known phrase) where the story contains sufficient context to recognize the punning humor. It can be considered a type of shaggy dog story.
This storytelling model apparently originated in a long-running series of short science fiction pieces that appeared under the collective title "Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot", published in various magazines over several decades, written by Reginald Bretnor under the anagrammatic pseudonym of 'Grendel Briarton'. The usual formulae the stories followed were for the title character to solve a problem bedeviling some manner of being or extricate himself from a dangerous situation. The events could take place all over the galaxy and in various historical or future periods on Earth and elsewhere. In his adventures, Feghoot worked for the Society for the Aesthetic Re-Arrangement of History and traveled via a device that had no name but was typographically represented as the ")(". The pieces were usually vignettes only a few paragraphs long, and always ended with a deliberately terrible pun that was often based on a well-known title or catch-phrase.
"Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot" was originally published in the magazine Fantasy and Science Fiction from 1956 to 1973. (In 1973, the magazine ran a contest soliciting readers' Feghoots as entries.) The series also appeared in Fantasy and Science Fiction's sister magazine Venture Science Fiction Magazine, and later in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, Amazing Stories, and other publications. The individual pieces were identified by Roman numerals rather than titles. The stories have been collected in several editions, each an expanded version of the previous, the most recent being The Collected Feghoot from Pulphouse Publishing.
Many of the ideas and puns for Bretnor's stories were contributed by others, including F. M. Busby and E. Nelson Bridwell. Other authors have published Feghoots written on their own, including Isaac Asimov (who wrote a story that ended "A niche in time saves Stein") and John Brunner. There have been numerous fan-produced stories as well.
The name Feghoot and the nature of the stories—detailed and tedious, yet ending in vaguely familiar catchphrases—may have been inspired by Walter Bagehot, a major literary and political figure from the late 1800s. Bretnor himself, however, said that the idea of the name occurred to him and his wife during a game of Scrabble. He always arranged his letter tiles alphabetically; at one point, he had EFGHOOT. His wife suggested that, if the first two letters were transposed, the silly name 'Feghoot' could be formed. Bretnor did so, and began using the name in his punny stories.
Other story puns
- Myles na gCopaleen's column Cruiskeen Lawn in the Irish Times regularly featured feghoots, generally recounted as episodes in the lives of (fictionalised versions of) John Keats and George Chapman.
- The Mr. Peabody's Improbable History segments on Rocky and Bullwinkle were animated feghoots, right down to the pun at the end of each episode.
- In 1962, Amazing Stories published "Through Time and Space with Benedict Breadfruit" by Grandall Barretton (Randall Garrett), which all ended in a pun on the name of a famous SF writer. Bretnor later paid tribute to these stories in one of his own, in which Ferdinand Feghoot assures a friend that Breadfruit was "conceived in our Garrett".
- One example of a Feghoot is the "Forty million Frenchmen" gag ("For DeMille, young fur-henchmen...") on page 559 of Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow.
- The Callahan's Bar series by Spider Robinson uses "some of the worst puns known to man.... building up to the anticipated pun with skill and flair."
- Isaac Asimov used the song "Give My Regards to Broadway" to form an elaborate story pun in his short story "Death of a Foy". He uses the Marseillaise in the short story "Battle-Hymn" for the same effect.
- Arthur C. Clarke's short story "Neutron Tide" culminates with a pun.
- One version of the story of Little Bunny Foo Foo is a feghoot.
- Each episode of the long-running BBC radio panel game My Word! ended with extemporaneous feghoots from Frank Muir and Denis Norden.
- Comic strip writer Stephan Pastis often includes feghoots in his strip Pearls Before Swine
- Humorist S. J. Perelman often contrived elaborate feghoots. His piece 'Abby, This Is Your Father' in Crazy Like a Fox (New York: Random House, 1944) is built around a series of them.
- On the US version of the television show Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Colin Mochrie would often open the "Weird Newscasters" game with a feghoot.
- Briarton, Grendel (1980). The (Even More) Compleat Feghoot, Manchester: The Mirage Press, LTD. ISBN 0-88358-022-5.
- Ritchie, Graeme D. (2004). The Linguistic Analysis of Jokes. London: Routledge. p. 243. ISBN 978-0-415-30983-7. Retrieved 2008-12-13.
- Isaac Asimov, "The Winds of Change", Granada 1983/ Panther, 1984/Doubleday 1984, ISBN 0-586-05743-9
- Isaac Asimov, "Battle-Hymn", in "Gold", Harper 1995