Gunning for the puntheon Businesses set themselves apart with memorable monikers
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A husband returns home from a walk, and informs his wife that moose are falling from the sky. “You’re mistaken,” she shoots back, “it’s reindeer.”
At long last, it’s time for some pun and games.
Following two years of virtual competitions thanks to you-know-what, the live version of the O. Henry Museum Pun-Off World Championships returns to Austin, Texas, this weekend. Since 1978, the daylong affair has invited word nerds to show off their prowess at what playwright Oscar Wilde once termed the lowest form of humour, by coming up with puns on the spot — a game of groans, if you will — covering a variety of pre-selected topics.
The same way they did pre-COVID, championship co-ordinator David Guggenheim expects participants to arrive from as far away as Europe and Australia for the pun-filled event, which has been featured in the pages of Smithsonian magazine, and on the popular CBS television program Sunday Morning.
Most definitely, Guggenheim responds, when asked if he has a favourite play on words.
“It’s from Groucho Marx: Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like bananas.”
Given this writer has never met a pun he didn’t enjoy — heck, we still chuckle over a headline Free Press editor Jill Wilson wrote years ago for a story about a grilled cheese sandwich seemingly bearing an image of Christ, to which she quipped, “What a friend we have in cheeses” — we decided to toast the return of the O. Henry competition by seeking out local businesses with punny names.
Surely, we thought, there must be a few whose tags measure up to Montreal bakery Bread Pitt, London, Ont., antique shop Back to the Fuchsia or Washington, D.C., resto Thai Tanic. (Pro tip: skip the iceberg lettuce.) Turns out there are… and don’t call us Shirley.
SHARPENING BY THE HAND OF GORD
Gord Hymers, the founder of mobile biz Sharpening By the Hand of Gord, used to have a stock response when people read the sign on the side of his van too quickly, and mistook Gord for God.
“With or without the ‘R,’ it’s about the same,” he would deadpan.
Hymers died in March at age 76, leaving his son Steve, who began working alongside his father as a teenager, fully in charge. That’s correct, the younger Hymers replies when asked the obvious question: you can now get your knives, scissors and skates fine-tuned by the son of Gord.
“I believe it was around 2000 when he came up with his business name,” Steve says. “Prior to that, he went by things like the Sharp Shop, Uncle Gord’s Sharpening Services and — back when he also did bike repairs — Good Sport.”
Seems the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, when it comes to cheeky monikers. Steve will be adding a new division this month, one he intends to dub Blades of Steeve.
KNEAD TO UNWIND MASSAGE THERAPY, 2091 Portage Ave.
In 2005, massage therapist Michelle Prather was preparing to open a clinic of her own. It would need a name, of course, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to call it something along the line of Michelle’s Massage. She wouldn’t be the only therapist working there, her husband Tylor explains, so why pigeonhole things?
Much to Tylor’s chagrin, Michelle had long been a big fan of puns. When she started tossing around ideas based on what her profession involves, she knew she had something to work with, when the term “knead,” meaning to squeeze with one’s hands, popped into her noggin.
“A lot of customers, especially first timers, comment on the name, saying things like ‘how clever,’” Tylor says. “If you’re familiar with massage, you know there are several kneading techniques so yeah, they definitely get the joke.”
Troy Schmid was struggling to come up with a name for his fledgling lawn service operation 11 years ago, when he looked up to notice The Godfather, winner for Best Picture at the 45th Academy Awards ceremony, playing on TBS.
He stopped what he was doing to watch (he wasn’t sure he’d ever seen the crime drama in its entirety before), and a few minutes later it clicked: he would brand himself the Sodfather.
“The response was immediate; even with no fancy decals or logos, we had people honking and screaming the name from across the street,” Schmid says, noting besides grass cutting, landscaping and general yard maintenance, he and his crew also offer snow clearing during the winter months.
“We continue to get jobs, solely because of our name,” he adds. “Winnipeg is a fantastic city with a great sense of humour.”
AFISHIONADOS, 130 Haarsma St., East St. Paul
Spencer Jack was fast asleep 16 years ago when he received a phone call from a pal he’d recently gone into business with.
Jack, who started keeping fish at the age of three, and was managing close to 100 tanks in his parents’ basement by the time he was 10, had opened a fish and fish supply store along with two chums, only they didn’t have a registered name for it yet.
“It was something crazy like two in the morning when he called. He said he was sitting around with buddies, enjoying a cocktail or two and had an idea that we should call ourselves Afishionados, spelling out the ‘F-I-S-H,’ so I’d get the pun,” Jack says.
Jack didn’t give it much thought that second, as he mainly wanted to roll over and go back to sleep, but the next morning, when he read a followup text his friend sent him, he murmured, “Yeah, that’s perfect.”
Because “aficionado” routinely shows up on lists of the most commonly misspelled words in the English language, Jack, presently the sole owner of the East St. Paul-based operation, agrees he’s doing those of us who struggle with words such as “liaison” and “accommodate” a public service by spelling it more phonetically.
“Every now and again somebody will make a comment along the lines of ‘What a great name,’ but most never pick up on it, at all. Maybe they think that’s how it’s spelled, already.”
CURRY UP, 101 Regent Ave. W.
Curry Up Indian Kitchen opened at the end of April. Co-owner Daljit Ahluwalia acknowledges people who head there for the first time might think it’s a fast-food joint, given the name, but that’s far from the case.
Curry Up is a fine-dining establishment, he says over the phone, though if you are choosing takeout, true to its tag, your wait won’t be too long.
Curry Up got its start in Thunder Bay. Members of the Ahluwalia family moved there from Winnipeg, a few years ago. That restaurant is still going, he says, and the plan is to open a third location — they’re thinking somewhere on Grant Avenue — in the near future.
“We were joking, saying we should call that one Curry Up Again, or Curry Up Faster,” he says with a chuckle.
By the way, the fun keeps going on Curry Up’s Facebook page, where the owners recently posted the joke, “Why couldn’t the samosa run? Because he had a chut-knee injury.”
FROM HAIR TO ETERNITY, 101-55 Nassau St. N.
The first thing Barb Burgess did after taking ownership of an Osborne Village salon 16 years ago was sit down with a pen and paper to consider what to call it.
Since it was located on the ground level of the 30-storey apartment complex, 55 Nassau, she initially toyed around with the notion of naming it 55 Plus. She parked that plan, however, believing people might mistake it as catering to seniors, only.
Besides being a stylist, she is also an old-movie buff. One evening, the 1953 war-romance flick From Here to Eternity was on the tube. During the famous beach scene when Burt Lancaster’s character frolics in the waves with Karen, played by Deborah Kerr, she thought, hmm, what about From Hair to Eternity?
Not all her customers get the reference, she admits, especially those born in the last 30 years or so.
“But people of a certain vintage definitely think it’s cute, as do I, so I think it was a pretty good choice.”
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.
Updated on Tuesday, October 11, 2022 3:21 PM CDT: Fixes spelling of name "Tylor"