Fair warning: You might just die of laughter.

By Liz Steelman
September 12, 2019
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Ana Celaya

Each October, the same mysterious communicable contagion ravishes wit-inclined wordsmiths. The only symptom? The urge to make (often groan-inducing) Halloween puns. (Thank goodness the repetition of Halloween quotes is a separate malady.)

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, sufferers may be overcome with a full-blown Halloween pun infection. The final sign? Elaborate wordplay-inspired get-ups worn to a Halloween party (or just some last-minute Halloween costumes justified with puns). 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—when they’re not binge-watching Halloween movies on Netflix, of course. 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!’” Donnelly says. “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.”

According to Richard Lederer, award-winning linguist and author of pun-filled books such as 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 funny Halloween puns, shared by some of our favorite comedians.

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1
Why did the ghost go to the bar?

For the boos!

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2
What does the vegan zombie eat?

GRAAAAIIINNNS.

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3
I have some skeleton puns too; they’re very humerus.

I have some vampire puns too, but they suck.

— Tim Donnelly

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4
What do you get when you drop a pumpkin?

Squash.

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5
What’s the favorite food of mathematicians?

Pumpkin pi.

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6
What do you call an empty hot dog?

A hollow weenie.

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7
Where do ghosts learn to become pilots?

At fright school.

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8
Why does an elevator make ghosts happy?

Because it lifts the spirits.

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9
What’s a ghost’s favorite street?

A dead end.

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10
What do you call a ghost who haunts small hotels?

An inn specter.

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11
Why did the vampire join the police force?

So he could learn how to get a stake out.

— From Puns Spooken Here: Word Play for Halloween, by Richard Lederer.

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12
If you want peace on Halloween...

You should sign a trick or treaty. 

— Sam Zabell, amateur punslinger and Instagram calligrapher @samzawrites.

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13
My wife/husband/partner died...

But (s)he’ll always be my boo.

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14
You should dress up as a candle...

Because you’re wicked.

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15
I’m only dressed as a wizard.

I can’t always get what I wand.

Southpaw Jones, Winner: Punniest of Show at the 2017 O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships.

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