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A feghoot is a brief story, usually in a science-fiction setting, whose punchline is an elaborate pun.

The canonical feghoots feature the eponymous Ferdinand Feghoot, a member of the Society for the Aesthetic Re-Arrangement of History. Beginning in 1956, a Russian-born American author, Reginald Bretnor, created more than eighty of them under the anagrammatic pseudonym of Grendel Briarton.

They are collectively known as Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot and always end with Feghoot solving some tricky problem by way of some of the most atrocious puns ever committed to paper. The late Anthony Boucher remarked:

A true Feghoot not only culminates in a pun of singular beauty and terror; it is, even before that point, an entertainingly absurd episode of a possible history.

Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Apr. 1973.

One concerned poaching of cock pheasants at Balmoral. Gillie John Brown discovered they were being shot by the Lord Chief Justice of Scotland, who would hide them in a hole in the wall before coming up to the house to pay his respects to Queen Victoria. Clearly, it was impossible to treat him as a common criminal and drag him to court for poaching, so Feghoot suggested that he be charged instead with male pheasants in orifice.

The stories appeared in several science-fiction magazines and are famous in SF circles. They have been affectionately imitated by other writers, including Spider Robinson. Many feghoot-like tall tales were created by Frank Muir and Denis Norden in the BBC radio programme My Word; my favourite punchline of theirs (I think it’s theirs) is “The squaw on the hippopotamus equals the sons of the squaws on the other two hides.”

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 30 Nov. 2013

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Last modified: 30 November 2013.