[Originally posted to paronomasia/pun-ctilious.]
Charles Dickens at 24 was writing his first novel The Pickwick Papers, which was being published serially like all novels of the era. Sales were chugging along decently for the first three months, until the character Sam Weller was introduced. The career of Dickens would never be the same. The novel became a publishing phenomenon and from that moment on he was a star, and new instalments of Dickens’s novels were often more eagerly awaited than any Harry Potter book has been.
Among the characteristics that made Sam Weller so popular with the masses were his linguistic charms, one of them a form of quotation known as a Wellerism. This survives in American popular culture as the rather lame and narrow-in-scope “…that’s what she said” (or the British “…as the actress said to the bishop”), but turning to samples from Dickens himself:
“out vith it, as the father said to his child, when he swallowed a farden.”
“How are you, ma’am?” said Mr. Weller. “Wery glad to see you, indeed, and hope our acquaintance may be a long ‘un, as the gen’l’m’n said to the fi’ pun’ note.”
“All good feelin’, sir—the wery best intentions, as the gen’l’m’n said ven he run away from his wife ‘cos she seemed unhappy with him,” replied Mr. Weller.
“There; now we look compact and comfortable, as the father said ven he cut his little boy’s head off, to cure him o’ squintin’.”
“Yes, but that ain’t all,” said Sam, […] “vich I call addin’ insult to injury, as the parrot said ven they not only took him from his native land, but made him talk the English langwidge arterwards.”
“Sorry to do anythin’ as may cause an interruption to such wery pleasant proceedin’s, as the king said wen he dissolved the parliament,” interposed Mr. Weller, who had been peeping through the glass door;…
More examples not from Dickens, from Wikipedia and elsewhere:
“We’ll have to rehearse that,” as the undertaker said when the coffin fell out of the car.
“Simply remarkable,” said the teacher when asked her opinion about the new dry-erase board.
“Don’t move, I’ve got you covered”, as the wallpaper said to the wall.
‘It all comes back to me now’, said the Captain as he spat into the wind.
‘Eureka!’ said Archimedes to the skunk.
“Each moment makes thee dearer,” as the parsimonious tradesman said to his extravagant wife.
“Capital punishment,” as the boy said when the teacher seated him with the girls.
“I’ve been to see an old flame,” remarked the young man returning from Vesuvius.
“I hope I made myself clear,” as the water said when it passed through the filter.
“I’m at my wit’s end,” said the king as he trod on the jester’s toe.
“These are grave charges,” murmured the hopeless one, as he perused the bill for the burial of his mother-in-law.
“Notice the foot-note at the bottom of the page,” laughed the court fool, as the royal attendant’s shoes emitted a squeak.
“That’s my mission in life,” said the monk, as he pointed to his monastery.
“Oh, how blue I am,” mourned the poet, as his fountain pen spattered upon him.
“That’s an old gag,” said the cashier, as the bandit stopped up his mouth.
“My business is looking good,” said the model.
See also this post by Krish Ashok, which has a stream of examples culminating in
“Looks like we still have gaps”, he pointed out, like Aamer Sohail to Venkatesh Prasad.
A subgenre is the “Tom Swifty”, with a pun on the adverb:
“The doctor had to remove my left ventricle,” said Tom half-heartedly.
“The situation is grave,” Tom said cryptically.
“I’ve joined the navy,” Tom said fleetingly.
“I have a split personality,” said Tom, being frank.
“This is the real male goose,” said Tom producing the propaganda.
“I won’t finish in fifth place,” Tom held forth.
[See the paronomasia archives for more Tom Swifties from its members, like
“Let’s put them in to bat now and bowl them out,” Tom declared.
and of course everywhere on the internet.]