Do you want the short answer, or have you got all day? The short answer is that the British laugh at the same things everyone else does. It’s only when you start to look at lists like Top 50 British Jokes that you begin to see that, while we laugh at anything and everything, we do have some preferences.
Pretty much top of the list is our love of language and the pleasure to be had from puns and plays on words. The British love to say something that has a double meaning.Shakespeare is full of it...and puns, too!
But the British are far from being the only ones who love language. The trouble is that puns do not translate very well. The most subtle form of this type of humour depends on the listener understanding an obscure reference. However, it mustn’t be too obscure, or the humour is lost.
My favourite example comes Mandarin Chinese. A Chinese friend was teaching me to get the tones right, and I had just learned to say, ” I don’t understand” – ‘bu dung’ in Mandarin.
I then tried to get my tongue round the classic Chinese tongue twister, ‘four is four, ten is ten.’ For this to have any meaning at all, you have to get the tones right.
My teacher listened to my efforts and shook her head, making a sad face. In English, she said, “The frog jumps into the well.” I had no idea what she meant, so I trotted out my newly learnt phrase – “Bu dung”.
She laughed in delight. “Exactly! That is the sound a frog makes when it jumps into the well – bu dung!”
There are thousands of examples of puns in English. Here are 10. How many do you know?
- My psychoanalyst says I have a preoccupation with vengeance. We’ll see about that.
- “What do you call a man with a plank on his head?” “Edward.”
- “What do you call a man with 3 planks on his head?” “Edward Woodward”.
- “What do you call a man with 4 planks on his head?” “I don’t know, but Edward Woodward would.”
- A boy asks his teacher, “Miss Thompson, can I have a cigarette?” “Certainly not! Do you want to get me into trouble?” “If you like,” says the boy, ” but can I have a cigarette first?”
- We were talking about funerals and my mother-in-law said she wanted to be cremated. I said, “No problem! Get your coat.”
- “Waiter, what’s this?” ” It’s bean soup.” “I don’t care what its been. What is it now?”
- “What kind of pizza did Good King Wenceslas like?” “A deep pan, crisp and even.”
- “I bought a box of those animal biscuits.” “Were they nice?” “I don’t know. It said on the box ‘Don’t eat if the seal is broken.’ I opened the box,and would you believe it..!”
- And finally; Reports are coming in that an elephant has done the ton on the M1. Motorists are advised to use great caution and treat it as a roundabout.