How is British Humour Different?

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?

  1. My psychoanalyst says I have a preoccupation with vengeance. We’ll see about that.
  2. “What do you call a man with a plank on his head?” “Edward.”
  3. “What do you call a man with 3 planks on his head?” “Edward Woodward”.
  4. “What do you call a man with 4 planks on his head?” “I don’t know, but Edward Woodward would.”
  5. 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?”
  6. We were talking about funerals and my mother-in-law said she wanted to be cremated. I said, “No problem! Get your coat.”
  7. “Waiter, what’s this?” ” It’s bean soup.” “I don’t care what its been. What is it now?”
  8. “What kind of pizza did Good King Wenceslas like?” “A deep pan, crisp and even.”
  9. “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..!”
  10. 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.



Freud:       An die andere Seite zu kommen. (Much laughter)

Hamlet: That is not the question.

Thomas de Torquemada: Give me ten minutes with the chicken and I’ll find out.

Jack Nicholson: ‘Cause it (censored) wanted to. That’s the (censored) reason.

Very practical answers, but for deeper meaning we must turn to:

Plato:    For the greater good.

Kafka:     Hardly the most urgent enquiry to make of a low-grade insurance clerk who woke up that morning as a hen.

Karl Marx: It was a historical inevitability.

Machiavelli: So that its subjects will view it with admiration, as a chicken which has the daring and courage to boldly cross the road, but also with fear, for whom among them has the strength to contend with such a paragon of avian virtue? In such a manner is the princely chicken’s dominion maintained.

Hippocrates: Because of an excess of light pink gooey stuff in its pancreas.

Jacques Derrida: Any number of contending discourses may be discovered within the act of the chicken crossing the road, and each interpretation is equally valid as the authorial intent can never be discerned, because structuralism is DEAD, DAMMIT, DEAD!

Nietzsche: Because if you gaze too long across the Road, the Road gazes also across you.

Timothy Leary: Because that’s the only kind of trip the Establishment would let it take.

Douglas Adams: Forty-two.

B.F. Skinner:         Because the external influences which had pervaded its sensorium from birth had caused it to develop in such a fashion that it would tend to cross roads, even while Jean-Paul Sarttebelieving these actions to be of its own free will.

Carl Jung:            The confluence of events in the cultural gestalt necessitated that individual chickens cross roads at this historical juncture, and therefore synchronicitously brought such occurrences into being.

Jean-Paul Sartre:     In order to act in good faith and be true to itself, the chicken found it necessary to cross the road.

Ludwig Wittgenstein:  The possibility of “crossing” was encoded into the objects “chicken” and “road”, and circumstances came  into being which caused the actualization of this potential occurrence.

Albert Einstein:      Whether the chicken crossed the road or the road crossed the chicken depends upon your frame of reference.

Aristotle:            To actualize its potential.

Buddha:               If you ask this question, you deny your own chicken-nature.

Howard Cosell:        It may very well have been one of the most astonishing events to grace the annals of history.  An historic unprecedented avian biped with the temerity to attempt such an herculean achievement formerly relegated to homo sapiens pedestrians is truly a remarkable occurence.

Salvador Dali:        The Fish.

Darwin:               It was the logical next step after coming down from the trees.

Emily Dickinson:      Because it could not stop for death.

Epicurus:             For fun.

Ralph Waldo Emerson:  It didn’t cross the road; it transcended it.

Johann von Goethe:    The eternal hen-principle made it do it.

Werner Heisenberg:    We are not sure which side of the road the chicken was on, but it was moving very fast.

David Hume:           Out of custom and habit.

Henry David Thoreau:  To live deliberately … and suck all the marrow out of life.

Ernest Hemingway:     To die. In the rain.

Pyrrho the Skeptic:   What road?

Mark Twain:           The news of its crossing has been greatly exaggerated.

Oliver North:         National Security was at stake.

Ronald Reagan:        I forget.

John Sununu:          The Air Force was only too happy to provide the transportation, so quite understandably the chicken availed himself of the opportunity.

The Sphinx:           You tell me.

Mr. T:                If you saw me coming you’d cross the road too!

Molly Yard:           It was a hen!

Zeno of Elea:         To prove it could never reach the other side.

Chaucer:              So priketh hem nature in hir corages.

Wordsworth:           To wander lonely as a cloud.

The Godfather:        I didn’t want its mother to see it like that.

Keats:                Philosophy will clip a chicken’s wings.

Blake:                To see heaven in a wild fowl.

Othello:              Jealousy.

Macbeth:              To have turned back were as tedious as to go o’er.

Dr Johnson:           Sir, had you known the Chicken for as long as I have, you would not so readily enquire, but feel rather the Need to resist such a public Display of your own lamentable and incorrigible Ignorance.

Mrs Thatcher:         This chicken’s not for turning.

Supreme Soviet:       There has never been a chicken in this photograph.

Oscar Wilde:          Why, indeed? One’s social engagements whilst in  town ought never expose one to such barbarous inconvenience – although, perhaps, if one must cross  road, one may do far worse than to cross it as the chicken in question.

Swift:                It is, of course, inevitable that such a loathsome, filth-ridden and degraded creature as Man should assume  to question the actions of one in all respects his superior.

Whitehead:            Clearly, having fallen victim to the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.

Donne:                It crosseth for thee.

Pope:                 It was mimicking my Lord Hervey.

Constable:            To get a better view.