Someone who makes you laugh is a comedian.
Someone who makes you think and then laugh is a humorist.
English is an international language, that is why English culture with its films, literature, songs is very interesting for millions of people. However, even if you know English, the speech of citizens, who like to laugh a lot, will make the strange impression on you. This sense of humour is a part of British culture and history and it explains why traditional English humour is rather difficult for understanding.
Some psychologists suggest that humour makes our life longer, because it protects our nervous system from different stressful situations in the world around us. So, my report is useful, if you want to become healthier on the one hand and on the other one if you study English.
We should say that Europeans consider Englishmen “strange people”, because English traditions, habits and customs differ from the ones of other countries. A Russian journalist M.Goldenkov in his article “Caution! Hot Dog!” notes that it’s not agreeable in Europe to speak a lot about the weather, although in England your interlocutor will be very offended if you don’t repeat “What’s a nice day, isn’t it?” after your each phrase. Just like in humour – it is full of differences. There is English national wisdom: if you look at the foreigner and can’t recognize his nationality - look again at him carefully: if he’s very intelligent, prim and his jokes seem to you very strange, he must be an Englishman. And another one:everyone has a fool in his sleeve. These opposing ironic aphorisms can clearly represent the main peculiarity like combination of uncombining.
English sense of humour is like a difficult puzzle, if you don’t gather all pieces you won’t see all the picture. So, the aim of my research is to define some features of English sense of humour.
The general part
British humour is very refined and multifaceted. It combines several funny facts at once, and if you don’t know them you can hardly enjoy it. First of all, if you want to understand British humour you have to get to know much closer with its history and culture.
At ancient times the British Isles were invaded by Celtic tribes. These tribes were rather well-educated and they tried to administer justice everywhere. However, from about AD 350 the Saxons, Jutes and Angles began their invasion into south-east of England and native people couldn’t stop their pressure. They moved to north-west taking their ancient arts and languages with them. These facts influenced Irish culture and its sense of humour and that is why we have to tell about it separately.
There is an opinion that humour doesn’t correspond with Irish people, which have suffered a lot from the different persecutions. But that is not quite so, because Irish literature is full of brilliant satirists such as Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde who have made English literature much richer.
However, Irish poetry has its own comic genre as limerick. Limerick is a short five lines poem, having a certain rhythmic structure. Most of limericks are humorous or even absurd. Limerick is a type of poem with two usual ingredients of poetry – rhyme and rhythm. Perhaps one wouldn’t call it true poetry but it is certainly verse – both comic and curious. Eventually humour of limericks is based on using different idioms and may arouse the linguistic interest:
There was young fellow named Hall
Who fell in the spring in the fall.
’Twould have been a sad thing
If he’d died in the spring,
But he didn’t – he died in the fall.
We may call it rollicking humour, where the main character is an awkward person who always gets into curious situations.
Eventually, Irish sense of humour is a part of British or we may say English humour, which makes it more colorful and ironic. It consists of wisdom of Irish people, their independence and fresh view on all the sides of life.
In addition, the humour of Great Britain is based on the richness of literature and history. The famous book “Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll astonishes the readers by the comical plot which is full of curious situations and at the same time touches on social, political and love problems.
The story “The Open Window” by Hector Munro makes the reader smile after long tension. At first, the plot seems to be very mysterious. A young girl tells Mr. Nuttel about strange things with her aunt. She was always waiting for her husband and brothers who went missing after shooting. And that is why her aunt kept the window wide open. After that Mr.Nuttel saw something terrifying through the window: there were men with guns coming back home. He was so frightened that decided that they were the ghosts and he ran away from that house. At the end it turned out that the girl made a big joke on him.
We noticed that English literature humour might be called a “humor of situation and satire”, because the main comic reception is the extra-ordinary, curious plot.
As for kinds of English humour, we may speak about puns, grim humour, allusions and parodies. All of them have their own special uniqueness.
Firstly, I’d like to say about puns. In particular, puns are based on a play upon words and phrases and their word-components. Let’s pay attention to some puns.
The first is:
So you’re just back from your holiday. Feel any change?
Not a penny.
And the second is:
Will you join me?
Why, are you coming apart?
The humour of these jokes is the same: to understand the point of them you have to recognize using the words with different meanings. For example, in the first joke the word ‘change’ might mean ‘to make things another way’ or ‘small money’, as in the second joke the word ‘join’ has different meanings like ‘to get together’ or ‘to gather something into pieces’.
Also pun can be separated into different groups:
- play upon words with the same spelling, the same sound, but different meanings;
- play upon words with the same sound, different spelling and different meaning (homophones);
- the jokes where one word is expressed, another is implied;
- play upon words which can be taken, because of considerable similarity;
- play upon phrases and their word-components;
- play upon grammatical and phonetic structures.
Examples of puns
Play upon words with the same spelling, the same sound, but different meanings
Man: Do you serve crabs here?
Waiter: We serve anyone – sit down.
Did the doctor treat you?
No, he charged me ten dollars.
Play upon words with the same sound, different spelling and different meaning (homophones)
She: You see, darling, this hat costs only twenty dollars. Good buy.
He: Yes, good-bye, twenty dollars.
He: He always calls his wife “Fare Lady”.
She: How romantic! Why does he call her “Fair Lady”?
He: It’s a habit – he used to be a street-car conductor.
The jokes where one word is expressed, another is implied
-It’s raining cats and dogs.
-Yes, I just stepped into a poodle.
Advertisement in dry-cleaner’s: We die for you.
Play upon words which can be taken, because of considerable similarity
When are true words – sweet words?
When they are candid.
Play upon phrases and their word-components
- What have you got for a rainy day?
- An umbrella.
If your wife wants to learn to drive, don’t stand in her way.
Play upon grammatical and phonetic structures
- Yes, sir.
- What’s this?
- It’s bean soup.
- No matter what it’s been. What’s it now?
It is interesting, that puns were in great demand during Shakespeare’s time. Plenty of them were used in madrigals, bear-baiting and the theatre. A linguist D.N. Bell noticed that even Shakespeare “did not neglect the chance of playing with words in the form of puns”.
In addition to that, nowadays this type of humour is still very popular in England. You can meet this play upon words everywhere: in the names of music groups, such as the ‘Beatles’ (‘beat’ – rhythm or ‘beetles’ –insects), the name of offices, hotels, clubs and cafes. For example, the name of the café ‘Dew Drop Inn’ listens like slang expression ‘Do drop in’.
Another one famous type of English humor is grim humour. Its point is full of irony, laughing at something at first seems to be unlaughing. For example:
Two hunters go about the forest. Suddenly one of them faints. The second understands that his friend doesn’t breathe and then he takes his mobile phone and calls to the hospital: “Look! My friend died! What can I do?” the doctor answers: “At first you have to be sure that he has really died”. After that the shot rings out, and then the hunter takes the phone and asks again: “Well, what should I do now?”
The grim humour became popular in Great Britain and all over the word with popularity of “the Beatles” and especially John Lennon. His literature parodies and ironic miniatures impressed people by the plenty of neologisms, idioms and puns, in spite of the fact, that he could say everything he wanted in whatever situations. One day being interviewed he answered the journalist’s request to say something in the face million American audiences: “Oh, what’s a strange face they have”.
Eventually, grim humour might be cold rather gloomy and sarcastic, because its themes touch on the things in ironic way, those sometimes are not worth making fun of it.
Although there are no limits and restrictions for English humour, we take the most popular themes of jokes which are used in Great Britain: jokes about the weather, about uflappablement and resourcefulment, art and literature.
The most popular themes of England humour
It’s raining cats and dogs.
Yes, I just stepped into a poodle.
Uflappablement and resourcefulment
Friend: I’m sorry I couldn’t come to your wedding.
Movie Actress: Never mind…You’ll come to my next one.
One Englishman sits in his dining-room in armchair reading morning “Times” and smoking a pipe. Suddenly the wall is fallen and Bentley is driven into the room by the other Englishman. The first looks at him calmy and asks: “May I ask, where you are so hurry, sir?”- “To the Manchester, sir!”- “Then it would be quicker to go there through the kitchen…”
Art and literature
First: Here is The Mona Liza. So many people now speak about her mysterious smile.
Second: Well, that dame’s smile reminds me of my wife when she thinks I’m lying.
First: It must be terrible for an opera singer to realize that he can never sing again.
Second: Yes; but it’s much more terrible if he doesn’t realize it.
Since English television shows have been started broadcasting in Russia quite part of the audience were disappointed by the feeble humour, even it was compared with American banana skin sense of humor. Obviously, every nation has some jokes that are not very intelligent and intricate, but the opinion that English humour is too feeble is not quite right. One the one hand, the clarity of humour depends on the quality of translation. Sometimes it is impossible to translate a joke from English into Russian, and then in this case editors and humourists have to make the analogue of a previous joke. Unfortunately, there were the accidents that were not very successful and the joke left its original point. On the other hand, the clarity of humour depends on the closeness of cultures. It can explain why Russians don’t understand English jokes: English and Russian characters, speech, traditions are very different. The best-known quality of the English is reserve; they do not show many emotions. However, a person from Russia will begin conversation at once and speak to you about everything from your family to global problems in the world and he will be very emotional and out-going. That is why we can hardly understand English sense of humour and they can understand our one only sometimes.
Also for English the humour is a way to earn some money for charity needs. The main national cultural event is the Red Noses Day which is celebrated once in two years in March. On the day of the festival there are a lot of different funny games and competitions in schools, offices and streets of the towns. All the evening the BBC shows special prepared comedies, the performances of the most popular singers and humorists. At the end of the concert organizers clarify the aims of the festival, show what the money are going for, which has been collected earlier.
All things considered, we have noticed that English humour differs from Russian and combines a few funny facts at once, the extra-ordinary, curious plot, playing upon words, laughing at something at first seems to be unlaughing, its special themes, the difficulties of translation it into other languages. The last fact explains why my report is topical. Studying of the English language provides the interest of the audience to get closer to English culture, especially humour, which expects to study spoken English, its literature and know it advanced in its turn.
A list of used literature
Амелина Т.А., Дьяконова Н.Я. Хрестоматия по английской литературе, XX век – М.: Просвещение, 1985.
Английский рассказ XX века, М.: Менеджер, 2004.
Белл Д.Н., Белл Б.Н. Английский с улыбкой. Чтение ради пользы и удовольствия – М: Сигма-пресс, 1996.
Голденков М. Осторожно hot dog - М.: ЧеРо, 1999.
5. Ливергант А.Я. Юмор и сатира Ирландии – М: Радуга, 1986.
6. Русско-английский и англо-русский словарь. – М.: Астрель, АСТ, 2013.