One of the aspects of English that my ESL students find most difficult is understanding the jokes their friends tell them or teachers say in class. In many cases they understand all the words in the joke, but not what is funny.
Of course, understanding many jokes presupposes a cultural knowledge which the students probably do not have. For example:
- I bought a Dalek egg-timer yesterday. After three minutes it shouts "Eggs, terminate!"
To find this is funny, you have to know that a Dalek is an alien monster in the popular BBC science fiction show called Doctor Who. The Dalek shouts out Exterminate! and tries to kill every human it sees. Here's a Dalek for anyone who wants to know what it is.
The Dalek joke is funny because of the pun Eggs, terminate! = Exterminate! And indeed puns are the essential ingredient in countless jokes.
Puns can be words that have two meanings as in the following: When is an ambulance not an ambulance? - When it turns into a hospital! Here turns into can mean changes into or turns a corner into.
Or they can be two different words with the same sound, as in What's black and white and red (read) all over? - A newspaper. (Obviously this second kind of pun doesn't work when written down.)
@ Identifying and correctly interpreting such plays on words demands a high level of linguistic competence.~ Here are some more examples:
- What wobbles when it flies? - A jelicopter! A jelly wobbles and a helicopter flies.
- Why couldnt the viper viper face? - Because the adder adder handkerchief. (Why couldn't the viper wipe her face? - Because the adder had her handkerchief.) Viper and adder are synonyms for the only poisonous snake found in the UK.
- Why are there no aspirin tablets in the jungle? - Because paracetamol! (i.e. because parrots eat them all = paracetamol). Paracetamol is the brand name for a popular aspirin tablet in the UK.
Here are three food jokes. Identify the pun in each case.
- Why are mushrooms so popular at parties? - Because they are fun guys!
- Why did the boy eat his homework? - Because the teacher told him it was a piece of cake.
- What's small, round, and giggles a lot? - A tickled onion.
Why are mushrooms so popular at parties? - Because they are fun guys!
The pun is on fun guys = fungis. A mushroom is a fungus. Actually, the plural of fungus is fungi. There is no word fungis, but it sounds like fun guys.
Why did the boy eat his homework? - Because the teacher told him it was a piece of cake.
If something is a piece of, it is very easy.
What's small, round, and giggles a lot? - A tickled onion.
The word play is on tickled, which rhymes with pickled. Tickled people giggle, and a pickled onion is a small onion that is preserved by pickling it.
Go to a page with more jokes.
Read about puns in newspaper headlines.