When is a joke a joke?
Okay, time to put you all out of your misery - here’s an explanation about the joke I told you in my last post…
Top marks to Monica from Brazil who said that the joke involved puns. A pun is a ‘play on words’ – as you know, many words in English have two meanings (or more!) and when we say something that makes sense with both meanings, it’s called a pun and this can sometimes be quite funny. Here is another example of a joke based on a ‘pun’ to explain what I mean: “When the TV repairman got married the reception was excellent.” Here the pun is ‘reception’. You can read the sentence two ways because ‘reception’ has two meanings:
1) Reception to do with a TV – if a TV has bad reception it means the picture isn’t clear. If there is excellent reception then you can see the picture perfectly. (you can also use this reception to talk about your mobile phone)
2) Reception to do with a marriage – after a wedding ceremony, many people in the UK and other countries have a party with food and music. This is called the reception.
Now that you know these two definitions, does the sentence seem kind of funny?
Let’s have a look at the original joke I told you…
A man walks into a bar, sits down and orders a beer. The bartender gives it to him, along with a bowl of peanuts. To the man’s surprise, the bowl of peanuts starts talking to him. It says, ‘Hey, you’re really good looking! I love your shirt!’. The man thinks this is a bit weird. He realises he hasn’t got any cigarettes, so he goes over to the machine to buy some. He puts in the money and then the machine starts talking to him too! It says, ‘Man, you’re so ugly. Did you even look in the mirror before you left the house? You look BAD’ and then it doesn’t even give him any cigarettes. The man is very confused. He goes back to the bartender and asks him to explain. ‘Oh yes,’ says the bartender, ‘the peanuts are complimentary, but the cigarette machine is out of order.’
Here there are two puns – ‘complimentary’ and ‘out of order’.
Complimentary can mean:
1) Free of charge
2) Saying nice things or compliments.
So the peanuts didn’t cost anything, and they also said nice things to the man in the bar.
Out of order can mean:
1) Not working
2) Rude or offensive – for example, ‘you’re out of order!’ means you shouldn’t have said or done what you did because it was inappropriate or rude. This is quite a slang phrase but very common in the UK.
So the cigarette machine didn’t work (because it didn’t give the man any cigarettes) but it was also rude because it said unkind things to the man.
Does it make sense now?!! I hope so! It was quite difficult, I agree, because the second meaning of ‘out of order’ is quite a ‘British’ meaning.
I also asked you why this wouldn’t be funny in your first language… well that’s because it’s quite unlikely that there are words in another language which have the same two meanings as ‘complimentary’ and ‘out of order’. You can definitely translate each meaning, but it will probably be two different words so the joke won’t work. Do you see what I mean?
Rian made a really good point which was that the joke wouldn’t be funny in cultures where bars and cigarette machines aren’t common… that’s definitely true. Humour has a lot to do with the context in which it is shared. You have to have a kind of ‘shared knowledge’ to understand the things that the joke is about and without this the joke won’t be funny. I’m sure you can all think of a joke that doesn’t translate because of these reasons… can’t you?
Okay so just to extend this point a little bit, I’d like you Kiran, and all our readers to think of five more words in the English language which have more than one meaning, but the same spelling and if you really want a challenge, see if you can find another joke in English that is based on a pun. Good luck!
Kiran thanks for the last instalment of your Kerala story. I was so sorry to hear that your friend had passed away before you arrived. I enjoyed your description of the backwaters… we visited there almost two years ago and stayed on a houseboat which was fantastic. I’m afraid I had to laugh when I read that you had run out of petrol! We have also done that a couple of times in the car… it’s not so funny when it happens to you though, is it? :-) By the way, I keep meaning to ask you – have you heard about the outcome of your interview? I hope you got the job!
Okay… better get going.
Take care everyone!
Vocabulary from 22 August post…
Compelling - very interesting
To prove a point - to show that something is true
Complimentary (check the context carefully!) - see above!
Out of order (check the context carefully!) - see above!
A conundrum - a difficult mental challenge or question
Vocabulary from today’s post… definitions next time!
To put someone out of his/her misery
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