Helping Learners Understand Spoken English

Jokes

What is a joke? A joke is something that is said or done to make someone laugh. Of course, different people have different tastes in jokes. Not everyone finds every joke funny.

Do you know any jokes in English? There are many different types of jokes. Many jokes are offensive because they make fun of a certain group of people. They are often based on stereotypes. I won’t be telling you any of those jokes.

stereotype: a fixed general idea or image about a group of people that is often hurtful, unfair and untrue in reality

Humor is often one of the most difficult aspects to understand when learning a language due to cultural differences.

A lot of humor is contextual. Contextual jokes are related to the events or circumstances of a particular place. For example, an inside joke is a joke that is shared between a small group of people. It is usually based on a shared experience that they had together, so it would not be understood by people who were not part of the group. If you ever overhear someone sharing an inside joke, they might say, “Sorry, it’s an inside joke. You had to be there.”

To keep things clean and kind, I’ll share two types of jokes that play with words, puns and knock-knock jokes.

Puns

Let’s start with a common type of joke that involves a pun. As a language teacher, puns are my favorite kind of jokes. Puns involve wordplay. They often play with words that sound alike but have different meanings. They can also play with words that have multiple meanings.

The form of the joke is question and answer. A very common way to make this type of joke is using wordplay. Wordplay is a playful and witty use of words.

Let’s look at an example

A: What do electrical engineers like for breakfast?

B: I don’t know. What?

A: Ohmlets.

B: Ha ha. I get it.

Explanation

The above joke uses the meaning of two similar sounding words and combines them into one, mixing the pronunciation.

To understand this joke, you need to know the following:

An omelette is a style of eggs that is common for breakfast.

An ohm (Ω) is a measure of electrical resistance named after Georg Simon Ohm, the man who discovered this relationship, known as Ohm’s Law.

Get it?

Knock-knock Jokes

A knock-knock joke has a formula. All knock-knock jokes follow the same pattern. They contain 5 lines. The first two lines are always the same. The third line answers the question. The fourth line asks who? Finally, the punchline is delivered in the last line. Knock-knock jokes often end with a pun.

punchline: the final phrase or sentence of a joke or story, providing the humor or explaining the meaning

Let’s look at an example

A: Knock knock

B: Who’s there?

A: Lettuce.

B: Lettuce who?

A: Lettuce in. It’s cold out here.

Explanation

Can you identify the pun at the end? What does the word lettuce sound like? The context of the situation can be helpful. Saying knock knock implies a situation where someone is knocking on a door. On the other side of the door, someone asks, “Who’s there?” In a real situation, the person at the door might answer with their first name, for example, John. If the person inside the home does not recognize the voice, they might ask, “John who?” In a real situation, John would then provide his surname (family name) or perhaps explain who he is in more detail. For example, “John from down the street.” When you know that knock-knock jokes imply a situation where two people are on opposite sides of a door, the punchline becomes funnier.

Lettuce sounds like let us. Do you get it? Are you rolling your eyes? These are simple jokes enjoyed more by children than adults. However, language lovers like myself also enjoy them.

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Joke Vocabulary

If you would like to learn vocabulary related to joking and humor, head over to Espresso English’s free 6-minute lesson.

Never stop learning!
~ Trey

Suggested reading: Idioms and Common English Expressions