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The British Sense of Humour

British sense of humour

The British Sense of Humour

The topic of weather is a key part of the British culture, just like Brexit! We even blame any bad weather or mishaps on Brexit, that is if we are prepared to talk about it at all! However, another key part of the British culture is the use of humour in everyday conversation and lives.

The thread of humour runs throughout the English language and can be confusing, amusing and totally frustrating to non-native speakers.   It is often difficult to know when an English person is being serious or not, as we use humour to diffuse a difficult situation, lighten the mood or develop relationships and friendships or even to complain about something.

I refer to the book “Watching the English” by Kate Fox as she writes :-

“In other cultures, ‘there is a time and place’ for humour; it is a special, separate kind of talk.  In English conversation, there is always an undercurrent of humour.  We can barely manage to say “hello” or comment on the weather without somehow contriving to make a bit of a joke out of it, and most English conversations will involve at least some degree of banter, teasing, irony, understatement, humorous self-deprecation, mockery or just silliness.  Humour is our “default mode”, if you like: we do not have to switch it on deliberately, and we cannot switch it off.   For the English, the rules of humour are the cultural equivalent of natural laws – we obey them automatically, rather in the way that we obey the law of gravity.”

Nicky and I spend quite a lot of time talking to non-native speakers about situations where they have completely misunderstood the use of humour, be it in a meeting or in general conversation.  It is not easy to interpret the meaning or why it is being used but would suggest it is an accepted part of learning the English language and culture.  I would advise that understanding is key but, using humour as a non-native speaker can be a minefield (dangerous place) and unless you are totally confident in its meaning, use and more importantly the audience, you stay away from using it!

The following short video is a prime example of how the English use humour to talk about a “serious topic” (technology) and how the language can be used completely differently.



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Posted by Melodie Williams

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