Language Matters August 2009: English Language – Funny?

Dear Language Friend,

Always look on the bright side of things

 In our previous newsletters we went on an adventurous journey with Sir English Language exploring his origin by meeting some mysterious and dangerous tribes. We accompanied our good old friend from Old English valley to Middle English town to the Modern days and, last but not least, we witnessed the birth of the English language’s one millionth word. Congratulations!

In this newsletter we would like to take a look at the funny aspect of English language and its expressions.

Enjoy our short walk through the wild part of English language and communication.

Contributed by Christine Mueller. Thanks for reading.

To laugh or not to laugh, that is the question

Language can be a source of joy but also of a great confusion. English is spoken in 53 countries around the world and learning the language becomes more and more essential in the days of globalization. However, even an excellent knowledge of the language can sometimes be insufficient; for there is a humorous play of words that can make life difficult for non-native speakers.

 This is not really a new concept since even the famous and fabulous William Shakespeare took much pleasure in playing with puns. So did Lewis Carroll when sending Alice to Wonderland – an excellent example of puns, inversions, riddles and jokes. Today these literary devices are often used in advertisement where the language games point out ambiguity and slipperiness of languages, and English in particular.

The power of puns

Pun is a literary device where the same word carries two meanings. There are many types of puns; for example, homophonic and homographic.

Homophonic puns exploit one or more words that sound the same but are spelt differently and mean different things, like for example ‘flower’ and ‘flour’ or ‘jewel’ and ‘joule’.  

Homographic puns, on the other hand, use different words which are spelled the same but have a different meaning like ‘close’ (door) and ‘close’ (near) or ‘bow’ (ship) and ‘bow’ (arrow).

 But enough theory here are some examples for puns:
I’ve no idea how worms reproduce but you often find them in pairs/pears.’ (Identical pronunciation)
Two antennas met on a roof, fell in love and got married. The ceremony wasn’t much, but the reception was excellent.’ (Two meanings of ‘reception’)
Seven days without laughter makes one weak/week‘.

Just joking

Different kinds of language structures result in different kinds of humor. For example a common view reveals that Germans have no sense of humor at all. There are many well known jokes that describe their rationality and incapability of laughing. In fact Germans can be very funny; their language is just not as flexible as the English language. The frequent use of compound words and the sentence structure makes it quite complicated to always place a funny punch line at the end of a sentence. While English grammar and vocabulary with all its ambiguity allows comedians to confuse and of course amuse the audience by playing with words that have double or even triple meanings.

 A very common example would be:
Three tomatoes are walking down the street, a poppa tomato, a momma tomato, and a little baby tomato. The baby tomato is lagging behind the poppa and momma tomato. The poppa tomato gets mad, goes over to the baby tomato stamps on him and says: catch up.

Confused? Then think of what you put on your French fries.

Going back to our German friends this pun would never work in the German language because you will not be able to find a similar expression to the phrase ‘catch up’. But as said before Germans can also be funny: ‘What is romantic?’’I don’t know.’ ‘When a man strokes a woman tenderly with a feather.’ ‘What is unnatural?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘When the chicken is still attached.’

The rule is that the rule doesn’t always rule

Learning the English language can be rather difficult and often confusing if you did not grow up with all the paradoxes it provides. Besides, being aware of puns as a hardworking English student you will reach a point in your studies when you will be asking yourself one simple question: why? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth beeth? If one goose becomes two geese, why isn’t there one moose and two meese? If the plural of box is boxes, why is the plural of ox not oxes. You may find a lonely mouse or a lot of mice but the plural of house is houses, not hice.

 After this easy lesson about plurals and singulars you might get worried about the correct pronunciation of English words: we must polish the Polish furniture; the soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert, insurance was invalid for the invalid; since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.

 And here is a terrific tongue twister to work on your pronunciation: Once upon a barren moor there dwelt a bear, also a boar. The bear could not bear the boar. The boar thought the bear a bore. At last the bear could bear no more of that boar that bored him on the moor, and so one morn he bored the boar – that boar will bore the bear no more.

But this is still not the end of the story! Trying to identify the coherence of some English word creations will lead to total confusion. Do not expect to find ham on your hamburger, a pineapple has nothing to do with apples or pine, French fries were not invented by the French, a Guinea pig is not from Guinea nor is it a pig and there is no egg in an eggplant.

 Confused? Do not be, contact LingoStar. We will help you!