Honeycomb Joke

Jokes Course Humour | Vocabulary | Listenings


These English Activities are built around English jokes. The jokes may be old or new; they may be very funny or just amusing. The language of the joke is explored, and you will begin to understand a very important aspect of the English language - humour. Many students of English, be they students of English as a second language or of English as a foreign language, find it very difficult to "get" English jokes. British humour has a strong satirical element aimed at showing the absurdity of everyday life. A lot of English humour depends on cultural knowledge and the themes commonly include the British class system, wit, innuendo, to boost subjects and puns, self-deprecation, sarcasm, and insults. As well as this, English humour is often delivered in a deadpan way or is considered by many to be insensitive. A particular aspect of British English humour is the humour of the macabre, were topics that are usually treated seriously are treated in a very humorous or satirical way.


Did you know that there are over 600,000 words in English? That's a lot of words, and far more than any human being could ever manage to learn. Even Shakespeare only used around 55,000 different words in all of his works. Mind you, he did actually invent quite a few of them. To get a good mastery of English, you do need to expand your vocabulary as much as possible. The more words you know, the better your English will be. The Activities here will help you to quickly develop your vocabulary.


Reading is the easiest way to take in English. Listening is a much harder skill and one that has to be developed as you study the language. There are lots of speech features that arise when native English speakers speak English. These speech features, such as elision, simplification, intonation, stress, and rhythm, and the way in which speakers may miss out sounds or whole words, are important to understand if you are to be able to listen to and fully understand spoken English. These Britlish Library Activities will help you to develop you listening skills.  

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The British English vocabulary included in the exercises in the British library includes bomb, bumble, cake, cell, climb, comb, crumb, debt, doubt, dumb, hive, know, lamb, limb, money, numb, parallel, plate, plumb, son, starchy, steamy, sticky, stodgy, streaky, subtle, teeth, thumb, tomb, and wax. English humour can be difficult for non-native English speakers. This is why simple English jokes are a very good way of teaching vocabulary, and why I’ve chosen a very simple joke for this lesson. The joke asks, Why do bees have sticky hair? The answer, because they use honeycombs, will leave many students scratching their own heads. First, watch the video and see if you understand where the humour comes from in this British English joke. Then, do the exercises and learn why this joke is funny. The exercises will also help you with pronunciation issues, particularly with the silent B in words such as comb and many others.         

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From The OED on CD-ROM

honeycomb, n. (ˈhʌnɪkəʊm) 

Forms: see honey and comb. 

[OE. huniᴁcamb, f. huniᴁ honey + camb comb n.1 (sense 8).] 

1.1 A structure of wax containing two series of hexagonal cells separated by thin partitions, formed by bees for the reception of honey and their eggs.

   The shape and arrangement of the cells secures the greatest possible economy at once of space and of material. 

   a 1050 Liber Scintil. x. (1889) 50 Sawl ᴁefylled trytt huniᴁcamb [fauum].    c 1275 Pass. Our Lord 616 in O.E. Misc. 54 Hi hym‥brouhten of one visse ibred And ek enne huny-comb.    a 1340 Hampole Psalter xviii. 11 Swetter abouen huny and huny kambe.    c 1440 Promp. Parv. 245/1 Hony coom,‥favus.    1500–20 Dunbar Poems lxxxii. 39 Merchandis‥hamperit in ane hony came.    1577 B. Googe Heresbach's Husb. iv. (1586) 191 b, Blewe knoppes, or tuftes, like Honicoames.    1651 Hobbes Leviath. iii. xxxvi. 230 The fault that Ionathan had committed, in eating a honey⁓comb.    1774 Goldsm. Nat. Hist. (1776) VIII. 100 The honeycomb of the bee is edgeways with respect to the hive.    1857 Mrs. Carlyle Lett. II. 314 Tea, eggs, brown bread and honey-comb.

fig.    c 1386 Chaucer Melib. ⁋147 He seith that wordes þat been spoken discreetly by ordinaunce been honycombes, for they yeuen swetnesse to the soule.    1642 J. Eaton (title) The Honey-combe of Free Justification by Christ alone.    1842 Tennyson E. Morris 26 Was he not A full-cell'd honeycomb of eloquence Stored from all flowers?

†2.2 A term of endearment. Cf. honey 5. Obs. 

   c 1386 Chaucer Miller's T. 512 What do ye, hony comb, sweete Alisoun?    1552 Huloet, Darlynge, a wanton terme‥as be these: honycombe, pyggisnye, swetehert, trueloue.

3.3 A cavernous flaw in metal work, esp. in guns. 

   1530 Palsgr. 232/1 Honny combe, marcq.    1588 Lucar Colloq. Arte Shooting App. 2 Whether or no any hony⁓combes flawes or crackes are in the peece.    1706 Phillips (ed. Kersey), Honey-comb, a Flaw in the Metal of a Piece of Ordnance.    1763 Del Pino Sp. Dict., Escarabajos,‥what gunners call honey-comb, that is, holes in the metal.    1828 J. M. Spearman Brit. Gunner (ed. 2) 339 Efforts to force the water through any honey-combs or flaws which there may be in the bore.    1881 Greener Gun 146 A scratch or spot of honey-comb in the grooves renders the rifle completely useless for match-shooting.

4.4 The reticulum or second stomach of ruminants, so called from the appearance of its inner surface. 

   1727–41 Chambers Cycl. s.v. Ruminant, The reticulum, which we call the hony-comb.    1774 Goldsmith Nat. Hist. II. ii. i.    1859 Todd Cycl. Anat. V. 302/2 The second cavity, the honeycomb‥is so called from the appearance of its mucous membrane.

5. a.5.a Honeycomb work (see 6). 

   1838 H. G. Knight Norm. in Sicily 276 The vault is ornamented with the Moorish honeycomb.    1882 Daily Tel. 23 Nov., A large white quilt, real honeycomb.

b.5.b Textiles. Used attrib. of a fabric in which the warp and weft threads form ridges and indentations, producing a cell-like appearance. 

   1879 T. R. Ashenhurst Weaving & designing Textile Fabrics 250 Another cloth which may be mentioned is one known as the honeycomb cloth, which presents to the eye a series of ridges and cavities.    1913 T. Eaton & Co. Catal. Fall & Winter 131/3 Full Bleached English Honeycomb Quilts‥fringed all round‥for single beds.    1921 Daily Colonist (Victoria, B.C.) 5 Apr. 18/4 (Advt.), Honeycomb Towels at, each, 15c.    1929 Woodhouse & Brand Towels & Towelling ix. 99 The unbroken diamond in the first unit‥is filled in with the 8-thread honeycomb weave.    1968 ‘A. Gilbert’ Night Encounter iii. 41 High bed with a honeycomb quilt.

c.5.c A structure consisting of numerous intersecting surfaces designed to reduce turbulence and straighten the air flow in a wind tunnel. 

   1912 Sci. Amer. 14 Sept. 220/1 The usual method of eliminating swirls and irregularities of speed is to pass the air through a sheet metal ‘honeycomb’ at the front end [of the tunnel].    1918 Cowley & Levy Aeronautics i. 8 At both ends of the channel proper there are placed two metal honeycombs.    1947 A. Pope Wind-Tunnel Testing ii. 60 If the contraction ratio of the tunnel is large, and a good honeycomb is installed, the turbulence can be low indeed.    1966 Ower & Pankhurst Measurem. Air Flow (ed. 4) vii. 200 The resistance coefficient of a honeycomb or a gauze is conveniently expressed in term of the loss of pressure‥suffered by the air in passing through it.

d.5.d A material consisting of a regular network of parallel, open-ended cells formed out of many bent or moulded strips (e.g. of metal or plastic) bonded together; it is usually used faced on both sides with sheeting, forming a honeycomb sandwich. Freq. attrib. 

   1937 Jrnl. Franklin Inst. CCXXIV. 282 Barkley-Grow Aircraft Corp.‥has fabricated an all metal honeycomb structure of great strength and lightness.    1946 Mod. Plastics Sept. 130/2 Standard thicknesses of honeycomb have been selected.    Ibid., Fire resistance may be obtained with stainless steel or laminated asbestos paper skins on asbestos honeycomb core.    1949 Aircraft Engin. XXI. 12/1 This flooring material is a honeycomb sandwich of aluminium alloy.    1964 Oleesky & Mohr Handbk. Reinforced Plastics ix. 492 Honeycomb sandwich flooring is currently being used in large computer room applications.    1966 New Scientist 26 May 523/3 Temperature-resistant honeycomb has been used in heat-sensitive areas of many aircraft.

6.6 attrib. and Comb. Of or pertaining to a honeycomb; like, or arranged in the form of, a honeycomb; having a surface hexagonally marked; as honeycomb cell, honeycomb decoration, honeycomb flannel, honeycomb ground, honeycomb limestone, honeycomb ornament, honeycomb pattern, honeycomb sponge, honeycomb work; honeycomb bag = sense 4; honeycomb coil Electronics, an inductance coil in which the turns cross one another obliquely and adjacent ones are separated, giving a criss-cross pattern; honeycomb coral, a coral of the genus favosites; honeycomb moth, a tineid moth of the genus Galleria which infests beehives; honeycomb radiator, a radiator for an internal-combustion engine that is pierced by numerous short tubes running from front to back through which the air passes, the ends of which give it a honeycombed appearance; honeycomb ringworm, scall, species of the disease favus; honeycomb stitch (see quot.); honeycomb stomach = sense 4; so honeycomb tripe; honeycomb-stone, fossil honeycomb coral; honeycomb wall, a (brick) wall containing numerous small openings close together at regular intervals. 

   1865 Chambers' Encycl. VIII. 367 The stomach‥consists of four distinct bags or cavities‥The second cavity is the *Honeycomb bag.

   1922 Wireless World 30 Dec. p. xiv (Advt.), Gimbal type *Honeycomb coil.    1959 K. Henney Radio Engin. Handbk. (ed. 5) iii. 9 Honeycomb coils were a type of universal winding with relatively few, widely spaced turns per layer giving a typical ‘honeycomb’ appearance.

   1873 Dawson Earth & Man v. 91 The Favosites or *honeycomb coral, presenting regular hexagonal cells with transverse floors or tabulæ.

   1884 Advt., *Honeycomb Flannel‥for Petticoats and Skirts.

   1721 Mrs. Bradshaw in Lett. C'tess Suffolk I. 75 There is one [edging], of a *honeycomb ground.

   1813 Bakewell Introd. Geol. (1815) 463 *Honeycomb lime-stone, a name which conveys a tolerably correct idea of its appearance.

   1840 J. & M. Loudon tr. Köllar's Treat. Insects i. 75 This enemy is the caterpillar of a moth, called the‥*honeycomb-moth.    1864–5 Wood Homes without H. viii. (1868) 192 The last of our burrowers is the Honey-comb Moth belonging to the genus Galleria.

   1838 H. G. Knight Norm. in Sicily 272 note, The *honeycomb ornament is common in the alcoves, and vaulted apartments of the Arabians.

   1882 Caulfield & Saward Dict. Needlework, *Honeycomb Pattern, cast on any number of stitches that divide by six. First row―Knit. Second row― Purl [etc.]. This completes one Honeycomb.

   1904 A. B. F. Young Compl. Motorist iii. 55 The front of the car consists of a water-tank pierced like a honeycomb throughout its whole surface with apertures of equal dimensions; this is known as a ‘*honeycomb radiator’.    1919 Jane's All the World's Aircraft 16 b A ‘V’ type honeycomb radiator is fitted directly behind the airscrew.    1946 A. W. Judge Mod. Petrol Engines vii. 261 The honeycomb radiator, which has been so widely used in automobile and aircraft work, consists of a series of thin brass tubes expanded at their ends and joined together at these ends by a soldering process.

   1867 J. Hogg Microsc. ii. i. 296 The Favus fungus‥is commonly called the cupped ringworm or *honycomb scall.

   1874 J. Pereira's Mat. Med. 1015 Turkey Sponge,‥the common variety is called *honeycomb sponge.

   1882 Caulfield & Saward Dict. Needlework, *Honeycomb Stitch, this stitch is used to draw together in an ornamental pattern the gathers upon the neck and sleeves of smock frocks, and also for all kinds of decorative gathering.

   1861 Hulme tr. Moquin-Tandon ii. i. 43 The reticulum or *honey-comb stomach.

   1753 Chambers Cycl. Supp., *Honeycomb-Stone.

   1894 J. P. Allen Pract. Building Constr. (Index), *Honeycomb walls.    1913 G. G. Samson Every Man his own Builder iii. 108 Some people build them [sc. sleeper walls] as ‘honeycomb’ walls.    1969 New Yorker 5 Apr. 99/1 A honeycomb wall turns into an entrance to whatever place they imagine.

   1874 T. Hardy Far from Madding Crowd I. ix. 127 Snow-white smock-frocks‥marked on the wrists, breasts, backs, and sleeves with *honeycomb-work.    1895 Jrnl. R. Inst. Brit. Archit. 14 Mar. 348 A richly fretted ceiling of Arabian honeycomb-work.


Understanding another culture's humour can be one of the most challenging things for a student of any language to master. The lessons in this course are all typical English jokes which depend for their humour on word play, puns, and pronunciation. If you understand the humour in these jokes, you will be well on your way to understanding English humour in general.

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This Alaska joke gets its humour from the pronunciation features of British English. If you understand the rhythm of English and how weak and strong syllables behave when we speak, you will be able to understand the humour of this joke. The Britlish Library lesson explains how and why the joke is funny and gives you plenty of exercises to help you learn, remember, and use these pronunciation features.

Categories: Humour | Vocabulary | Listenings | Pronunciation

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A lot of jokes in English depend for their humour on the way completely different words can sound identical due to the speech features we find in spoken British English. This is one of those jokes. Listen to the joke and then do the exercises so that you can learn about why it is so funny. English humour can be difficult for non-native English speakers. This is why simple English jokes are a very good way of teaching vocabulary, and why I’ve chosen a very simple joke for this lesson. I’m not going to write the joke here as it depends for its humour entirely on a homophone.       

Categories: Humour | Vocabulary | Pronunciation | Listenings

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Decomposing - English Joke

The British English vocabulary included in the exercises in the Britlish library includes deactivate, debrief, debug, decommission, decompile, decompose, decompress, deforestation, demoralize, demystify, denature, and desaturate. English humour can be difficult for non-native English speakers. This is why simple English jokes are a very good way of teaching vocabulary, and why I’ve chosen a very simple joke for this lesson. The joke goes: Good heavens! When you stand here next to Beethoven’s grave, you can almost hear his music, only it seems to be playing backwards. What on earth could be causing that? Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? What is? He’s decomposing. This humour may leave many students scratching their heads. First, watch the video and see if you understand where the humour comes from in this British English joke. Then, do the exercises in the Britlish Library and learn why this joke is funny. The exercises will also help you with the vocabulary of words which begin with the Latin prefix de- meaning undoing or reversing the action of a verb.       

Categories: Humour | Vocabulary | Listenings

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