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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I’m not going to write the punchline of the joke here, but the tag line is What’s orange and sounds like a parrot? 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. You can listen to the joke here and then do the exercises where you can learn about why it is so funny. You will also learn about how word play and the double meaning of words in English are the basis for much of its humour. There are interactive exercises in this lesson that will help you to see why this joke is funny.        

Jokes Course

From The OED on CD-ROM

parrot, n. (ˈpærət) 

Also 6–7 parot, parat, 6–8 parrat, -et, (6 parrote, -otte, parott(e, parate). 

[Known first c 1525; of uncertain origin, there being no cognate form of the name in other langs.; conjectured to be = F. Perrot ‘a mans proper name, being a diminutive or derivative of Pierre’ Peter (Cotgr.): cf. Pierrot, diminutive of Pierre, in mod.Fr. a name of the house-sparrow. 

   The chief difficulty in this is that the sense ‘parrot’ is not recorded for F. Perrot (although Littré has pérot as a modern Fr. familiar name given to the parrot), while Perrot does not appear as a man's name in 16th c. Eng., so that points of contact are wanting. Cf. however the suggested origin of Sp. perico, periquito, under parakeet.] 

1. a.1.a A bird of the order Psittaci, or family Psittacidæ, and spec. of the genus Psittacus; these are scansorial and zygodactyl, and have a short hooked bill and naked cere; many of the species have very beautiful plumage, and some of the fleshy-tongued ones can be taught to repeat words and sentences with great perfection; hence, much valued as cage-birds, the species most commonly kept being the Grey Parrot (Psittacus erythacus) of West Africa.

   The order includes many genera and species chiefly inhabiting tropical and semi-tropical regions; a few are found in the temperate zones in N. America, Australia, and New Zealand. As differentiated from parakeet, ‘parrot’ is applied to the moderate-sized and larger species of the order. Various families, genera, and species have distinct names, as cockatoo, kea, lory, macaw, etc. 

   c 1525 Skelton Sp. Parrot 1 My name is Parrot, a byrd of paradyse.    Ibid. 9 Parot must haue an almon or a date.    Ibid. 15 Speke, Parrot, I pray you, full curtesly they say; Parrot is a goodly byrd, a prety popagey.    1564–78 W. Bullein Dial. agst. Pest. (1888) 61 Our Parate will saie, Parate is a minion, and beware the Catte, and she will call me Roger as plaine as your Maistership.    1581 Rich Farew. Milit. Prof. H iij b, Haue you founde your tongue now pretie peate, then wee must haue an Almon for Parrat.    1600 J. Pory tr. Leo's Africa Introd. 52 Heere be likewise gray parots.    1601 Holland Pliny I. 146 The Island Gagandus: where they began first to haue a sight of the birds called Parats.    1617 Moryson Itin. iii. 2 Children like Parrats, soone learne forraigne languages, and sooner forget the same.    1656 Earl of Monmouth tr. Boccalini's Advts. fr. Parnass. i. x. (1674) 13 Seeing a beautiful Indian Parret‥[he] delighted to hear her speak.    1727 Pope Th. Var. Subj. Swift's Wks. 1755 II. i. 230 A very little wit is valued in a woman, as we are pleased with a few words spoken plain by a parrot.    1781 Cowper Convers. 7 Words learned by rote a parrot may rehearse.    1884–5 Stand. Nat. Hist. (1888) IV. 363 The gray parrots, forming the family Psittacidæ, are few in number and are confined to Africa and Madagascar.

b.1.b A figure of the bird; esp. one used as a mark for shooting at; a popinjay. 

   1578 T. N. tr. Conq. W. India 198 They will make a Parret or Popin Jay of mettall, that his tongue shall shake, and his heade move, and his wings flutter.    1662 J. Davies tr. Olearius' Voy. Ambass. 262 You passe through a place appointed for tilting‥and in the midst, a high Pole for shooting at the wooden Parrat.

2.2 Applied contemptuously to a person; esp. in reference to an unintelligent mechanical repetition of speech, or imitation of the action of others. 

   1581 J. Bell Haddon's Answ. Osor. ii. 107 Speake out Parrotte, in what place doth Luther subuerte the dueties of vertue? Where doth hee blotte out honesty and godly carefulnesse of good men?    1656 W. D. tr. Comenius' Gate Lat. Unl. §595. 181 To make a parrot of a man, a rehearser of other men's sayings.    c 1802 M. Edgeworth Ennui ix, The mere puppets and parrots of fashion.    1837 Emerson Addr., Amer. Schol. Wks. (Bohn) II. 175 He tends to become a mere thinker, or, still worse, the parrot of other men's thinking.

3.3 sea-parrot. a.3.a The coulterneb or puffin, so called on account of the peculiar shape of its bill. 

   1694 Acc. Sev. late Voy. ii. 88 Amongst all web-footed Birds‥this hath a peculiar Bill; and because it seem'd to those that gave him this Name to be like that of a Parret, therefore they called him also a Parret.    1772–84 Cook's Voy. (1790) VI. 2126 We saw numbers of sea parrots, and small ice-birds.    1865 Gosse Land & Sea (1874) 30 These are known by the fishermen as sea-parrots or coulternebs; but are more generally designated in books as puffins.

b.3.b Some kind of fish: see parrot-fish. 

   1706 Phillips, Sea-Parret, a Fish that has very sparkling and beautiful Eyes, the Balls of which are as clear as Crystal [etc.].    1883 Fisheries Exhib. Catal. (ed. 4) 105 Sea Wolf‥Sea Parrot‥Sea Sow, Cock Peddle‥Sea Mouse.

4.4 attrib. and Comb., as parrot cage, parrot family, parrot form, parrot-pie, parrot-shooting, parrot species, parrot story, parrot teacher, etc.; of the nature of or resembling that of a parrot, esp. with reference to the mechanical repetition of words or phrases in the manner of the bird, as parrot-cry, parrot-echo, parrot-faculty, parrot-fury, parrot-lawyer, parrot-learning, parrot-phrase, parrot-player, parrot-prate, parrot-prating, parrot teaching, parrot-voice, parrot way, parrot-work, etc.; parrot-billed, parrot-bright, parrot-learnt, parrot-nosed, parrot-plumed, parrot-sharp adjs.; parrot-fashion, parrot-like adjs. and advs., parrot-wise adv.; parrot-beak = next (a); parrot-bill, (a) a New Zealand plant, Clianthus, Kaka-bill or Glory pea (Morris Austral Eng.); (b) a war-hammer with a point like a beak (Cent. Dict.); (c) applied attrib. and absol. to a type of cutting-tool the blades of which resemble a beak; parrot-bullfinch, an Indian bird of the genus Paradoxornis; parrot-crossbill, a species of crossbill, Loxia pytiopsittacus, having a larger bill than the common species; parrot disease, fever = psittacosis; parrot-finch, (a) = parrot-crossbill; (b) one of the Ploceidæ or Weaver-birds, Erythrura psittacea, from New Caledonia (List Anim. Zool. Gard. (1896) 252); parrot-green, a yellowish green like the colouring of some parrots; parrot mouth, a malformation of a horse's mouth, in which the upper incisors project beyond the lower, so as to prevent grazing; parrot-perch = parrot-fish b (Morris Austral Eng.); parrot's bill, †(a) a form of surgeon's pincers; (b) = parrot-bill (a); parrot's corn: see quot.; parrot snake (see quot. 1931); parrots' plague, rinderpest, a contagious disease to which parrots are subject; parrot-toed a., intoed, pigeon-toed; parrot tongue, a tongue like that of a parrot; spec. a dry shrivelled condition of the human tongue in typhus, etc.; parrot tulip, a variety of tulip with fringed and ruffled petals, often of variegated colours; parrot-weed, the Tree Celandine, Bocconia frutescens, a tropical American plant; parrot-wrasse = parrot-fish a. Also parrot-coal, -fish. 

   1971 Power Farming Mar. 46/4 Stem cutting…*parrot bill shears may be used.    1972 Country Life 23 Mar. 690/3 After this major excitement a willow lapses into hum-drummery and can be lopped with the parrot-bill.

   1838 Encycl. Brit. XVI. 581/2 The *parrot-billed species.

   1920 E. Sitwell Wooden Pegasus 24 From her fan, sliding slow, *Parrot-bright fire's feathers.    1937 ― I live under Black Sun 89 Giving a little girl a forbidden parrot-bright apple.

   1825 P. J. Selby Illustr. Brit. Ornith. I. 254 *Parrot-Crossbill.    1843 Yarrell Hist. Brit. Birds II. 35 Specimens of the Parrot Crossbill are frequently brought from Germany‥by dealers in birds' skins.    1894 R. B. Sharpe Handbk. Birds Gt. Brit. (1896) 58 The so-called ‘Parrot’ Crossbill‥is an inhabitant chiefly of Northern Europe, whence it ranges occasionally into the British Islands.

   1837 J. S. Mill in Westm. Rev. XXVIII. 3 There would be an end to the *parrot cry of ‘Do not endanger the Ministry’.    1898 Daily News 2 June 7/6 An old parrot-cry which had been exploded long ago.    1956 [see eyebrow 1 c].    1963 Times 20 Feb. 4/7 Such attacks are only worth noticing because they have tended to become a parrot cry.    1977 Socialist Press 2 Mar. 7/5 ‘If you have a case, why don't you go to an industrial tribunal’, has become the favourite parrot cry of every barrack room lawyer crossing the picket line.

   1908 Spratt's Parrot Culture 29 Should a room have become infected with the *parrot disease‥it will be needful to have it fumigated with sulphur.    1930 Daily Express 6 Feb. 11/5 They [sc. alarming facts] concerned that dread illness, psittacosis, or parrot disease, of which a number of cases have occurred lately in London and Birmingham.    1955 Times 8 June 6/4 A case of psittacosis (parrot disease) has occurred in the aircraft-carrier Centaur, which berthed here to-day on her return from the Mediterranean.

   1884 J. Tait Mind in Matter (1892) 238 False miracles or *parrot-echoes of real ones.

   1901 Daily News 5 Feb. 6/3 A *parrot-faculty for picking up languages.

   1951 Mind LX. 346 People just know it by heart and recite it *parrot-fashion.    1956 D. Abercrombie Probl. & Princ. 25 Parrot-fashion teaching is apt to result from regarding reasoned explanation as ‘unnatural’.    1977 ‘F. Clifford’ Ten Minutes on June Morning 111 Reassurances‥were passed on, parrot-fashion, without knowledge or understanding.

   1955 Sci. News Let. 3 Sept. 148/2 Viral hepatitis, better known to the layman as jaundice; psittacosis or *parrot fever; rabies; smallpox; yellow fever; the common cold,‥are other of the virus diseases.    1957 O. Breland Animal Friends & Foes ii. 63 This malady has also been called parrot fever, because the first known human cases were traced to sick parrots.    1973 ‘D. Shannon’ No Holiday for Crime (1974) i. 9 The stolen goods had been‥tropical parrots, and‥one of the San Diego detectives had subsequently succumbed to parrot fever.

   1885 Newton Dict. Birds (1896) 686 The home of the vast majority of *Parrot-forms is‥within the tropics.

   1627 Peele's Merry Jests C iv b, At which shee biting her lip, in a *parat fury went downe the staires.

   1646 Sir T. Browne Pseud. Ep. 138 The little Frogge of an excellent *Parrat-green, that usually sits on trees and bushes.

   1885 Stevenson Child's Gard. Verses, Trav. 4 Where below another sky *Parrot islands anchored lie.

   1616 T. Adams Pol. Hunting Wks. 1862 I. 16 Their ban-dogs, corrupt solicitors, *parrot-lawyers, that are their properties and mere trunks.

   1901 G. G. Coulton Public Schools & Public Needs 312 We cannot prevent‥mere *parrot-learning, from counting somewhat‥against real culture.    1977 Observer 20 Mar. 13/3 There seem to be two potent reasons why memorising (or ‘parrot-learning’, as people ignorant of the mental capacities of parrots sometimes call it) should once more become a staple component of curricula.

   1856 Miss Mulock J. Halifax xxvi, His lips moved in a paroxysm of prayer—helpless, *parrot-learnt, Latin prayer.

   1847 Carpenter Zool. §458 The horny *parrot-like beaks of Cuttlefish.    1888 F. Hume Mme. Midas i. v, Why do I repeat them, parrot-like?    1899 Allbutt's Syst. Med. VIII. 246 In the education of mentally feeble children, parrot-like repetition should be carefully avoided.

   1891 O. Wilde Pict. Dorian Gray v. 89 ‘Foolish child! foolish child!’ was the *parrot-phrase flung in answer.    1958 People 4 May 4/2, I can get no comment except the parrot-phrase: ‘The Home Secretary is still considering this case.’

   1907 P. Fountain Rambles Austral. Naturalist ii. 8 *Parrot-pie is as much esteemed in Australia as rook-pie in England.

   1923 E. Sitwell Bucolic Comedies 25 Who came from the *parrot-plumed sea.

   1804 Wolcott (P. Pindar) Epist. to Ld. Mayor Wks. 1812 V. 206 Despise his mind and *parrot-prate.

   1582 Stanyhurst Æneis i. (Arb.) 26 His prittye *parat prating.

   1597 A. M. tr. Guillemeau's Fr. Chirurg. lf. xv b/2 The pinsers which are callede ‘*parates billes’.    1866 Treas. Bot. 298 C[lianthus] puniceus, called Parrot's-Bill‥from the resemblance of the keeled petal to the bill of that bird.

   1857 Mayne Expos. Lex., *Parrot's Corn, common name for the seeds of the Carthamus tinctorius, or bastard saffron.

   1936 E. Sitwell Victoria of Eng. ii. 33 Her dark *parrot-sharp face.

   1907 P. Fountain Rambles Austral. Naturalist ii. 8 *Parrot-shooting is a favourite sport in Australia.

   1931 R. L. Ditmars Snakes of World Pl. 19 (caption) Green Tree Snake; Chocoya or *Parrot Snake, Leptophis occidentalis. Found from Guatemala to northern South America. Uniform leaf-green with two hair-like strips on the back.    1958 J. Carew Wild Coast ii. 28 A green parrot-snake slithered down a coconut tree.

   1895 Daily News 19 Dec. 5/4 Spoken of as the *parrots' plague‥called by Laics *parrots' rinderpest.‥ One of the persons who died‥at Versailles of the distemper was an officer's wife. She caught it by feeding the bird with sugar from her mouth.

   1599 Shakes. Much Ado i. i. 139 You are a rare *Parrat teacher.

   1887 C. A. Moloney Forestry W. Afr. 255 Too much time devoted in the past to the exercise of memory, to ‘*parrot’ teaching.

   1849 W. F. Lynch Exped. Jordan v. 91 Most of the Turks walk what is termed *parrot-toed, very much like our Indians.

   1860 Reade Cloister & H. lviii. (1896) 179 If you would but‥hold your *parrot tongues.    1897 Allbutt's Syst. Med. II. 357 Dry, brown-crusted, shrivelled tongue—‘the parrot-tongue’ of typhus.

   1774 Goldsm. Nat. Hist. V. 283 The *parrot-tribe might be an instance.

   [1829 J. C. Loudon Encycl. Plants 266 One of the latest London catalogues (Mason's) enumerates six sorts of early blowing tulips; four perroquets or middle blowers; twenty-two double sorts.]    1856 C. M. Yonge Daisy Chain ii. xxi. 586 She was nothing better than a *parrot-tulip, stuck up in a parterre.    1882 Garden 13 May 333/3 A bunch of Parrot Tulips‥in a tall Dutch jar.    1890 O. Wilde Pict. Dorian Gray iii, in Lippincott's Monthly Mag. July 22 Some large blue china jars, filled with parrot-tulips, were ranged on the mantel-shelf.    1897 Westm. Gaz. 11 May 2/1 That marvel of red and gold and green and terra-cotta, with its fantastic jagged petals and its sharp spur, which goes by the name of the parrot tulip.    1911 J. Weathers Bulb Bk. 441/2 Parrot or Dragon Tulips. These curious-looking and remarkable Tulips are believed to be derived from T[ulipa] viridiflora.    1932 A. J. Macself Bulbs v. 58 The Cottage, Darwin, and Parrot tulips‥require similar general treatment.    1971 R. Genders Collecting Antique Plants viii. 191 Early Parrot tulips are depicted in a water colour drawing about 1700.‥ The artist is Herman Henstenburg.

   1925 R. Fry Let. 1 May (1972) II. 568 A lady with a *parrot voice screaming that she wanted a Picasso of the blue period.    1975 C. Fremlin Long Shadow v. 37 ‘Very well, thank you,’ she heard her parrot voice saying‥to the two or three people who rang up.

   1828 Lights & Shades I. 318 Their notions are in all cases alike infused in the true *parrot way.

   1856 J. W. Warter in Southey's Lett. (1856) II. 292 In what way Southey wished the Catechism taught,‥not *parrotwise, but Christianwise.

   1806 Edin. Rev. VII. 468 Avoiding‥what he calls *parrot-work.

   1884 Longm. Mag. Mar. 529 Certain tropical species of herrings and *parrot-wrasses.

Hence (nonce-wds.) parroˈtese [see -ese], parrot-language; ˈparrothood. 

   1889 Max Müller Nat Relig. xiv. 361 The parrot never speaks parrotese.    1894 Daily Tribune (N.Y.) 5 July, From early parrothood the lost one displayed a keen sense of the conventionalities of polite speech.


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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