Decomposing - English 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 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.       

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From The OED on CD-ROM

decomˈposing, ppl. a. [-ing2.] 

That decomposes; usually intr. undergoing decomposition, in process of organic decay. 

   1833 Thirlwall in Philol. Museum II. 546 The decomposing hand has grown tired of its work.    1862 Ansted Channel Isl. ii. x. (ed. 2) 263 Veins of soft clay and some of decomposing greenstone.    1870 H. Macmillan Bible Teach. viii. 153 These plants die, and form by their decomposing remains a rich and fertile mould.


suffix of the present participle, and of adjs. thence derived, or so formed; an alteration of the original OE. -ende = OFris., OS. -and, OHG. -ant-i (-ent-i, -ont-i, MHG. -end-e, Ger. -end), ON. -and-i (Sw. -ande, Da. -ende), Goth. -and-s, -and-a, = L. -ent-, Gr. -οντ-, Skr. -ant-.

Already, in later OE., the ppl. -ende was often weakened to -inde, and this became the regular Southern form of the ending in Early ME. From the end of the 12th c. there was a growing tendency to confuse -inde, phonetically or scribally, with -inge; this confusion is specially noticeable in MSS. written by Anglo-Norman scribes in the 13th c. The final result was the predominance of the form -inge, and its general substitution for -inde in the 14th c., although in some works, as the Kentish Ayenbite of 1340, the pple. still regularly has -inde. In Midland English -ende is frequent in Gower, and occasional in Midland writers for some time later; but the southern -inge, -ynge, -ing, favoured by Chaucer, Hoccleve, and Lydgate, soon spread over the Midland area, and became the Standard English form. The Northern dialect, on the other hand, in England and Scotland, retained the earlier ending in the form -ande, -and, strongly contrasted with the verbal n. in -yng, -ing (-yne, -ene). At the present day the two are completely distinct in Northumberland and the Southern Counties of Scotland, although the general mutescence of final d, and the change of (-ɪŋ) to (-ɪn), make the difference in most cases only a vowel one: e.g. ‘a singan' burd’, ‘the singin (-ɪn) o' the burds’, but ‘a gaan bairn’ (a going child), ‘afore gangin' hame’.

   As -inge was the proper ending of the vbl. n. (-ing1), it has naturally suggested itself to many that the levelling of the pres. pple. under the same form must have been the result of some contact or confusion of the functions or constructions of the two formations. But investigation has discovered no trace of any such functional or constructional contact in Early ME.; and it is now generally agreed that the confusion was, in its origin, entirely phonetic. On the other hand, the fact that the forms had, by the 14th c., become identical, may have been a factor in the development of the gerundial use of the vbl. n., which began then; and it has certainly influenced the subsequent development of the compound gerundial forms being made, having made, having been made, being about to go, etc., which have the same form as the corresponding participles (see -ing1 2). The identity of form of pr. pple. and gerund probably also assisted the process whereby, at a later date, such a construction as ‘the king went a-hunting’, formerly ‘on or an huntinge’, was shortened to ‘the king went hunting’, the last word being then taken as the participle; and thus to the shortening of ‘the ark was a-building’, orig. ‘on building’, to ‘the ark was building’,—in which, if ‘building’ is taken as a pple., it must be explained as a pple. pass. = being built. To the same cause must be ascribed some of the current constructions of the gerund, and the tendency of the vbl. n. when used attributively to run together with the pr. pple. used adjectivally, as in cutting tools, a driving wheel (see -ing1). 

The termination -ing is that of the pres. pple., whether used as part of the verb, or adjectivally; also of adjectives of participial origin or nature, as cunning, willing, daring, buccaneering, freebooting, non-juring, hulking, lumping, strapping, swingeing, and of prepositions or adverbs of participial origin, as concerning, during, excepting, notwithstanding, pending, touching.

   As with the vbl. n. (-ing1), words of participial form and use may be formed on other parts of speech, or on phrases, e.g. buccaneering adventurers, sailors yo-hoing lustily, how-d'ye-doing acquaintances.


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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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.        

Categories: Humour | Vocabulary | Listenings

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There are four homophones in the lesson which have very different spellings but exactly the same sound when spoken. The exercises will help you with your pronunciation skills. 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 jokes goes: A lion walks into a restaurant, sits down and calls the waiter over. The waiter says, Can I take your order, Sir? To which the lion says, I’d like an antelope… steak. The waiter says, Of course, Sir. One antelope steak. But why the pause? The lion says, Because I’m a lion. Watch the video and then do the exercises in the Activator.   

Categories: Humour | Vocabulary | Listenings

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Wear the Fox Hat

A lack of understanding of the English that sounds rude can get you into difficulties, as Tatiana and her new husband discovered when she misheard his advice and went off for a day trip to Worcester in the wrong attire. This lesson will help you get to grips with the F word and help you to avoid similar misunderstandings. English humour is a great way to improve your English skills and this lesson will certainly make you chuckle when you get the joke. As with all the Sounds Rude lessons, it is suitable for 18+ students only as it contains language that sounds rude.

Categories: Sounds Rude | Listenings | Humour | Speaking

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