Tag Archives: rules

588. Punctuation Rules / Book Review (Part 2) Apostrophe, Full Stop, Comma

Part 2 of my episode about punctuation. This one covers punctuation rules for apostrophe, full stop and comma. Also you can hear the rest of my book review of Punctuation..?  by User Design. Transcript available below.

Small Donate Button[DOWNLOAD] [CAMBLY OFFER – USE CODE: TEACHERLUKE]

Introduction

Hello there, you are listening to part 2 of this episode about punctuation. In the last one I talked generally about the importance of punctuation in various types of writing, described a book about pronunciation which has been sent to me for review by a publishing company and also I went through a list of punctuation symbols and described them so you know the names for a lot of the different punctuation marks available to you.

In this episode I’m going to actually teach you various punctuation rules relating to 3 big punctuation symbols.

So, I’m going to talk about how we use apostrophes and how to avoid certain common errors that actually make people’s blood boil, then I’ll give you some tips about full stops and commas. I’m also going to finish reviewing that book which I received in the post recently. It’s a punctuation guide and I’ll be giving my review of it.

Just before recording this I realised that there were some punctuation symbols which I didn’t mention in the last episode and I just want to say them now because you might not know the names we use in English for these symbols. These are ones we see on our computer keyboards and use quite a lot for various things like email addresses and stuff like that.

_ underscore

@ at mark 

& ampersand

# hash

* asterisk or star

Alright, now I’ve mentioned those, let’s carry on with this episode with my comments about apostrophes, full stops and commas and then the rest of my review of the book Punctuation..? by User Design.

Just a reminder – you can find a transcript on the page for this episode on my website so you can read along with me or skim the script later in order to check for any new words. There are also links for the book and some pictures too. Right, let’s carry on.


Some punctuation rules

I don’t have time to go through every single punctuation symbol and explain their rules so I’m just going to focus on a few thing. To get the rest you’ll need to get a copy of this book or one of the others on the market. Other books are available of course.

Also I should say that usually, these days I do this kind of language teaching in my premium episodes. This time I’ve chosen to include this in a free episode, but if you want more of this kind of thing – episodes where I focus specifically on teaching you language then check out my premium episodes and become a premium member at www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium

I’m going to deal with

  • The apostrophe (various uses)
  • Full stop vs dot vs point
  • Comma

I’ve chosen those because they’re really common and people, surprisingly, get them wrong quite a lot. Usually it’s learners of English who get full stops and commas wrong, and errors with apostrophes are common among native speakers. In fact errors with apostrophes make some people really angry. I’ll say more about that in a minute.

One thing to say here is that there is a certain amount of disagreement when it comes to punctuation rules. There isn’t a single agreed set of rules that everyone follows. Some things, yes, everyone agrees on, more or less. I think this includes certain basics like the rules of full stops and apostrophes. But for many other areas of punctuation there are always little points of disagreement, like for example some uses of the comma (The Oxford Comma debate comes to mind. I can’t go into that now though, because we’d be here all day! Just google it to get the full story, perhaps on a website like Grammarly).

www.grammarly.com/blog/what-is-the-oxford-comma-and-why-do-people-care-so-much-about-it/

So, be aware that there are some differences of opinion when it comes to style and the application of punctuation. The following information is correct as far as I’m concerned.

Apostrophe

This is not just a brilliant album by Frank Zappa, it’s also one of the most commonly used bits of punctuation, and this is a big one because people get it wrong all the time and it has a few different uses.

I’m paraphrasing from the Punctuation…? book here by the way.

Paraphrasing means taking information that you find in someone else’s work and then putting it into your own words, not copying it word for word, I mean changing the wording so that it’s not the same as before. In fact, paraphrasing really means reading someone’s words, understanding them and then writing the same concepts but using different wording.

Anyone writing essays at university should be well aware of the importance of paraphrasing so you don’t commit copyright infringement. This is a major issue these days because the internet allows people to copy & paste other people’s text so easily, but we shouldn’t do it. We shouldn’t pass off other people’s work as our own. I know that there are plenty of universities that are working on ways to seriously crack down on their students just ‘copy & pasting’ other people’s work into their own essays.

Having worked at a university here in Paris I have seen it done lots of times and I must say it really annoys me. It’s always blatantly obvious and, well, I just can’t stand it. For me the main examples were when I gave my university students presentation tasks to do and they literally just memorised a page from Wikipedia and then recited it to the class with absolutely no effort to even care about or think about what they were saying.

It just looks so terrible when people do that. It’s ok to take information from somewhere, just try to absorb it and then put it in your own words, and please, if you ever do a presentation at university or anywhere for that matter, just try to put some enthusiasm into your work, even if you’re worried about making errors in English. Sorry, I touched a nerve there in myself. Bad memories of some moments when I felt frustrated during my days of being an English teacher at university.

Anyway, for the record, I am paraphrasing the main points that are made by the Punctuation…? book here, with some other ideas of my own thrown in.

What’s the apostrophe?

Think about the title of my podcast – Luke’s English Podcast. There’s an apostrophe in it. L U K E apostrophe S. That one shows a possessive. It’s my podcast. Luke’s podcast.

What does it look like, Luke? (can you repeat that question? haha)

It’s like a little dot with a tail that hangs in the air just to the right of a letter. In the case of possessives, that’s just before the letter S at the end.

It’s for possessives, but also other things. Here’s a list of situations when we use apostrophes.

Possessives

We use apostrophes with singular and plural nouns to show that one thing possesses another thing.

Here are some examples of possessives with singular nouns, in this case Dave is the singular noun.

“That is Dave and that is his car, just over there. Yes, that car belongs to Dave. That is Dave’s car. This is not Dave’s car. This is my car. My car is small, but Dave’s car is really big, unnecessarily big, some might say. I don’t know why he’s been driving such a massive car around the city. Now, as you can see, Dave’s car has crashed into my car. My car is now completely smashed up and will have to be thrown away at the junk yard. Dave’s car on the other hand, is relatively undamaged. So, Dave’s car is fine, but mine is completely smashed up. These are my hands. And this is Dave’s throat. Yes. I am strangling Dave. In my mind.”

Sorry, I got a bit carried away there! Don’t worry folks. It’s just an example. I don’t have a car and none of that ever happened, and anyway Dave’s dead now so it’s fine.

Just kidding.

Anyway, you saw lots of examples of the possessive apostrophe being used there.

You know this already, right? You should do.

We use an apostrophe to show possession when we’re dealing with singular nouns, like Dave. Dave is a singular noun (he’s also a single man, girls, if you’re interested in men called Dave who have large cars but can’t drive them).

It also works for things too, not just people. For example, the word car. “That car’s windscreen is completely smashed, whereas this car’s windscreen is somehow undamaged.”

That’s singular nouns. What about plural nouns, Luke?

What if both cars had their windscreens smashed in the accident?

As you know, plural nouns in English have S at the end. One car, two cars.

So what if you’re talking about the windscreens of two cars?

So, to add possessive S to a plural word which already has an S at the end (like CARS), what do you do? Do you add ‘apostrophe + S’ like with singular nouns? So C A R S ‘ S?

Nope, you can just add the apostrophe to the end, without the final S.

So it’s C A R S ‘

These cars’ windscreens are both smashed.

To be honest, if we’re not talking about a person I’d probably find another way of putting it. I’d probably say

The windscreens on these two cars are smashed.

What about plural names? For example if you have more than one bloke called Dave. Two Daves.

Actually, it’s rare that you have possessive forms of plural names.

It’s just weird to say something like “Daves’ cars crashed into each other” meaning “Dave and Dave’s cars crashed into each other”.

The point is – for plural nouns, whatever they are – people or things, with possessives you can just add an apostrophe.

This is also true for names that end in S, like James, my brother’s name.

You can write James’ Room. That’s J A M E S ‘ R O O M.

I remember that one because when I was a child, my brother and I had separate rooms and we had little signs on our doors. Mine said “Luke’s Room” with an apostrophe after my name and then an S. James’ sign said “James’ Room” with an apostrophe and then no S. I sometimes wondered why they were different. It’s just because James’ name ends in an S.

Fascinating stuff this, isn’t it?

For names ending in S like this you can also just write James’s Room. J A M E S ‘S R O O M.

How do you say that? James’ / James’s —-> /jeimziz/

So actually, for names it can be S’ or S’S.

So that’s possessives for singular nouns, plural nouns with S and names ending in S.

But what about irregular nouns? I mean, nouns where the plural form isn’t made with an S, like “children”.

One child
Two children

Well, we just do the same thing as we do with a singular noun.

So, “The children’s toys are in the bedroom”.

Other examples are things like “Women’s rights”, “The people’s champion” or “The Men’s changing room”.

A common error with apostrophes (Using apostrophes for plurals – don’t do it folks!)

This is a mistake that makes some native speakers get really annoyed.

Sometimes in the UK you will see people use apostrophes just for normal plurals.

For example you might walk through a market and see a sign saying “Orange’s” or “Burger’s” or even “Fish & Chip’s”. Needless to say, there definitely shouldn’t be an apostrophe in those words. They’re just plurals of countable nouns. They’re not possessives and they’re not contractions of verbs.

Those kinds of errors are likely to make people’s blood boil!

If they know you’re a non-native speaker of English, that will make it a bit better, but still – don’t make the sort of mistakes that native speakers make, even if native-level English is what you’re looking for.

We’ll look at a couple of other common errors in a minute.

Apostrophes in contractions to indicate missing letters

Apostrophes are also used to let us know that some letters have been removed to make contracted forms.

Luke’s terrible improvised “joke” (?)
Just let us know when the letters have been moved from the lettuce.
(The words “let us” “letters” and “lettuce” sound really similar, that’s it. Terrible. Not even a joke.)

Apostrophes in contracted forms

Don’t → Do not
Doesn’t → Does not
I’ll → I will
Isn’t → Is not
Let’s → Let us
There’s → There is
You’re → You are

The book says that contracted forms are used for writing out speech, which is a good way of putting it. I’d add that these days we just use contracted forms in any kind of informal and neutral writing, but not in formal writing.

This use of apostrophes isn’t very complicated, is it? But it does cause one particular problem, which is it’s vs its

That’s the difference between the contracted form of it is and the possessive form of the pronoun it.

More common errors: It’s vs its

This is another thing that native speakers get wrong quite a lot.

Think of these two examples. Which ones should contain an apostrophe and which shouldn’t?

Obviously if you’re reading the script for this episode then you’ll be able to see the apostrophe with your eyes because it’s right there. But for those of you who are listening, in which sentence would you add an apostrophe after “it”?

  • It’s a lovely day today!
  • My phone has a crack on its screen.

I feel like I should join those sentences together to make one slightly sad sentence.

It’s a lovely day today, but my phone has a crack on its screen. :(

So, with an apostrophe “it’s” means “it is” or “it has” (like in present perfect).

Without an apostrophe it’s a possessive pronoun, just like my, your, our, their, his, her. My phone, your phone, our phones, their phones, his phone, her phone. None of them have apostrophes either.

We saw a lion and its paw was injured. (possessive pronoun)
Oh no, it’s (it has) injured its (possessive pronoun) paw!

Full stop (also called the ‘period’ in US English)

This one is really simple but it needs to be said because I’m surprised at how often I see missing full stops in students’ writing and also people using commas instead of full stops, incorrectly.

So I’m just going to say – put a full stop at the end of your sentence and a capital letter at the beginning of the sentence!

You don’t need a full stop if you have an exclamation mark or question mark.

How do you know when it’s a full stop and not a comma?
Well, if you’re using a new subject in a new clause without a conjunction (a joining word) to connect them, you need a full stop.

For example

I love cheese, but I can’t eat too much of it.
I love cheese. I can’t eat too much of it.

A basic example there, but there it is.

“Full stop” is a phrase that we use in spoken English to mean “And that’s the end of it! I am not discussing it any more” For example, “I don’t want to see any more smoking in front of the building, full stop!”

In US English they say “Period”.

“God damn it John. You’re a god damn maverick! I want your badge and your gun. You’re off this case. Period!”

“Full stop” is the phrase we use for the dot at the end of the sentence.

We also have other little dots in things like numbers and web addresses. What do we call them?

Dot

Use this in email addresses and websites. Teacherluke.co.uk

Also use it just to describe the shape – a small round mark is a dot, like on a pattered dress.

For example you might have a blue dress with white dots on it.

Also we use the word “dot” for the top part of the letter i or j and also to describe exclamation marks or question marks. It’s just the word we use for a tiny round mark.

Point

This is for numbers, meaning “decimal point”.

For example 3.14159 (Pie) Three point one four…
BBC headline: Women have 1.9 children on average, a record low – BBC News
One point nine children…

Comma

This is the most common punctuation mark in English. Basically, it’s used to make your writing clearer and to indicate some sort of pause in the rhythm of the sentence. We use them to separate items in a list.

For example, “Give me your clothes, your boots, your cigarettes, your Pokemon cards and your motorcycle”.

It’s also used when there is a change in the subject in your sentence. That’s something the Pronunciation…? book said and I think it’s really good.

For example

“I wanted to watch the new Avengers film, but Dave crashed into my car, so I couldn’t.”

There are more little uses of the comma, like the way they’re used in non-defining relative clauses or conditional sentences but to be honest I can’t go into all of those things now!

You’ll have to get a punctuation guide to get all the details.

Alright. This stuff can be hard to keep in your head, even when you already know it! That’s why you need a reference book to keep going back to. Explaining punctuation is not that easy, especially in an audio podcast, so why not use a book like this to save you the effort of working it all out for yourself, or doing loads of google searches and attempting to find consistent answers from different sources.

One thing I will say again is that there is some disagreement about the rules of punctuation and to an extent some of the application of punctuation symbols in your writing is a question of personal style and personal choice but some things are definitely right or wrong so the more you know the more control you’ll have and ultimately the better it will be for your English.

Book Review – Punctuation…? by User Design (continuing my review)

Punctuation..? by User Design (front and back covers)

There are a few books that explain punctuation that already exist on the market, but not that many that only deal with punctuation on its own.

Most of the time you’ll find punctuation guides inside other reference books like dictionaries (for example The Oxford English Dictionary) or grammar guides (like The Oxford A to Z of Grammar and Punctuation). As far as I can tell, the main book people buy when searching for a punctuation guide is The Penguin Guide to Punctuation. So, those things are the mainstream, well-known guides.

This book, “Punctuation…?” should be considered as an alternative.

So, let’s think about this book again. Remember how I described it to you earlier? Let’s go a bit deeper and I’ll give you my thoughts – both the negatives and positives.

I definitely like this book but I think it’s not 100% perfect. Let’s start with the negatives first. This is where I do some nit picking. Nit picking means making small criticisms or critical observations about something. Small criticisms that aren’t really all that important.
Well, perhaps some of these criticisms are important. We’ll see.

Negatives

The design aesthetic of this book is minimal, but it’s a bit too minimal in places, maybe. It doesn’t always give full reasons for some punctuation points and it feels like some things are lacking. For example, the page about colons. I had other questions which weren’t answered, like “Shouldn’t we put a capital letter after a colon? When do we use a capital letter after a colon and when do we not?” Those are questions which might be answered by more thorough and detailed punctuation guides or just by googling it. I sometimes feel there’s more to add, and I expect that in later editions of the book, if they publish them, there will be more details added, or at least I think there probably should be, without spoiling the minimal style of the whole book anyway.

So, yes, the book feels a little bit insubstantial, as if it needs more. For example, it could do with some pages of commentary, generally, about punctuation in general. The book covers each punctuation point succinctly and then it just ends. I would like some comments perhaps from the authors just explaining their process or perhaps giving some opinions about punctuation and style or something like that.

At first I thought that this feeling of “there’s something missing” was because of the minimal design with plenty of white space on the page and the cartoons which look quite sketchy, even if they are good fun. I thought it was just the effect of the design.

But in all honesty, it’s not just the way it looks, it’s also the content. Don’t get me wrong, the pages which are there are great and will definitely teach you good information about punctuation but it’s not really a full book. It’s more like a pamphlet, which is how it is described on Amazon.

The recommended retail price on the back of the book is £10, which is higher than other, more substantial books on punctuation which are available. I think that might be a bit of a sticking point for some customers. You’d expect the price to be a bit lower for the amount of content you’re getting.

Also, some of the examples are a bit weird, which can make them slightly confusing (“The snakes’ hisses”?)

Also, sometimes it’s not completely obvious to me what the connection is between the illustration and the punctuation point being explained. This makes it feel a bit like the pictures aren’t all that helpful beyond just creating a fun atmosphere – but is that what people want when using a punctuation reference guide? By all means, use humour and fun. Of course I believe in that strongly. I think it’s really important to help people to enjoy learning stuff like this but I also think that the fun stuff should be performing a function too and in this case some of the pictures don’t seem to make things clearer, some of them just seem a bit odd.

They’re idiosyncratic which is cool, but not always that helpful, and they might just make the guide somehow less serious, which I think is something people look for in a guide like this. Am I repeating myself? Probably.

This book is after my own heart. dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/after-your-own-heart

In summary, it might lack the seriousness and full commentary that some people expect from this kind of book at this kind of price, even though I like it.

Positives

One of the good things about this book is that it’s just a nice product to own. The paper it’s printed on is nice and thick and feels pleasant to touch. It has a pleasant-looking minimal design. The illustrations are quite fun and give the book more personality than your average dictionary or style guide. Also it would be more appropriate for young people I guess, or people who just want a bit more fun. It’s quite a good coffee table book, which makes it sound frivolous, but it is the sort of book you can enjoy flicking through, picking up some tidbits about punctuation that you might have always wondered about.

The explanations are short enough for you to digest quite easily. For example, there’s pretty much one rule or point per page. Punctuation rules can get pretty complicated but this book does a good job of reducing superfluous information. It gets straight to the point and as a result is very useful.

I said before that the book could do with some more commentary, like perhaps an introduction or conclusion, but on the other hand this book’s minimal approach makes it very accessible.

You will definitely learn things about punctuation by reading this book. Sometimes, very detailed language reference books become impenetrable because there’s so much information to sift through. Not with this book. They keep it short and simple.

Because it’s quite fun and a bit different while also being useful, I think it would be a good gift. You might not choose it in the bookshop if you want a no-nonsense language reference book, but you’d probably be happy to receive it as a present. I actually really like the book and I’m glad I have a copy. I learned a thing or two from reading it and it’s good to see some originality in this kind of reference work.

But it depends on the person I think. Some people might like this book because they will think it is a case of “Less is more”. I mean, some people will like the minimal style, will find the illustrations fun and will appreciate a more light-hearted feel but there are bound to be others who would just like more information, presented more seriously, please.

On the whole, I like the book. It’s original and quirky while also being useful and clear. It might not be the serious reference book that some people are looking for, but the information inside can definitely help you understand and improve your use of punctuation and ultimately that’s the main thing.

What did my wife think?

This morning I was having breakfast with my wife and the book was lying on the table. I pushed the book towards my wife and said, “what do you think of this book? Just give me your first impressions.” She said “I really like the pictures. I love this sort of thing. It looks really useful.” We agreed that it was actually a really cool book.

So if you’re looking for an alternative book about punctuation which has a more fun approach, get this book – either for you or as a gift. I think it’s particularly good as a gift for someone with a bit of a sense of humour, who is curious about punctuation and who also wants to be able to write more clearly.

The book seems to be available from all good bookshops including the main online retailers, certainly the ones which are well-known in the UK.

LINKS

User Design Website https://www.userdesignillustrationandtypesetting.com

Their books www.userdesignillustrationandtypesetting.com/books

The page for Punctuation…? Includes all the relevant information, including how to get the book www.userdesignillustrationandtypesetting.com/books/punctuation/index.html

Ending

I’d like to say thanks to User Design for sending me the book, and thanks to everyone out there for listening to this!

Owning a book on punctuation is a great idea. If you actually use it, you will see a definite improvement in your awareness of punctuation, which feeds into an overall sense of how you need to be clear when communicating, particularly in your writing.

So, I do recommend getting a punctuation reference book. Either this one, for the reasons I’ve given, or another one if this book isn’t your cup of tea.

587. Punctuation Rules / Book Review (Part 1)

This episode is about the importance of punctuation in writing. I’ll teach you the names of various punctuation symbols and review a cool punctuation reference book that someone sent me recently, and yes I do think it is possible to have a cool book about punctuation! Transcript available.

Small Donate Button[DOWNLOAD] [CAMBLY OFFER]

Introduction

In this episode I’m going to talk about… punctuation!

I’m going to talk about punctuation, teach you the names of most of the main punctuation symbols we use when writing. I’m going to explain the rules/uses of some bits of punctuation (namely the apostrophe, comma and full stop) and also I’ll be doing a review of a book about punctuation that you might be interested in purchasing.

So this is an episode of an audio podcast about punctuation which is a completely visual system, so this might be a bit ambitious and there will be times when I’m trying to describe punctuation symbols, so I expect there will be some bits of descriptive language there to look out for, as well as just loads of commentary and also a book review from me.

What is punctuation?

Just in case you don’t know, punctuation means all the symbols we use to perform various functions when writing. This means things like full stops, commas, apostrophes and things like that.

I don’t often talk about writing on this podcast. The focus is usually on speaking, listening, vocabulary, bits of grammar, pronunciation and of course just talking about various topics in order to help expose you to loads of English through audio, like I talked about in the last episode about the importance of listening in your learning of English.

Writing can be difficult to teach in an audio podcast, and that’s one of the reasons I don’t talk about it that much. But I’d like to deal with it sometimes if it’s possible and punctuation is actually one of those areas of writing that often doesn’t get taught, but it’s a really important part of writing.

First of all, it’s something that a lot of learners of English need to work on. In my experience as a teacher, I’ve seen plenty of issues relating to it in my students’ work. This includes basic things, like just not putting full stops at the end of sentences, or getting confused about the difference between a plural S and a possessive S. So there are certain basic errors that you really should avoid.

Also, learning about punctuation can really help your grammar. The more you understand punctuation, the more you understand the way sentences are constructed and the more you are able to then get control over those things.

Basically – learning about punctuation helps you to write better and that is just one of the things you have to deal with if you would like to get a proper grip on this language.

Also, there’s that famous quote which illustrates perfectly the importance of punctuation, “Punctuation is the difference between knowing your shit and knowing you’re shit.”

Source: Boldmatic.com boldomatic.com/p/2FfrVQ/punctuation-the-difference-between-knowing-your-shit-and-knowing-you-re-shit%5B/caption%5D

 

Is punctuation always important?

I would say that punctuation is always important if you want to be clear and correct, which I assume you want to be. Who would want to be vague and wrong? Nobody, I think!

Does punctuation change depending on the situation or the type of writing we’re doing?
Obviously, the more formal your writing the more important it becomes. If you’re writing external business correspondence, legal contracts, letters of application to university, academic essays and so on, then punctuation is going to be a big consideration for you, because you have to pay very close attention to the clarity of your writing.

But what about informal writing?

Some people might say that you don’t need to worry about punctuation in things like emails to your friends or work colleagues that you know well, or in text messages and comments online and stuff. Arguably there is a different set of conventions for those things, but I still think punctuation is really important even in informal writing like that.

Perhaps some of the rules are a bit different when doing informal writing. For example, I think it’s normal, when having a text chat with a friend, not to put full stops at the end of your sentences. In fact, I think the way we use full stops in text messages has changed recently. I mean, if you’re having a chat, you might leave the full stops out of your final sentences as a way of showing that the conversation is still open. For me, a full stop at the end suggests “that’s it”, which can suggest “this chat is over”. That’s a subtle thing, but I think it’s true.

Article: The Text Message You Should Never Send, by Rachel Feltman

OK, I’m going off on a bit of a tangent here, but here’s an article I just found from The Independent, which I think is interesting. This article is called The Text Message You Should Never Send, written by Rachel Feltman (published in December 2015)

Basically it’s talking about how putting full stops at the end of sentences in text messages looks unfriendly and insincere and that this is backed up by research from Birmingham University.

OK, let’s have a bit of a read and then get back to the point.

www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/never-end-your-text-messages-with-a-full-stop-a6766011.html

Basically, punctuation is important. Knowing when or when not to use it is an important skill to master.

If you’re serious about improving your written English, you’ve got to get punctuation right. It makes a huge difference to the impression you give to people reading your emails, essays, reports or whatever it is you’re writing, even your text messages or website comments. It’s all about getting more control over your communication, which is what it’s all about, isn’t it?

Think of punctuation being to writing what pronunciation and body language are to speaking.

When we speak we use lots of different ways to add interpretation to our words. We use stress and intonation to give emphasis and tone and we use our faces and hands too. At this point my Italian listeners are saying “Yes Luke, we know all about that.”

So, punctuation is something that is absolutely crucial for your writing.

Let’s get back on track here.

Do you know the words for all the punctuation symbols in English? Do you know how to use them properly?

The plan in this episode, like I said at the start, is to teach you the words for some punctuation marks and symbols we use when writing, explain the rules/uses of these bits of punctuation and also I’ll be doing a review of a book about punctuation that you might be interested in purchasing.

About the book I just mentioned. Let me say a few things about it before we start. You’re now going to hear me describing this book. Watch out for the language I’m using. You can read a lot of this on the transcript for this episode which is available FREE on my website! So, if you hear me using certain words or phrases that you didn’t catch, head to teacherluke.co.uk and find the page for this episode. The script is there for you to read or just skim for vocabulary.

Book: Punctuation..? By User Design

A while ago I was contacted by a listener to this podcast who is an author, illustrator, designer and publisher – yes, all at the same time apparently! He’s published a book about punctuation in English and he offered to send me a copy of the book in return for a little review of it on the podcast. I thought it could be a good opportunity to talk about punctuation, to teach my listeners some of the words for punctuation marks and to give some comments about punctuation rules, so I accepted to do the review. It’s a good deal for everyone – you can hear me talk about punctuation and perhaps learn some things, I get a copy of the book and the author gets a bit of publicity.

The book is called “Punctuation…?” and the author goes by the name User Design, which is actually a service/business name that he’s using. So, let’s call him Mr User Design.

Actually the full name of this guy’s company is “User Design, Illustration and Typesetting”. A quick look on their website shows that they provide various services, and I quote, “We offer a complete graphic communication design, illustration and production service, from books to websites, to many other printed and electronic items.”

You can check out their website at www.userdesignillustrationandtypesetting.com/ It’s a nice-looking website. Mr Design clearly has an eye for a functional design aesthetic.

So, one of their products is this handy guide for punctuation. It’s a pretty slim book with a clear contents page where you can see all the main punctuation marks that you should know about, with page numbers as you’d expect. It’s all very minimal and clear. But this isn’t just a boring reference book. One of the first things you notice when you open it is that it contains lots of cartoon illustrations to keep things interesting and fun.

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. This is a famous saying, which means that you shouldn’t judge a person by their appearance. But in the case of books, I have no idea how you are supposed to judge a book before you have read it. Judging it by its cover is pretty much the only thing you can do, isn’t it! I suppose you can flick through it and maybe read the first few pages, but if you’re standing there in a bookshop reading a book, the person behind the counter might start to get a bit peeved after a while.

Anyway, let’s judge this book by its cover. The front cover is very minimal. It’s black and white. There’s the title, “Punctuation…?”, the author (User Design) and then a cartoon illustration of two people apparently communicating with each other. The one on the left is a girl holding her hand out as if she’s saying something and the one on the right is a guy scratching his head with his other hand in the air, and it looks like he’s confused.

[caption id="attachment_35734" align="alignright" width="3200"] Punctuation..? by User Design (front and back covers)

The illustrations are simple sketches done with a pen. They’re quirky. Thin lines. They look a bit like doodles but they’re quite funny. There isn’t anything else. Now, I reckon most people would not really know what to make of that. Well, maybe there would be two reactions – one would be “oh this looks quirky and cool – a hip book about punctuation” and some others might think “This doesn’t look serious enough and I don’t know why these people are standing there like that – what does that have to do with punctuation?” That’s just the front cover though.

If you look inside and actually read all the pages, it’s clear that this is a clear and simple guide to what the different punctuation symbols are and how they are used. But I reckon most people would expect something a bit more academic, like your average dictionary or reference book.

On the back cover you’ve got some text explaining the book, as usual, and another cartoon illustration.

I’ll read the text to you.

Luke reads the back cover of the book. See the pic above ⤴️⤴️⤴️ 

OK, great. That’s nice and clear.

The illustration shows some kind of nightclub or party with a dreadlocked DJ spinning records on his decks and funny-looking people dancing. You can see (but you have to look pretty carefully – it’s not obvious at first glance) punctuation symbols coming out of the speakers and sort of flying out of the turntables where the DJ is spinning what I assume is some kind of awesome bass-heavy dancehall reggae or maybe drum and bass. It’s cool – and a different way to do a book about punctuation, but I reckon some people won’t really get it.

In my experience, people expect a more serious and academic feel from this kind of thing. I remember once we had a publisher visit The London School of English to get feedback on some new dictionary designs. He had dictionaries from different publishers and asked us which ones we liked and which ones we thought learners of English would like.

We all liked the fresh-looking, minimal, modern-looking dictionaries, but he told us that the most popular ones with learners of English were the ones with slightly old-fashioned designs, older looking fonts (I mean classical-looking fonts – I don’t know all the correct words for fonts – I think serif fonts probably). Basically, learners felt like they trusted dictionaries that looked older, more formal, more established, more old-fashioned, with words like Oxford and perhaps even symbols featuring old buildings and things on them. Also, darker colours were more popular. That’s all probably because those designs made the dictionaries look more serious and full of trustworthy information published by well-established institutions.

So, this book might not give the right impression, but on the whole I think the content is mostly good and it certainly can tell you what you need to know about punctuation.

OK, let’s have a look at the contents page of the book. Some of you at this point will be craving a video for this. Maybe I’ll record one, just to show you the front and back, but it depends if I have time! We’ll see. I think you can just use your imagination though and just follow what I’m saying.

By the way, User Design have given me permission to use some images of the book from their website, so I’ll probably add some of those to the page for this episode on my website, so have a look there to get an idea of the way the book looks and the illustrations I’m talking about.

Right, so the contents page. Here are the things the book covers.

Luke reads out the contents page and describes the different punctuation symbols and gives their names. See pic below for the symbols ⤵️⤵️⤵️

Contents page from Punctuation..? by User Design


OK, we’re going to stop the pod here. This episode will continue in part 2 which should be uploaded very soon and might in fact be available for you now.

In part 2 I’m going to talk about some punctuation rules, focusing on 3 very common bits of punctuation – apostrophes, full stops and commas. I’ll talk about how these symbols are used in writing. I’ll point out some common errors and how to avoid them and I’ll finish my review of the punctuation book I’ve been talking about.

Remember, on the page for this episode on my website you’ll find a pretty much full script for this episode … as well as pictures of the punctuation book and links for information if you’re interested in buying it.

OK! Nothing more to add here then except the usual suggestions that you become a premium LEPster to gain access to the ever-growing library of episodes devoted to language teaching.  Go to www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium for that.

Also, you could consider checking out today’s sponsor, Cambly in order to find teachers for that all-important speaking practice.  Go to www.teacherluke.co.uk/cambly to check it out and use my ambassador code teacherluke to get those 10 free minutes of conversation.

Thanks for listening and supporting this podcast over the years. I received loads of nice messages for the 10th birthday of LEP. I’m very glad to have such a cool audience from around the world. Speak to you again in part 2!

But for now, bye bye bye bye bye!

Luke


LINKS

User Design Website www.userdesignillustrationandtypesetting.com

Their books www.userdesignillustrationandtypesetting.com/books

The page for Punctuation…? Includes all the relevant information, including how to get the book www.userdesignillustrationandtypesetting.com/books/punctuation/index.html

473. Explaining the Rules of Cricket (with Dad)

Everything you need to know about the world’s 2nd most popular spectator sport, cricket. I’m joined by my Dad, Rick Thompson and we describe the rules, the appeal of the game and also some expressions in English that come from cricket.

[DOWNLOAD]

It’s summer in the UK and at this time of year there are various sounds that you might hear in a typical English village, the sound of bees buzzing, kids playing in the playground, an ice-cream van and perhaps the smack of leather on willow (the sound of a cricket ball – a hard, heavy ball covered in leather, being hit by a wooden cricket bat made of willow) those sounds coming from a game of cricket on the local village green.

Also, the sounds of cricket make their way into your home during the summer months as people listen on the radio or watch the coverage on TV.

International test match cricket is a feature of the summertime in England and is somehow deeply rooted into English life. It’s one of those cliches of rural England – sandwiches, afternoon tea and cricket on the green.

But for many foreign people who don’t play cricket it can seem like a weird antiquated slow game with rules that nobody understands. People are surprised that a game of cricket can last several days. Americans are often horrified to discover that games often end in a draw with no winner at the end.

The fact is, cricket is a fantastic game which requires strategy but there are many moments of dramatic action and great skill and ability shown by the players.

My Dad is a big fan of cricket. He used to play it when he was younger and has always followed the matches on the radio. I’ve been threatening for a while to do an episode about cricket, to somehow achieve the impossible and explain cricket to the world, and my Dad is going to join me.

So sit back, have a cup of tea and some cake, and try to get your head around this wonderful game.

And stay tuned for some nice idiomatic expressions which we use in English and which originally came from the game of cricket.


Well, that was a valiant effort by us. I hope you agree! But I wonder if you managed to keep up with all of it! If you are listening all the way to the end and you’re still alive – well done!

You may have got lost at some point along the way, or did you follow all of it? Let me know.

In any case I hope you got something out of that conversation, even if it is a sense that cricket is worth getting enthusiastic about even if you don’t fully understand it, and that it’s a big thing in the UK and many other countries around the world.

I recommend that you have a look at some cricket being played. There are videos showing you different aspects of cricket on the page for this episode, so check them out.

Also, there was that vocabulary.

Let me just go through the vocabulary again here, just to make it clear.

Vocabulary

  • On a sticky wicket = in a difficult situation (We’re on a bit of a sticky wicket here because of the result of the EU referendum) (NYTimes “It’s a sticky wicket for Obama,” said Bruce Buchanan, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Austin, saying any aggressive move on such a high-profile question would be seen as “a slap in the face to his supporters right after they’ve just handed him a chance to realize his presidential dreams.”)
  • To have a good innings = to have a good long life (How old was he when he died? 94? Oh, so he had a good innings)
  • It’s just not cricket = it’s not fair! (Getting queue jumped, it’s just not cricket, is it?)
  • It hit me for six = it surprised, shocked and stunned you. (When my ex-girlfriend told me she was getting married to my best friend it really hit me for six)
  • I was absolutely bowled over = I was really surprised and amazed (“Bowled over” actually comes from bowling not cricket – when a pin is knocked over by the ball) (We were really bowled over by your presentation, you did a fantastic job!)
  • I’m completely stumped. You’ve stumped me there. = I’m unable to answer that question because it’s too complicated. (I did ok in the listening part, but I was completely stumped by the grammar questions)
  • You’ve caught me out there. = You’ve asked me a difficult question which has shown that I’ve made a mistake. (What about the outstanding tax payments on your public accounting report? There’s 300 pounds missing! – Oh, you’ve caught me out there, hah, yes I forgot to include them!)

Videos

Stephen Fry explains LBW in cricket

Shane Warne from Australia – the greatest spin bowler ever

Great bowling

Excellent batting

Amazing catches

Thanks for listening!

447. What is this, British Humour? (with Amber Minogue)

What is British Humour? Is it funny? Does it even exist? How does it relate to our communication style and culture? In this episode I go through the main points of my British Council Teacher Talk about British Humour. Amber and I discuss the definition of British humour, the way it works, how it’s different or similar to other humour in other places, and some examples of typical humour in the UK.

[DOWNLOAD]

Introduction

Last week I did a Teacher Talk at the British Council in Paris. Teacher Talks are when the BC invites guests to an event involving a talk on a specific topic and then drinks afterwards. All teachers are invited to talk at these events and this time I thought I’d have a go. The topic was completely up to me, so I chose to talk about British humour because it’s always something I’m thinking about and I thought it might also be a way to promote English language comedy in Paris.

The talk was sold out and went well. I was hoping to upload the recording of the talk here but it’s not good enough. It just sounds very echoey and muffled. Next time I will mic myself up properly. So I’m not going to play the recording, which is a big pity because there were some moments of interaction with the audience and some funny things. But it’s just not clear enough on the recording so I’m not publishing it. The room at the BC where we do these talks is a big high ceiling place with mirrors on the back wall and high windows and walls so the sound bounces around a lot.

Anyway, I’ve still got all the ideas in my head so I’m going to put them into this episode, recorded in the normal way. So, I went to Amber’s place and decided I’d discuss all the points in my talk with her, since I think she’s probably got some interesting things to say on the subject. We both have experiences of living in other countries and we both do stand up so we think about humour quite a lot.

So you’re going to hear us attempting to answer questions like: what is British humour, what’s it like?, is it funny? Does it even exist? How does it relate to our communication style? What does it say about us as a culture?

The main aim is just to describe and demystify humour in Britain. You’ll see that I don’t subscribe to the idea that British humour is somehow better than other forms of humour. In fact, in many ways it is very similar to humour in plenty of other places.

But as I describe it here, just think about whether this kind of behaviour is likely to be found in the culture or cultures that you know, and consider the role that humour plays in people’s daily lives where you are from. You might notice differences or similarities.

Let’s now go to Amber’s place and get to the bottom of this.


Main points covered:

British Humour doesn’t exist

OK, it does exist, but we don’t really use any different types of humour than anyone else. We don’t have a monopoly on humour or anything, but we do value it highly.

British Humour isn’t funny

It’s not always designed to make everyone laugh. Instead, humour is used in our interactions to avoid being too serious, keep things light and make you seem like a normal person.

Self-deprecation

This means making fun of yourself. It’s a bit of a crime to take yourself too seriously in the UK, so people make fun of themselves to show that they’re not above everyone else.

Understatement

This is where you make a strong statement sound less strong. E.g. “It’s raining outside is it?” “Yeah, just a bit”

Deadpan delivery

This is where humourous statements are delivered with a straight face, making it hard for some people to notice that a joke has happened.

Sarcasm/Irony

This is where you say one thing but you mean the opposite. It’s used for insults, for disappointments or to make fun of everything in general.

Innuendo

This is when one innocent statement can also mean something quite rude. Innuendo often happens by accident and other people say something to reveal the dirty second meaning.

E.g. “I like the taste of a cox” (apple)   … “I bet you do!”


Other things I didn’t cover

Puns

These are just word jokes. They work when one word means two things at the same time, connecting two previously unrelated ideas together in one statement. The brain explodes because one thing means two things at the same time.

They’re best when they are instant responses to something, rather than pre-planned jokes.

Here are some examples of pre-planned ones

How does Bob Marley like his donuts?
Wi’ jam in.

For more, check out my episodes about telling jokes in English.

Vocabulary
We have a wide variety of synonyms, homonyms which make it easy to say one thing that sounds like another, creating endless opportunities for word jokes (puns) and euphemisms.

Pisstaking
This means making fun of each other. We do this all the time.
Perhaps it’s because we’re incapable of expressing genuine emotions and we tend to avoid sincerity because it makes us feel uncomfortable, so we interact with our loved ones by teasing them, poking fun at them, mocking them and so on.

We’re emotionally crippled, basically.

E.g. I’ll always poke fun at my brother when I see him.
Like, oh my god what have you done to your hair?
Nice of you to have made an effort today.

Pisstaking has two functions:
To express affection
To knock someone down to size if they’re getting too big for their boots

You need to be able to take a joke in the UK. You’ve got to be able to both take a joke and dish it out when necessary.

If you can, you’re alright.

Surreal humour
Essentially surreal humour involves making fun of absolutely everything around you. It makes fun of existence itself. It means making absurd statements to highlight the absurdity in life. It’s about subverting boring reality. Maybe this is something to do with our weather (it’s dull, generally) or it’s a form of indirect anarchy or something.

Inappropriate humour
Although we use humour all the time, it’s worth noting that it can get you into trouble if you do it badly.
If you use self-deprecating humour, you have to be sure that everyone else gets it.
Be careful who/what is the target of your humour. It’s very politically incorrect to make jokes about certain groups in society – particularly groups that are lower status than you. So, these kinds of jokes are generally outlawed: ethnic jokes, sexist jokes. It’s very bad taste and old-fashioned and not cool at all.

Comedy

British comedy shows, the difference with American comedy, some recommended shows…

This is another episode for the future.

Thanks for listening to this episode. I look forward to reading your comments!

264. Telling Jokes in English (Part 1)

This episode is all about telling jokes, not as a comedian on stage, just in your normal life. Telling jokes is something that everybody does, in countries and cultures all around the world. We all love to make jokes, hear jokes and have a bit of a laugh. For me, jokes are fun and fascinating but I know that for non-native speakers of English they are also notoriously difficult things to manage. If English isn’t your first language, it can be difficult to understand jokes, find them funny, and also to be able to tell them effectively.

[DOWNLOAD] [PART 2] [PART 3]
Contents of this Episode
So, in this episode I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about jokes in English, and that includes these things:
What is a joke? (as if you didn’t know)
When/why do we tell jokes?
How do we tell jokes? What are the golden rules for telling a joke properly?
What’s the normal way to respond to a joke?
What are some the typical joke structures? (so you know how to identify a joke)
What are some jokes that you can remember and share with your friends?

So this is not just going to be a guide to jokes and the way they are told,  you’re also going to hear lots of jokes too – I’m going to read out loads of jokes, and explain them to you. So that means that you’re also going to learn a lot of vocabulary during the episode – because often jokes are based on the specific meanings or double meanings of words.

Most of what I’m saying to you here is written on the page for this episode – that’s right, there’s a transcript for most of this, so if you want to read what I’m saying – you can. Just find the page for this episode at teacherluke.co.uk.

Small Donate ButtonNot all of it is scripted because I expect I will go off script and say some spontaneous stuff too, but most of it is. That’s nice isn’t it? Yes it is. Mmm, very nice. I went to quite a lot of effort to prepare this episode in advance and I hope that’s obvious. It should be full of genuine insights. If you find it useful, you could consider making a donation by just clicking one of the yellow ‘donate’ buttons on teacherluke.co.uk. That is entirely optional and completely up to you of course! No pressure!

I expect this will be more than just one episode because it’s quite a big subject, and it’s a subject which is close to my heart so, naturally I have loads of things to say about this!

It might be the case that I do this first episode as an introduction to the subject of jokes, and then in subsequent episodes I’ll go through my list of jokes, and then explain them. That’s right, I’ve prepared a list of jokes. It’s quite a random list and hasn’t been fully tested for quality. It’s just a selection of jokes which I’ve managed to write down, or poach from other lists on the internet. I’ll tell you all those jokes either in this episode, or in separate episodes, depending on how long this all takes.

So this could be another series of episodes of the podcast. There’s so much to talk about and to share.

I’d also like to do an episode about telling jokes on stage and how to do stand up comedy, because stand-up is also a fascinating topic and one that more and more people are getting interested in. Telling jokes on stage is quite a different topic, so that’s another episode for another time.

I love jokes
I really do. I love hearing them and I love telling them. I love the way jokes exploit double meanings in language. Often a joke is based on a word that means two things at the same time, or two phrases that sound exactly the same. Or a joke might be a little story with a surprise which is revealed at the end. So jokes allow us to have fun with the little holes and coincidences that exist in languages. They’re like little language glitches – moments when your brain has to deal with a sudden change in meaning or something that has two meanings at the same time.
I love the surreal world of jokes – the way the normal rules can be broken – rules of language, but also the rules of physics, and behaviour too. Jokes often bend the rules of reality in order to make the punchline work. They lead you in one direction, and then suddenly surprise you with something completely different, and the only link is that the words sound the same.

What am I talking about? Here’s an example of a joke in which the punchline has two meanings.
A hole has been found in a nudist camp wall. The police are looking into it.
To get this joke you need to know that the phrase ‘to look into something’ can mean “to investigate” and also to literally “look inside”. So, someone found a hole in the wall of a nudist camp. A nudist camp is a place where people can enjoy spending time with no clothes on, in the nude. Someone found a hole in the wall and the police are investigating it, but they’re also just looking into the hole.

OK.

A hole has been found in the nudist camp wall. The police are looking into it.

I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again – explaining a joke kills the magic.

“Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog. You understand it better but the frog dies in the process.”

― E.B. White

 

So, explaining a joke may allow you to understand it, but the joke dies in the process – you probably won’t laugh after it’s been explained. Jokes work best when they are instantly understood. It has to be instant. This is why jokes are often lost on non-native speakers, which is a pity.

However, here at Luke’s English Podcast I have a mission – and that is to try and make you laugh while you learn, and if I can’t make you laugh I’ll certainly aim to teach you something. So even if you don’t find all of the jokes I’m going to tell you (later) funny, then that doesn’t matter, because in the end you’ll learn some double meanings and you’ll be more ready to laugh in the future, because I’m going to explain lots of jokes for you. I expect that many frogs will die during the recording of these episodes…

What was I saying? That’s it – I love jokes!

Jokes can be stupid, brilliant, pointless, dangerous, harmless, disappointing, unexpected, light-hearted, dark, bizarre, rude, intellectual or even illegal.
Jokes can be just a bit of fun, or they can be used to make serious and critical points. They can be very complex things when you examine them but ultimately, jokes are about fun and laughter – and what is wrong with that?

There are all sorts of social rules that surround the telling of jokes.
They’re little bits of language, wrapped up in culture, presented via small social rituals.
Jokes, and humour in general, are often the most difficult aspect of a language to appreciate. The ability to appreciate humour is one of the last things you gain as a language learner.
To get a joke you need to be able to hear the individual words spoken, identify them, understand them, spot the punchline, grasp the pun or word-play and then know how to react appropriately, and this all has to happen instantly. Perhaps most importantly – you need to have identified that it was a joke in the first place, and not just another couple of sentences that you didn’t really understand. It can be even harder to deliver a joke – remembering the specific words, getting the timing right, emphasising the relevant words correctly using sentence stress and intonation. Oh my god! It’s complicated.

Imagine this situation – I’m sure you’ve experienced something similar. You’re in a group of people. They’re all native speakers and you’re not. One of them is speaking rather quickly but you can basically follow what’s being said – even the complex words and bits of grammar. You feel quite proud of yourself “I’m understanding all of this!”. Then the guy says something and everyone bursts out laughing, but to you it just sounded like another sentence. What’s wrong with everyone? Then it becomes clear that he just told a joke, and apparently it was a good one. “Was that supposed to be funny?” You think to yourself. Someone explains the joke to you – you think about it, you get it, but it’s just not that funny! It’s not even clever! Why did everyone laugh so much? Is everyone else weird, or is it you?

The fact is, jokes can be hard to get, and after it’s been explained to you the magic has probably gone. You’ve got to understand it 100%, and instantly. That’s why non-native speakers of English are often not very impressed by humour in English. Jokes don’t usually translate into other languages because they are based on specific sounds or similarities between words. Also the delay in understanding a joke can kill the enjoyment.

I’m not saying that non-native speakers don’t get humour in English. I know they do. Sometimes I make my students laugh a lot, although this is matched by the number of times my student don’t even identify that I’ve told a joke – is that their lack of English, or my bad jokes? A combination of the two I expect. So, even though non-native speakers clearly do laugh at a lot of things in English, I’m well aware that a lot of things are completely lost on them too.

I think that you (as learners of English) need to understand jokes – because it can help you socially, but also because you’re missing out on a lot of fun. That’s why I’ve decided to do this episode.

But don’t expect this to be a particularly funny episode! There’s nothing worse than high-expectations for a joke. If your expectations are too high, you won’t laugh. It’s like when someone says, “I’ve got a really great joke, you’re going to love this!” then the joke is never that funny. So, don’t get your hopes up. Despite the fact that this episode is all about jokes, it’s probably best if you realise at this point that there will be no laughs and no fun in this episode at all. OK?

DO NOT EXPECT LAUGHTER!

What is a joke?
It’s just anything said that is intended to produce laughter. It could be a traditional joke structure, or a comeback, a sarcastic comment or a small story or whatever. If it is intended to produce laughter, it’s a joke.

Vocabulary
There are a few words that you should know. They’re all different types of joke, or just related to jokes in some way. Here they are:
*a pun = a word joke – a short joke that is based specifically on two words/phrases that have the same meaning or sound the same. For example, “Did you hear about the guy whose whole left side was cut off? He’s all right now.”
[‘All right’ = okay, but also, ‘all right’ means ‘only the right’ – in this case, he only has a right side now because his whole left side was cut off. Yes it’s ridiculous. Yes, I like it.]
*a gag = just another word for a joke
*a shaggy dog story = a longer joke with a stupid punchline at the end (e.g. The Pink Gorilla Story or The Prawn Story)
*a one liner = a simple one line joke. E.g. “Conjunctivitis.com – now that’s a sight for sore eyes.” [Don’t get it? Don’t feel bad. Conjunctivitis = a health condition in which your eyes are infected and painful, or ‘sore’. The expression “a sight for sore eyes” = something which you are really glad to see, because you need it. e.g. “You’re a sight for sore eyes” = I’m really glad to see you (maybe because you’re attractive and nice, and I’m bored and surrounded by uninteresting people). Also “site” and “sight” sound the same. Here, ‘conjunctivitis.com is a website for people who have sore eyes. It’s literally a website for sore eyes, and I suppose it’s something you’re glad to see if you have conjunctivitis.] And if you’re in any doubt about the funniness of that joke, it won the “Joke of the Year” award in 2012. That’s an award which is given to the comedian who makes the best joke of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival which is one of the world’s biggest comedy festivals. It was written by Tim Vine, one of the UK’s top comedians. Click here to read more on this story.
*a wisecrack = a clever and funny response
*a comeback = a quick response to a criticism. Winston Churchill was famous for his comebacks. “Mr Churchill, you’re drunk!” “Yes, I am. And you’re ugly. But in the morning I shall be sober. But you will still be ugly.”
or “Mr Churchill, if I was your wife I would put poison in your tea!” “And if I was your husband, I’d drink it!” etc.
*witty (adj) = to describe someone who is funny and able to make quick and spontaneous jokes.
*the setup = the first part of a joke which sets the situation and linguistic context
*the punchline = the funny part of the joke, which is delivered last. E.g. “I couldn’t quite remember how to throw a boomerang” = the setup, “but eventually it came back to me.” = the punchline. [‘come back to me’ literally means ‘return to me’ – like a boomerang does, but it also means ‘remember’]
*a dad joke = a stupid, safe and rather bad joke. The kind of thing your dad would tell you. To be honest, most of the jokes in this series on jokes are dad jokes. They’re not very dangerous or cool. They’re pretty disposable, but they’re fun, and sweet.

Where do jokes come from?
Most jokes just seem to exist in people’s consciousness and nobody knows who wrote them. They get shared orally (or maybe written in emails) and get passed around, but nobody really owns them. When I was a kid, my friends and I used to own joke books. They were compilations of jokes. You could buy these huge books filled with hundreds or thousands of ‘knock knock’ jokes. We used to go around telling them to each other. There were so many. Sometimes I heard some pretty rude jokes too – jokes that involved sexual things that as a child I just didn’t understand. That was a weird way to be introduced to some aspects of sexual depravity – within the context of a joke told by a naughty kid at school. Only later would I understand what they actually meant.
Then there are jokes which have been made up by someone, like a professional comedian – like the conjunctivitis joke. Those ones are actually owned by those comedians and used in their stage performances, and when you tell one of those jokes it’s customary to say whose joke it is – “That’s a Peter Kay joke” or “That’s a Tim Vine joke” for example. It’s a surprisingly difficult skill to be able to write really good jokes. If you can do it well, it can make you quite rich. Some of the best comedians, writers and directors started out by writing jokes for other people. For example, Woody Allen, Steve Martin and David Letterman.
Then there are original jokes made up by people on the spot. If you’re a clever you might be able to come up with jokes spontaneously – and people might consider you to be ‘really witty’ (positive) or perhaps just a ‘smart aleck’ (negative) depending on how well received your jokes or funny comments are.

Mainly in this episode we’re talking about the first category of joke – ones that lots of people know, have no ‘owner’ and which get passed around by word of mouth. As I said, I’ll be sharing loads of them with you later in this episode or perhaps in the next one.
A lot of these jokes which are shared by friends have typical structures, which most people know. Like “Knock knock” or “Doctor Doctor” jokes.
There are also social conventions around joke telling that you need to know, for example – how to tell a joke, how to react when someone tells you a joke, how to identify when someone is joking and how to respond to a joke.
For example, if someone says to you,
“What’s the difference between a photocopier and the flu?”
You shouldn’t try to guess the answer. “Err, well, one is a kind of machine and the other one is a virus. They’re really different actually. Why?”
No – this is the wrong response. The person is clearly telling you a joke. You’re supposed to say “I don’t know” and then wait expectantly for the hilarious punchline.
“What’s the difference between a photocopier and the flu?”
– “I don’t know”
One makes facsimiles; the other makes sick families.
“Haha, good one!” you say, even if it wasn’t that good.

Telling and hearing a joke is like a little social interaction with its own specific rules and conventions that you have to know. We’ll look at this more later.

What’s the point of telling jokes? Why do we tell jokes?
It’s all about laughter and how it makes us feel good. According to Helpguide.org – a trusted non-profit online service giving advice about mental and physical health, Laughter is good for your health. “Laughter is the best medicine”.
According to them:
Laughter relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.
Laughter boosts the immune system.
Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease.
Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
Laughter protects the heart. It improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.

The link between laughter and mental health
Laughter dissolves distressing emotions. You can’t feel anxious, angry, or sad when you’re laughing.
Laughter helps you relax and recharge. It reduces stress and increases energy, enabling you to stay focused and accomplish more.
Humor shifts perspective, allowing you to see situations in a more realistic, less threatening light. A humorous perspective creates psychological distance, which can help you avoid feeling overwhelmed.

Social Benefits
Strengthens relationships
Attracts others to us
Enhances teamwork
Helps defuse conflict
Promotes group bonding

Jokes are crap, aren’t they?
You might be thinking: “But jokes aren’t funny. I sort of hate jokes. They’re usually awful and I don’t laugh.”
Yes, true. They’re often terrible – like the bad puns that your Dad tells you, or the awful jokes you get on lollipop sticks or inside christmas crackers, but that’s part of the charm really. It’s just a bit of fun – stop taking life too seriously! Kids like them of course, because kids don’t like to take life too seriously, and because most jokes are brand new to children. Also, when you’re a kid is when you are learning about the language and discovering any double meanings can be quite exciting. For me, it’s all about having the right attitude and being ready to laugh and find things funny. If you want to laugh at jokes, you will.

When to tell jokes
I suppose the best jokes are the ones that are spontaneous (made up on the spot).
They are usually received best when they are shared in light-hearted joke telling sessions, when everyone is telling jokes. Sometimes that happens – someone tells a joke and then everyone chips in with a joke they know. Like, “I’ve got one” or “Have you heard this one?” That way you’re not forcing your joke on someone who then feels pressure to laugh at a joke they might not find funny or understand.
Be careful of using them to impress people, break the ice or to charm people, like in a business meeting or on a date. They might have the opposite effect. You have to know when to tell jokes. Normally it’s in a moment where there’s no pressure.
The best results come from comments, or responses that happen spontaneously. If people feel that a joke is too planned or contrived – like you’ve planned it for days or weeks in advance, you’ll look like a prat. So, the best jokes are just unplanned comments that happen in that moment.
So, because the funniest things are spontaneous, it’s all about having the right attitude – being open, looking for the funny side of things, being self-deprecating (laughing at yourself), being sarcastic, joking about things that everybody experiences, not picking on anyone in particular, and wanting everyone to be happy and to enjoy themselves.

Jokes are often best told privately. For example, not announcing a joke to the whole room, but sneaking up on someone and sharing it just between you both, quietly.

Jokes can be risky
You might embarrass yourself or others if the joke is not funny or if you ‘fluff it’ – say it wrong.
Watch out for the content of jokes. A lot of them are pretty rude – and I don’t just mean sexually. They often have victims, or could be very politically incorrect. You could offend people and get yourself into serious trouble, depending on the context and the joke of course.
Watch out for these things: jokes about nationalities, jokes about disability, jokes about blondes, jokes about race, sexist jokes or jokes with rude images. I realise that I’ve just deleted most of the best jokes – but the point is, don’t underestimate how offensive a joke can be. Some people might laugh, some might not understand it, and some will take it seriously and be offended. Also, in some places, jokes are outlawed, especially if they are political in nature. So – be careful when joking.
The right joke at the right time makes everything ok.
The wrong joke, told at the wrong time in front of the wrong people could land you in serious trouble.

So:
be spontaneous
don’t pick on anyone in particular – don’t victimise anyone
be prepared to make jokes about yourself
make jokes about things that everyone is experiencing/sharing

How do you tell jokes?
Perhaps the most common structure for a joke is the Question-Answer format. That means that a joke often begins with a question. It’s quite normal to just ask someone that question, and if they’re familiar with the culture of telling jokes, they will respond with “I don’t know” and then you deliver the punchline.
E.g.
“Hey, how does Bob Marley like his donuts?”
“I don’t know”
“Wi’ jam in”.
“Do you get it? ‘With jam in’ – ‘we’re jamming”
“Ha ha oh yeah, I get it! Nice one!” etc.

So, at the right moment you can just tell your joke by asking the question like that.

Sometimes you can say “I’ve got a joke for you” or “Do you want to hear a joke?” or “Have you heard the Bob Marley joke?”

Try not to say “I’ve got an absolutely hilarious joke – you’re going to absolutely love this!” – because the person will expect too much and it’s bound to be an anticlimax.

Timing is important. It also has to be really clear. It has to be comfortably and easily told.
Make sure you learn it properly! The set-up has to be exactly right, and the punchline too!
Make sure the set up is not too long. It has to give only the most crucial information for the punchline to work.
Make sure you know your joke well, because there’s nothing worse than telling a joke wrong, or forgetting the punchline. It’s the equivalent of a magic trick going wrong – you look like a fool.
Don’t expect much of a response, and don’t expect your joke to make you popular or anything. The chances are, people won’t get it, and if they do laugh, they’ll probably just forget about it, unless the person is a joke fan like you. In the right moment though, jokes can be a lot of fun. So, jokes are not worth a lot, unless you find other people who love them, and then you can share your favourite jokes together.

When telling a joke – remember it! Run the joke through your head before saying it. Don’t get halfway through the joke and then start again because you forgot it.
Make it clear and be confident. People have to be able to hear and understand what you’re saying.
Sentence stress is very important. Usually certain words must be stressed for emphasis.
Make it look quite casual. Don’t be too desperate for a response or laughter.
The best jokes are completely improvised comments made in the moment. Sometimes there is nothing better than a very carefully worded quick response to a situation. It can make everyone burst out laughing quite magically. But again – watch out because jokes can backfire. People may find it offensive, inappropriate or just pathetic.
There are risks in joke telling. You risk losing respect from people, or offending people, but the rewards are high. If you make people laugh, they will like you, and ultimately everyone can enjoy a good laugh – and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, sometimes it’s the best, most honest feeling in the world – just letting yourself go and laughing uncontrollably. It’s joyful and infections, and being able to create it is a bit like being a good wizard (not an evil one).
Choose to tell good jokes which have a proven track record. Don’t tell jokes that don’t make people laugh, even if you find them funny yourself.
Don’t tell inappropriate jokes – ones that are sexual, racist or which have a victim. Instead try to tell jokes that are universal. Rude jokes can be very funny, but be aware that they are only appropriate in certain situations, and only funny for certain people.
Don’t get all angry, upset and defensive if people didn’t enjoy your joke. You can’t bully people into enjoying themselves. Just shrug it off.
You need to make it clear when the joke has ended and when people are expected to laugh, although don’t expect it to happen.
If you’re going to make a joke, try to connect it to what’s going on at that moment.
Often the best jokes are just one line responses to things happening around you.
Jokes are often best delivered with a straight face, with an understated style. Don’t make a big song and dance out of it. In the UK we normally tell a joke quite straight. We don’t laugh at our own jokes or slap our thigh when we tell the punchline. Laughing at your own joke too much is considered a bit unattractive.
Be prepared to carry on if the joke fails to make people laugh – people might not notice! Otherwise, it’s probably worth admitting that you told a joke and nobody found it funny. Then people will feel less awkward. Sometimes when I tell jokes, nobody laughs. Then I say “that was a joke, by the way, just in case you are wondering” and that sometimes makes people laugh a little bit – maybe out of sympathy if nothing else!
I realise I’m sounding a bit modest here – it may look like I spend all my time embarrassing myself with dodgy jokes. Well, it does happen sometimes, but not all the time.

English people love humour and it’s used a lot, for a lot of different purposes – including breaking the ice, as well as establishing power structures or social hierarchies, or breaking down social hierarchies.
I’m sure it’s similar in your countries too. Kate Fox says that for the English there is no right or wrong time for humour. I know what she means, but I don’t think it’s strictly true. We love joking in many situations, and we’re always ready for a joke or a funny/sarcastic comment, but of course there is a right or wrong place for it. If you just go around making crap jokes all the time, in every situation, you’ll soon become unpopular. I suppose what Kate Fox means is that humour, rather than jokes, pervades all aspects of British life and I agree with that.
The main thing is the intention you have behind your jokes – are you doing it to make people feel happy, to bond your team, to put people at ease, or are you doing it just to draw attention to yourself at the expense of other people’s comfort? If it’s the latter reason, then it’s probably better to curb your enthusiasm a bit.
Really, being funny is more about having the right attitude – being ready, prepared and confident enough to find the funniness in anything.
It’s also about being generous – just wanting to make people laugh without spoiling the situation.
It’s not about cruelty – bullying or targeting people with humour. It’s not picking on other people too much. It is about being willing to take a joke yourself. That’s the first step.
Some people just don’t want to be a person who jokes – they’d rather be serious and expect people to take them seriously too. That’s fine of course. Personally, I think that many of us take life too seriously – and a good sense of humour and the ability to take a joke are admirable, positive qualities. It’s hard to be a genuinely arrogant person while taking a joke about yourself. It’s a good leveler. It makes people equal in status.
Really, it’s just about having an attitude for laughter and jokes. For me it’s best when it’s sort of selfless.
There’s also a love of language involved. Sometimes jokes come out of picking the right words, or playing with language.
One advantage of a good joke is that people’s guard goes down when you make them laugh. You can say some outrageous things and get away with it. Also, people will warm to you if you make them laugh. It’s charming. Good jokes are harmless (and should be).
Also, there are all the benefits of laughter.

How do you react to a joke?
The worst thing you can do is not recognise it is a joke.
It’s also bad if you don’t acknowledge that a joke has been told. You have to show that you identified it as a joke, at the very least.
Some acknowledgement is good.
Ideally you’ll laugh naturally. You could fake a chuckle but don’t go over the top. You could say “good one”, or even “that’s a good joke!” (without laughing)
If you don’t understand it you say: “I don’t get it.”
If you’ve heard it before: “I’ve heard it before.”
If you understand the joke, but don’t find it funny: You can make a noise, like you’re suffering. “Ooohhh!” or even something like “Oh my god what are you like?”
If you understand it and find it funny: laughter!
It may be appropriate then to share a joke that you have too.

End of part 1

What’s the culture of jokes in your country? 
jokes1PODPIC