Warn me before you start cracking jokes

When I was a senior in high school, I went through an extracurricular British English textbook called New Concept English (I am translating the title back into English from its Chinese title. So this may not be its original English title. I think the book is from the UK.). I couldn’t remember all details of a particular article, but the central thesis of it is that sometimes people from different cultures do not get each other’s jokes. I think that article used an English, a German, and a Russian as an example.

In some cases, that is true. But each person is different. For a guy with no sense of humor like me, when people start cracking jokes, I have a hard time getting it.

So I devised a clear way to get Western humor. I have solemnly asked my better half to give me a warning before she throws out her wisecracking wit, so I can prepare my super brain for the onslaught of laughter.

But sometimes I don’t get it even after a warning. One time she saw my confused look, then she retorted back: “This is really sad. Not only do I need to warn you, I also need to explain it to you?!”

PS. My memory is right. It looks like New Concept English was/is popular, especially in China. A google full string search got 59000 records back.

4 responses to “Warn me before you start cracking jokes”

  1. Its original name is exactly New Concept English, and L.Alexander the author.

    Liu Yutang once said that a humor can be gotten by a man with a sense of it, never by someone without any sense of it, even if the latter is punished by 十下手板:)

  2. Ouch, that would hurt!

    Lin Yutang is one of my favorite Chinese and English authors. Thanks pheonixd!

  3. I had more than one language professor (both Japanese and French) tell me that the most difficult thing in mastering a language is humor. I got my undergraduate degree in philosophy as well, and humor is a bizarre, philosophic concept — what makes something funny?

    Consider the inverse — how many English speaking individuals that know Mandarin (that is the prevalent dialect in the mainland, is it not?), can crack a joke in Mandarin, or much less understand it? You’ve hit on the key to truly mastering a language. I can only dream of one day mastering humor in Japanese or Mandarin (French I have a pretty good feel for, but then again, there isn’t much humor in France 🙂 ).

    Great posting, you’re hitting on the basic problem between cultures — language isn’t just an issue of translation, but understanding. And what’s harder to understand than humor?

    BTW pheonixd, I love the quote from Liu Yutang — I’m going to have to explore that writer further.

  4. Thanks for the comment James!

    Lin Yutang’s The Importance of Living was a best seller in the late 1930s in the US. He was a rare talent that can write very eloquently in both English and Chinese, although sometimes people say that his English writing is meandering and long-winded. But it is full of wisdom and interesting observations nontheless.

    Frank McCourt, in his Angela’s Ashes, wrote about his reading of Lin Yutang’s works when he was growing up in Limerick, Ireland. Lin’s work was considered somewhat immoral by Limerick nuns at the time.

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