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The English Sense of Humour

996 of 1157 nominations


The English Sense of Humour

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The English Sense of Humour

From Chaucer’s 'Canterbury Tales' to 'Little Britain', the English seem to have been laughing at themselves for hundreds of years. Nothing gets us chuckling more than a dig at our own foibles. Is it because we have spent such a long time being pompous and self-important that we now have a strong sense of our own ridiculousness? Is it a way of overcoming our frequently overwhelming social awkwardness?

Our sense of humour seems to be one of the few national traits that we are happy to be boast about, but being able to laugh at ourselves is only one of its characteristics. In his essay The English Sense of Humour, Harold Nicolson identifies ten specific components, including kindliness, fancy and laziness (or economy of mental effort, to put it more kindly). Do you agree? Statistics show we are laughing less now than in the 1950s – by a worrying margin of 12 minutes per day margin. Is our famous sense of humour becoming an endangered species? Come on then, chaps, we English have always been good about saving things – let’s start a campaign...


Your comments

I nominate the English sense of humour

June Whitfield

Being an American and an Anglophile, I can appreciate English humor without dismissing it out of hand. I enjoy the dialogue in English sitcoms we see in America, and have known Englishmen and, as much as I tried, I was hard pressed to match their quick cutting dry wit.
Doug Warner

Having attended tea/coffee breaks in both English and American faculty rooms, let me note the difference. In the US case, the guy "getting the brunt of the joke" is the first to know, it is in his face. In the English equivalent, he is the last to figure it out. I may be confusing humour with insult, as the Monty Python bunch once did.
Allan Dodds

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My favourite Icon of England has to be the Cornish Pasty.

Ian Baldry