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English Sense of Humour

English Sense of Humour
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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 boast about, but being able to laugh at ourselves is only one of its characteristics. In his essay The English Sense of Humour (& other Essays, 1956) Harold Nicolson identifies ten specific components (see Humour’s 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. 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...

Deadpan, witty, sarcastic, smutty, slapstick…we as a nation are well known for our individual sense of humour, which is unlike anywhere else in the world. The Americans in particular seem to love and wish to emulate it (for example, the American re-make of The Office) and our ability to laugh at ourselves is perhaps one of our most endearing qualities.

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

Ian Baldry