Helen's 100 ESL Jokes : Colloquial

The jokes are in colloquial language, that is, people who speak English from birth would tell the jokes like this between themselves. Notes are provided to explain more difficult words.


A motorist, lost in the middle of the countryside, asked a local the way to Littlemorehampton. "Easy m'dear, take the little road on the right until you come to Humbert's farm."

"But I don't know which farm that is."

"Easy m'dear. It's right on the corner of the road that goes to Littlemorehampton."

  • Apostrophes (') appear in English either to show possession or to show that a letter is missing.
  • Humbert's farm = the farm of Humbert.
  • m'dear = my dear
  • don't = do not
  • When writers want to convey a regional accent they use a lot of apostrophes


A couple of potential purchasers were being shown around a cheap flat by the estate agent. They were not impressed.

"One thing I would like to know above all," insisted the girl. "Is it insulated at least?"

"Yes," came a voice from upstairs. "But it didn't work."

  • an estate agent = someone whose profession is to arrange the purchase, sale or rent of accommodation


The science teacher explained to his class that long waves can go round objects but short waves cannot. Seeing blank faces, he picked up his hat, held it in front of his face and asked the nearest pupil, "Can you see my face?"

"No sir."

"Can you hear my voice?"

"Yes sir."

"What does that show?" He hoped for the answer that sound waves are long and light waves short, but the boy retorted hopefully,

"You're talking through your hat, sir."

  • to talk through your hat = to talk nonsense


A young singer arrived for a gig in a small town. His impresario said, "Do your very best. The audience may not look much but people round here have suddenly become rich growing tomatoes."

"Tomatoes?" shouted the singer. "Forget it. I'm going back to London. Tomatoes cost the earth there - no one can afford to sling them around."

  • gig = performance
  • to sling = to throw


"Well dear," asked the infant's new teacher, "Are you a good boy?"

"Actually," replied the child, "I'm the sort of brat my mummy is always telling me never to play with."

  • brat = horrible child
  • "with" is a preposition. In perfect English, you never end a sentence with a preposition. In reality you often do.


A man complained to his neighbour at the bar, "Yesterday, I thought I'd solved all my problems. I thought I'd found a way to forget my mother-in-law. I went to the pub and got drunk."

"Did it work?"

"No, when I got home I found two of her waiting."

  • Traditionally, men dislike their mothers-in-law. Note the plural is not mother-in-laws.


A customer in a shoe-shop heaved a sigh of relief: "At last, a pair that fits me."

"Not surprising," replied the weary salesman. "They're the ones you came in wearing, sir."

  • Pair is a collective, so some people say the verb should be singular: A pair that fits me. A pair is two shoes, so some people say the verb should be plural: A pair that fit me.


A furious woman tackled her husband.

"It appears you've been telling everyone I'm a nag."

"On the contrary," he replied, "Everyone tells me."


"It's true. And in reply, I only ask 'Who're you telling?'"

  • a nag = a woman who gives the same order again and again because her husband ignores her


In the public house, an unmasked husband sighed to his friend: "When I think that some inventor spent months, years even, developing a lie detector! All they had to do was meet my wife."

  • "lie detector" is an example of taking one noun (lie) and making an adjective from it. You can do this many times and only the last noun remains a noun. For example: the Football World Cup Final.


A foreign tourist watched a bullfight in Spain, and its popularity. Afterwards, he said to a local,

"How amazing that bulls react like that when they see a red cape."

"O no sir," came the reply. "Bulls don't move a muscle. It's cows that react to a red cape, sir."

"Then why did the bulls react so violently today?" insisted the foreigner.

"They were annoyed at the man who thought they were cows."

  • it's = it is
  • its = belonging to it


McTavish, a Scotsman, went to a ski resort. He told the instructor,

"I want to learn to ski on one leg."

"Certainly sir, but why?"

"I'll only need to hire one ski."

  • The people of Scotland have a reputation for meanness. They are proud of it and call it "canny". You will find many jokes based on Scottish meanness, rather than Jewish meanness etc. This is because Scottish people are too canny to be insulted by it - I hope.


"Tarzan," queried Jane, "Why do you have to bellow so when you swing through the jungle?"

"I'm under contract darling," replied the lord of the jungle. "This pharmaceutical company make sore throat lozenges."

  • under contract = you have signed a contract and will be paid for your services


"Are my new glasses ready yet?" the customer asked the pretty young optician.

"Certainly sir, but do try them first."

"Perfect. I can see you very well. Good-bye young man."

  • Very rarely can you tell the sex of a person from the word for their profession. An optician could be a man or a woman.
  • One rare exception - a nurse is always female. When it is a man you say he is a male nurse.


A dim young man replied to an advert seeking volunteers for scientific research. The chief scientist, explaining they were trying to find the results of a meeting between a man and a female gorilla, asked, "Are you willing for $5,000?"

"Certainly," replied the volunteer. "But with three conditions. One, I want an armed man in the cage with us, in case things turn out nasty. Two, to make the gorilla more sexy, I would like her to wear lipstick. Three, can I pay by three installments?"

  • advert = advertisement
  • to turn out = to become


"What's this I hear, old pal? Your wife's left you, old man? Well, why don't you go home and drown your sorrows in booze?"


"No booze?"

"No sorrow."

  • booze = alcohol
  • to drown your sorrows = to drink until you forget your problems


A randy king once asked a lady of his court,

"Which is the shortest route to your bedroom?"

"Via the church," she smiled.

  • randy = lecherous
  • Everyday English still uses Latin words. To go to the bedroom via the church means you must go to the church first, then the bedroom.


A man went into a shop and asked for a muzzle. He rejected the one offered as unsuitable.

"I'm sure it'll work," replied the shopkeeper who was annoyed at the rejection. "I sold one to a lady only half an hour ago. She was very satisfied with it."

"That may be, but mine is for my dog."

  • that may be = perhaps = that may be so


In the middle of the night an old maid telephoned,

"Come quickly, there's a man trying to climb into my bedroom through the window."

"You've got the wrong number. This is the fire brigade. Call the police."

"I know what I'm doing. You come at once, d'you hear? His ladder's too short."

  • old maid = middle-aged or old woman who has never married = spinster


"Honestly," complained the rich lady in the cocktail bar to her friend, "You can't trust anyone these days."

"How d'you mean?"

"Why only today, my husband had to sack his cashier."

"What did he do?"

"Took a hundred pounds from the till."

"How did he find out?"

"Thanks to me. He was two hundred short and I told him I'd only taken a hundred."

  • to sack = to dismiss
  • to be 200 short = 200 is missing


A man in a Scottish bar complained,

"Laddy, there's no ham in this ham sandwich."

"That's strange sir. Try another bite."

"No. Still no ham."

"That explains it sir, you've gone past it now."

  • laddy = lad = boy
  • Often y is added as a term of affection (or scorn or babytalk): girly, lassy, Johnny, doggy


The school teacher had just told the story of the wolf and the lamb.

"So you see, children, the wolf ate the naughty lamb because it disobeyed."

"Yes miss," pointed out a youngster. "And if the lamb had been good, we would have eaten it ourselves."


Two college lecturers were comparing notes.

"Tell me, how do you know it's time to finish your lecture?"

"Simple. When they start looking at their watches every ten minutes, it is time to start summing up. But, when one starts to change the batteries, I know it's time to stop."

  • to compare notes = to discuss mutual problems
  • to sum up = to summarise, to repeat the main points


In a doctor's waiting-room, a male patient timidly approaches the woman waiting next to him.

"Excuse me, are you here for the sex-change operation too?"


"Well, if they fit you, would you swop your skirt for my trousers?"

  • to swop = to exchange


Father is reading Cinderella to his son to send him to sleep.

"Daddy," interrupts the wide-awake youngster, "When the pumpkin changed into a golden carriage, what did Cinderella declare on her tax return - extra income or capital growth?"

  • to declare = to state, to write
  • tax return = an official form which tax-payers must complete to say how much they earn each year


"Ladies and Gentlemen, I have asked you all to come here today to convince you just how dangerous alcohol is. So, together, let's throw all our bottles of wine and spirits into the sea..."

Not one of the audience moved. One man began to applaud like mad.

"Thank you sir. You agree with me?"

"You bet. I'm a beachcomber."

  • Ladies and Gentlemen is the normal way to begin a public speech. If there are very important people present, it may begin My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen
  • you bet = yes, yes, yes


A teacher was giving her class of small children a lesson on good manners.

"Suppose, by mistake, you step on a lady's foot. What do you do?"

"I say pardon me."

"Very good. Now suppose the lady, to reward you, gives you a coin. What do you do?"

"Step on the other foot to get a second one."


A visitor gave the young son of the house a small coin. He slipped it into his pocket without a word. Scandalised, his mother prompted,

"What do you say to the lady?"

"Don't know."

"Yes you do. What do I say when daddy gives me money?"

"You say, 'Is that all?'"

  • son of the house = son of the household = son of the family


A doctor left his patient's bedside to return to the husband waiting anxiously outside the door.

"I'm afraid I don't like the look of your wife."

"Nor do I doctor," said the man, relieved. "But she had a beautiful dowry."

  • to like the look of = to admire the appearance of
  • to like the look of = to be reassured by the appearance of
  • I'm afraid = I fear
  • I'm afraid = I regret


A man returned home earlier than usual. His son met him, very upset, and crying,

"Daddy, there's a monster in your bedroom."

"There's a what?"

"A monster. And he's hidden in mummy's wardrobe."

So the man went upstairs, found his wife in bed and opened the wardrobe door. Inside, his oldest friend tried vainly to hide himself behind a rack of dresses.

"Twenty years, you've been my friend," bellowed the husband, pulling his former friend out by the hair, "And the best thing you can find to do is frighten my little boy."


A policeman visited a fortune-teller.

"One of your clients has lodged a complaint against you. I must arrest you for fraud."

"Which client?" she demanded.

"But madam, surely you must know."

  • A policeman, public official, shop assistant usually call someone whose name they do not know "madam" or "sir". If they know the name is Brown, they may say Miss Brown or Mrs Brown or Mr Brown, but never Mrs (pronounced missus), Miss or Mr (pronounced mister) alone.


"I'll write a sentence on the board," said the teacher. "Tell me what is wrong with it."

She wrote: "I did not have very happy holidays."

"Now Henry, what's wrong with that?"

The child hesitated. "Perhaps if you'd taken a boyfriend along."


In the courtroom.

Judge: "I don't understand how a man of your size could beat a tiny woman like your wife."

Accused: "She forced me into it, Your Honour."

Judge: "Impossible! How?"

Accused: "She kept on saying 'Go on, beat me. Then see if I don't find a judge stupid enough to send you to prison.'"

Judge: "Case dismissed."

  • case dismissed = the accused is innocent and the law case is finished


(In England, when you talk to a judge in court, you call him "my Lord".)

A man was arrested for being drunk. He was taken to court and appeared before a judge. Still drunk, he turned towards the bench and protested that he was innocent. "I was as drunk as you are. As drunk as a judge."

The judge was annoyed. He corrected the man "The correct expression is 'As sober as a judge'. Another expression exists. One can say 'As drunk as a Lord'."

"Yes my Lord. Sorry my Lord. Well that is how drunk I was."

  • a bench = a backless seat for several people
  • the bench = the elevated place in a court of law where one or several judges sit


Two psychiatrists were comparing cases. One said,

"For several weeks I've been treating someone who thinks he is a taxi."

"What treatment did you use?"

"None at all. Why should I? After each consultation, he carries me home on his shoulders."

  • a case = a container, packing-case, suitcase, briefcase, a case of wine...
  • a case = an affair, a law case, court case, hospital case...


A lawyer was at his wits-end to defend an obviously guilty client. In desperation, he cried,

"But Your Honour, you wouldn't have the heart to condemn someone at Christmas time."

"True," replied the judge. "Judgement deferred until next week."

  • to be at your wits-end = to have exhausted all your ideas


"Why does it have to be granny who gives you your cod liver oil?" asked an exasperated mother.

"Because she trembles so much," smirked the child, "She always spills half of it."

  • Years ago parents always gave their children spoonfuls of cod liver oil in winter to keep them in good health. The taste was horrible!


Two old ladies were talking.

"How is your grandson getting on? "asked one.

"Fine, fine. You know he works in a theatre? Only a week ago, he was the back legs of a pantomime horse. Now he's been promoted to the front legs."

  • A pantomime is a comic spectacle of singing and dancing produced at Christmas for children. Two people hide inside a costume made to resemble a horse. It is very popular.


A stockbroker lay in hospital coming round after an operation. He heard the nurse taking his temperature say:

"98.4 doctor."

"Good," said the patient, half-asleep. "When it reaches 100 sell the lot."

  • stockbroker = professional buyer and seller of company shares on the stock exchange. All day long he is dealing with figures and buying and selling.
  • to come round = to recover consciousness


A man went into a travel agent's and asked for a brochure on Greece. Inside, he saw pictures of all the famous Greek sites.

"If everywhere is in ruins, miss, "he asked the employee, "Do you give discounts?"

  • travel agent's = travel agent's shop


A mother admitted to her friend, "I've just learnt that I'm too strict with my little son."

"What makes you think that?"

"Yesterday, in the department store, he got lost. The store detective asked his name and he replied 'John Don't-touch-that'."

  • he got lost = he became lost
  • to get, got, got meaning basically to become or to obtain, is used more and more instead of passive tenses (I got married = I was married).


A cannibal spent four years studying at Oxford University. At the end of it, he was asked,

"When you return to the jungle, will you still continue to eat human flesh?"

"Of course I will," he replied, "But I'll always use a knife and fork."

  • Oxford is a famous English university in the town of Oxford. Oxford English is the purest English with the most prestigious pronunciation. Many people who live in Oxford do not speak it. Many educated people who do not live in Oxford or even in England, speak it.


A proper little madam proclaimed everywhere she went,

"I'm General X's daughter."

Her mother tried to make her more modest by ordering,

"You must not boast to everyone who your father is."

The next day, the pair were stopped in the street by an old family friend who had not seen them for a while.

"Aren't you General X's daughter?"

"That's what I've always thought", replied the little minx, "But now mummy tells me I must not say who my father really is. Especially as he is nothing to boast about."

  • proper little madam = spoilt female child
  • minx = devious female


An entomologist is demonstrating to his students.

"For my first experiment, I take a fly, put it under a microscope and tell it to fly. There - you can see it fly off."

"For my second experiment, I take the same fly, remove its wings, and tell it to fly. But, you can see, it does no such thing. Conclusion - it isn't listening any longer."

  • fly = noun winged insect
  • fly = verb to fly, flew, flown


In a psychiatric hospital, a doctor was examining a patient.

"Why are you laughing so heartily?"

"I was telling myself funny stories and I'd just told one I'd never heard before."

  • I'd = I had
  • I'd = I would (You can only decide which from the context.)


An impresario organised an audition with a TV producer for his star performer. This was a dog which could talk, sing and tell jokes. The producer was highly impressed but when he produced a contract to sign, a bigger dog ran howling into the room, grabbed the performing dog by the scruff of its neck and both ran off.

"What's going on?" demanded the producer.

"That was its mother," sighed the impresario. "She wants her son to be a doctor."

  • scruff of the neck = back of the neck


Two rabbits were reminiscing in a wood.

"D'you remember Johnny? Have you heard how he got on?"

"O yes, he's riding round Paris these days, masquerading as a mink."

  • to masquerade = to pretend to be something else


There was show-jumping on the television and a horse had just had a very bad round.

"That horse was exhausted," said a viewer. "Turn off the set a while, dear, and give him a chance to recover."

  • round = attempt
  • dear = one person talking to another to show affection. Do not confuse with...
  • O dear! = what a pity! how unfortunate!


In a school in the States, the teacher had just described Christopher Columbus' discovery of America.

"Just imagine, children, if he had not risked the ocean, you would not be here today. Wasn't he marvellous?"

All the children cheered, except one.

"Aren't you pleased young fellow?"

"No miss."


"I'm an Indian."

  • Columbus' = Columbus's
  • Indian = Red Indian = native American Indian
  • Indian = citizen of India


A docker consulted his doctor about his liver. The doctor, knowing he drank heavily, warned, "This could get serious. Stick to water in future."

Meeting up some months later on the quayside, the doctor said, "I hope you took my advice?" "O yes, doctor," replied the man. "I'm a diver now."

  • docker = a person who works at the docks, loading and unloading ships
  • diver = a person who works underwater


A baby catfish in a pond swam up to the surface of the water. It saw a cat leaning out over the bank. So the tiny catfish, very impressed, swam down again quickly. "Mummy, come quick, I've just seen God."


In Chicago, a wronged wife consulted her lawyer.

"I want a divorce," she announced.

"Easy ma'am. I just need a deposit of 500 dollars."

"500 dollars?" she gasped." Forget it. I can get him wiped out for half that."

  • to wipe someone out = to kill him
  • get him wiped out is normal but have him wiped out is more correct
  • get often replaces other auxiliary verbs (have, be) in modern speech


Two lovers of whodunnits were discussing their books on a train.

"What's your book about?"

"The French Revolution."

"No victim yet?"

"O yes, Louis XVI."

"Any idea whodunnit?"

  • whodunnits are books about murder mysteries
  • whodunnit = who did it?
  • You write the names of kings and popes followed by Roman letters but you say "Louis the sixteenth".
  • Do not talk about a living king in this way. You simply say Queen Elizabeth, not Queen Elizabeth the second.


Mary applied for a job as a waitress.

"Any references?" asked the owner, looking her up and down.

"I worked for five years in the Savoy Grill."

"Can you prove it?"

"Easily. I've dozens of little spoons at home with their initials on."

  • reference
    If you give someone as a reference, it means that he or she is a previous employer who is willing to tell a possible new employer what sort of employee you were. If he gives a good reference, he praises you. If he gives a bad reference, he criticises you. What is said between employers is secret.
  • testimonial = a written reference given to a leaving employee (which he can read) to show to a possible new employer


One night at sea, in a thick fog, a captain noticed what appeared to be the lights of another ship approaching. So he megaphoned,

"Change course ten degrees south."

The answer came back, "You change course ten degrees north."

Annoyed, he bellowed, "I'm a captain and I order you to change course ten degrees south."

Back came the answer, "I'm a lighthousekeeper and I order you to change course ten degrees north."

  • A lighthouse is a tower built on rocks near a dangerous part of the sea. It has a light to warn approaching ships. A keeper lives in the lighthouse to ensure the light is always burning.
  • "You change course..."
    Normally you give orders by using the verb without a subject: "Change course..." Here the subject you is included and stressed (spoken louder) for emphasis.


"I have started to doubt the competence," a wife told her husband, "of the plumber you called."


"Before he repaired the tap in the kitchen sink, he put on a lifebelt."

  • lifebelt = lifejacket


Mr and Mrs Jones took a seaside holiday. On their first evening, they went to a restaurant and Mr Jones ordered steak. "Whatever possessed you?" asked his wife. "Here we are by the sea. We should have fish."

"You're quite right, dear," he replied. "Waiter, make that a trout."

  • Trout is a river fish not a sea fish.
  • whatever = what
    You can add ever to many question words for emphasis: whyever, whenever, whoever


In the playfield, the infants are talking about their arithmetic lesson. One little boy is worried.

"Suppose she tells me I have four apples and asks me to share them between us five friends. I don't see how I can manage it." "Easy," replied a little girl. "Stew them."

  • to manage = to organise (a manager organises)
  • to manage = to succeed


"Doctor," said his receptionist, "There's one patient left. He says he's consulted all the other doctors in town."

"What is he complaining of?"

"All the other doctors in town."

  • to complain = to say that you are not satisfied
  • complaint = dissatisfaction
  • complaint = illness
  • to be left = to remain


A young man who had just completed his military service was complaining how hard it had been.

"It wasn't as bad as that," his father objected. "I got you a cushy number in the Air Force. You could drive and sleep at home every night."

"True. But you've forgotten the traffic jams."

  • cushy = easy


Two sheep were talking.

"You look really tired," one said.

"I know," replied the other. "I had to count 500 shepherds last night before I could get to sleep."

  • It is traditional when you cannot sleep to imagine you are counting sheep. It is so dull and repetitive that it sends you to sleep.
  • shepherd = a person who works with sheep (similarly: cowherd, goatherd)
  • herd = a collection of animals


"Darling, I'd go through fire and water for you," exclaimed the ardent young lover.

"I know, " she replied, bored. "But you're a fireman."


Three men, grandfather, father and son, lived together. At the other end of the village lived a woman called Blodwen who sold her body for money. One afternoon, the son said, "I'm off to visit Blodwen." After two hours, he returned, very satisfied, and said,

"That Blodwen. What passion! What passion!"

Next morning, the father said,

"I'm off to visit Blodwen." After four hours, he returned, very satisfied, and said,

"That Blodwen. What passion! What passion!"

Next day, the grandfather said,

"I'm off to visit Blodwen." Two days later, he returned, very satisfied, and said,

"That Blodwen. What patience! What patience!"

  • off has many meanings. Here, there is an idea of distance
  • I'm off = I'm leaving
  • this meat is off = this meat is rotten


Old Matthew, recently widowed, lost his cow as well. He had only moderately bewailed his wife but showed himself inconsolable over the cow.

The village vicar took him to task.

"A wife is worth more than a cow," he insisted.

"I can prove the contrary," replied Matthew. "Since I've been widowed, I've been offered at least ten wives. But no one has offered me a cow."

  • to bewail = to mourn


A geneticist had just crossed a parrot with a homing pigeon. "That way," he exclaimed, "If it gets lost, it can always ask the way home."

  • There is a difference between home and house. You may live in a building, called a house. But your house is not your home unless you feel comfortable and relaxed there.


"What is your grievance?" the judge asked the husband in the divorce court.

"My wife grew more and more reluctant to prepare my meals," he replied. "To start with, she would just heat up a tin. Then she took to leaving the tin in the fridge. But the day I decided on divorce was when she left a note: 'Off playing bridge with Susan. There's a good recipe in Woman's Weekly.'"

  • to heat up = to heat (in speech, people often add up unnecessarily)
  • to take to = to start a new habit


While spending the weekend in her country cottage, a lady phoned her neighbour who was a very pretty girl.

"Would you mind," she asked, "putting on a bathing costume and taking a sunbath stretched out in your garden."

"Not at all. But why?"

"I'd like my husband to cut the hedge."

  • to stretch out = to lie down


Mary, a newly-wed, phoned her mother.

"Do you think you could persuade Daddy to lend me his car tomorrow morning?"

"Has your husband's broken down then?"

"No, but he promised to teach me to drive."

  • to break = to damage or destroy
  • to break down = to stop functioning


"A reporter got fed up with being fobbed off by secretaries when he tried to make an appointment with famous people. So he thought up a ruse.

Whenever the secretary asked, "What do you want to talk about?" he would reply with a menacing tone,

"It's personal. Tell him 'It's the husband calling'."

It worked every time.

  • to be fed up = to be angry
  • to fob someone off = to give a polite but false excuse for not helping them


John lost his voice so he went to the doctor. He rang the bell and a pretty nurse answered the door.

"Is the doctor in," he whispered because that was all he could manage.

The nurse whispered back sympathetically, "No sir. You can come in. His wife's quite alone."

  • quite has two meanings. Here it means "completely". Sometimes it means "partly". It is one of the few words in English where the tone of voice gives you the sense.


A teacher set an arithmetic problem.

"You have six pounds in your pocket. You lose four. What do you have in your pocket?"

Back flashed the answer: "A hole."

  • an arithmetical problem would be more correct. The trend is to use nouns like "arithmetic" as adjectives instead of the correct, often longer adjective.
  • to flash = to turn on and off a light very quickly


A five-year-old approached a store detective.

"Please sir," he started, "my mother's got lost. When you find her, could you tell her I'll be waiting at the toy counter. And she's not to worry."

  • to be to = must
  • she's not to worry = she must not worry


"I don't understand," a mother chided her daughter. "You spend half an hour a day with the chemist but you're engaged to the doctor."

"I have to mummy. Only the chemist can read the love letters he writes."

  • to chide = to criticise
  • In England, doctors are notorious for hand-writing that is difficult to understand.


Two friends were having a quiet drink. One said,

"You don't look very cheerful. Anything up?"

"I've just found out that I talk in my sleep."

"Well that's not serious."

"It is when it disturbs the other clerks in the office."

  • anything up? = what's up? = what is the matter?


A police sergeant congratulated a lady who had overpowered a burglar.

"Only," he said, "You shouldn't have beaten him up so."

"Sorry officer, "she replied. "My husband hadn't come home and, for a moment, I thought that is who it was."

  • to overpower = to capture using superior strength


A boozy man went into the registry office.

"Morning gents, I want to register the birth of twins."

"Certainly," replied the official, "But why say 'gents'? I'm the only one here."

"Really?" burped the happy father. "In that case, I'll nip back to the clinic for a recount."

  • gents = gentlemen
  • A registry office is where you go to record a birth or death. You can also get married there, but may choose a church, synagogue, mosque instead.


The doctor used his stethoscope on the patient. Finally, he said, "I hesitate between appendicitis and brain damage. I'll come back tomorrow. Don't worry. If you're still alive, it's appendicitis."

  • back can be used with many verbs to change the meaning
  • to come back = to return
  • to write back = to reply
  • to fight back = to retaliate


A tax inspector working in the African bush, tried to explain to a native why he had to pay taxes.

"This money that you give the government comes back to you," he said. "The government will ensure you never go hungry." "I see," replied the native. "It's like if I cut the tail off my dog to give it a bone to eat."

  • to go hungry = to lack food
  • to go thirsty = to lack water


In a butcher's shop there was a special offer on pâté.

"What sort is it?" asked a customer.

"Half beef, half quail," replied the butcher.

"Quail is expensive. Are you sure it's really half and half?"

"Positive," replied the butcher. "I put in one cow to every quail."

  • English borrows words from many languages. With a few French ones, it even keeps the accents.
  • pate (without accents) = the top of your head


A butcher in a small town always boasted that he never ate sausages. He did not eat other butchers' sausages because he did not know what was in them. He did not eat his own sausages because he knew - only too well - what was in them.

  • In England, unlike elsewhere in Europe, the contents of sausages is always a mystery. Often it is better not to know what is inside.


A toddler teetered to the garden gate but, seeing a big dog, he hesitated to enter.

"Come in, my dear," called out the owner. "He doesn't bite."

"No," replied the child. "But does he swallow?"

  • toddler = a child who can just walk but sometimes wobbles and falls
  • to toddle = to walk like a toddler
  • to teeter = to walk like a toddler


Joe bought a new parrot and bet his friends it could recite Shakespeare. Put to the test however, the parrot stayed dumb. Joe had to pay up. He grumbled,

"Not only did I pay a fortune for you but now I've had to pay my gambling debts."

"Not to worry," answered the parrot. "Next time you'll get a hundred to one and I'll do all of Hamlet."

  • One hundred to one is a gambling expression. You bet one pound and, if you win, you receive one hundred pounds. If not, you lose your one pound. Similarly, for fifty to one, twenty to one, three to two and so on.


A tramp stopped a passer-by. "Do give me a fiver," he requested.

"A fiver? What for?"

"For lunch. I haven't eaten yet."

"Well, I haven't eaten lunch either."

"Fine. Give me a tenner and I'll treat you."

  • fiver = five pounds
  • tenner = ten pounds
  • An order would usually be "Give me..."
    "Do give me..." is pleading, encouraging.


An old lady was annoyed to see her little niece pulling faces.

"When I was little," she pointed out, "My mummy warned me that if I kept on making faces, I would grow up ugly."

"Ah," said the girl, "You should have listened to her."

  • to make a face = to pull a face = to grimace


A private detective made his report to his client who was a jealous married woman. "I've followed your husband for two days now. He went into ten women's clothes shops and ten ladies' hairdressers."

"I knew it!" sighed the woman. "How many mistresses does he keep?"

"None madam. I've made enquiries everywhere. He was looking for you."

  • When do you say woman and when lady? Difficult. To differentiate between a man and a woman, say woman. It is more polite to refer to any unknown woman as a lady - unless she is drunk in a gutter. Then she is a woman.


The condemned man was about to climb onto the scaffold when the executioner offered him a last glass of whisky.

"No thanks," he replied. "If I do, I always suffer bellyache for a week afterwards."

  • It is a tradition that, before someone is executed, he is offered a last request - like a cigarette or a drink.
  • You can often describe pain by joining the part of the body and the word ache as in headache, backache, stomach-ache.


Does a monkey trainer make a good living?

Not really - he only gets peanuts.

  • Peanuts are considered small and worthless. They are food for monkeys.
  • monkey trainer = monkey-trainer = monkeytrainer. You choose.


A very timid couple had been going out together for fifteen years. One day the girl plucked up her courage.

"Don't you think dear," she suggested, "it is time to get married?"

"Certainly," he replied, "but who'd want us?"

  • to pluck up your courage = to force yourself to act decisively


A cat, Figaro, comes in for his supper between ten and eleven every evening. When he is late, his owner puts on the outside light and calls until he comes. One day, she heard her daughter explaining where she lived to a friend. "I see," replied the other child. "That's the house where the lady sings opera outside her front door in the middle of the night."

  • Figaro is the name of the hero of several operas.
  • I see = I understand


A young American returned stateside after a honeymoon spent in Europe and went to have tea at her mother's house.

"Well, darling, and did the honeymoon go well?"

"Fine. John was just like before."

"And Europe. How was that?"


"And what struck you most in Europe?"

The young woman thought for only two seconds before replying, "John."

  • It is a tradition after a marriage for the couple to have a holiday, called a honeymoon. Originally, it lasted a month (a moon) and they ate honey (to make them amorous).
  • to strike, struck, struck = to impress
  • to strike, struck, struck = to hit


A new tiger arrived in the circus. The other tigers greeted him with, "What a pity you weren't here in the days of our old trainer. He was kind, dedicated and ... delicious."

  • old = former (the trainer may have been a young man or an old one)
  • new = (sometimes) most recent (a new car may be second-hand)

91. Two gossips were talking about a third after her prolonged stay in hospital. They discussed every gory detail of her illness and one said, "She had her leg off. Right down to the foot."

  • gossip = a long chat about trivial personal details
  • gossip = the person who chats
  • Only women are called gossips. Men talk about important things - football for example.


An old Russian proverb says "No man keeps warm long by peeing in his shoe".

  • to pee = to urinate
  • pee = urine


After the flood had subsided, Noah said to the animals, "Go forth and multiply."

"I can't," replied a snake. "I'm only an adder."

  • to multiply = to breed, to have babies
  • to multiply = a process in arithmetic (2 multiplied by 3 is 6)
  • to add = a process in arithmetic (add 2 and 3 to get 5)
  • adder = viper (the only poisonous snake in England)


A driver was lost in the countryside. He did not like to admit it so only asked a local,

"How far down that road is Little Wallop?"

"If my memory serves me right and my school geography was correct - about six thousand miles. But if you turn and go the other way - three."

  • note six thousand miles (not six thousands miles)


"Is this the road to Little Wallop, my man?"

No answer.

"Forget him George - the man's a fool."

"I may be a fool but I bain't lost."

  • bain't or ain't = am not, when spoken by a rustic
  • My man, my woman, my good man, my good woman is patronising, near insulting.
  • When speaking to a stranger, say sir, madam, miss or simply "Excuse me".


A woman drove off the road into a ditch. A man came along with a horse and cart.

"Don't worry m'dear. It don't take me more than an hour to get pregnant women out of ditches."

"I'm not pregnant."

"And you're not out of the ditch yet either."

  • "it don't take me" should be "it doesn't take me". Among themselves English people rarely talk perfect English. Mistakes show your character, independence, social group, regional origins.


Why are girls always so bad at geometry?

Because boys are used to looking at curves.

  • to be used to = to do something so frequently that it becomes easy
    Do not confuse with:
  • to use = to make use of = to employ


A boy met a very innocent girl and went to bed with her. Afterwards, she asked, "My mummy always told me to be good. Was I?"

  • to be good = to behave well
  • to be good at something = to perform something well


Back in Victorian England, a colonel married a young lady. While they were in bed the morning after, she asked him, "Do ordinary soldiers do this with their women?"

"Yes m'dear."

"And sergeants with their wives?"

"Yes m'dear."

"Well tell them to stop - it's too good for them."

  • Queen Victoria ruled for over 60 years in the 1800s and gave her name to the period.
  • Notice the snobbery. Upper class women are ladies. Middle class women are wives. Lower class women are women.


"Waiter, I want two pieces of toast please."

"Of course sir."

"Just a minute. The first piece must be black one side and white the other. The second one must be half soggy, half brittle."

"I'm not sure we can manage that."

"You did yesterday morning."

  • It is now rare to address someone by their profession - waiter, driver, teacher, chauffeur, nurse. Depending on your manner, it can imply arrogance or servility.

Helen's ESL Jokes © Helen Baker 2003