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Thinking about humour – missing from some people? – and The Queen’s speech

English is a wide river of Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Latin, French, and Ancient Greek words, joined by linguistic contributions from other parts of the world. Even native speakers can be swept away by the richness of the language or find themselves floundering in the shallows of amiable ambiguity. Americans who say they would “like” something done on Tuesday mean it had better be done by Monday, thereby mystifying non-American business colleagues who imagine that “like” means a preference, not a deadline.

As a result, the Wall Street Journal wrote yesterday, global companies are expanding instruction in English and asking for cultural instruction as well.

One teacher remarked, “British, Germans and Americans are among the most direct and frank speakers”, and “British, Danish and Irish colleagues are more prone to use humor than those in other parts of Europe”.

These are anecdotal impressions and may not be accurate. A sense of humour is a wonderful, human thing, and it seems unlikely that half of Europe’s population is missing it.

If so, one hopes that scientists studying the human genome will place the humour gene high on their list and, should such a gene exist, make plans for an across the board insertion into the human species. To have such an opportunity at hand for increasing the happiness of the world, and to focus instead on rare genetic diseases!

Ah, wait, you say the humorous Irish aren’t happy? And the Danes are melancholic? And the Brits are a cynical lot?

Never mind, their self-deprecating jokes make us happier.

I would like to see a Prime Minister with a sense of humour in 10 Downing Street, and a President capable of wit in the White House. The PM or President who took great things seriously, but had a sense of humour, would have real appeal.

Alas, even a sense of humour will not carry my co-blogger through the opening of Parliament today. To hear The Queen deliver Mr Brown’s speech will require a heart of oak.

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