A Note on British Humour

The UK people like to think that they have a good sense of humour, though it is fair to say that not everyone will get the joke in what is called ‘British humour’.

Making a joke or sharing a joke with others is an important part of UK culture and it is used for a range of different things. It can be used to promote togetherness, as a way of criticising someone without being too offensive. It may be used to bring up a controversial or unusual idea, or even to show that you like or dislike someone. 

Most subjects are considered appropriate for jokes and you will hear people joke about many subjects, including themselves and you. 

British humour is often described as being ‘dry’. UK people have a tendency to make jokes while keeping a very neutral or serious expression on their face. Many visitors to the UK are caught out by this type of humour, often believing to be true what has been said as a joke. Sarcasm is also part of British humour, when someone says the opposite of what they actually mean. For example you might be told you have done a ‘good job there’, when the person really means that you have not done a good job.

A similar appoach to humour is to understate what you actually mean, when something like ‘not bad’ actually means ‘very good’.

While humour is a big part of communication for UK people and you are welcome to join in, keep in mind that humour should not be cruel or overly offensive. 

You will notice that British humour is predominantly verbal, meaning that the joke is often in the creative use of language rather than visual humour. Most of the successful comedians in the UK are known for their clever use of language to make people laugh.

Don’t be put off if you don’t get all of the jokes that people make in the UK, as understanding language at this high level takes time. People will normally make allowance for those that are not native speakers of English.

Project number: 543336-LLP-1-2013-1-DE-KA2-KA2MP - This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication [communication] reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.