An English Christmas

Q: What do you call Santa’s helpers?
A: Subordinate Clauses!

Explanation: Merry Christmas!

In the telling of the story of Santa Claus, the people who help Santa make the toys are typically called elves (one elf, two elves).  They are the helpers; they are not the main attraction.  They are subordinate.

The word subordinate means lower in rank or position, perhaps less important, like the elves when compared to Santa.  This is also true in English grammar when there is a main clause and a subordinate clause.  A subordinate clause is part of a sentence, but it does not have enough meaning by itself.  If I say “When I get home,” there is an obvious question: What will happen when you get home?  That phrase needs more information so we call it subordinate.

This joke is funny (at least to English teachers) because Santa’s helpers are usually known as elves, not as subordinate clauses.

Here is Michael Bublé reading A Visit From St. Nicholas

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Can you smell me now?

Q: Where did the skunk sit when it went to church?
A: In its own pew!

Explanation: Skunks are those small, squirrel-like animals that are colored mostly black with a white stripe down the back.  Perhaps you remember that famous cartoon skunk, Pepe Le Pew? Skunks are known for protecting themselves by spraying a very bad smell.

Skunks do not go to church (although, maybe Pepe Le Pew did, I’m not sure).  If they did, they might sit in a pew.  A pew is the name for the bench found in many churches. You can even buy one on Etsy…if you need a pew.

Pew! is also the exclamation that people say when something smells bad (same pronunciation as a church pew).  This expression has many different spellings, but the most common seem to be pew and P.U.

This joke is funny because it plays with the word pew, the place where someone sits in a church, and pew!  Because skunks can make that really bad smell, they might sit in their own pew.

Here is Pepe Le Pew:

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Can you hear me now?

Q: Did you hear about the two antennas who got married?
A: The wedding was awful but the reception was great!

Explanation: Antennas are used to receive and send electromagnetic waves so we can communicate (like with radios and TVs).  Some antennas are a simple piece of wire while others are huge dishes.

If you have good reception it means that you can hear the radio really well, or see the TV really well.  Radio waves are also used to send voice and texts to cell towers, so good reception is important for cell phones too.

Another meaning of reception is the the party after a wedding.

This joke is funny because it plays with the meaning of the word reception: the party after a wedding or the way an antenna captures waves.  Of course the wedding reception of of two antennas would be great!

If you want to try making a radio with an antenna, take a look at this video:

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Elephant Feathers

Q: How do you get down from an elephant?
A: You don’t get down from an elephant, you get down from a duck!

Explanation: Yes–another duck joke!

In some places in the world, people ride on elephants, sort of like riding on horses.  Because elephants are so big, you might wonder, how do you get up onto the elephant and, once you are on the elephant, how do you get down?  Good question!  I have never ridden on an elephant.

Down is also the word for the very soft feathers under the harder, outer feathers on a duck or a goose.  You might have heard of eider down; you can read more about it here.

This joke is funny because it plays with the word down: the opposite of up and the soft, inner feathers of a duck.

To learn more about elephants, watch this:

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Catch Me If You Can

Q: What did the turkey say to the hunter?
A: Quack, quack!

Explanation: Happy Thanksgiving Day to readers who are celebrating Thanksgiving today.  I hope you are safe, and healthy.  Thank you for reading Explain the Joke!  

On Thanksgiving day, many families celebrate with a traditional turkey meal.  Of course if you are the turkey, it is not such a good thing.  

This joke is funny because the turkey is pretending to be a duck by saying, “Quack quack.”  Every language has words that mean animal sounds. In English, a turkey says gobble (scroll down on that link to hear the gobble).

Here is a reminder of the importance of being thankful.

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Painted into a Corner

Q: What happened when the ship ran aground while transporting red paint and black paint?
A: The crew was marooned!

Explanation: A bit of transportation humor this week.  To run aground means that the ship was not floating, but the bottom of the ship was touching the ocean floor (the ground under the water). If a ship runs aground it is like a car hitting something and a big mess can occur.  The ship in the joke was carrying red paint and black paint, so all all of the paint probably spilled and mixed together creating the color maroon.

If a ship runs aground in a place where there are no people we say that the ship is marooned, that is, stuck in a place where it cannot leave.

This joke is funny because it plays with the word maroon, a color, and marooned, to be stranded or stuck.

Of course you can be marooned in space like in this 1969 film:

Or marooned on a deserted island:

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Great Oaks from Little Acorns

Q: How do you get a squirrel to like you?
A: Act like a nut!

Explanation: In English, the word nut can refer to foods such as pistachios, cashews, and walnuts. Squirrels love to eat nuts, especially acorns if there are oak trees nearby.

To act like a nut means to act crazy.

This joke is funny because it plays with two of the meanings of nut: a type of food and to go crazy.

Here you can see an oak tree grow from an acorn:

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The Skeleton Sang, “I’ve Got You…”

Q: Why do skeletons stay so calm?
A: Because nothing gets under their skin!

Explanation: Happy Halloween!

To get under one’s skin is an idiom meaning that something bothers you.  If something gets under your skin, it nags at you, it irks you, it rubs you the wrong way; it bothers you.

Skeletons are all bone, no skin.  If you don’t have skin, nothing can get under you skin.

This joke is funny because it plays with the idiom to get under your skin

Here is Frank Sinatra singing I’ve Got You Under My Skin:

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Fly Me to the Moon

Q: How does the moon cut his hair?
A: Eclipse it!

Explanation: A lunar eclipse happens during a full moon when the earth moves between the sun and the moon so that the full moon can no longer be seen.  The moon, of course does not have hair but that is part of what makes this joke funny.

Another way to say that you cut your hair is to say that you clip it.  (There is even a chain of shops called Great Clips where you can get your hair cut.)

This joke is funny because “eclipse it” sounds almost like “he clips it.”  I know that this joke does not make a lot of sense, but it does make me laugh.  Silly!

Here is a different look at the moon in the first science fiction film.  If you know the book or the movie The Invention of Hugo Cabret you will recognize it.  (Yes, Georges Méliès was a real person.)

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In the Slow Lane

Q: What do you get when you combine a porcupine and a turtle?
A: A slowpoke!

Explanation: A porcupine is an animal that has needles which are called quills.  The quills are sharp on the end and will hurt if they touch you, if they poke you (like when you get a shot in the arm).

Turtles are animals that usually move slowly.

This joke is funny because it combines the idea of a slow turtle and a porcupine with quills that can poke you into a slowpoke: a slowpoke is someone who does something too slowly.

Here is another animal that moves slowly: the sloth.

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