It's been said that Britain and America are two countries Separated by a Common Language
. These days, that might truly be said of the entire anglosphere. Despite the homogenising effects of mass media, different English-speakers continue to speak English differently. Some of the differences are:
- Pronunciation - Does "caught" sound like "court" or "cot"?[[hottip:*:A: "Court" in England and Australia; "cot" in the United States and Canada.]]
- Vocabulary - Are "chips" thin crunchy things you eat with dip, or long chewy things you eat with vinegar?[[hottip:*:A: The former in America; the latter in Britain; both in Australia.]]
- Spelling - Can "storey", as in "floor", be spelled the same as "story", as in "tale"?[[hottip:*:A: Yes in the United States; no everywhere else.]]
One of the consequences of this is that wordplay may not always work as well for one English-speaker as it does for another. Words that sound the same in London may sound very different in Bristol. Words that rhyme in England may not do so in Scotland. And a commonplace word in the United Kingdom may not even exist in the United States.
This page is for puns, rhymes, and other forms of wordplay that work in some varieties of a language, but not in others. These typically involve forms of English spoken in different countries, but may also be accounted for by regional or class differences within a country. Moreover, English is not the only language with diverse forms: Qébécois sounds very different from Parisian French, and Spaniards do not speak Spanish the same way Mexicans do. In order to belong here, all that's necessary is for a play on words to be comprehensible to one group of people who speak a language, and incomprehensible (or, at least, less obvious), to another group of people who speak the same language
Thanks to books, movies, and jet planes, most of us have some idea of how English is spoken in different parts of the world. If you're looking for more information, check out this page
for a concise break-down of the pronunciation differences between some of the major English accents. See also the American Accents
, Australian Accent
, British Accents
, and Canadian Accents
Examples are listed by country of origin.
- Knock-knock, Who's there?, Adam, Adam who?, Adam holds water. Meaning 'a dam'. The name usually pronounced 'Ad-am', some people from the West-Midlands pronounce it 'A-dam'.
- In Alice in Wonderland, the Mock Turtle's line, "We called him 'Tortoise' because he taught us!" makes a lot more sense when said with an English accent than with an American one.
- In Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Haroun meets the "Plentimaw" fish, who have plenty of maws, i.e. mouths. This is a play on the saying "There are plenty more fish in the sea," but only works in non-rhotic varieties of English, where "maw" is a homophone for "more".
- Apparently "dark" and "clerk" rhyme in British English. American readers, however, will likely be baffled.
- In Equal Rites, the Unseen Accademy refuses to accept female students, arguing that it would be "against the lore". "Lore" and "law" sound identical in RP.
- It's far from obvious to many Americans that Eeyore was named after the sound a donkey makes (eee-aww = hee-haw).
- Rita Skeeter is a lot more fun to say in non-rhotic varieties of English (in which the two words rhyme) than in rhotic accents (in which they don't).
- This exchange from the P. G. Wodehouse novel Uneasy Money.
". . . I wish I could remember his name. I had it about a dozen times tonight. It's something with a window in it."
"A window?" Nutty's brain was a little fatigued and he felt himself unequal to grasping this. "How do you mean, a window?"
"No, not a window--a door! I knew it was something about a house. I know now, his name's Lord Dawlish."
- Robert Plant of of the British group Led Zeppelin was baffled when Americans failed to recognize the song "D'Yer Mak'er" as a reference to Jamaica.
- If an American had sung "Do-Re-Mi", they might not have thought that "Fa" was such a long long way to run, but could have noted that "La" is something a lawyer practises.
- The opening number of Jesus Christ Superstar rhymes "Fire" with "Messiah", which only works if you're Epic Rocking. "FI-yah!"
- Invoked in the song "Show Me" from My Fair Lady, where one of the couplets ("Haven't your arms Hungered for mine?/Please don't explain, Show me!") only rhymes if Eliza briefly slips back into her Cockney accent (where "explain" is pronounced "expl'ine")
- This exchange from the Wallace & Gromit film The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, which depends on the character's Oop North accents.
Wallace: [on phone] Just stay right where you are, Your Ladyship, and we'll be with you in an... [gets yanked upstairs] Aaahhh!
Lady Tottington: In an hour?[[hottip:*:pronounced "awr"]] But I can't wait an hour.
- Most Americans didn't get that Arthur Christmas was supposed to be a pun on "Father Christmas", partly because the words don't rhyme in American English, and partly because most Americans are used to saying "Santa Claus".
- The name of Shaun the Sheep is much funnier in the correct accent (Shorn the Sheep).
- A wee boy goes into a cake shop and points in the window and says "Is that a cake or a meringue?" "No, you're right" says the baker "It's a cake."
- Q: What should you do if you find a trumpet growing in your garden? A: Root it oot.
- An American is in a pub in Scotland chatting to some of the locals and the topic of hunting comes up. The American boasts about having shot a moose, at which point the guy he's talking to looks at him like he's mad and says, "You shot a mouse? You don't shoot a mouse, you'd blast a hole in the floor." (variants include "You don't shoot a mouse, you stamp on a mouse" and "You don't shoot a mouse, you set a trap for a mouse.")
North American English
- An Irish mother is teaching her son her recipe for bean soup. She tells him to add exactly 239 beans. He asks her why. "Because if you add just one more bean, it'll be too farty."
- An African-American guy is walking down the street and asks an Irish fella how much further he must go to get to O'Reilly's Pub. He answers "You're a block past it!". Cue one punch in the nose.
- The Cowardly Lion's assertion that Courage "puts the ape in apricot" only works if you pronounce it "APE-ri-cot".
- The Realtor took the Southern Belle to see a house. Before they went inside he spoke at length about the many amenities the house had. He mentioned the central heating/air conditioning that had just been installed. He boasted about the professional quality kitchen. He went on about the huge closets, vaulted ceilings, and the built-in sauna and hot-tub. "Why," he said proudly, "This house hasn't a flaw!" "It hasn't a flaw?" The Belle drawled. "Well then what do y'all walk awn?"
- A southen belle, having moved to a big city in the north, visits a stationary store and asks for some rotten pepper. The owner tells her that he doesn't carry that sort of thing and directs her to the nearest grocery store. She thanks him and is about to leave; but then he asks, "If you don't mind the question, why do you specifically want rotten pepper?" "To raght home on."
- In Tolkien, one of Sam's immediate ancestors is "Halfast Gamgee". American commentators suggested this was a pun drawing attention to the character being a little bit of a Forrest Gump to his Shire neighbours. British readers went "huh?" as they couldn't see it. "Halfast. Half-Assed - see?" said the American fans, helpfully. not realising we don't have quite the same pronunciation in British English, and nor would JRR. But a good try, nontheless!
- Your Mileage May Vary on whether Dolores rhymes with a part of the female anatomy, or anything else.
- The Daily Show's Most Immature Montage Ever revolves around the fact that in American English, the word "caulk" (as in, the stuff you use to seal up cracks in your walls) sounds exactly like the word "cock" (as in... you know). The montage probably seems doubly immature in other Englsh-speaking countries, where "caulk" doesn't sound at all like "cock", and may, in fact, be a homophone for "cork".
- The last line in the alphabet song rhymes better if you pronounce Z "Zee", as the Americans do, instead of "Zed", as Canadians and most Europeans do.
- Joanna Newsom has a song called '81 (referencing a year from a recent century), but when spoken in the song itself, the lyrics book says "A.D. 1". This pun only works in American English, since in British English, the "duh" and "tuh" sounds would be completely distinct.
[[folder:Table Top Games
- To a British person, it's not obvious that the name of the game Bananagrams is a pun on "anagrams".
- The episode entitled "The Grapes of Wrath" features a family of very angry grapes. At the end of the episode, they decide to forswear their choleric ways and turn to academic pursuits, renaming themselves the Grapes of Math. The rhyme is a stretch in varieties of English where "wrath" rhymes with "moth", and completely fails in the U.K. where the appropriate word is "maths".
- Another episode is called "The Wonderful Wizard of Ha's"[[hottip:*:As in "Ha-ha-ha!"]]. "Ha's" and "Oz" rhyme in standard American English, but would make a queer pairing most everywhere else.
New Zealander English
- In the audio commentary to The Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson jokes that orcs should not be confused with people from Auckland. Cue head-scratching from North American viewers and groans from most others.
- Most "Uranus" jokes don't make much sense if you pronounce the word "YOU-ran-us".
- A joke that works best in a non-rhotic accent:
Q: What do you call a deer with no eyes.
A: No idea.[[hottip:*:No-eye deer.]]
- Robots and Empire has one about accents of different planets:
"That is a non sequitur."
"A what?" She could make nothing of the last sound at all.
"It has not connection with my question."
"A non sequitur, you mean. You said 'a nonsense quitter'."
D.G. smiled. "Very well. Let's quit the nonsense."