It's been said that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of 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"?note
- Vocabulary: Are "chips" thin crunchy things you eat with dip, or long chewy things you eat with ketchup?note
- Spelling: Can "storey", as in "floor", be spelled the same as "story", as in "tale"?note
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: Québécois 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 pages.
Examples are listed by country of origin.
- Motoring organisation, the AA, launched a campaign for its breakdown rescue service with the tag-line Just AAsk. Looked good in print with the reinforcing emphasis on the "AA" part. Spoken, it wasn't so sensational outside the South of England: the ad agency failed to take into account the fact that the word "ask" is spoken with a very short "a" Oop North. In Scotland and Northern England, the ad campaign went down like a lead balloon.
- In the Big Finish Doctor Who story "Bloodtide", the Sixth Doctor makes a pun that relies on "tortoise" sounding like "taught us", which only works in a non-rhotic accent.
Evelyn: Doctor, we're on the Galápagos Islands, and that is a Galápagos tortoise!Doctor: Well actually, galápagos is the Spanish word for "tortoise", they named the islands after them you see, the Tortoise Islands, which I supposed means that that is a "tortoise tortoise", and that's something else I've tortoise!
- Some of James Roberts' wordplay and puns in the comic The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye work better in his native English accent than in an American accent (unless one speaks an r-dropping American accent). For example, the Duobot twins are named Shock and Ore, which only becomes a pun if "ore" is pronounced the same as "awe."
- Some of the Punny Names in the English translation of Asterix. Most characters with '-a' names (Gaulish and Roman women, and Numidian men) are named actual words that end in '-a', but a few characters get plays off '-er' words that only work if you have a non-rhotic accent — for instance, Flaturtha (Flat-Earther). There are also some names that only work in London accents with dropped 'h's, like Sendervictorius & Appianglorius, and Mykingdomforanosnote . Another pun relied on the words "flawed" and "floored" being pronounced identically, which only works in non-rhotic accents.
- Knock-knock, Who's there?, Adam, Adam who?, Adam holds water. Meaning 'a dam'. The name is usually pronounced 'Ad-am', some people from the West-Midlands pronounce it 'A-dam'.
- "Marmite, but Pa might not." Supposed to sound like "Ma might", but this only works in non-rhotic accents. Then again, Marmite isn't as familiar to non-Brits.
- Phill Jupitus related the following joke on QI:
(After Phill has confused Stephen by speaking in a Geordie accent)
Phill Jupitus: There's that great joke about the little soldier who's with General Custer, and they can hear the… (taps a war drum beat on the desk) …and he says to the little Geordie soldier, "Listen, they've got war drums," and the Geordie soldier goes, "The thieving bastards!"
Stephen Fry: Is it, like, a naval wardroom? Is that what they're saying, "wardroom"?
(Phill sighs in exasperation and puts his head on the desk)
Stephen Fry: Well, it's where naval officers gather for their pink gins, it's called the wardroom.
Phill Jupitus: (to the Pudsey plush on his desk) Oh, Pudsey, make him stop!
Stephen Fry: Well, (Geordie accent) "they've got wardrooms, the thieving bastards"? (normal) What…?
Phill Jupitus: In Newcastle, they say, instead of "our", they say, "wor"!
Stephen Fry: Well, they simply must go to school; it's just ridiculous.
- "What do you call a deer with no eyes?" "No idea". This pun is dependent on "no idea" sounding the same as "no-eye deer", which only works in non-rhotic accents.
- 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 most dialects of American English, and partly because most Americans are used to saying "Santa Claus".
- The Lion King: In the song "Be Prepared", Scar's line "A shining new era / is tiptoeing nearer" is dependent on Jeremy Irons' non-rhotic English accent; additionally, "era" is pronounced with a short "e" in many North American accents.
- This exchange from the Wallace & Gromit film The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, which depends on Lady Tottington's very posh RP accent.
Wallace: (as he's on the phone) Just stay right where you are, Your Ladyship, and (accidentally presses a button which yanks him upstairs)'' we'll be with you in an- AAAAHHH!!
Lady Tottington: In an hour?note I can't wait an hour, I have a major infestation!
- Yellow Submarine: The following pun only worked thanks to Ringo Starr's Liverpool accent:
Ringo: Hey, I wonder what would happen if I pulled this lever.
Old Fred: You mustn't do that.
Ringo: Can't help it. I'm a born lever-puller.
- Lewis Carroll:
- Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: The Mock Turtle's line, "We called him 'Tortoise' because he taught us!". With a non-rhotic accent (like most accents of England), "tortoise" is pronounced "TAW-tus", sounding virtually the same as "taught us". This pun also works in r-dropping American accents, such as a Brooklyn accent (as demonstrated by at least one community radio theater adaptation).
- Through the Looking Glass contains an orthographical example: while American readers could easily guess that Hatta is an Expy of the Hatter, they would be far more likely to pronounce the G in "Haigha" than a British reader, potentially missing the fact that he is a stand-in for the Hare entirely if they don't see the illustrations. Some may also interpret the letter combination "ai" as being pronounced "i", rather than "ay", so a speaker of a non-rhotic accent might think the word is a homonym of "higher" rather than "hare". Fortunately, the text specifies that the name is pronounced to rhyme with "mayor" ("mayor" as pronounced with a British accent, that is).
- 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".
- Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator: The President of the United States is unusually fond of knock-knock jokes and name puns, but one of them—saying "Courteney one yet?" to a chief of police—does not work in most American accent (it is meant to sound like "caught anyone yet").
- "Dark" and "clerk" rhyme throughout Britain. US readers, however, will likely be baffled.
- In Equal Rites, the Unseen University refuses to accept female students, arguing that it would be "against the lore". "Lore" and "law" sound identical in RP.
- A Double Subversion: Djelibeybi is a pun on the name of a British candy that was lost on Americans. So Pratchett created the nearby country Hersheba — which is equally lost on people who speak with a rhotic American accent. It can also be misinterpreted as having the stress on the second syllable, like "herSHEEba".
- The unofficial motto of Unseen University, "η β π" (Eta Beta Pi) is described as sounding like "eat a better pie" or "eat a bit o' pie". To an American, the greek letters eta and beta are pronounced "AY-ta" and "BAY-ta," respectively, so while the pun can still start with "ate a", the middle part becomes nonsense, as "beta" doesn't really sound like any American-English word or series of words that could fit there (not to mention that many American accents are far less likely to drop "r"s from or add "r"s to the end of words).
- Casanunda is a pun on "Casanova", but this only works to someone with a non-rhotic accent, where the "ova" in "Casanova" is pronounced the same as "over".
- Winnie the Pooh:
- It's far from obvious to many Americans that Eeyore was named after the sound a donkey makes (eee-aww = hee-haw).
- Christopher Robin's line "He's Winnie-ther-Pooh. Don't you know what 'ther' means?" The spelling is supposed to represent the word "the" as it would be pronounced in Pooh's name ("thuh", as opposed to "thee"). To readers with rhotic accents, this is much more difficult to understand.
- Harry Potter:
- 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).
- "Spello-tape" is a play on "Sellotape"note , a proprietary eponym popular in the U.K. and other countries, but not in North America, where the same product is generally referred to as "Scotch tape" or simply "tape". To add to the confusion, scotch tape is something else in the UK, and tape may well be a cassette.
- Diagon Alley is a play on the word 'diagonally', but this is missed by many non-UK readers; for example, the 'ally' in 'diagonally' and the noun 'alley' sound nothing alike in American English. Knockturn Alley is a play on 'nocturnally', which is missed for the same reason. The films make the pun a little clearer, particularly in Chamber of Secrets, when Harry mispronounces Diagon Alley as "diagonally" (though with the Accent On The Wrong Syllable) while using the Floo Network.
- The sorting hat's song in the fifth book rhymes "Gryffindor" with "Ravenclaw" twice. This works perfectly well in non-rhotic accents (like most accents of J. K. Rowling's native England), but not at all in rhotic accents (like most American accents).
- 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."
- Some of the puns in Horrible Histories Wicked Words are more easily understood in an English accent:
- This Spoonerism: "A cat popped out on its drawers".
- A joke that "Onomatopoeia" comes from "On a mat a pier".
- When discussing spelling mistakes: "The suspect was wearing a car key jacket."note
- "Where is your grammar?" "At home with my gran-da!"
- The book also mentions that in American English, the word "bum" means "tramp" (usually). This has a double meaning in itself Americans are more likely to recognise the word "tramp" as meaning "prostitute" rather than "vagrant". This trope is than lampshaded when the narration says that Americans will be confused if they hear that British people sit on bums, with a cartoon showing an American trying to sit on a homeless person in Britain.
- At the end of 1066 and All That, the authors report "history came to a." That's "full stop" in Britain but "period" in the United States. Possibly intentional, as it's a reference to the geopolitical supremacy of the United States.
- This can occur over time as well as space. For example, the lines "I am the monarch of all I survey / [...] / From the centre all round to the sea" rhymed when William Cowper wrote them in 1792 ("sea" was pronounced like "say"), but don't rhyme in most accents today. Though some accents have also moved to have a very short sound at the end of "survey", so that it sounds more like "sur-vi" and will rhyme with how "sea" is said today.
- The Two Ronnies: In the Four Candles/Fork Handles sketch, a customer at a hardware shop (who sounds like he comes from one of England's more rural counties) asks for "fork 'andles". The shopkeeper hands him four candles, thinking this is what he wants, but the customer then clarifies that he wants "fork 'andles — 'andles for forks note ." The rest of the sketch is based around the customer asking for various items and the shopkeeper misunderstanding what he wants, with the shopkeeper eventually becoming exasperated and accusing the customer of "having him on". At one point, the customer asks for "O's" (the letter), and the shopkeeper thinks he wants either "hoes" or "hose", which only works because the customer drops his H's.
- The Vicar of Dibley provides a Visual Pun in a game of charades that only works with certain British accents. Alice is standing there with a pair of jars in her hands. The other players have worked out that it's a movie but give up. She says it's Jars, which she says she's never seen but is about "these giant jars that attack people". The others realize she's talking about Jaws and give a Lame Pun Reaction.
- Arrested Development has a joke based around the idea that "The Gothic Castle" (an English-style pub) would be pronounced almost identically in a Cockney accent to "The Gothic Arsehole" (a gay bar).
- The IT Crowd: In one episode, Jen is dating a man who is almost perfect except that his name is Peter File, which in British English sounds almost exactly like "paedophile." Moss even points out that the problem wouldn't exist if they were in America (where the first vowel is a short rather than long "e"). You can also notice Chris O'Dowd's Roy phrasing it slightly strangely, because the joke doesn't work in an Irish accent either.
- The Doctor Who serial "The Gunfighters" plays off "Doctor Holliday" and "the Doctor's holiday" in order to fuel some of the misunderstandings that power the plot. The British English use of the word 'holiday' means taking a trip somewhere, or time off. In American English, a 'holiday' refers to special dates like Christmas or New Year and time off would usually be called a 'vacation'. Possibly justified as the only British English speakers in the story are the Doctor and his companions, explaining why the Americans begin to assume the Doctor is Doc Holliday.
- Mock the Week: "Hello, I'm Sue Barker. You may remember my father, Chewbacca."
- When Stephen Fry asked the panellists to name something interesting about ferns, Phill Jupitus says, in a Newcastle accent, "They make a canny noise, like!" which confuses Stephen.
- In the series E episode "Exploration", Bill Bailey is called the Rural Buddha because of his surreal interjections and rustic appearance. Sean Lock suggests that he instead be called the Dalai Farmer, which in his accent rhymes with Dalai Lama.
- In one episode of Shakespeare & Hathaway - Private Investigators, detective Frank Hathaway tells his assistant, Sebastian that he's sending him to a pawnshop as part of an investigation, and after an amused Sebastian readily agrees, Frank clarifies that he means a pawn broker. The joke is that Sebastian initially thinks Frank is sending him to a porn shop, hence Frank's need to clarify. This pun sort of works in American English (hence the show Pawn Stars), but works a lot better in British English, in which the two words are homophones.
- In Only Connect the connection is sometimes that all the words sound like other words which are connected. Except that in many accents, even non-RP British ones, they don't.
- Apollo 440's song "High on Your Own Supply" has the lyrics "You gave it no quarter, now you're treading water, bartender rang time, it's too late for last orders". "Quarter" and "water" only rhyme in a non-rhotic accent, and neither rhyme with "order" unless the speaker flaps the t sound to make it sound like d.
- Many songs by The Beatles include lyrics that only rhyme in a Liverpudlian accent, such as frequently rhyming "her" with "there".
- David Bowie's "Joe the Lion" features the repeated line "Joe the Lion, made of iron," the rhyming scheme of which doesn't work for dialects that stress the "R" in "iron."
- "it.", the closing track of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis, features the lines "it is real/it is Rael," which rely on the heavily Anglicized pronunciation of Rael's name that Peter Gabriel uses throughout the album (ɹeɪl, identically to "rail"; the proper Spanish pronunciation is ɹäe̞l).
- Heaven 17's "(We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang" fits the line "history will repeat itself" within seven notes, a move which is only possible in British dialects like Glenn Gregory's, which pronounces "history" as "hɪs.tɹɪ" rather than "hɪs.t(ə).ɹi."
- Robert Plant was baffled when Americans failed to recognize the Led Zeppelin song "D'Yer Mak'er" as a reference to Jamaica.
- Slick Rick's song "Children's Story" has the line "Ran up the stairs up to the top floor / Opened up the door there, guess who he saw?", which relies on the rapper's non-rhotic accent.
- The opening number of Jesus Christ Superstar rhymes "Fire" with "Messiah", which only works if you're Epic Rocking. "FI-yah!"
- In another Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Joseph tells the Pharaoh "All these things you saw in your pyjamas"/Are a long-range forecast for your farmers" -– a dead giveaway that the show is British in origin, which becomes a very Painful Rhyme in a rhotic accent.
- From My Fair Lady:
- Invoked in the song "Show Me", 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").
- Another curious example occurs in the song "The Street Where You Live", when Freddy sings the line, "People stop and stare, they don't bother me / For there's nowhere else on earth that I would rather be". The rhyme would completely fail in American English, where "rather" rhymes with "gather". Fortunately, Freddy is singing the Queen's English, in which "rather" rhymes with "father". They rhyme still fails in British English, because of the distinction that Brits (and, indeed, most English speakers outside North America) make between the short "o" of "bother" and the long "a" of "father". However, most Americans make no such distinction (except for the traditional Boston accent): for them, "father" and "bother" are a perfect rhyming pair!note So the rhyme works — but only if it's said by a Brit and heard by an American.
- A lot of Shakespearean examples of Get Thee to a Nunnery are missed by modern readers due to shifts in pronunciation. For instance, there's these lines from As You Like It:
And so from hour to hour, we ripe, and ripe,
And then from hour to hour, we rot, and rot,
And thereby hangs a tale.
- The lines make a lot more sense if you know that in Shakespearean English, they would sound something like this:
And so from whore to whore, we rape, and rape,
And then from whore to whore, we rut, and rot,
And thereby hangs a tale/tail (meaning the penis).
- When King Lear's Fool says "Sometimes I am whipped for holding my peace", this is a pun on how in 17th Century English "peace" sounded the same as "piss".
- The lines make a lot more sense if you know that in Shakespearean English, they would sound something like this:
- In The Pirates of Penzance there is a rather lengthy joke in which different characters confuse the word "orphan" for the word "often." Needless to say, this doesn't come across in any accent besides very proper British English and some traditional Northeastern U.S. accents, and even then is a stretch.
- In the musical of Matilda, "School Song" features words which sound like letters of the alphabet in order (e.g. "I have suffered in this jail I've been trapped inside this cage for ages, This living 'ell") and ends with the warning about how Miss Trunchball teaches "Phys-ed", which works in most English-speaking countries but not in the United States, where the letter Z is called "zee" instead of "zed". Also, the word used for R is "asked", which doesn't work in any rhotic accent or, for that matter, in the north of England.
- In Les Misérables, with its English-language libretto written by the British lyricist Herbert Kretzmer (although the original libretto by Alain Boublil was in French), Thénardier sings ''Master of the house, doling out the charm/Ready with a handshake and an open palm." In a non-rhotic British accent this is a perfect rhyme, but in a rhotic accent it becomes a Painful Rhyme.
- Fallen London contains a quest where the player character finds out that ravings they took for "Heifer star" actually refer to a woman named "Hephaesta". '-a'/'-ar' only sounds the same in non-rhotic accents, like the Cockney and RP the characters are presumably speaking.
- Grand Theft Auto:
- Grand Theft Auto V has a jetski manufacturer named "Speedophile", a pun that only works with the British pronunciation of "pedophile".
- A few games feature a trucking company called "RS Haul". This is a pun on the British word "arsehole" that doesn't work if you pronounce it as the American "asshole".
- Need for Speed (2015) has several events with a torque/talk pun in their names, with one example being "Torque Of The Town". They don't work well with rhotic accents (i.e. most American, Canadian, Scottish and Irish accents).
- Banjo-Tooie: Sergeant Jamjars' rhymes only work when saying the letter Z as "Zed" instead of "Zee".
- Eddsworld: "Beaster Bunny", the first proper episode headed by Matt Hargreaves, opens with show Matt complaining about Tom's car... but pronounced in Edd's accent, it sounds like "TomSka", aka the previous showrunner, and the complaints are criticisms of Ridgewell's management phrased as criticisms of a vehicle.
- Weebl's Stuff:
- In "Giraffe In My Loft", the singer states that the giraffe "Wears my chimney for a scarf / Oh giraffe, you're having a laugh!", which only works in a non-rhotic accent that pronounces "laugh" with a long a.
- "Fat Santa Claus" rhymes "Claus" with "floors", "doors" and "course", which is dependent on the singer's non-rhotic accent.
- "Magical Trevor : Episode 02" rhymes "saw him" and "adore him", which relies on an accent with linking r.
- The name of Shaun the Sheep is much funnier in a non-rhotic accent, because it's a homophone for "Shorn the Sheep".
- In the Animaniacs episode "King Yakko," Wakko rhymes "friend" with "hand." This works okay in his mock-Liverpudlian cadence, but to his siblings it's a Painful Rhyme.
Wakko: "Hend"! "Hend"! It rhymes!
- Shrewdolph, the name of the giant light-up reindeer which appears outside the Darwin Shopping Centre in Shrewsbury, England each Christmas, is a play on Rudolph, as in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. However, the pun only works if the town's name is pronounced "Shroosbury", with the first syllable sounding like the name of the small rodent, rather than "Shrosebury".
- The Beano's Pansy Potter, the Strongman's Daughter. "Potter" rhymes with "Daughter" in Scotland, where the Beano's publishers DC Thomson are based, but not in the rest of Great Britainnote . One story lampshades this, with other characters claiming that her title doesn’t rhyme, while she insists that it does.
- 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."note
- 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 it you gun-loving maniac.")
- Another variant: A Scotsman visits Canada and is astonished at the sight of an enormous animal with a hump and antlers. "What sort of creature is that?" he asks. "That's a moose," his Canadian friend replies. The Scotsman is silent for a moment and returns, "If that's a Canadian moose, I dinna want to see one of your rats!"
- What's the difference between Bing and Walt? Bing sings, Walt Disney. note
- Knots and Crosses, the first novel in Ian Rankin's Rebus series, is intended as a pun on "noughts and crosses". This works in Scottish accents, which have undergone the cot-caught merger making "knot" and "nought" homophones, but not in the rest of Great Britain, which does not have this vowel merger.
- 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."
- A black man is walking down the street and asks an Irishman how much further he must go to get to O'Reilly's Pub. He answers "You're a block past it!"note . Cue one punch in the nose.
- Whale oil beef hooked◊ is either a random slew of words or a swearing Irishman (actually, since the traditional Irish accent pronounces "whale" as "hwale" [as do some old-fashioned Southern U.S. accents], that might not work.)
- O'Grady needs some help taking down trees for his lumber yard, so he puts up a sign saying "Tree Fellers Wanted." Later that day, Tom and Patrick are walking by and see the sign. "See that, Tom?" says Patrick. "Sure, Pat," Tom says, "but it's a pity there's just the two of us."
- In Cars: Mater's declaration that his name is 'Mater, like Tow-Mater, but without the 'tow'' only works if the audience is used to pronouncing 'tomato' as 'tuh-mater' or 'tow-mater'.
- Hot Shots! Part Deux: Some merchandise was advertised in a home video version of the film, with the narrator mispronouncing "Deux" with an American Accent to sound like "dew" (or "do"). One of the merchandise had the writing "Just Deux it!", while it was pronounced "Just do it!".
- Jurassic Park: Tim's joke "What do you call a blind dinosaur? Do-you-think-he-saurus". "Saurus" and "saw us" sound the same in a non-rhotic accent with linking r. However, the pun isn't supposed to work perfectly anyway since Tim doesn't speak with such an accent.
- The background music for one of the official trailers of Turning Red, is *NSYNC's "It's Gonna Be Me", which can be misheard as "It's gonna be Mei" (i.e. the main character). Pretty much invoked with a line edited from "You might been hurt, babe" to "You might been hurt, Mei".
- In The Wizard of Oz, the Cowardly Lion's assertion that Courage "puts the ape in apricot" only works if you pronounce it "APE-ri-cot" instead of "AP-ri-cot".
- "We're Off to See the Wizard" repeatedly rhymes "does" with "was" and "because." These are perfect rhymes in most of North America, but not in most other places.
- In Wreck-It Ralph, Vanellope's "duty"/"doody" pun only works in an accent that exhibits both flapping and yod-dropping; in non-flapping and/or non-yod-dropping accents, the two words aren't homophonous.
- "You know the thing about nacho cheese? It's not your cheese!" This doesn't stop endless Brits attempting this joke. A forced pun, as Americans (at least those that speak with a General American accent) don't actually say "not your" as anything remotely like "nacho" unless they're trying to sound "hood" or are making the joke.
- A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse. "But why?" they asked, as they moved off. "Because," he said, "I can't stand chess nuts boasting in an open foyer." (In the US "foyer" is usually pronounced foh-yer, but in Canada its pronounced "foy-ay" due to French influence, which makes the connection to "fire" less obvious.)
- A French dignitary went to America and was asked what was the greatest thing in the world. She set everyone aghast when she said "A penis." When she saw their looks, she asked "What is wrong with a penis?" Her assistant then reminded her that in America they pronounce their "H"'s.
- This trope ruins, for many American listeners, a popular Dutch joke/anecdote about one of the country's past prime ministers, who supposedly, in a meeting with President Kennedy, brought up his avocation of breeding horses. "I fuck horses", he proudly tells Kennedy, who responds "Pardon?". Since the Dutch word for horses is "paarden", the prime minister says "Yes! yes!". However, Americans know even if they weren't alive then that Kennedy had a strongly arhotic Boston accent, part of every impression of him, and if he had said "Pardon?", it would have sounded like "paadn?", which probably doesn't work in Dutch.
- There are a few jokes, most often told in the midwestern U.S., that rely on the contrast between the North Central accent (think "Minnesota Nice") and more "mainstream" American accents.
A man from the big city came back to his cabin on the Upper Peninsula after a long winter, and realized that he needed a monkey wrench to make a few repairs. So he went down the road to his nearest neighbor's house, knocked on the door, and asked "Good morning, do you have a monkey wrench?"
His neighbor replied, "Gosh, I hate to disappoint you, but no we haven't. Dere's a few cattle renches around here, and my brother in Nort' Dakota's got a horse rench, but it's way too cold fer a monkey rench."
- In Little Women, the March sisters call their mother "Marmee," which the adaptations usually have pronounced with a standard rhotic American accent that voices the "r". But the characters' 19th century New England accents would actually have been non-rhotic, so "Marmee" was just Louisa May Alcott's distinctly New England way of writing "Mommy," which didn't have a codified spelling at the time. Likewise, little Daisy and Demi Brooke's childish pronunciations of "Mama" and "Papa" are written as "Marmar" and "Parpar," which sound much stranger when read with a rhotic accent than with Alcott's non-rhotic accent.
- An inverted example. In The Lord of the Rings one of Sam's relatives is "Halfast Gamgee"note . American commentators suggested this was a pun drawing attention to the character being a little bit of a dolt to his Shire neighbours. British readers went "huh?" as they couldn't see it (Halfast = Half-assed), since J. R. R. Tolkien and other Brits would probably say "half-arsed" instead.
- Though Tolkien does make that joke — with the name of Sam himself — 'samwise' meaning "half-wise" in Old English. In fact, LOTR is stuffed with obscure philological puns which go right over the heads of readers who don't have Tolkien's level of expertise.
- Shel Silverstein's poems have this issue sometimes, such as a joke based on the words "ant" and "aunt" sounding identical, and the poem "Fancy Dive" relying on the words "quarter" and "water" rhyming (which was likely intended to be either a forced rhyme, or pronounced in an accent with intrusive r's in the form of "quarter" and "worter"). The title of Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book also sounds a lot less strange if the Z is pronounced as "zee".
- To Americans, World War Z is an obvious pun on "World War 3". English speakers from any other country won't get it instantly. To them, it would be "World War Zed".
- Pam Houston's short story "Highwater" has a character who claims that a hedonist is someone who gives good blow jobs. Whether that's incoherent or merely groanworthy depends on how the reader thinks "hedonist" is pronounced.
- P. G. Wodehouse pulls this in Pun-Based Title of his short story Aunt and the sluggard (which is set in New York) in the Jeeves and Wooster series.
- "The Anteater" in Dirty Beasts by Roald Dahl specifically makes the unfortunate anteater's owner American to justify the creature eventualy eating his aunt, and even explains the American pronounciation to a presumed British audience.
- Several puns in Myth Adventures depend on the reader hearing "ah" as an "o" sound (Klahd, Aahz, Jahk as "clod", "oz", "jock"). This works in most North American accents due to their father-bother merger, which merges these two sounds, but is lost on readers from elsewhere in the English-speaking world where the two vowel sounds are always kept separate.
- Seinfeld: The final joke of the episode "The Junior Mint" depends upon rhyming "Dolores" with "clitoris". This only works in certain regions of the US where the emphasis is on the second syllable ("cli-TOR-is") rather than the first.
- The Daily Show's Most Immature Montage Ever revolves around the fact that in cot-caught merging American accents, 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 English-speaking countries, where "caulk" doesn't sound at all like "cock", and may, in fact, be a homophone for "cork".
- QI has Stephen Fry jokily responding to Rich Hall talking about his aunt with "I didn't know you had an ant." Since in Fry's Received Pronunciation accent "aunt" is pronounced "ahnt", Hall's American pronunciation of the word sounds like "ant" to him, and viewers from Southern England.
- The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers episode "Rita's Pita" only works if those two words rhyme.
- The first season of 30 Rock features Jenna working on a small film called "The Rural Juror", with a running gag that nobody can work out what "rerl jer" means. The joke only works for rhotic American dialects, where it is pronounced "RER-uhl JER-er" (collapsing to "rerl jer"), and not for accents where it's pronounced "ROO-ruhl JOO-rer" (or "JOO-ruh" for accents that drop the R).
- In Jeopardy!, there are often categories like "Rhymes with BOT", and several of the correct responses in the category only work if you have the caught-cot merger.
- In one episode of Lamb Chop's Play-Along, Shari teaches Lamb Chop about silent letters, and she use "poem" as the first example of a word with a silent letter, the "e." While this works in Shari and Lamb Chop's New York accent, it doesn't work in other accents that clearly pronounce the "e" in that word. Shari does acknowledge that the word can also be pronounced with an audible "e," though.
- Arrested Development: The whole joke about Bob Loblaw's name is that it sounds like "bah blah blah", which only works in accents where "o" and "aw" sound similar.
- The last line in "The Alphabet Song" only rhymes if you pronounce Z "Zee", as the Americans do, instead of "Zed", as most other English-speaking countries do.
- Some British children are taught, "W, X, Y, Zed, you see..." which will work with the closing lines.
- 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,note since in British English, the D and T sounds would be completely distinct.
- In the English translation of "Silent Night", the lyrics go "Glories stream from heaven afar / heavenly hosts sing Alleluia", which worked in the non-rhotic New York accent spoken by translator John Freeman Young but not in most other American accents.
- Calvin and Hobbes:
- Calvin writes for a homework assignment that lords and vassals lived in a "futile" system, only for Hobbes to point out that it's spelled "feudal". In American English, the two words are usually homophones, but it doesn't work if "futile" is pronounced as "few-tile".
- One of Calvin's poems rhymes "macabre" with "job", which only works in dialects that have the father-bother merger and drop the "r" sound (which is retained in British English).note
- To a British person, the name of the game Bananagrams sounds like a very strained pun on "anagrams", as the middle vowel of "banana" is lengthened.
- In The Sound of Music, Maria's song "Do-Re-Mi" teaches musical notes using homophones for the syllables. The line for "Fa" is "Far, a long long way to run", which relies on non-rhoticity (the lyricist was Oscar Hammerstein II, who had a non-rhotic New York accent). The original production had Maria played by Mary Martin, who had a rhotic Texas accent, but still pronounced "far" as intended. The film adaptation had her played by British actress Julie Andrews, whose accent naturally works for the line.
- Related to the nacho joke above. In Sam and Max Season 1, Bosco's Incovenience has a poster for Not'chos.
Max: "They're mine, not'chos!"
- Mario Party DS: A minigame in the game is called "Twist and Route". The pun on "Twist and Shout" is lost in regions that pronounce route like "root".
- A few English Pokémon names are like this. The Ghost-type Gastly, for example, loses the pun on "gas" in regions that pronounce it "Garse-tly".
- The English fan translation for Mother 3 makes a brief quip about a sparrow's fluency in game lingo being "rarrow", before correcting itself to "rare". This gag makes no sense to accents without the Mary-marry-merry merger.
- A popular post on Tumblr joked "at the goth bbq eating corn on the macabre", to much amusement from US Americans. As many US dialects pronounce "macabre" to sound like the name "McCobb" or "muh-cahb" (/məˈkɑb/), this was a great pun as it sounds a lot like "corn on the cob" (cahb, /kɑb/). The joke baffled other English speakers, such as British people (and a number of other US Americans too), who pronounce it more like the original French, with an R at the end, something like "muh-cah-bruh" (/ˌməˈkɑː.bɹə/), meaning the pun didn't so much fall flat as make no sense at all.
- WayneRadioTV: Like the Daily Show example above, the joke of the memetic "You have no caulk" clip comes from Wayne's accent exhibiting the cot-caught merger, making his pronunciation of "caulk" sound like "cock".
- 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" is pronounced "rahth", and completely fails in the U.K. where the appropriate word is "maths".
- Another episode is called "The Wonderful Wizard of Ha's"note . "Ha's" and "Oz" rhyme in non-Bostonian American English, but would make a queer pairing almost everywhere else.
- Similarly to the example given above, the titular pun in The Simpsons episode "The Crepes of Wrath" makes little sense to anyone who pronounces "crepe" as "crep" (as the original French word crêpe is pronounced).
- A gag in Family Guy has Peter told that "mom" is on the phone, and eagerly mutters to himself "Please be Somerset Maugham!" The words only sound the same in some dialects of American English (those with the cot/caught merger); in the UK the joke is further obscured by the fact that "mom" is spelled/pronounced "mum" (as it is pronounced [but not written] in the traditional Boston accent of U.S. English), though Eagleland Osmosis makes up for that.
- Another one, where Lois suggests that Brian join up with PETA, which sounds exactly the same as the way she pronounces Peter's name in her thick New England accent.
- An unintentional example: Dinosaucers has the word "dinosaur" in the title if pronounced with a non-rhotic accent (Dinosaur-cers), but the narration is done in a rhotic accent, where the pun doesn't appear.
- A classic American reclining chair, as seen in Frasier, loses some of its ring outside the US. "La-Z-Boy" only makes sense in American English. In other English speaking countries it would be "La Zed Boy". Weird name. What's it meant to mean, then?
- The fact that a long "a" or an "aw" turns into an "ar" or "or" on the end of certain words in some American dialects (mostly East Coast areas like New York and New England) wrecks several jokes that use this in wordplay. For instance, the fact that the "law" of "law enforcement" turns into a "lore" is used in a Dropkick Murphys song for a rhyme.
- The name "Herbal Essences" is probably meant to sound alliterative, but it only works when said with an accent that drops the H in "herb"; in other accents, "herbal" has a voiced "H" in it.
- The riddle "What do the words polish, job, and herb have in common?" They all have a different pronunciation with a capital first letter. To non-Americans (and Americans who pronounce the H), this does not apply to the last one.
- Many consumer products in in the United States are sold with the label "EZ", which sounds like "easy" to Americans but is lost elsewhere.
- The rhyming phrase "criss cross applesauce", used to describe a casual variant of the lotus position where the feet are placed under the thighs rather than atop them, is built around the American pronunciations of the words "cross" and "sauce" rhyming. In other parts of the Anglosphere, the phrase would fall short due to "cross" and "sauce" not rhyming.
Southern US English
- 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?"
- Also works in an English accent.
- A Southern 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."
- The Southern Belle is chatting with a group of Yankee lawyers. "So, where did y'all go to school?" she asks. One of them answers, "Yale." So she takes a deep breath, and bellows, "Where did y'all go to school?!"
- A New York businessman has to make a trip to South Carolina around Christmastime. As he's driving through the state, he notices Nativity scenes in front of the many churches he drives past. In each of these, the Three Wise Men are wearing firemen's hats. Finally his curiosity gets the better of him, and he stops at a church, walks in, and asks the pastor why the Wise Men are wearing hats. The pastor replies, "Ain't you read the Bible? It says, 'Three Wise Men came from afar!'" (In a heavy Southern accent, "fire" is a homophone of "far".)
- The Killer Angels. A Union soldier asks an imprisoned Confederate soldier why they are fighting. The Union soldiers are confused because the Confederates say it's for their "rats" (rights).
- The Muppet Show had an entire sketch centered around guest star Jim Nabors' thick southern accent, which included such jokes as:
Nabors: What right do you have to be here?
Rowlf: What rat? This rat. (produces rat)
Nabors: Put up your hands!
Rowlf: Put up my hens? Sure. (places a pair of chickens on the counter)
- The Goes Wrong Show, in the episode "90 Degrees", has the British characters in a Southern Gothic-esque play and attempting the accent. They have an extended joke about confusing a request for beer with a statue of a bear...despite the fact that "beer" is pronounced precisely the same way as in British English in all varieties of American English, and it only sounds similar to "bear" here because of their (deliberately) awful attempts at a drawl.
New Zealand/Australian English
- This supermarket advert for Wine and "Bear" Week. The jokes don't make much sense without New Zealand English's beer/bear/bare merger.
- An Australian is travelling through New Zealand, and notices a farmer having sex with a sheep. He asks, "Shouldn't you be shearing that sheep?", to which the New Zealander replies, "Fuck off, I'm not sharing it with anyone!"
- A man traveling in the Australian outback takes a bad fall off a cliff, and awakens to find himself in the house of an old rancher. "Was I brought here to die?" asks the man. "No, mate," replies the rancher, "you were brought here yester-die."
- The children's rhyming picture book Piranhas Don't Eat Bananas has the titular fruit rhyming with the fish type. This is not achieved with an American accent, but rather the native Australian accent of the book's author. The book also uses the term "silverbeet" as a rhyming produce item, where it is called "Swiss chard" elsewhere.
- Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby offers a jargon-dependent joke when Gormsby calls himself an "utter relief teacher". Since what New Zealanders (and Australians) call a "relief teacher" is a "substitute teacher" in North America and a "supply teacher" or "cover teacher" in Britain, the joke is lost.
- Full House: Stephanie and Michelle board an imminently departing airplane so Stephanie can flirt with a handsome young New Zealander. Since she thinks that the boy just told her that the plane is going to Oakland (across the bay from their San Francisco home), she is not particularly concerned about getting off before takeoff. Cue the flight attendant announcing that they're on a 14-hour flight to Auckland, New Zealand instead. The rest of the episode revolves round them getting back to the USA.
- Courtney Act from season 6 of RuPaul's Drag Race is from Australia and admits that her Punny Name only really works in Australian English, where it sounds like "Caught in the act." To make the pun more obvious Ru introduces her using a fake Australian accent.
- Kath & Kim frequently speak of their desire to be affluent — which, in a broad Australian accent, sounds very similar to "effluent".
- The whole "mishearing Jedi as Cheddar and calling them Cheddar Monks" running gag in Darths & Droids only works in a non-rhotic accent; the Comic Irregulars are Australian.
- Speed Zone has this exchange taking place on a plane:
Randolph Van Sloan: I wonder if they're going to feed us on this flight.
Passenger: I...do not speak English...too good.
Passenger: Oui, oui. Francais.
Randolph: Je ne parla...uh, je ne par...je ne parle...no speaka French.
Passenger: You would like my penis?
Passenger: You would like my penis?
Randolph: Uh, I'm going to L.A. to meet with my wife and two kids, uh, three kids. And we're going to have a nice family reunion.
Passenger: You would like my penis?
Randolph: Look, I don't have a problem with it. It's just not my thing, okay?
(The French passenger takes a bag of peanuts out of his jacket.)
Passenger: You wouldn't like?
Randolph: Peanuts! Peanuts! (takes peanuts) Oh, thank you! Sorry, I thought you were saying something else.
- In Duck Soup, Chico's pun that confuses "Dallas, Texas" with "dollars, taxes" is dependent on his mock-Italian accent.
- Jimmy Carr has a stand-up bit where he talks about accents. The culmination of the bit is when he points out that saying his name with a Jamaican accent sound the same as "Jamaica" in a Jamaican accent.
- Most "Uranus" jokes don't make much sense if you pronounce the word "YOU-ran-us" or "OOH-ran-oos".
- Similarly, most "Pianist" jokes don't make much sense if you pronounce the word "PYAN-ist".
- Any joke that relies on “fungi” sounding like “fun guy” doesn't make sense if “fungi” (the plural of “fungus”) is pronounced with a soft “g”.
- A joke that works best in a non-rhotic accent:
Q: What do you call a deer with no eyes.
A: No idea.note
- "Italian man went to Malta". (He wants a fork. He wants a sheet. Etc., you get the principle. He gets thrown out of the hotel at the end.)
- Jokes about "Chile" being a homophone of "chilly" make no sense if you pronounce it as "Chill-ay".
- "My wife went to the West Indies. "Jamaica?" "No, she wanted to go." She also went to the "East Indies". "Djakarta?" "And to Northern Italy." "Genoa?" "Of course I do, she's my wife".
- Apparently, in South Africa, sex is whet you cerry coal in. (The same joke has also been made about Morningside in Edinburgh, except it's what coal is delivered in, because Morningsiders wouldn't be carrying it themselves.)
- A common joke is to get someone to say "Mike Hawk" out loud. This only works as intended if done with a cot-caught merging accent. The same goes for any joke that relies on "caulk" sounding like "cock."
- A similar one, more common in the UK and Australia, is getting them to say "Mike Hunt", which doesn't work in RP English but does in other accents.
- 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 no connection with my question."
"A non sequitur, you mean. You said 'a nonsense quitter'."
D.G. smiled. "Very well. Let's quit the nonsense."
- Ukraine's 2007 Eurovision Song Contest entry, "Dancing Lasha Tumbai", caused some controversy as 'Lasha Tumbai' sounds like saying 'Russia Goodbye' in a Ukrainian accent.
- Eminem's increasing use of a peculiar, vaguely-Hindi accent on Relapse was, apparently, due to a desire to rhyme things that would not normally work in his own Midwest accent. While he regretted his use of accents later, he mocked it on the Bad Meets Evil album Hell: The Sequel where he suggests a girl thinks he slipped back into accents because he can't stop calling her "cunt" — "I said, I cʌn't!".
- In GRID Legends, one of the missions in story mode following a character named Yume Tanaka is called "Yume Proceed", based on how in English, the name "Yume" is pronounced as "you-may", so it sounds like "You may proceed". This may be lost on those who know the pronunciation of Japanese names (or simply non-English speakers), as an actual Japanese would pronounce Yume as "you-meh".
- Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker contains a joke where the characters nickname Big Boss 'Vic Boss' (short for 'victory') due to him being The Ace. This works a lot better in the Japanese pronunciation of English loanwords (where there is no distinction between 'b' and 'v') than in the American English the characters are actually supposed to be speaking, making it come across in the English translation as bizarre.
- At one point in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Big Boss howls "Ocelot!!" at the character in question, in a way intended to be the exact same manner that Snake in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty yelled "Liquid!!". Hideo Kojima points out in the director's commentary that it works so well because the names even rhyme (O-se-ro-to, Ri-ku-i-do). In English, though...
- Coach Z of Homestar Runner tends to make rhymes with his bizarre fictional accent. For instance, in the Strong Bad Email "rampage", he rhymes "sport" with "The Cheat" (which he consistently pronounces as "The Chort").