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truthfulness; sincerity; integrity; frankness
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Newsletter November 14 - 2008FREE email English course
Dear Friend,

The sky's overcast, the days are getting shorter, it's raining and we're coming to the end of another year. These all seem pretty good reasons for telling a joke. Of course attempting to tell a joke on paper isn't quite the same as telling it in person. It mightn't strike you as at all funny but then if it doesn't, at least I shall be spared the embarrassment of you not reacting at all.

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To tell the truth I'm getting cold feet (a little frightened) at actually telling it but as I've started, I'd better finish. First let me set the scene. Little Johnnie (all children in jokes tend to be called that) comes home from school much later than usual. Of course nowadays if a school keeps a child in after school as a sort of punishment, they have to notify the parents that this is happening beforehand. But you'll have to forget about that. Anyhow little Johnnie is met by his father and the conversation goes a bit like this:

Pa: You're late.
Johnnie: I was kept in for half an hour after school by the geography teacher.
Pa: You mean you've been a naughty boy.
Johnnie: Yes.
Pa: Why?
Johnnie: I didn't know where the Azores were.
Pa: Serves you right. Aren't I always saying you'll get into trouble one day for not remembering where you've put things?


Now if I told that to you in person, I'd expect at least to see a smile or possibly hear a slight chuckle (a small laugh) or even a proper laugh. You'll just have to let me know.

And talking of laughs I should perhaps explain the title I've chosen for this piece. Let me tell you a bit more about 'a bit of a laugh'. It's the sort of expression we use to describe something you do in a light-hearted way. Let's say you're feeling a bit down and want to be cheered up. Well, then you go and have a drink with some friends and decide 'for a bit of a laugh' to visit the local casino to try to win some money. It's the sort of thing you do once in a while, not very often. 'Laugh' also crops up (appears) in several other ways. If you have the last laugh it means that you have been proved right after a long time. So when people say you can't do something and ridicule the idea that you ever could — you say you are going to pass all your exams with the highest grade — and then that's exactly what you succeed in doing, it's your turn to have the last laugh.

Of course you can laugh so much that you simply can't stop. You know what it's like, it's catching. You laugh and they laugh and then they laugh more and then you laugh more. Very good for the health, I'm told. The result of all this raucous laughing can be described as laughing like a drain or even more dramatic laughing your head off. Then there's the secret type of chuckling. You want to laugh but you can't and so you keep it to yourself and laugh up your sleeve — I should imagine if you tried doing this, it could be very awkward! Now for a couple of not so nice ones: laugh someone out of court. For this you have to imagine that you and others have come to see the boss with a view to getting more money. The boss simply rubbishes the idea, even pooh poohs it and won't give it a second thought and thereby laughs you out of court. Mind you, it could be that you and the others get jobs somewhere else for much more money and then it's the turn of the boss to laugh on the other side of his face. And of course nowadays getting a job is important and it's a very serious business if you can't get one or you lose your present job. In that case it's certainly no laughing matter.

In the Middle Ages it was a recognised job to be a court jester. He would be dressed in a brightly coloured costume, wear a special three cornered hat and generally hop around the court waving a stick with bells on. Not clearly everyone's idea of a proper job and it originated from the idea of the village idiot who sadly was not totally mentally bright (we can use the popular expression by saying he was a sandwich short of a picnic — I'll let you work that one out for yourself). But the guy with the brightly coloured clothes and the bells was far from stupid. He might have had the title of Fool but foolish he was not.

He was probably a good deal sharper than the courtiers who followed the King or Queen. After all it was his job to dispel the so-called 'humours' or bad moods into which the King had fallen and simply make the King laugh. He could take liberties with the King, tease him and get away with making jokes about him. The important thing was that the King started to laugh and the courtiers, always anxious about how long they would be able to remain in their privileged positions, could breathe a sigh of relief. At least for the time being as the King was in such a good mood, their jobs were safe and there wouldn't be any wars to be fought for the moment.

Perhaps the saddest laugh related story comes from an old Norwegian source. It is the one about the beautiful princess who simply couldn't, however much everyone tried, simply wasn't able to laugh. This was a bit of a problem for her father, the King. He thought the time had come to have his palace just for himself and the Queen without the gloomy presence of his daughter. He was delighted to be blessed with a beautiful daughter but he was scratching his head about how to launch her into society. I mean how could he possibly expect any young prince to fall in love with Miss Miserable Face? It put people off. The lucky future husband would of course get a pot of gold and half the kingdom but it was the glum (miserable face) that the would be husbands weren't too keen on. In desperation to marry his daughter off to someone he made it known that she would be wedded to any young man who could make her laugh. He added one provison however and that was if the young man put himself forward and failed, he would be soundly flogged (whipped).

Friend, as you can imagine, there were dozens of lads from all directions who said to themselves:' No problem I'm very good at making the girls laugh — it'll be a piece of cake'. But it didn't work like that because they all failed and there were an awful lot of sore backs in that area... Not far from the palace there lived a father and his three sons and he was convinced that one of them would win the hand of the princess. The first had been in the army and so he did some drill under her balcony. He failed. The second was a schoolteacher who delivered a series of sermons hopping up and down as he did so because one of his legs was shorter than the other. The Kinglaughed, the princess almost smiled but he failed, too. Then the youngest, Tom thought he'd have a go but his brothers simply laughed him out of court at the very idea. But our Tom was subtle and took a job at the palace first. To cut a long story short, one day when he went to fetch some water he managed to persuade a whole group of the villagers to hang on to a golden goose he'd acquired. If you stroked its feathers, you got stuck to the bird. (Sorry about this but it is a fairy story after all). By the time he got back to the palace he was followed by a whole group of screaming villagers trying to free themselves from the bird. And that's what did it. The entire palace rang to the sound of laughter and the Princess joined in. Tom had the last laugh as it was he who duly married his Princess and fulfilled that popular saying: Laugh and the whole world laughs with you.

By the way, little Johnnie (you remember I mentioned him at the beginning) has now found out where the Azores are and has also told his dad — They are 1564 kilometres directly west of Lisbon, Portugal, are nine in total and all volcanic in origin. There now, who says I never tell you anything!

Alan Townend

Dear Friend,
So I hope you've had a lot of laughs — maybe it was the first time you had a LOL. As usual, I'm very interested in your feedback and again I'd like to invite you to post any of your comments or questions on our forum here: How humorous a person are you?

Hush hushEnglish goes to America
How good are you at managing your time?All about poets
Figuratively speakingTake your time
Looking aheadMore haste, less speed
I didn't mean to do that, honestlyA bit of a laugh
Come fly with me 
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