“Did you hear about…?”

“Did you hear about…?”

If you hear an American start to ask this question, you have to be careful.  It could mean he or she is getting ready to share a news story—in other words, normal communication.  However, it could also be the set-up to a joke.

If it’s just a piece of news, the listeners just process the information or make comments.

If it turns out to be a joke, American listeners will laugh.  Or they will groan.  Groaning is a cultural sign that the joke was a little bit funny, but they are pretending it was foolish or not very funny.

  two television antennas (source: Fotolia)

two television antennas (source: Fotolia)

My father liked to tell silly jokes, often ones that started out, “Did you hear about…?”

Here is one of my favorites.

Part 1: Did you hear about the two antennas that got married?

[short pause for listener reflection]

Part 2: The wedding wasn’t much, but the reception was excellent.

This joke is funny to native-born Americans because the word “reception” has a double meaning.  The first meaning of “reception” is when radio or TV equipment (with antennas) receive information.  The second meaning is the party that occurs after an American wedding.

You can practice by telling this joke to your American friends.  See if they laugh.  If they really like you, they will just groan or say, “That’s not funny.”  But it is funny.  Trust me.

  Sometimes at an American wedding reception, the bride and groom will take the first dance by themselves.

Sometimes at an American wedding reception, the bride and groom will take the first dance by themselves.

Note: the celebration after the wedding ceremony is not called a “wedding party.”  The reception is where the guests go to receive the bride and groom as a newly married couple.  The wedding party refers to the group of participants that includes the bride, groom, maid of honor, best man, and any other bridesmaids and groomsmen. 

(Think of the word “party” in the sense of “group” – for example, when a restaurant host/hostess wants to find you the right table and asks you how many people are in your party.  When your table is ready, s/he will call you: “Johnson, party of four.”)

Alan Headbloom

Alan advises Americans how to be global citizens and expats how to fit in to Michigan culture without annoying their native coworkers and clients. He also tweets and blogs at the intersection of language and culture. Over decades, he's traveled, studied, or lived on six continents, putting strange foods into his mouth and emitting strange sounds from it. His use of English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Swedish, Hausa, and Japanese all improve with alcohol use. He gives invited public presentations on culture and unsolicited private advice on English grammar and usage; the latter isn't always appreciated. Visit his website for information on consulting, coaching, or speaking engagements.