“What did one math book say to the science book? Boy, do I have problems!”

There are few things funnier than listening to young children attempt to tell jokes.  They just think they are hysterical, and we go along with it–laughing at non-humor.  I had the distinct pleasure of spending time over Memorial Day weekend with almost-five year old nephews who are just three months apart. We sat around telling jokes for about 30 minutes. The older boy laughed at some of the more obvious jokes, the younger one forced himself to laugh, missing the humorous elements in all the jokes.  Both boys told their own made-up jokes to varying degrees of “success” in terms of making sense.  My favorite: “Why did the mom walk aaaall the way to the airport? (why?) She had a lightbulb in her stomach!” (burst of hysterical laughter from him, encouraging laughter from the adults.)

So what happens with these types of jokes? This nephew had learned the “format” for this basic form of joke, but lacked language precision, which is still developing at this age.  He realized he had to  tell a story, and that it needed a punchline, but he has not yet developed his awareness of multiple meaning words, which plays a large role in many puns and jokes. 

By 6 or 7, children typically realize there is a whole new world of figurative language, including multiple-meaning words.  Throughout the elementary years, students are fine-tuning their understanding that words can have nuances of meaning. For example the word “prudent” (which is in our InferCabulary2 app) can apply to a variety of “wise choice-making” such as wearing sunscreen, eating healthfully, studying etc. As they enter elementary school, student’s language skills begin to explode, yet again.  Amelia Bedelia becomes funny, not because she does silly things, but because of her lack of awareness that words can mean more than one thing.

It is important to spend time helping children learn that words can mean more than one thing.  Not only is this language skill important for comprehension, but it sure makes jokes funnier!

This chart of several multiple meaning words by age was borrowed with permission from: http://www.home-speech-home.com/multiple-meaning-words.html 

Grades
K-2
Grades
3-5
Grades
6-8
Grades
9-12
bark
bit
bat
bolt
bowl
foot
gum
file
fly
hard
hit
last
left
jam
hide
check
box
club
can
clip
stamp
shake
sink
star
seal
before
bill
bore
blue
bear
range
pool
racket
pound
pupil
light
leaves
mold
mine
log
head
jerk
handle
kid
kind
stable
steer
squash
stoop
stern
dusting
dread
either
date
crane
company
charge
cobbler
column
chair
tackle
strike
terrific
trace
suit
like
lash
late
loom
marker
mint
monitor
minor
patient
novel
current
custom
doctor
cobble
draft
buckle
coach
channel
cabinet
certain
refrain
prune
riot
plane
reservation
harbor
hamper
grave
hatch
ground
sentence
spare
season
solution
sanction