I have tried my best, I absolutely don't understand this joke. ( Found on language learning sites). And it puzzles me so much... I don't even grasp what can be laughed about, I'm just completely intrigued:

It's about a man, Japanese, or Russian according the case, learning English all his life. One day it comes to London. While wandering he reads on a newspaper, (or on a theater bill board): "Oklahoma Pronounced Success."

And he shoots himself (if Japanese), or err aimlessly drunk and arrested by police (if Russian).

  • "Pronouced" should probably be "pronounced" (the second "n" is missing). The joke isn't clear to me either, but perhaps it has to do with the fact that English isn't always pronounced as it is spelled. And "pronounced" has two possible meanings in this case: one is how one is supposed to say it when speaking English, and the other is that it is a synonym for the word "declared". English is a confusing language to learn. Hope that helps.
    – user21497
    Nov 11 '12 at 2:56
  • Title edited... Nov 11 '12 at 2:57
  • @Bill: that seems more like a typo to me. See the title...
    – Noah
    Nov 11 '12 at 3:00
  • @Noah: She edited the title, but you're right. They're typos.
    – user21497
    Nov 11 '12 at 3:01
  • 1
    @BillFranke, it was not offending and I just thought it was not worth mentionning ;-) Nov 11 '12 at 11:27

Elaboration: Picture a Japanese man who has been studying English and struggling with the vagaries and idiosyncrasies of its spellings and pronunciations. He believes that he's finally got a handle on things and heads over to New York. However the first thing he sees as he gets off the boat is a sign effectively stating the following:

The word Oklahoma is pronounced success.

This is too much for our ESL student to process and his brain explodes.

Explanation: Oklahoma! is actually the name of a wildly successful Rodgers and Hammerstein musical and the sign is stating that the show has been pronounced a success. It should technically have read:

Oklahoma! has been pronounced a success!

While the missing exclamation mark might have been a mistake made in the joke or the sign-writer in it, the article "a" is often dropped in headlines for reasons of brevity.

The joke demonstrates how confusing English spelling and pronunciation can be, particularly for foreigners.

  • 1
    and now I find it really funny, thanx ;-) Nov 11 '12 at 11:22

Being a non-native (who also learn English all my life), the joke is quite clear to me. One aspect of English that usually perplexes beginners (and even the advanced learners still, at times) is its irregularities found in pronunciation. (The pronunciation of "by", which ryhmes with "buy" and "bye", but not with "baby", for example.)

So, according to the joke, seeing the headline would make the non-native felt as if he wasted all the time he spent learning English. Just to finally learn that Oklahoma is supposed to be pronounced /success/!

Perhaps the poem The Chaos by Gerard Nolst Trenité (see http://ncf.idallen.com/english.html) demonstrates this "feature" of English more pronouncedly. ;)

  • @Will Hunting: It tells the OP why the author of the joke thought it was funny. She said "I don't even grasp what can be laughed about". Surely, one can always laugh about how English is pronounced compared with how it's written. There are lots of spelling pronunciations that make us laugh, and lots of phonetic spellings that do the same. This answer confirms what I suggested in my first comment, so I upvoted it.
    – user21497
    Nov 11 '12 at 3:49

I've never heard this joke, but it seems fairly clear to me. "Oklahoma" is a play. The newspaper or theater billing is indeed saying that the play Oklahoma has been declared a success. The unlucky foreigner obviously is driven to despair at ever being able to comprehend English due to misunderstanding the phrase to mean that the correct pronunciation of the word Oklahoma is success (suck cess).

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