humor

humor

[hyoo-mer or, often, yoo-]
humor, according to ancient theory, any of four bodily fluids that determined human health and temperament. Hippocrates postulated that an imbalance among the humors (blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile) resulted in pain and disease, and that good health was achieved through a balance of the four humors; he suggested that the glands had a controlling effect on this balance. For many centuries this idea was held as the basis of medicine and was much elaborated. Galen introduced a new aspect, that of four basic temperaments related to the elements of which matter was thought to consist (fire, water, air, and earth) and reflecting the humors: the sanguine, buoyant type; the phlegmatic, sluggish type; the choleric, quick-tempered type; and the melancholic, dejected type. In time any personality aberration or eccentricity was referred to as a humor. The medical theory of humors was undermined in the centuries after the Renaissance and lost favor in the 19th cent. after the German Rudolf Virchow presented his cellular pathology.

In literature, a humor character was one in whom a single passion predominated; this interpretation was especially popular in Elizabethan and other Renaissance literature. One of the most comprehensive treatments of the subject was the Anatomy of Melancholy, by Robert Burton. The theory found its strongest advocates among the comedy writers, notably Ben Jonson and his followers, who used humor characters to illustrate various modes of irrational and immoral behavior.

See N. Arikha, Passions and Tempers: A History of the Humours (2007).

humour(Latin; “fluid”)

In early Western physiological theory, one of the four body fluids thought to determine a person's temperament and features. As hypothesized by Galen, the four cardinal humours were blood, phlegm, choler (yellow bile), and melancholy (black bile). The variant mixture of these humours in each person determined his “complexion” or temperament and his mental and physical qualities. The ideal person had the perfectly proportioned mixture of the four fluids; a disproportionate amount of one humour created a personality dominated by one set of related emotions (e.g., a choleric man was easily angered, proud, ambitious, and vengeful).

Learn more about humour with a free trial on Britannica.com.

Humour marked by the use of morbid, ironic, or grotesquely comic episodes that ridicule human folly. The term came into common use in the 1960s to describe the work of novelists such as Joseph Heller, whose Catch-22 (1961) is an outstanding example; Kurt Vonnegut, particularly in Slaughterhouse Five (1969); and Thomas Pynchon, in V (1963) and Gravity's Rainbow (1973). A film exemplar is Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove (1963). The term black comedy has been applied to some playwrights in the Theatre of the Absurd, especially Eugène Ionesco.

Learn more about black humour with a free trial on Britannica.com.

A non sequitur is a conversational and literary device, often used for comical purposes (as opposed to its use in formal logic). It is a comment which, due to its lack of meaning relative to the comment it follows, is absurd to the point of being humorous or confusing. Its use can be deliberate or unintentional. Literally, it is Latin for "it does not follow." In other literature, a non sequitur can denote an abrupt, illogical, unexpected or absurd turn of plot or dialogue not normally associated with or appropriate to that preceding it.

Non sequiturs often appear to be disconnected or random comments, or random changes in subject, especially socially inappropriate ones. When non sequiturs are used frequently for comic effect this can be called "absurd humor".

The non sequitur can be understood as the converse of cliché. Traditional comedy and drama can depend on the ritualization and predictability of human emotional experiences, where the Theatre of the Absurd uses disjunction and unpredictability.

See also

Search another word or see humoron Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2014 Dictionary.com, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature