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.
Humour or humor (see spelling differences) is the tendency of particular cognitive experiences to provoke laughter and provide amusement. Many theories exist about what humour is and what social function it serves. People of most ages and cultures respond to humour. The majority of people are able to be amused, to laugh or smile at something funny, and thus they are considered to have a "sense of humour".
The term derives from the humoural medicine of the ancient Greeks, which stated that a mix of fluids known as humours (Greek: χυμός, chymos, literally: juice or sap, metaphorically: flavour) controlled human health and emotion.
A sense of humour is the ability to experience humour, although the extent to which an individual will find something humorous depends on a host of variables, including geographical location, culture, maturity, level of education, intelligence, and context. For example, young children may possibly favour slapstick, such as Punch and Judy puppet shows or cartoons (e.g. Tom and Jerry). Satire may rely more on understanding the target of the humour, and thus tends to appeal to more mature audiences. Non-satirical humour can be specifically termed "recreational drollery".
Humor occurs when
Arthur Schopenhauer lamented the misuse of the term (the German loanword from English) to mean any type of comedy. However, both terms are often used when theorizing about the subject. The connotation of "humour" is more that of response, while "comic" refers more to stimulus. "Humour" also originally had a connotation of a combined ridiculousness and wit in one individual; the paradigm case being Shakespeare's Sir John Falstaff. The French were slow to adopt the term "humour," and in French "humeur" and "humour" are still two different words, the former still referring only to the archaic concept of humors.
Western humour theory begins with Plato who attributed to Socrates (as a semi-historical dialogue character), in the Philebus (p. 49b), the view that the essence of the ridiculous is an ignorance in the weak who are thus unable to retaliate when ridiculed. Later in Greek philosophy, Aristotle in the Poetics (1449a p 34-35) suggested that an ugliness that does not disgust is fundamental to humour. The Incongruity Theory originated mostly with Kant who claimed that the comic is an expectation that comes to nothing. Henri Bergson attempted to perfect incongruity, by reducing it to the 'living' and 'mechanical'.
An incongruity like Bergson's, in things juxtaposed simultaneously, is still in vogue. This is often debated against theories of the shifts in perspectives in humour. Hence the debate in the series Humor Research between John Morreall and Robert Latta.
Morreall presented mostly simultaneous juxtapositions, with Latta countering that it requires a "cognitive shift," created by a discovery or solution to a puzzle or problem. Latta is criticized for having reduced jokes' essence to their own puzzling aspect.
Humour frequently contains an unexpected, often sudden, shift in perspective, which gets assimilated by the Incongruity Theory. This view has been defended by Latta (1998) and by Brian Boyd (2004). Boyd views the shift as from seriousness to play. Nearly anything can be the object of this perspective twist. It is, however, in the areas of human creativity (science and art being the varieties) that the shift results from ‘structure mapping’ (termed "bisociation" by Koestler) to create novel meanings. Koestler argues that humour results when two different frames of reference are set up and a collision is engineered between them.
Tony Veal, who is taking a more formalised computational approach than Koestler did, has written on the role of metaphor and metonymy in humour, using inspiration from Koestler as well as from Dedre Gentner´s theory of structure-mapping, George Lakoff´s and Mark Johnson´s theory of conceptual metaphor and Mark Turner´s and Gilles Fauconnier´s theory of conceptual blending.
Some claim that humour cannot or should not be explained. Author E. B. White once said, "Humor can be dissected as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind."
Alastair Clarke explains: "The theory is an evolutionary and cognitive explanation of how and why any individual finds anything funny. Effectively it explains that humour occurs when the brain recognizes a pattern that surprises it, and that recognition of this sort is rewarded with the experience of the humorous response, an element of which is broadcast as laughter." The theory further identifies the importance of pattern recognition in human evolution: "An ability to recognize patterns instantly and unconsciously has proved a fundamental weapon in the cognitive arsenal of human beings. The humorous reward has encouraged the development of such faculties, leading to the unique perceptual and intellectual abilities of our species."
Most sight gags fit into one or more of these categories.
Humour is also sometimes described as an ingredient in spiritual life. Humour is also the act of being funny. Some synonyms of funny or humour are hilarious, knee-slapping, spiritual, wise-minded, outgoing, and amusing. Some Masters have added it to their teachings in various forms. A famous figure in spiritual humour is the laughing Buddha.