Language and humor - Deepstash

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How humans develop a sense of humor

Language and humor

Most types of humour involve the realisation of contradiction, or a mismatch, between a concept and a situation. In other words, we laugh when things surprise us because they are out of place. Even simple games like peek-a-boo have an element of surprise where someone suddenly appears out of nowhere.

Researchers think that communication is essential for humor and that humor facilitates the process of learning a language.

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Humour in philosophy
Humour in philosophy
  • Henri Bergson, a Fresh philosopher of the late 19th century, was also an author of a famous essay that focused on laughter. Before Bergson, few philosophers had given laughter much thought.
  • Other major thinkers who have offered humourless reflections about humour include Thomas Hobbes and René Descartes, who believed we laugh because we feel superior.
  • Immanuel Kant and Arthur Schopenhauer argued that comedy stems from a sense of incongruity.
  • Herbert Spencer and Sigmund Freud suggested comedians give relief from nervous energy and repressed emotions.
Humour and respect

Everyone who ever had to explain their own joke knows that comedy cannot survive analysis. Once you take humour apart, it loses its effect and dies in the process.

Henri Bergson published his essay on laughter in 1900. He believed that laughter should be studied as 'a living thing' and treated with 'the respect due to life.'

Conditions for laughter to thrive

Henri Bergson's general observations related to when laughter is most likely to appear and thrive:

  • The comic is strictly human. When laughter is directed at non-humans, we may laugh, but only because we have detected some human attitude or expression.
  • Laughter has no greater foe than emotion. Emotional states like pity, melancholy, rage, etc. make it difficult for us to find humour in the things we might otherwise have laughed at. But humour also appears to serve as a coping mechanism in the face of tragedy or misfortune.
  • Laughter seems to require an echo. It is used in the context of social bonding.
Sarcasm is like a truth-lie
Sarcasm is like a truth-lie

You say something you don't literally mean, and the hearer only understands if they get that you're insincere. The ability to recognize sarcasm is an essential skill to function in a modern society that thrives on irony.

Entire phrases have lost their literal meaning because they are so frequently used with a sneer. For example, "big deal", or "tell it to someone who cares," and "aren't you special" means you aren't.

Understanding sarcasm requires brain power

Studies revealed that exposure to sarcasm enhances problem-solving. It appears to stimulate complex thinking.

Sarcasm also requires the brain to work harder, making it sharper. To perceive sarcasm, a person has to see beyond the literal meaning of the words and understand that the speaker may be thinking of something entirely different.

The dual nature of sarcasm

Sarcasm has a two-faced quality: it's funny and mean.

Some language experts suggest sarcasm is a gentler way to criticize with indirectness. "How do you keep this room so neat?" Other researchers have found the mocking nature of sarcasm as more hurtful than plain-spoken criticism.

Humor at work
Humor at work

Being funny can have both positive and negative consequences, in your personal as well as your professional life. And context is always important: when making a joke, for instance, you should definitely make sure the moment is appropriate for such a behavior.

Making the good jokes at the proper moment can help you become everybody's favorite at the workplace. However, making a bad joke can lead even to being fired: so make sure to choose your attitude appropriately.

Humor and its effects on the status

Humor and status have always been tightly linked: good leaders seem to often use humor in order to motivate their team members' actions. As individuals, we tend to prefer, researchers claim, jokes that make us laugh while feeling slightly uncomfortable.

Furthermore, we perceive the joke teller as a self-confident person, who could easily become a leader due to his or her courage to make such a joke. The key point here is that the joke should be appropriate and match the context.

Inside jokes

Making inside jokes usually shows how bounded a team or a group is: their jokes can understood the best by themselves.

However, the moment an outsider integrates the group, it is better to avoid the inside jokes, as this will most probably make him or her feel out of place.