Breaking Down Humour with Examples
Humour is the tendency of cognitive experiencesOpens in new window to provoke laughterOpens in new window and provide amusementOpens in new window. DictionaryOpens in new window entries of the derived adjectiveOpens in new window ‘humorous’ define it as ‘having or showing a sense of humour’, ‘funny’ or ‘facetious, comic’. A ‘sense of humour’, in its turn, serves to denote ‘the facultyOpens in new window of perceiving humour and enjoying what is ludicrous and amusing’.
Humour is more than the bare ability to make or perceive jokes. It often works through smiling and laughter; and laughter may indeed be produced by and may express joy, merrimentOpens in new window and amusement on the one hand but, on the other hand, also mockeryOpens in new window, derisionOpens in new window and scornOpens in new window.
Examples of Humour
Observe the humour occasioned by the funny and facetious element in this piece:
- A comic incident took place during the historic King Emperor’s Durbar in Delhi on 12 December 1911. On the following day there was an investiture. To seat the multitude the chairs had to be small and light. Lord Durham, who was Lord High Steward, incautiously leaned back in his, and over went the chair and a fine white rod and a pair of very elegant white legs shot up in the air. The unfortunate peer was seated beside the Queen who was convulsed with laughter.
The next item is an extract from Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal (1729), in which he satirically advocates that the solution to the gross poverty in Ireland at the hands of the British is that Irish babies be sold for food:
- I shall now … humbly propose my own Thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least Objection.
I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy Child well nursed is at a year Old a most delicious nourishing and wholesome Food, whether Stewed, Roasted, Baked or Boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a Fricasie, or a Ragoust.
The following is an excerpt from Act One of Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest:
- I love hearing my relations abused. It is the only thing that makes me put up with them at all. Relations are simply a tedious pack of people, who haven’t got the remotest knowledge of how to live, nor the smallest instinct about when to die.
Humour encompasses a wide array of literary modes: from light-hearted comedy to rhetorical means of exposure such as ironyOpens in new window, sarcasmOpens in new window, parodyOpens in new window, farceOpens in new window, and burlesqueOpens in new window. Laughter is the object through which humorous literary pieces can express and produce varied and contrasted emotional reaction to stimulusOpens in new window that has activated the mindOpens in new window.