The Language of Humour

The Language of Humour

The Language of Humour

The Language of Humour

Synopsis

The broad aim of this lively and engaging book is to examine relationships between the linguistic patterns, the stylistic functions, and the social and cultural contexts of humour. The material used in illustration is of corresponding breadth: schoolyard jokes, graffiti, aphorisms, advertisements, arguments, anecdotes, puns, parodies, passages of comic fiction, all come under Dr Nash's scrutiny.

Excerpt

I assured myself that by the time I had finished this book I would never want to hear another joke, let alone make one. Such humbug. Not want to hear another joke? I am more than ever greedy for laughter, and grateful to those who create it; and I still have my wistful ambitions to make others smile. All that has happened is that an avuncular worldliness now tinges my attitude to humour. Having dismantled its mechanisms and rehearsed its paradigms, I think I know how things are put together; and the penalty of all knowledge is the loss of surprise.

I have been struck by the complexity of the subject -- by the realization of what we are required to know, what social competence we must possess, what intellectual operations we may have to perform before we can grasp even a simple joke. I do not mean that you have to be Wittgenstein before you can grapple with a pun; only, that if you are about to converse with wits you must have your wits about you.

The fact is that, in humour, the diversities of our living and thinking tumble together in patterns adventitious and freakish and elegant, like the elaborate conformations of a kaleidoscope. In trying to describe intricacies of humorous conformation, I have borne constantly in mind three informing principles: the workings of our language, the varieties of our social experience, and our habitual modes of thought. Each of these is so intimately involved with the others as to defy abstraction for the purposes of analysis. My commission, however, was to write a book on the language of humour, and I have accordingly tried to give the linguistic principle pride of place. In doing so, I have interpreted my brief quite broadly, endeavouring to set humorous language in the larger context of comic style. This concern with stylistic matters has directed the programme summarized in § 1.6 and § 2.9; I trust that as the reader proceeds from chapter to chapter the development of the argument will become clear to him.

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