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).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Humor: Selected full-text books and articles

Taking Humour Seriously
Jerry Palmer.
Routledge, 1994
The Psychology of Humor: A Reference Guide and Annotated Bibliography
Jon E. Roeckelein.
Greenwood Press, 2002
The Language of Humour
Walter Nash.
Longman, 1985
Encyclopedia of 20th-Century American Humor
Alleen Pace Nilsen; Don L. F. Nilsen.
Oryx Press, 2000
Rebellious Laughter: People's Humor in American Culture
Joseph Boskin.
Syracuse University Press, 1997
National Styles of Humor
Avner Ziv.
Greenwood Press, 1988
Punchlines: The Case for Racial, Ethnic, and Gender Humor
Leon Rappoport.
Praeger, 2005
Beyond Laughter: Humor and the Subconscious
Martin Grotjahn.
McGraw-Hill, 1966
The Psychology of Laughter: A Study in Social Adaptation
Ralph Piddington.
Gamut Press, 1963 (2nd edition)
The Linguistic Analysis of Jokes
Graeme Ritchie.
Routledge, 2003
FREE! Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic
Henri Bergson; Cloudesley Brereton; Fred Rothwell.
Macmillan, 1911
Humour, History and Politics in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages
Guy Halsall.
Cambridge University Press, 2002
American Dark Comedy: Beyond Satire
Wes D. Gehring.
Greenwood Press, 1996
In Praise of Comedy: A Study in Its Theory and Practice
James Feibleman.
Russell & Russell, 1962
Only When I Laugh: Textual Dynamics of Ethnic Humor
Leveen, Lois.
MELUS, Vol. 21, No. 4, Winter 1996
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Pretend the World Is Funny and Forever: A Psychological Analysis of Comedians, Clowns, and Actors
Seymour Fisher; Rhoda L. Fisher.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1981
An Outline of Humor: Being a True Chronicle from Prehistoric Ages to the Twentieth Century
Carolyn Wells.
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1923
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