The seemingly appropriate but virtually inappropriate. Notes on characteristics of jokes

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A prevalent theory about the cognitive aspect of humor is that most humorous stimuli are characterized by incongruity that is first perceived and then resolved. It is argued here that the combination of incongruity and resolution is not sufficient for constituting a joke. It is proposed here that the resolution should be inadequate as well; in other words, that it is brought about by the protagonist's neglect of an essential piece of information that is not explicitly stated but is typically assumed or inferred and that actually disambiguates the situation. Thus, the incongruity only appears to be resolved because the resolution conflicts with valid reasoning made previously. The resolution is seemingly appropriate but virtually inappropriate. A joke is understood when the listener realizes not only the incongruity or its possible resolution, but also the predication of the resolution on overlooked knowledge that seems essential for proper interpretation. In contrast with the concept of a joke which is a category of stimuli, funniness is regarded as a continuum.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)207-219
Number of pages13
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1988

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Communication
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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