Failed Humor

Authored by: Nancy D. Bell

The Routledge Handbook of Language and Humor

Print publication date:  February  2017
Online publication date:  February  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138843066
eBook ISBN: 9781315731162
Adobe ISBN:


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For most people it is difficult to recall situations where their greetings, compliments, requests, or apologies were not recognized as such and were responded to in unusual ways. The case of humor, however, seems to be quite different. Most of us can remember a time when our joke wasn’t even acknowledged, or worse, was acknowledged because it achieved the opposite of our intended goal: rather than amusing people, it bored or even upset them. Even individuals who are not able to recall a specific time when their humor failed acknowledge being familiar with the problem, and many even say that this happens to them “all the time.” In this chapter, the joint construction and management of failed humor—any utterance that is intended to amuse, but that, for any reason, is unsuccessful in doing so—is explored.

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