The Naming of Parts

Today we shall have the naming of parts – a dry, mechanical process guaranteed to encourage snoozing over your keyboard. Without a common vocabulary we will never communicate adequately. As a wise person (I think George S. Kaufman) said,

One man’s Mede is another man’s Persian.

So I will take a cue from Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass:

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,’ it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – that’s all. They’ve a temper, some of them – particularly verbs: they’re the proudest – adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs – however, I can manage the whole lot of them!

So here are a few key terms to start with.

Humor: words, actions, and/or situations that elicit delight or amusement. The whole schmeer; an umbrella term for just about everything that people find funny. (So, funny and humorous are synonyms.) Humor has at least four components:

Comedy: humor concerned with human folly and the operation of fortune (such as Murphy’s Law).

Wit: humor concerned with the (often sudden) recognition of connections. These include a. unexpectedly apt connections (as with puns), b. obviously in-apt connections (this is called incongruity) c. obviously meaningless, pointless non-connections (this is called absurdity).

Rebellion: humor that arises from intentional childishness (clowning), forbidden topics (dirty jokes) impropriety (bathroom humor), oppression (much Black and Jewish humor) and other expressions and acts that raise the middle finger in the face of society, life, and destiny.

Mystery: humor that is funny (often to some people but not others) for inexplicable, indescribable reasons. This is often true of (but not limited to) some work of the very best cartoonists, such as James Thurber, Charles Barsotti, and George Booth. Without the ability to say, “I just can’t explain why that’s funny,” you must either force explanations that only Jacques Derrida could love, or else give up on the whole enterprise (possibly a prudent move, after all).

I know, I know, these definitions are full of stuff that is not self-explanatory or flatly sounds wrong (as Tom Swift sounded after he was steam-rollered). So I’m going to try for several posts each on comedy, wit, rebellion, and mystery.

Okay, that’s it. Go sleep somewhere else now.


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