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Xiehouyu

  • By: Jocelyn Chey
  • In: Encyclopedia of Humor Studies
  • Edited by: Salvatore Attardo
  • Subject:General Media, Communication & Cultural Studies, Sociology of Culture

The xiehouyu is a common figure of speech in standard Chinese and many dialects. The term is often translated into English as “a proverb with the second part suspended” but is better left in Chinese as it is a unique linguistic form. Herbert Giles, an early China scholar and dictionary compiler, defined xiehouyu as “set phrases of which only the protasis is uttered, and the apodosis is understood by the speaker, not literally but in a punning sense” (Giles, 1912/1967, entry for character no. 4361, quoted in Sun, 1981, p. 521). Many xiehouyu contain no puns, but certainly contain humor. This arises from the incongruity of the protasis or second part being understood from an unexpected angle. Adding to the trangressive quality of the humor, ...

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