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Ambiguity

  • By: Dallin D. Oaks
  • In: Encyclopedia of Humor Studies
  • Edited by: Salvatore Attardo
  • Subject:General Media, Communication & Cultural Studies, Sociology of Culture

One of the most important contributing factors to humor is ambiguity. Ambiguity in its most fundamental characterization is the possibility of a given utterance, text, or even discourse situation to be interpreted in more than one way. The significance of ambiguity to humor is found in the prominent role that ambiguity occupies in different theories about the nature and composition of humor. Rather than consider how ambiguity figures into different theoretical approaches to humor, however, this entry instead briefly considers some types of ambiguity, showing how they can be manifested in some humorous texts.

All humor, indeed all communication, depends upon larger contextual factors for its meaning. So when we look at a humorous text and identify an ambiguity with a specific word, phrase, clause, or ...

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