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Epigram

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

The word epigram means essentially an inscription, for example, on a monument like an epitaph. It has been used for a valediction, a homage, as in Samuel Johnson's 18th-century one for the writer Oliver Goldsmith: “He touched nothing that he did not adorn.” In more ways than one, it can finish someone off. It can be funny or poignant as in the Irish comedian Spike Milligan's (1918–2002) self-chosen epitaph: “I told you I was ill,” which manages to both praise himself for his prescience and chide the unobservant survivors. Inscriptions can of course be anonymous (“If God had not meant us to write on walls, he would never have given us an example”). The English humorist Alan Bennett (b. 1934) comments thus on the widespread ...

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