History of Humor: Modern and Contemporary Europe

The cultural and linguistic diversity of Europe is reflected in a multiplicity of different expressions that are called “humor.” Most European languages make a clear differentiation between (1) “humor” as a personality trait or general attitude toward the world (French humour; German, Dutch, Spanish humor; Italian umorismo) and (2) a general concept of “humorous phenomena”: “the comic” (French comique; Dutch komiek; German Komik; Italian comico). At the same time, the traditional terminology of the satirical “laughter” (laughable/ridicule) is still common at the beginning of the 20th century (French rire/ridicule; German Lachen/das Lächerliche; Greek gélōs/geloíon; Italian riso/ridicolo; Latin risus/ridiculum).

This entry first describes several important 20th-century theories of humor, before moving on to discuss the driving factors behind the development of humor in relation to various humorous ...

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