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Humor, Etymology of

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

The concept of humor has its original derivation from the Latin concept for moisture or liquid, and the word humor is etymologically related to words such as humidity and to contemporary medical uses in which humors still designate fluids. The means by which it came to signify a form of the laughable or comic, and ultimately to be the general term for all forms of comic representation, are complex but revealing of larger shifts in the understanding of human psychology, self-awareness, and the relationship between mind, body, and cosmos.

In ancient and medieval medicine, the idea of humor was tied to definitions of the constitution of personhood. Character and temperament were understood to be governed by a mixture of the four humors, or fluids, that defined ...

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