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Sunday, November 06, 2005

Wit vs. Humor


What is humor and how does it differ from wit? According to Webster's Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged Edition, humor is "the recognition and expression of incongruities or peculiarities in a situation or character...it illustrates some fundamental absurdity in human nature or conduct." Humor often involves someone or something being observed, there's frequently a visual or nonverbal component, and it is silly or playful. Now take a breath. The discourse gets worse before it gets better. Wit, in contrast, is "the quick apprehension and ingenuous and apt expression of the connections or analogous properties between things seemingly unlike." Mark Twain has an elegant, living explanation, "Wit is the sudden marriage of ideas which before their union were not perceived to have any relation." And while focusing on the differences between humor and wit, let's not overlook their relationship to creativity. Psychological studies have shown that subjects who watched funny television clips or The Three Stooges {with Curly, not Shemp} before subsequent problem-solving tasks were far more creative than comparably matched subjects who spent time exercising before problem-solving task.

Wit, more than humor, originates in the observer; wit is highly verbal, clever and artful. I believe it was the late comic actor, Bert Lahr, who distinguished between the two, "saying funny things [wit] and saying things in a funny way" [non-verbal humor]. Wit, also, has more of a cutting-edge quality to it than humor. I personally envision it all this way-- letting the air out of a balloon depicts humor. Pricking an inflated balloon is wit. As Shakespeare once noted, "Brevity is the soul of wit."

Copyright © 2005 Bridget Petrella Media Relations

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