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Humor Glossary and More

"Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand."
— Mark Twain

Humor —the quality that makes something funny or amusing — can be expressed in many ways. Some expressions of humor require careful, even extravagant preparation, such as the old vaudeville or burlesque shows; yet some humor is derived from a sidelong look, a quick joke, or a witty line tucked into an otherwise mundane sentence. The definitions for the various elements of humor listed below are from the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition, 2000, found at www.bartleby.com. An example or Web site link is provided for each definition.

Burlesque
A broadly comic or satirical imitation of a writing or play which presents a solemn subject in an undignified style; a type of variety show featuring clown-like comedians, off-color jokes, and scantily-clad dancers. To learn more about forms of variety theater, see memory.loc.gov/ammem/vshtml/vsforms.html, or www.musicals101.com/burlesque.htm. (Teachers: preview these two sites to ensure their appropriateness for your students. Sites include mention of minstrel "blackface" acts and female dancers in burlesque shows.)

Caricature
A representation, especially pictorial or literary, in which the subject's distinctive features or peculiarities are deliberately exaggerated to produce a comic effect. For an online exhibition of historical political caricatures, see http://www.indiana.edu/~liblilly/cartoon/cartoons.html.

Cartoons
A drawing depicting a humorous situation, often accompanied by a caption, including animated versions or comic strips. For a site that features a huge collection of editorial cartoons, see http://cagle.slate.msn.com/teacher.

Irony
A method of humorous or subtly sarcastic expression in which the intended meaning of the words is a direct opposite of their usual sense. For example, the irony of calling a stupid plan "clever".

Joke
A brief oral narrative with a humorous twist at the end told to provoke laughter. Example, "What do mice eat for breakfast? Answer: Mice Crispies." Just for fun, log onto schooljokes.com.

Parody
A literary or musical work imitating the characteristic style of some other work in a satirical or humorous way, usually by applying it to an inappropriate subject. For a very funny parody of Romeo and Juliet, see http://elfwood.lysator.liu.se/(printer)/libr/j/o/
jozo/romeo_and_juliet,_a_parody.htm.html
.

Sarcasm A taunting, sneering, cutting or caustic remark, generally ironic; made with the intention of belittling, hurting or ridiculing an individual or an idea. "She had lost the art of conversation, but not, unfortunately, the power of speech."
— George Barnard Shaw

Satire
A literary work in which human vice or folly is attacked through irony, derision, or wit. Whereas the purpose of sarcasm is strictly to wound, satire is used to reveal flaws in human behavior of institutions with an intent to reform. For an example of satire from the pen of Mark Twain read Running for Governor at http://www.twainquotes.com/Galaxy/187012c.html.

Situation Comedy A humorous radio or television series with a regular cast of characters that react to unusual situations, such as misunderstandings or embarrassing coincidences; sometimes called a "sitcom." Examples: I Love Lucy; Cheers; Friends; Fraser.

Slapstick A loud and dynamic form of comedy marked by chases, crashes, and crude practical jokes. Examples: The Keystone Kops; Laurel and Hardy; I Love Lucy.

Vaudeville
A kind of variety show consisting of mixed specialty acts, including songs, dances, comic skits, and acrobatic performances. For more about forms of variety theater, see
memory.loc.gov/ammem/vshtml/vsforms.html

Wit
The ability to make lively, clever remarks in a sharp, amusing way. Dorothy Parker wittily observed that "Wit has truth in it; wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words."

"Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes."
— Oscar Wilde