Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/151

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NATURE, ORIGIN AND FUNCTION OF HUMOR 147

fashion or quite out of it is equally an object of ridicule." Doubtless if the centuries could rise up and view each other en masse, their first act would be mutual laughter at each other's clothes.

5. Customs and Manners. — As stimulants of humor customs and manners have, perhaps, no equal. They excite it alike in the vulgar and the cultured, in the illiterate and the learned. They appear in excesses and exaggerations and in violating time and space relations, either as innovations or as lingering too long. To appear in excess or out of time and place implies some age and stability in human institu- tions. Norms and standards of fashions must be formed, regularity in activities must freeze into custom and the free spirit of good-fellow- ship and of social intercourse must become habituated to the plane of manners before the spirit of satire, wit and humor can react for or against them. The gentle old countryman whose habit it had been to exchange the courtesies of life with his fellow travelers along the country highway, awakened a ripple of humor when he graciously shook hands with all the occupants of a city street car. Mark Twain in his " Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court," gives us a charming glimpse of the humor of manners and customs out of time. Fielding observes of even so playful a dramatist as Sheridan that he attacks affectation, false sentiments, hollow forms and empty words in life and literature.

6. Words, Language and Thought. — This is the favorite tramping ground for both the humorist and his critic. The most delicate, subtle and refined specimens occur here. It is also here that an attempt to give an adequate treatment resembles trying to bottle a fog or lasso a cloud. To make some headway, however, we are under the necessity of drawing a few distinctions. All words, language and thought, not humorous to the speaker but so interpreted by the observer, may be termed unconscious humor (following the lead of common usage). The humorous interpretation of unconscious humor may be called passive humor. All deliberate manipulation of words, language and thoughts by the subject for humorous effects may be considered active humor. In what follows the text will show which sort is meant. 4 Concerning words, it appears that their misspelling, mispronunciation, misinterpretation, forced usage and misusage, punning, repetition, local- isms and foreign accents endow them with a certain degree of humor. Many of the humorous classics use one or more of these methods. The writings of " Artemus Ward " and " Josh Billings " about exhaust the possibilities of misspelling. Negro, Irish and foreign dialects now occupy much of the field of mispronunciation and misinterpretation. Dickens displays the worth of forced usage in the inimitable Pickwick. Sheridan creates Mrs. Malaprop largely by these methods. Shake- speare had the courage to pun to his own satisfaction. Dickens has

4 For a discussion of the forms of the comic see Th. Lipps, " Komik und Humor," pp. 78-102.

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