Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Humour, wit, satire,...

Types of humour from Henry Fowler’s 1906 Modern English Usage. He wrote,
So much has been written upon the nature of some of these words, and upon the distinctions between pairs or trios among them (wit and humour, sarcasm and irony and satite), that it would be both presumptuous and unnecessary to attempt a further disquisition. But a sort of tabular statement may be of service against some popular misconceptions. No definition of the words is offered, but for each its motive or aim, its province, its method or means, and its proper audience, are specified. The constant confusion between sarcasm, satire and irony, as well as that now less common between wit and humour, seems to justify this mechanical device of parallel classification; but it will be of use only to those who wish for help in determining which is the word that they really want.
DeviceMotive or aimProvinceMethod or meansAudience
Humour Discovery Human nature Observation The sympathetic
Wit Throwing light Words and ideas Surprise The intelligent
Satire Amendment Morals and manners Accentuation The self-satisfied
Sarcasm Inflicting pain Faults and foibles Inversion Victim and bystander
Invective Discredit Misconduct Direct statement The public
Irony Exclusiveness Statement of factsMystification An inner circle
Cynicism Self-justification Morals Exposure of nakedness The respectable
Sardonic Self-relief Adversity Pessimism The self

4 comments:

  1. I think some of these terms have changed meanings over the years. For instance, sarcasim and sardonic have been inflated, so that most mean sardonic when they say sarcastic. Humour has come to mean the general category within which the rest of the terms fall. I'm not sure what he means by cynicism, but I am pretty sure it doesn't mean the same thing now.

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  2. Thanks for a really interesting quote.

    I think you'll both find though that the book was first published in 1926 (not 1906) and that the edition used for the quotation is the 2006 celebration edition David Crystal put out for OUP. I'd be interested in any evidence you may have that the word meanings have changed. Because sceptical...

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  3. Jc_Freak, quite possibly, happy to defer to you on matters of grammar and syntax, my knowledge is better in the sciences.

    Tim, I saw both 1906 and 1926 in my searches. I (erroneously) assumed it published on the earlier date and republished/ reprinted later. It seems 1906 was when he wrote The King's English.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Yes, wrong detail, but a fine and useful quote :) from an excellent if elderly work.

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