What is Humor?

sense of humorThere exist many sayings, proverbs, and scientific studies claiming and proving that having a sense of humor is a phenomenal aid in various life situations. However, what one finds comic and funny may be dull and boring for another. Some people value only so-called black humor, while others may find comedic features literally in everything. In other words, there seems to be no universal criteria to define what exactly is humorous.

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, humor is a quality which appeals to one’s sense of the ludicrous or absurdly incongruous. In other words, this definition implies that humor is a personal quality which causes us to feel amused as we witness events or phenomena which fall into the category of absurd. The ridiculousness of absurdity, by the way, to some extent corresponds with Freud’s views on the sense of humor, but at the same time, does not seem to give us a clear picture.

The online Free Dictionary defines humor as situations, speeches, or writings which are thought to be humorous. This definition reminds us about jokes and comedy—genres which are most often associated with the sense of humor. However, a word or an event on their own cannot be funny, as it is the context which provokes our amusement about something. This assumes that the same joke spoken to different people, who are either familiar or not familiar with its context, will respectively be perceived by them as ridiculous or dull and meaningless.

Dictionary.com offers a definition, according to which humor is a comic, absurd, or incongruous quality which causes amusement. If we restate this definition we can see that it assumes that for a situation or phenomenon to be seen as funny, it is enough for them to be absurd or incongruous. We believe that it is the participant who evaluates each particular situation, so we cannot ignore the role of an individual. In fact, this definition is to some extent similar to the one above in terms of appealing only to an object without taking the participant into consideration.

Based on the aforementioned qualities, but seemingly incomplete definitions, we would like to come up with another one. Humor is the individual’s ability to perceive situations or phenomena as amusing due to their absurd, incongruous, or ludicrous nature, and/or in relation to the context in which they took place.


Need Help?

Comment/Ask an Expert

Related Writing Guides

Writing a Definition Essay

In a definition essay, you explain the meaning of a certain term by giving a detailed description of it, and support your definition with clear examples or facts. Such explanations are needed if a term is special, abstract, disputed or does not have a ...


or login with

Register | Lost your password?