Is there a word for the study of humour?
July 2, 2006 11:34 PM   Subscribe

Is there a word for the study of humour?

'Gelotology' is apparently the word for the study of laughter, (from the Greek ghelos, they tell me) but it seems to refer mainly to the physiological effects of the act of laughing. Is there a separate word which refers to the study of humour itself, or should I just stretch the meaning of gelotolgy, which seems to be a very new word.

Ideally I'm after an English word, but other languages are good too.
posted by pompomtom to Science & Nature (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

I don't know if there's a word, but nobody nailed it or articulated it better than Walter Kerr.
posted by RavinDave at 1:51 AM on July 3, 2006

If ya gotta study it, it takes all the fun out of it: "If you can, crack wise; if you can't, teach."* That said, there is a tongue-in-check German word for this concept, Witzologie (lit: wit study).
*Link to "Die Koorvah von Mensa," A. S. Konigsberg (dissertation, College of Hard Knocks, New York NY, 1975)
posted by rob511 at 2:43 AM on July 3, 2006

Despite what The New Yorker says, there's no way that the study of humor is a new field. I have plenty of books, some of them fairly old, about this very subject. (Aristotle addresses it in the Poetics, even.) However, none of them really has a term for this field. "Comedy studies" is the term I usually use, limp though it is.
posted by Dr. Wu at 6:21 AM on July 3, 2006

Don't have an answer ("jollyology"?), but here's a related MeFi post.
posted by youarenothere at 6:35 AM on July 3, 2006

I think Gelotology - I've also seen it spelt as Gelatology - covers the psychological aspects of laughter as well as the physiological, though I can't find an authoritative link to back this up.

I've heard very good things about "Laughter" by Robert Provine. This link is also quite interesting.
posted by blag at 6:43 AM on July 3, 2006

I've also seen it spelt as Gelatology

Maybe, but that was a misspelling. The Greek word is γέλως, stem γέλωτ- (gelōs, gelōt-) 'laughter.' I don't see any reason not to extend it to the study of humor.

Incidentally, the OED doesn't have that, but it does have gelotometer 'A gauge for measuring laughter':
1828 LANDOR Imag. Conv. III. 304 We may expect the Society for the Suppression of Vice to offer a reward for a gelotometre.
posted by languagehat at 8:42 AM on July 3, 2006

Well, there is the The International Journal of Humor Research (which is occasionally quite excellent), so that suggests to me that if there is a word, it's not that commonly used.
posted by fvw at 9:35 AM on July 3, 2006

Inspired by gelotometer, I found this page of amazing laughter-related words:

Gelotology seems like a perfectly cromulent word to apply here.
posted by TonyRobots at 10:05 AM on July 3, 2006

I don't see any reason not to extend it to the study of humor.

One of the main theses of Robert Provine's book, Laughter, is that laughter "has surprisingly little to do with jokes and funny stories."
posted by painquale at 10:35 AM on July 3, 2006

Funny (hah!) you should ask. I just read Brett Mills's Television Sitcom and Mills consistently called the study of humor "Humour Theory." (He's British, hence the "u.")

I think when he refers to Humour Theory, he's talking about the study of why things are funny, why we use humor, and what the political implications of humor are. Mills is really into the topic, so I assume he knows.
posted by miriam at 12:02 PM on July 3, 2006

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