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Saturday, September 30, 2006


Commentary: Structures of Humor & The "Dung" Joke

Arthur: Here's a good one, I heard it in a pub. What's brown, what's brown and sounds like a bell?
Victor: I beg your pardon?
Arthur: What's brown and sounds like a bell? Dung! Ha, ha, ha, that's a good one....

Source: Monty Python's Flying Circus, Visitors from Coventry sketch (Video @ approx. 1:45)

Let's use the Ogden-Richards Symbol-Reference-Referent triangular model as a basis for analyzing the "Dung" joke to understand the structure of humor embedded within it.

"What's brown and sounds like a bell?"

This joke relies on the confusion of properties of Symbols with the properties of Referents:

Brown, of course, is a property of the Referent/existent Dung of the punchline.

The Symbol/word 'Dung' sounds similar to the Symbol/word 'Dong', which is an onomatopoeia for the sound made by the Referent/existent Bell.

So it is that we progress in meaning from Bell > Dong > Dung > Brown, mixing Referential and Symbolic meanings and usage along the way:

It is obvious that such a tortured picking apart of the joke tends to sterilize it and make it seem "not funny". The key point here is, however, that when we "get" the joke, our minds have automatically and unconsciously put together all of these pieces, resulting in the "getting" of the joke and laughing (hopefully) at the verbal incongruities that make up the joke.

(Originally Posted: 8/24/2006 @ 11:40AM)


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