The history of humor

… with a note on fart jokes.

Another Tom Gauld cartoon from his collection Baking With Kafka:

(Note British spellings.)

From Wikipedia:

Flatulence humor or flatulence humour refers to any type of joke, practical joke device, or other off-color humor related to flatulence.

Although it is likely that flatulence humor has long been considered funny in cultures that consider the public passing of gas impolite, such jokes are rarely recorded. Two important early texts are the 5th century BC plays The Knights and The Clouds, both by Aristophanes, which contain numerous fart jokes. Another example from classical times appeared in Apocolocyntosis or The Pumpkinification of Claudius, a satire attributed to Seneca on the late Roman emperor

… Archeologist Warwick Ball asserts that the Roman Emperor Elagabulus played practical jokes on his guests, employing a whoopee cushion-like device at dinner parties.

And on through the Arabian Nights, John Aubrey’s Brief Lives, Chaucer’s The Miller’s Tale and The Summoner’s Tale, Rabelais’s tales of Gargantua and Pantagruel, various plays of Shakespeare, and up through Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, and Moby-Dick.

3 Responses to “The history of humor”

  1. Mitch4 Says:

    I grew up with only “nursery terms” for flatulence, and thought of “fart” as much more taboo than it in fact was outside my family’s immediate milieu (1950s Jewish suburban Miami). And I really did not pick up on the acceptable “in polite company” non-infantile alternatives until more or less adulthood. I mean “passing gas” and “breaking wind” along with a few variations with “wind”.

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    From John Lawler on Facebook:

    Note a book by Eric Rabkin, former chair of Linguistics at Umich. It’s a Gas (1997)

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      On Facebook, applied linguist Larry Selinker (who taught at Michigan from 1977 through 1993) was dubious about Rabkin’s status as a linguist, and indeed it seems he was interim chair of linguistics in 1982-84, but otherwise his research and teaching have been entirely in the field of English literature and pedagogy.

      From the Univ. of Michigan site for Rabkin —

      Eric Rabkin is Arthur F. Thurnau Professor Emeritus, Professor Emeritus of English Language and Literature, and Professor Emeritus of Art and Design at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Born (1946) and raised in New York City and educated at Stuyvesant H.S., Cornell University (A.B., 1967), and the University of Iowa (Ph.D., 1970), he joined the Michigan faculty as an assistant professor in 1970, became associate professor in 1974, full professor in 1977, and emeritus professor in 2013, the year in which he became Professor of Writing and Rhetoric and first Associate Provost for Online Education at Stony Brook University, where he remained until 2015. He [and his wife] now live in Somerset, New Jersey … His current research interests include graphic narrative, fantasy and science fiction, pedagogy, academic computing, the quantitative study of culture, and traditional literary criticism and theory.

      … As a teacher, Rabkin was especially known for his large, popular lecture courses on science fiction and fantasy, and for his many teaching innovations, including the development of the highly successful Practical English writing program for those who will use writing in their work lives, and for his work at all levels, including faculty training, in research and communication applications of computer technologies.

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