The European Journal of Humour Research

Vol 5, No 4 (2017)

True German and phony English laughter: Schmidt-Hidding was still Schmidt

Christian F. Hempelmann


Schmidt-Hidding’s (b. 1903, d. 1967) lexical field study on the area of Humor und Witz [humor and wit/jokes] (1963b) receives attention in humor research to this day, especially in German-speaking countries. His diamond-shaped illustration of the two dimensions of the field of humor, not least in its aim to distinguish “earthy” German from “courteous” English humor, has become well-known. In view of this continued interest in the final write-up of Schmidt-Hidding’s work on humor (1963a, 1963b), in which he consistently ignores his earlier related publications under the name of Schmidt, this paper aims to discourage researchers from basing their work on it for two reasons. The more important one is the flawed, or at least muddled and definitely outdated, methodology of his study. The more delicate one that is focused on here is that the motivation for and the ideological direction of the study are strongly influenced by its author’s National Socialist ideology, which Schmidt-Hidding had possibly assumed for opportunistic reasons and abandoned after World War II. I will first document this ideological alignment with National Socialism from Schmidt’s earlier work, basically a prelude to his  Schlüsselwörter (1963a). Then I’ll briefly present the methodological flaws, to the degree that Schmidt-Hidding was sufficiently explicit about his method to make that possible. This approach of interpreting a complex issue in its historical and social contexts, along with showing what the issue is in contrast to analogous issues, is the important research agenda that Davies brought to humor research.


Schmidt-Hidding, W. (ed.) (1963a). Europäische Schlüsselwörter I: Humor und Witz [European Key Terms I: Humor and Wit]. Munich: Max Hueber.

Schmidt-Hidding, W. (1963b). ‘Wit and humor’, in Schmidt-Hidding, W. (ed.) 1963a. pp. 37–161.

Schütz, K.O. (1963). ‘Witz und Humor [Wit and humor]’, in Schmidt-Hidding, W. (ed.) 1963a. pp. 161–244.

Thorndike, E.L. (1921). The Teacher’s Word Book. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.

Thorndike, E.L. (1948). Thorndike English Dictionary. London: Waverley.

Trier, J. (1931). Der deutsche Wortschatz im Sinnbezirk des Verstandes [German vocabulary in the lexical field of the mind]. Heidelberg: Winter.

Trier, J. (1939). ‘Warum studieren wir die Geschichte unserer Muttersprache?’, in Huhnhäuser, A., Pudelko, A. & Jacoby, K. (eds.). Beiträge zum neuen Deutschunterricht, Deutsche Volkserziehung, Schriftenreihe für Erziehung und Unterricht, Heft 4, pp. 3–10, Frankfurt: Diesterweg. First published in Die Welt als Geschichte 4, pp. 347–57.

Wahrig, G. (1955). ‘Das Lachen im Altenglischen und Mittelenglischen [Laughter in Old English and Middle English]’, Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik 3(3), pp. 274–305. 3(4), pp. 389–418.

Wandruszka, M. (1979). ‘‘Falsche Freunde’: Ein linguistisches Problem und seine Lösung [‘False friends’: a linguistic problem and its solution]’, Lebende Sprachen 24(1), pp. 4–9.

Weber, M. (1904). ‘Die ‘Objektivität’ Sozialwissenschaftlicher und Sozialpolitischer Erkenntnis [The objectivity of knowledge in social sciene and social policy]’, Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik 19, pp. 22–87.

Weisgerber, J.L. (1942). Private letter to Eduard Hermann 1/17/1942. Quoted after Maas 2007: 431f.

Weisgerber, J.L. (1951). Das Gesetz der Sprache als Grundlage des Sprachstudiums [The law of language as the foundation of linguistics]. Heidelberg: Quelle und Meyer.

Whorf, B.L. (1956). Carroll, J.B. (ed.) Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.