The European Journal of Humour Research

Vol 2, No 3 (2014)

Understanding obscenity and offensive humour: What’s funny?

Rohit Revi


Humourisation of the offensive occupies a position of distinctive prominence in our study of how we experience humour. The offensive is often found to be closely linked with obscene expressions and the mind’s response towards them. This correlation between the obscene and the offensive is explored. “Being offended” is treated as a psychological state that comes into being when a sacrosanct mental territory is threatened by external, unsolicited experiences. The function of obscenity in delivering offence is explained through the subversive ability of the obscene in the context of class conflict, anthropomorphisation of obscene words and images and the strengthening of illocutionary acts. The humorous effect of delivered offence is investigated through superiority theory (laughter as dissidence and disobedience), relief theory, Bergson’s mechanical theory and a theory of trivialisation is further proposed.


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