Mike Beversluis

Friday, November 03, 2006

Anglo-saxon humour vs ...

As promised I am doing a detailed analysis of the distinction between anglo-saxon humour, the american version of it, italian humour and sardinian humour.

Let's start by quoting some anglo-saxon humour, taking it from one of Mike's posts:

"John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.
(Russell Beland, Springfield)"

It is anglo-saxon because it is intellectual: it pretends to define the characteristics of something while not really doing it; and it makes it quite clear that it is not doing what it pretends to do. In synthesis, it is a sort of intellectual humour, and it is very kind to everyone: John, Mary and the reader.

On to american humour. The step that we do is adding either a certain amount of nastiness, or of grossness, or of smartness (it is necessary to outsmart the reader):

McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty Bag filled with vegetable soup.
(Paul Sabourin, Silver Spring)

for nastiness and grossness

His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free
(Chuck Smith, Woodbridge)

for smartness.

Italian humour is more ironical and "tongue-in-cheek" (I am not totally sure that I amusing correctly the english expression here). A particular expression of italian humour is the so-called "colmi", that in english I would translate is as "full-measures". The initial question of each one of the "colmi" is "What is the full measure for ... ?" that means "what could be the most ironical situation in which ... could be found?". Most of the "colmi" involve playing with words, so that they are impossible to translate. I have found two whose translation is possible.

What is the full measure for a chicken? - Having ... goose bumps!!

What is the full measure for a hangman? - Not being able to kill time.

In a way, the italian humorist is taking part in a big party, and cheering up the audience. It does not always work, of course.

Sardinian humour is even more ironical but there is little of the "big party" feeling of the italian humour. I'll try my best to convey the irony with one of the jokes that I heard at home

A sardinian guy is talking about his experiences in WWII. After having boasted a lot, he concludes saying that he had walked back home from Russia to Sardinia. Someone in the audience is suspicious, and asks: "Walked back ... but what about the sea?". The guy is unabashed: "Come on ... who would care about such a trifle as the sea in war time?"


  • You might find this interesting.

    Point: Lost in translation

    "The Brits often assume that Germans have no sense of humour. In truth, writes comedian Stewart Lee, it's a language problem. The peculiarities of German sentence construction simply rule out the lazy set-ups that British comics rely on ... "

    Counterpoint: The German Joke of the day

    By Blogger Mike Beversluis, at 03 November, 2006 17:48  

  • I promise a story about the german sense of humour the next time we meet.

    Rather, I just noticed an orthography mistake that I made: I wrote "amusing" rather than "am using".
    Since it is in theme, and I find it amusing, I shall leave it there.

    By Blogger John Travolta Sardus, at 03 November, 2006 21:23  

  • Hello.
    The Italian examples you offered seem more based on "double meaning" than on "irony" in the conventional sense. Such a mechanism, in which a well-established expression is used in a different context and thereby altering its meaning, is staple for jokes from many cultures (e.g., the old schoolyard joke: "Tall chimney says to the short chimney: 'You're too young to smoke'. Not exactly hilarious, but I hope it serves my point...).
    I agree with your "Big Party" observation. Most Italian comics have no problem to laugh along with their audience. Most Anglo-american comics prefer to be more dead-pan, serious, indifferent, or angry depending on their persona and style. Compare say Peter Sellers and Roberto Benigni in their different interpretations of the Pink Panther role. Sellers character caused mayhem but took himself completely seriously (in a very similar way that Leslie Neilson would do in the later Naked Gun movies). Benigni depicted his character as more innocent and child-like, albeit equally diaster prone.
    As for the comment regarding Brits “assuming” that Germans have no sense of humour, that is more due to Brits falling for the standard severe-faced German sterotype than having anything to do with them having being unable to decipher German jokes... but that’s the Guardian for you....
    Anyway, if let me know what you think. Ciao

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 01 December, 2006 09:24  

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