Definition of humour noun from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary



    (especially US English humor) noun
    BrE BrE//ˈhjuːmə(r)//
    ; NAmE NAmE//ˈhjuːmər//
    jump to other results
  1. 1  [uncountable] the quality in something that makes it funny or amusing; the ability to laugh at things that are amusing a story full of gentle humour She ignored his feeble attempt at humour. They failed to see the humour of the situation. I can't stand people with no sense of humour. Whatever you do, don’t lose your sense of humour. She smiled with a rare flash of humour. She has her very own brand of humour. The film is only funny if you appreciate French humour (= things that cause French people to laugh). CulturehumourA sense of humour (AmE humor), an ability to see the funny side of life, is considered essential by most British and American people. Everyone needs to be able to laugh at themselves sometimes, and to recognize that the situation they are in may look funny to others. It is considered a serious criticism of somebody to say that they have no sense of humour. When people are trying to meet other people, for example on an Internet dating site, they often ask for possible partners to have a GSOH (good sense of humour).Some people have a dry sense of humour, and can keep a straight face (= not smile) and let their voice sound as though they are being serious when they are joking. Other people are said to be witty (= show a very clever type of humour). A person's sense of humour is influenced by many things, including family and social background and age.British and American humour on stage have some important differences, although the fact that some comedy television programmes are popular in both countries shows that there is common ground. Some American sitcoms (= shows in which the humour comes from situations that the characters get into) such as Frasier, Friends and Seinfeld have been as popular in Britain as some of its own sitcoms. Sitcoms often have a laugh track (= a recording of people laughing) so that the audience at home will laugh in the right places. In many sitcoms gentle fun is made of ordinary life without the risk of causing anyone serious offence.American stage humour is more direct than British comedy. In the American series Cheers, for instance, the humour comes from characters like Coach and Woody being more stupid than any real person could possibly be. But in the British comedy Fawlty Towers Basil Fawlty's funny characteristics are exaggerated versions of those found in the type of Englishman he represents. Slapstick comedy, which is based on people falling over, bumping into each other, etc. is now less popular in Britain.British comedy makes frequent use of irony, humour which depends on a writer or performer suggesting the opposite of what is actually expressed. Many novels, films, stage plays, etc. use irony, even when discussing serious subjects such as death. Popular humour may sometimes rely on double entendre (= using a phrase that can be understood in two ways, one of which is usually sexual) or on innuendo (= making an indirect suggestion of something rude). These were both used a lot in the popular series of Carry On films that began in the 1960s.Satire (= making people or institutions appear ridiculous to show how foolish or bad they are) is an important element of popular British political comedy programmes. One of the most successful British comedy series, which also became popular in the US, was Monty Python's Flying Circus. It had a zany (= odd and silly) and satirical humour which appealed especially to young people.Comic strips and cartoons, whether printed in newspapers, shown on television or the Internet or made into films, are popular in both the US and Britain. The most famous include Peanuts, Tom and Jerry and The Simpsons.Stand-up comedians perform on television or in clubs, telling gags (= jokes) and funny stories which end with a punch line, the part where the audience is supposed to laugh. Many comedians tell jokes that are funny because of some racial or sexual innuendo, and this may be considered unacceptable for family audiences. In Britain, common targets of comedians include mothers-in-law, foreigners and people from particular parts of Britain, especially Scotsmen (who are supposed to hate spending money) and Irishmen (who are supposed to be stupid). Many people find such jokes offensive, and the new generation of comedians has avoided making fun of people's race. Another form of comedy is for people from minority groups to make fun of their own customs and attitudes.Many people tell jokes at school, at home and at the office. People may start a speech with a joke or funny story to help break the ice (= make people feel more relaxed).Children tell jokes that involve a play on words, such as knock-knock jokes or ‘What do you call ..’ jokes e.g. ‘What do you call a man with a seagull on his head?’ ‘Cliff’.Adults sometimes tell what in the US are called Polish jokes because they are about a particular national or racial group. There are also jokes about blondes (= women with fair hair) being stupid, and lawyers having bad characters. For instance, ‘Why do they do lab experiments on lawyers?’ ‘Because there are some things that even a rat won't do.’ On the whole this type of humour is considered dated and in bad taste. Light bulb jokes make fun of the worst characteristic of any group of people, by suggesting mistakes they would make in trying to change a light bulb: ‘How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?’ - ‘Just one, but it has to really want to change.’Practical jokes involve tricking people, and are not usually very popular, but on April Fool's Day (1 April) people traditionally play practical jokes on each other. Newspapers often include a story that is not true hoping that some readers will believe it and then feel silly.
  2. 2[countable, uncountable] (formal) the state of your feelings or mind at a particular time to be in the best of humours The meeting dissolved in ill humour. to be out of humour (= in a bad mood) see also good humour, good-humoured, ill-humoured
  3. 3[countable] (old use) one of the four liquids that were thought in the past to be in a person’s body and to influence health and character
  4. Word OriginMiddle English: via Old French from Latin humor ‘moisture’, from humere ‘be moist’. The original sense was ‘bodily fluid’ (surviving in aqueous humour and vitreous humour); it was used specifically for any of the cardinal humours (sense (3)), which led to the sense ‘mental disposition’ (thought to be caused by the relative proportions of the humours). This led, in the 16th cent., to the senses ‘mood’ (sense (2)) and ‘whim’, hence to humour someone ‘to indulge a person's whim’. Sense (1) dates from the late 16th cent.Extra examples Her good humour was restored by the excellent meal. Her speech was serious, but not without the occasional touch of humour. His colleagues soon got fed up with his schoolboy humour. The man who lost his shoes failed to see the humour of the situation. The movie uses humour to make its points. The remarks were made in good humour. The stories are full of humour. This movie takes crude gross-out humour to a new low. With wry humour, they laugh at their misfortunes. a television sitcom with its own peculiar brand of humour to have a dry/​good/​great/​warped/​weird/​wicked sense of humour He has a good sense of humour. I can’t stand people with no sense of humour. It was a story full of gentle humour. The film is only funny if you appreciate French humour. Whatever you do, don’t lose your sense of humour.