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from the library of: 
Elizabeth S. Edvards 

UNE diatti lUrary 


) - 



Peofessob Db. SIGMUN: 



Aathorized English Edition, with Introduction by 
A. A. BRILL, PhB., M.D. 

In Ptvchofuulygia Bud Abnomiiil PaychotocTi 
New Voik Unlveraity; (Ormer Chief of Clinic 
of Parchiatrv. Columbia UotKnitr 





Copjriglit, 1016^ BY 


Nbw Tobk 

AH BiohU B 9 M nMä 
Btßrimi^d Ifoptmkmrt 1917 





In 1908 when it was agreed between Professor 
Freud and myself that I should be his translator, 
it was decided to render into English first the 
following five works: Selected Papers on Hys- 
teria and Psyckoneuroses,^ Three Contributioru 
to the Theory of Sex,' The Interpretation 
of Dreams* Psychopatkology of Everyday 
Ldfe* and the present volume. These works 
were selected because they represent the varlous 
stages of development of Professor Freud's Psy- 
choanalysis,* and also because it was thought that 
they contain the material which one must master 
before one is able to judge correctly the author's 
theories or apply them in practice. This under- 
taking, which was fraught with many linguistic 
and other difficulties, has finally been aecom- 

' Monograph Seriu, Journal of Nerrous and Mental Diseases 
Pnb. Co., 2od Ed-, 1918. 

'Monograph Sertes, Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases 
Pub. Co., 9nd Ed., 1916. 

■ Ute Maemillu) Co., New York, and Allen & Unwin, London, 

*T1ie HacmUlan Co., New York, and T. Fisher Unwln, London. 

'lUa expresdon b used advisedlj in order to dIaUngulsh it 
from other methods of "analysis," whkh Profes.ior Freud fullj 
dtsavmrs. Cf. The Bütoty of th» Ptychoanalytie Movement, 
trsaslated by A. A. Brill, The Ptychoaiuilytic Btvitv, June-Sept.« 


plished with the edition of the present volume, 
and it is therefore with a sense of great satis- 
faction that the translator's preface to this work 
is written. But although the original task is 
finished the translator's work is only beginning. 
Psychoanalysis has made enormous strides. On 
the foundation laid by Professor Freud there 
developed a hterature rich in ideas and content 
which has revolutionized the science of nervous 
and mental diseases, and has thrown much hght 
on the subject of dreams, sex, mythology,' the 
history of civilization and racial psychology,* 
philology,' »sthetics,* child psychology and 
pedagogics," philology," and mysticism and oc- 
cultism. With the Interpretation of Dreams and 
Psychopathology of Everyday Life, Professor 
Freud has definitely bridged the gulf between 
normal and abnormal mental states by demon- 
strating that dreams and faulty acts like some 
forms of forgetting, slips of the tongue, slips of 
reading, writing, etc., are closely allied to psycho- 

' Cf. the works of Freud, Abraham, Rank, and others. 

'Cf. Freud: Totem and Taboo, a translation In preparation, 
and the works of Jones, Rank and Sadis, Jung, and Storfer, 

•Cf. Freud, Bemy, Rank, and Sachs, and Sperber. 

•Of. Freudi Leonardo da Vinci, a translation in prepnraÜon. 
and tlie works of man^ others. 

*Cf. e. Hug-Mcltmulh : Ant dem Berlmhbtn det Kinder, and 
the works of Jones, Pflater, and many others. 

•Cf. the works of Freud, Putnom, Hitschmann, Winteratdn, 
uid others. 




pathological states and represent the prototypes 
of such abnormal mental conditions as neurotic 
symptoms, hallucinations, and deliria. He also 
shows that all these productions are senseful 
and purposive, and that their strange and pecu- 
har appearance is due to distortions produced by 
various psychic processes. These views are con- 
firmed in the present volume, where it is demon- 
strated that wit, wliich belongs to lestbetics, is 
subject to the same laws, shows the same mecha- 
nism, and serves the same tendencies as the 
other psychic productions. With his wonted 
profundity and ingenuity the author adds the 
solution of wit to those of the neuroses, dreams, 
and psychopathological acts. 

I take great pleasure in tendering my thanks 
to Mr. Horatio \A''inslow, who has read the manu- 
script and has given me valuable suggestions in 
the choice of expressions and in the selection of 
substitutes for those witticisms that could not be 

A. A. Behx. 

JTay. leiO. 



L Inteoduction • .. • i., » ^ 8 

II. The Technique of Wrr • i.i w i« 16 

in. The Tendencies of Wrr • • :. • 127 

IV. The Pleasure Mechanism and the Pst- 

CH06ENESIS OF WiT . • • . 177 

V. The Motives of Wit and Wit as a So- 

ciAi« Process 214 


VI. The Relation of Wit to Dkeams and 

TO THE Unconscious . • • • 249 

Vn. Wrr AND THE Various Forms of the 

Comic .. .. ... ... . .. . 288 

k". .T^ 




Whoeveb has had occasion to examioe that 
part of the literature of aesthetics and psychol- 
ogy dealing with the nature and affinities of 
wit, will, no doubt, concede that our philo- 
sophical inquiries have not awarded to wit the 
important role that it plays in our mental life. 
One can recount only a small number of think- 
ers who have penetrated at all deeply into the 
problems of wit. To be sure, among the au- 
thors on wit one finds the illustrious names of 
the poet Jean Paul (Fr. Richter), and of the 
philosophers Th. Vischer, Kuno Fischer, and Th. 
Lipps. But even these writers put the sub- 
ject of wit in the background whue their chief 
interest centers around the more comprehen- 
sive and more alluring problems of the comic. 

In the main this literature gives the impres- 
sion that it is altogether impractical to study 

t except when treated as a part of the comic. 

Presentation of the Subject by Other Authors 

According to Th. LJpps {Komik und Humor, 
1898') wit is "essentially the subjective side 
of the comic; i.e., it is that part of the comic 
which we om'selves create, which colors our con- 
duct as such, and to wluch our relation is that 
of Superior Subject, never of Object, certainly 
not Voluntary Object" (p. 80). The follow- 
ing comment might also be added: — In general 
we designate as wit " every conscious and clever 
evocation of the comic, whether the comic ele- 
ment lies in the viewpoint or in the situation 
itself" (p. 78). 

K. Fischer explains the relation between wit 
and the comic by the aid of caricature, which, 
according to his exposition, comes midway be- 
tween the two {Über den iVitz, 1889). The 
subject of the comic is the hideous element in 
any of its manifestations. " Where it is con- 
cealed it must be disclosed in the light of the 
comic view; where it is not at all or but slightly 
noticeable it must he rendered conspicuous and 
elucidated in such a manner that it becomes 
clear and intelligible. Thus arises caricature " 
(p. 45). "Our entire psychic world, the in- 
tellectual realm of our thoughts and concep- 

■ Btitragr zwr Atilhtlik. edited b^ Theodor t.ipps and Rkbard 
Maria Werner. W.—n book to which I em Indebted (or the 
courage and capsdtf to undertake this «tteinpt. 



' tions, does not reveal itself to us on superficial 
consideration. It cannot be visualized directly 
either tigurativeiy or intuitively, moreover it 
contains inhibitions, weak points, disfigurements, 
and an abundance of ludicrous and comical con- 
trasts. In order to bring it out and to make 
it accessible to esthetic examination, a force is 
necessary which is capable not only of depict- 
ing objects directly, but also of reflecting upon 
these conceptions and elucidating them — 
namely, a force capable of clarifying thought. 
This force is nothing but judgment. The judg- 
ment which produces the comic contrast is 
wit. In caricature wit has played its part un- 
noticed, but only in judgment does it attain 
its own individual form and the free domain of 
its evolution." 

As can be seen Lipps assigns the determin- 
ing factor which classifies wit as part of the 
comic, to the activity or to the active behavior 
of the subject, whereas K. Fischer characterizes 
wit by its relation to its object, in which char- 
acterization he accentuates the hidden hideous 
element in the realm of thought. One cannot 
put to test the cogency of these definitions of 
wit; one can, in fact, hardly understand them 
tmless one studies the text from which they were 
taken. One is thus forced to work his way 
through the author's descriptions of the comic 



in order to learn anything about wit. From 
other passages, however, one discovers that the 
same authors attribute to wit essential char- 
acteristics of general validity in which they dis- 
regard its relation to the comic. 

K. Fischer's characterization of wit which 
seems to be most satisfactory to this author runs 
as follows: "Wit is a playful judgment" (p, 
51). For an elucidation of this expression we 
are referred to the analogy: "How esthetic 
freedom consists in the playful contemplation 
of objects" (p. 50). In another place (p. 20) 
the aesthetic attitude towards an object is char- 
acterized by the condition that we expect noth- 
ing from this object— especially no gratification 
of our serious needs-^but that we content our- 
selves with the pleasure of contemplating the 
same. In contrast to labor the aesthetic attitude 
is playful. " It may be that from testbetie free- 
dom there also results a kind of judgment, freed 
from the conventional restrictions and rule of 
conduct, which, in view of its genesis, I will 
call the playful judgment. This conception con- 
tains the first condition and possibly the entire 
formula for the solution of our problem. ' Free- 
dom begets wit and wit begets freedom,' says 
Jean Paul. Wit is nothing but a free play of 
ideas " (p. 24). 

Since time immemorial a favorite definitioft 




of wit has been the abUity to discover similarities 
in difsiniilarities, i.e., to find hidden similarities. 
Jean Paul has jocosely expressed this idea by 
saying that " wit is the disguised priest who 
unites every couple." Th. Vischer adds the 
postscript: "He likes best to imite those cou- 
ples whose marriage the relatives refuse to 
sanction." Vischer refutes this, however, by 
remarking that in some witticisms there is no 
question of comparison or the discovery of 
similarities. Hence with very little deviation 
from Jean Paul's definition he defines wit as 
the skill to combine witli surprising quickness 
many ideas, which through inner content and 
connections are foreign to one another. K. 
Fischer then calls attention to the fact that 
in a large mmiber of these witty judgments one 
does not find similarities, but contrasts; and 
Lipps further remarks that these definitions 
refer to the wit that the humorist possesses and 
not to the wit that he produces. 

Other viewpoints, in some measm^e connected 
with one anotber, which have been mentioned in 
defining and describing wit are: "the contrast 
of ideas" " sense in nonsense," and " confusion 
and clearness." 

Definitions like those of Kraepelin lay stress 
upon Üie contrast of ideas. Wit is " the volun- 
tary combination or linking of two ideas which 


in some way are contrasted with each other, 
usxially through the medium of speech associa- 
tion." For a critic like Lipps it would not be 
difficult to reveal the utter inadequacy of this 
formula, but he himself does not exclude the 
element of contrast — he merely assigns it else- 
where. " The contrast remains, but is not 
formed in a manner to show the ideas connected 
with the words, rather it shows the contrast or 
contradiction in the meaning and lack of mean- 
ing of the words " (p. 87) . Examples show the 
better understanding of the latter. " A contrast 
arises first through the fact that we adjudge a 
meaning to its words which after all we cannot 
ascribe to them." 

In the further development of this last con- 
dition the antithesis of " sense in nonsense " be- 
comes obvious. " What we accept one moment 
as senseful we later perceive as perfect nonsense. 
Thereby arises, in this case, the operation of the 
comic element" (p. 85). "A saying appears 
witty when we ascribe to it a meaning through 
psychological necessity and, while so doing, re- 
tract it. It may thus have many meanings. We 
lend a meaning to an expression knowing that 
logically it does not belong to it. We find in 
it a truth, however, which later we fail to find 
because it is foreign to our laws of experience or 
usual modes of thinking. We endow it wilii tt 




Ic^cal or practical inference which transcends 
its true content, only to contradict this inference 
as soon as we finally grasp the nature of the ex- 
pression itself. The psychological process 
evoked in us by the witty expression which gives 
rise to the sense of the comic depends in every 
laise on the immediate transition from the bor- 
rowed feeling of truth and conviction to the im- 
pression or consciousness of relative nullity." 

As impressive as this exposition sounds one 
cannot refrain from questioning whether the con- 
trast between the senseful and senseless upon 
■which the comic depends does not also contribute 
to the definition of wit in so far as it is dis* 
tinguished from the comic. Also the factor of 
" confusion and clearness " leads one deeply into 
the problem of the relation of wit to the comic. 
Kant, speaking of the comic element in general, 
states that one of its remarkable attributes is 
the fact that it can delude us for a moment only. 
Heymans {ZeiUchr. /. Psychologie. XI, 1896) 
explains how the mechanism of wit is produced 
through the succession of confusion and clear- 
ness. He illustrates his meaning by an excellent 
■witticism from Heine, who causes one of his fig- 
ures, the poor lottery agent, Hirsch -Hyacinth, 
■to boast that the great Baron Rothschild treated 
him as an equal or quite F AMILLION AIRE. 
Here the word which acts as the carrier of the 

witticism appears in the first place simply aa a 
faulty word-formation, as something incompre- 
hensible, inconceivable, and enigmatic. It is for 
these reasons that it is confusing. The comic 
element results from the solution of the enigma 
and from the miderstanding of the word. Lipps 
adds that the first stage of enlightenment, show- 
ing that the confusing word means this or that, is 
followed by a second stage in which one perceives 
that this nonsensical word has first deluded us 
and then given us the true meaning. Only this 
second enlightenment, the realization that it is 
all due to a word that is meaningless in ordinary 
usage — this reduction to nothingness produces 
the comic eflfect {p. 95). 

Whether or not either the one or the other 
of these two conceptions may seem more clear 
we are brought nearer to a definite insight 
through the discussion of the processes of con- 
fusion and enlightenment. If the comic effect of 
Heine's famillionmre depends upon the solution 
of the seemingly senseless word, then the wit 
would have to be attributed to the formation of 
this word and to the character of the word so 

In addition to the associations of the view- 
points just discussed there is another character- 
istic of wit which is recognized as peculiar to it 
by all authors. " Brevity alone is the body and 



soul of wit," declares Jean Paul {Vorschule der 
Aesthetik, I, 4d) , and modifies it with a speech of 
the old longue-wagger, Poloniiis, from Shake- 
speare's Hamlet {Act II, Scene 2) : 

" Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit, 
And tediousnesB the limbs and outward Sourishes, 
I will be brief." 

Lipps's description (p. 90) of the hrevity of 
wit is also significant. He states that wit saya 
what it does say, not always in few, but always 
in too few words; that is: " It expresses itself in 
words that will not stand the test of strict logic 
or of the ordinary mode of thought and expres- 
sion. In fine it can express itself by leaving the 
thing unsaid." 

That " wit must unearth something hidden and 
concealed" — to quote K. Fischer (p. 51) — we 
have already been taught from the grouping of 
wit with caricature. I re-eniphasize this deter- 
minant because it also has more to do with the 
nature of wit than witli its relation to the comic. 

I am well aware that the foregoing scanty 
quotations from the works of the authors on wit 
cannot do j ustice to the excellence of these works. 
In view of the difficulties that confront one in 
reproducing clearly such complicated and such 
delicately shaded streams of thought I cannot 



spare inquiring minds the trouble of searching 
for the desired information in the original 
sources. However, I do not know whether they 
will return fully satisfied. For the criteria and 
attributes of wit mentioned by these authors, 
such as — activity, the relation of the content of 
wit to our thoughts, the character of the playful 
judgment, the union of dissimilarities, contrast- 
ing ideas, " sense in nonsense," the succession of 
confusion and clearness, the sudden emergence 
of the hidden, and the peculiar brevity of wit, 
seem to us, at first glance, so very pertinent and 
so easily demonstrable by examples that we can- 
not succumb to the danger of underestimating 
the value of such ideas. But they are only dis- 
jointed fragments which we should Uke to see 
welded into an organic whole. In the end they 
contribute no more to the knowledge of wit than 
a number of anecdotes teach us of the true char- 
acteristics of a personality whose biography in- 
terests us. We do not at all understand the con- 
nection that is supposed to exist between the in- 
dividual conditions; for instance, what the brev- 
itj' of wit may have to do with that side of wit 
exhibited in the playful judgment; besides we do 
not know whether wit must satisfy all or only 
some of these conditions in order to form real 
wit; which of them may be replaced and whicH 
ones are indispensable. We should also like a 


grouping and classification of wit in respect to 
its essential attributes. The classification as 
given by the authors is based, on the one hand, on 
the technical means, and on the other hand, on 
the utilization of wit in speech (sound- wit, play 
on words, the wit of caricature, characterization 
wit, and witty repartee) . 

Accordingly we should not find ourselves in a 
dilemma when it comes to pointing out goals for 
a further eflFort to explain wit. In order to look 
forward to success we must either introduce new 
viewpoints into the work, or try to penetrate 
further by concentrating our attention or by 
broadening the scope of our interest. We can 
prescribe for ourselves the task of at least not 
permitting any lack along the latter lines. To 
be sure, it is rather remarkable how few examples 
of recognized witticisms suffice the authors for 
their investigations and how each one accepts 
the ones used by his predecessors. We need not 
shirk the responsibility of analyzing the same ex- 
amples which have already served the classical 
authors, but we contemplate new material besides 
to lay a broader foundation for our deductions. 
It is quite natural that we should select such ex- 
amples of wit as objects for oin: investigation as 
have produced the deepest impression upon our 
own lives and which have caused us the greatest 
amount of laughter. 


Some may inquire wbeÜKr tbe subject of wit 
18 worthy of sudi effort. In my opinion there is 
DO doubt about it, for even if I disregard tbe 
personal motives to be revealed during tbe de- 
velopment of this tbeme ( tbe motives whkh drove 
me to gain an insight into the problon of wit), 
I can refer to tbe fact that there is an intimate 
connection between all psychic occurrences; a 
ICDnnection which promises to furnish a psycho- 
I logical insight into a sphere which, although re- 
mote, win nevertheless be of considerable value 
to tbe other spheres. One may also be reminded 
what a peculiar, overwhelmingly fascinating 
charm wit offers in our society. A new joke 
operates almost as an event of universal interest 
It is passed on from one person to another just 
like the news of the latest conquest. Even prom- 
inent men who consider it worth while relating 
how they attained fame, what cities and countries 
they have seen, and with what celebrated per- 
sons they have consorted, do not disdain to dwell 
in their autobiographies upon this and that ex- 
cellent joke which they have heard.' 

■J. T. Falke: Ltbnutrimunaigfn, 1897. 




We follow the beckoning of chance and take 
up as our first example of wit one which has al- 
ready come to our notice in the previous chapter. 

In that part of the Reiaebtlder entitled " Die 
Bäder von Lucca," Heine introduces the precious 
character, Hirsch-Hyacinth, the Hamburg lot- 
tery agent and eurer of corns, who, boasting to 
the poet of his relationship with the rich Baron 
Rothschild, ends thus: "And as true as I pray 
that the Lord may grant me all good things I 
sat next to Solomon Rothschild, who treated me 
just as if I were his equal, quite famillionaire." 

It is by means of this excellent and very funny 
example thatHeymans and Lipps have illustrated 
the origin of the comic effect of wit from the suc- 
cession of " confusion and clearness." However, 
we shall pass over this question and put to our- 
selves the following inquiry: What is it that 
causes the speech of Hirsch-Hyacinth to be- 
come witty? It can he only one of two things; 
either it is the thought expressed in the sentence 
which carries in itself the character of the witti- 
cism; or the witticism adheres to the mode of ex- 


pression which clothes the thought. On which- 
ever side the nature of the wit may lie, there we 
shall follow it farther and endeavor to eluci- 
date it. 

In general a thought may be expressed in dif- 
ferent forms of speech — that is, in different 
words — which may repeat it in its original ac- 
curacy. In the speech of Hirsch -Hyacinth we 
have hefore us a definite form of thought ex- 
pressed which seems to us especially peculiar and 
not very readily comprehensible. Let us attempt 
to express as exactly as is possible the same 
thought in other words, Lipps, indeed, has al- 
ready done this and has thus, to some degree, 
elucidated the meaning of the poet. He says (p. 
87), " We understand that Heine wishes to say 
that the reception was on a familiar basis, that 
is, that it was of the friendly sort." We change 
nothing in the sense when we assume a different 
interpretation which perhaps fits better into 
the speech of Hirsch-Hyacinth: "Rothschild 
treated me quite as his equal, in a very familiar 
way; that is, as far as this can he done by a 
millionaire." We would only add, " The con- 
descension of a rich man always carries some- 
thing embarrassing for the one experiencing it." ' 

* Since Ulis Joke will occup}' uh again and we do not wish to 
Histurb the discussion following here, we sliall And occasion later 
to point out a correction ia Lipps's given interpretaUoo which 
follows our own. 

" Wh 




^_ «nee 

Whether we shall remain content with this or 
with another equivalent formulation of the 
thought, we can see that the question which we 
have put to ourselves is already answered. The 
character of the wit in this example does not 
adhere to the thought. It is a correct and in- 
g^ous remark that Heine puts into the mouth 
of Hirsch-Hyacinth — a remark of indubitable 
bitterness, as is easily understood in the case of 
the poor man confronted with so much wealth; 
but we should not care to call it witty. Now if 
any one who cannot forget the poet's meaning 
in the interpretation should insist that the 
thought in itself is also witty, we can refer him 
to the definite fact that the witty character is 
lost in the interpretation. It is true that Hirsch- 
Hyacinth's speech made us laugh loudly, but 
though Lipps's or our own accinate rendering 
may please us and cause us to reflect, yet it can- 
not make us laugh. 

But if the witty character of our example does 
not belong to the thought, then it must be sought 
for in the form of expression in the wording. 
We have only to study the peculiarity of thia 
mode of expression to realize what one may terra 
word- or form-technique. Also we may discover 
the things that are intiaiately related to the very 
nature of wit, since the character as well as the 
effect of wit disappears when one set of expres- 


sions is changed for others. At all events we 
are in full accord with our authors when we put 
80 much value upon the verhal form of the wit. 
Thus K. Fischer (p. 72) says: " It is, in the first 
place, the naked form which is responsible for 
the perception of wit, and one is reminded of a 
saying of Jean Paul's which affirms and proves 
this nature of wit in the same expression. ' Thus 
the mere position conquers, he it that of warriors 
or of sentences.' " 

Formation of Mired Word» 

Now wherein lies the " technique " of 'Üiis 
wit? What lias occurred to the thought, in our 
own conception, that it became changed into wit 
and caused us to laugh heartily? The compari- 
son of our conception with the text of the poet 
teaches us that two processes took place. In the 
first place there occurred an important abbrevia- 
tion. In order to express fully the thought con- 
tained in the witticism we had to append to the 
words " Rothschild treated me just as an equal, 
on a familiar basis," an additional sentence 
which in its briefest form reads: i.e., so far as 
a millionaire can do this. Even then we feel the 
necessity of an additional explanatory sentence.* 
The poet expresses it in terser terms as follows: 
" Rothschild treated me just like an equal, 

■The same bolds true for Lfpps'a InterpreUtloii. 


quite famiUionaire." The entire restriction, 
which the second sentence imposes on the first 
thus verifying the familiar treatment, has been 
lost in the jest. But it has not been so entirely 
lost as not to leave a substitute from which it 
can be reconstructed. A second change has also 
taken place. The word " familiar " in the wit- 
less expression of the thought has been trans- 
formed into " famiUionaire " in the text of the 
wit, and there is no doubt that the witty char- 
acter and ludicrous effect of the joke depends 
directly upon this word-formation. The newly 
formed word is identical in its first part with 
the word " familiar " of the first sentence, and 
its terminal syllables correspond to the word 
" millionaire " of the second sentence. In this 
manner it puts us in a position to conjecture the 
second sentence which was omitted in the text 
of the wit. It may be described as a composite 
of two constituents " familiar " and " million- 
aire," and one is tempted to depict its origin from 
the two words graphically. 






The process, then, which has carried the 
thought into the witticism can be represented in 

the following manner, which, although at first 
rather fantastic, nevertheless furnishes exactly 
the actual existing result: "Rothschild treated 
me quite familiarly, i.e., as well as a millionaire 
can do that sort of thing." 

Now imagine that a compressing force is act- 
ing upon these sentences and assume that for 
some reason or other the second sentence is of 
lesser resistance. It is accordingly forced to- 
ward the vanishing point, but its important com- 
ponent, the word " millionaire," which strives 
against the compressing power, is pushed, as it 
were, into the first sentence and becomes fused 
with the very similar element, the word " famil- 
iar " of this sentence. It is just this possibility, 
provided by chance to save the essential part of 
tiie second sentence, which favors the dis- 
appearance of the other less important com- 
ponents. The jest then takes shape in this 
manner: "Rothschild treated me in a very 
famillionaire way." 
(mili) (aire) 
Apart from such a compressing force, which is 
really unknown to us, we may describe the origin 
of the wit-formation, that is, the technique of the 
wit in this case, as a condensation with substitu- 
tive formation. In our example the substitutive 
formation consists in the formation of a mixed 
word. This fused word " famillionaire," in- 

B comp 




comprehensible in itself but instantly under- 
stood in its context and recognized as senseful, 
is now the carrier of the niirth-provoking 
stimulus of the jest, whose mechanism, to be 
sure, is in no way clearer to us through the 
discovery of the technique. To what extent 
can a linguistic process of condensation with 
substitutive formation produce pleasure through 
a fused word and force us to laugh? We 
make note of the fact that this is a different 
problem, the treatment of which we can post- 
pone imtil we shall find access to it later. For 
the present we shall continue to busy ourselves 
with the technique of wit. 

Our expectation that the technique of wit can- 
not be considered an indifferent factor in the ex- 
amination of the nature of wit prompts us to in- 
quire next whether there are other examples of 
wit formed like Heine's " famillionaire." Not 
many of these exist, but enough to constitute a 
small group which may be characterized as the 
blend-word formations or fusions. Heine him- 
self has produced a second witticism from the 
word " millionaire " by copying himself, as it 
were, when he speaks of a " millionarr " {Ideen, 
Chap. XIV). This is a visible condensation 
of "millionaire" and "narr" (fool) and, like 
the first example, expresses a suppressed by- 

thought. Other examples of a similar nature 
are as follows. 

During the war between Turkey and the Bal- 
kan States, in 1912, Punch depicted the part 
played hy Rumania by representing the latter 
as a highwayman holding up the members of 
the Balkan alliance. The picture was entitled: 
Kleptorumania. Here the word is a fusion of 
Kleptomania and Rumania and may be rep- 
resented as follows: 



A naughty jest of Europe has rebaptized a 
former potentate, Leopold, into Cleopold be- 
cause of his relation to a lady surnamed Cleo. 
Tliis is a clear form of condensation which by 
the addition of a single letter forever vividly 
preserves a scandalous allusion. 

In an excellent chapter on this same theme 
Brill gives the following example.' 

" De Quincey once remarked that old persons 
are apt to fall into ' anecdotage.' " The word 
Anecdotage, though in itself incomprehensible, 
can be readily analyzed to show its original full 
sense ; and on analysis we find that it is made up 
of two words, anecdote and dotage. That is, in- 

' PtyehanalijiiM : lu Theoiks ead Application, 2nd Ed., p. 331. 



stead of saying that old persons are apt to fall 
into dotage and that old persons are fond of tell- 
ing anecdotes, De Qurncey fuses the two words 
into a neologism, anecdotage, and thus simulta- 
neously expresses both ideas. The technique, 
therefore, lies in the fusion of the two words. 
Such a fusion of words is called condensation. 
Condensation is a substitutive formation, i.e., in- 
stead of anecdote and dotage we have anecdotage. 
" In a. short story wliich I have recently read, 
one of the characters, a ' sport,' speaks of the 
Christmas season as the alcoholidays. By reduc- 
tion it can be easily seen that we have here a com- 
pound word, a combination of alcohol and holi- 
days which can be graphically represented as 




Here the condensation expresses the idea 
that holidays are conducive to alcoholic indul- 
gence. In other words, we have here a fused 
word, which, though strange in appearance, can 
be easily understood in its proper context. The 
witticism may be described as a condensation 
with substitution, 

" The same mechanism is found in the foUow- 
ing: A dramatic critic, summarizing three para- 

the words " stupid ass " are omitted and when, 
as a substitute for tliem, the first " t " of the 
second " tete " is changed to " b." This shght 
modification brings back to expression the sup- 
pressed " bete." The technique of this group 
of witticisms may be described as " condensa- 
tion with a shght modification." And it would 
seem that the more insignificant the substitu- 
tive modification, the better is the wit. 

Quite similar, although not without its com- 
plications, is the technique of another form of 
witticism. During a discussion about a person 
in whom there was something to praise and 
much to criticise, N. remarked : " Yes, vanity 
is one of his four heels of Achilles." ' This 
modification consists in the fact that instead of 
the one vulnerable heel which was attributed to 
Achilles we have here four heels. Four heels 
means four feet and that number is only found 
on animals. The two thoughts condensed in 
the witticism are as follows: Except for his 
vanity he is an admirable fellow; still I do not 
care for him, for he is more of an animal than 
a human being.' 

•This same witticism was supposed to have been coined be- 
fore by Heine concerning Alfred de Musset. 

'One of the cotnplicntions Involved in the tedinique of this 
example lies in the fuct that the mudlflcation through which the 
omitted abuse is substituted is to iDe taken as sn allusion to the 
latter, for it leads to it only through a process of deduction. 

W A si 


A similar but simpler joke I heard statu 
nascendi in a family circle. One of two brothers 
who were attending college was an excellent 
scholar while the other was only an average 
student. It so happened that the model boy 
had a setback in school. The mother discussed 
this matter and expressed her fear lest this event 
be the beginning of a lasting deterioration. 
The boy who until tlien had been overshadowed 
by his brother willingly grasped this oppor- 
tunity to remark : " Yes, Carl is going back- 
ward on all-fours." 

Here the modification consists in a small 
addition as an assurance that in his judgment 
his brother is going backward. This modifica- 
tion represents and takes the place of a pas- 
sionate plea for his own cause which may be 
expressed as follows: After all, you must not 
think that he is so much cleverer than I am 
simply because he has more success in school. 
He is really a stupid ass, i.e., much more stupid 
than I am. 

A good illustration of condensation with 
slight modification is furnished by a well-known 
witty jest of Mr. N., who remarked about a 
character in public hfe that he had a "great 
future behind him." The butt of this joke 
was a young man whose ancestry, rearing, and 
personal qualities seemed to destine him for the 

^K pcrwu 

recall that Lipps has attempted to describe 
more fully the peculiarity of the brevity of 
wit (u.*.,p.ll). Here our investigation started 
and demonstrated that the brevity of wit is 
often the result of a special process which has 
left a second trace — the substitutive formation — 
in the wording of the wit. By applying the 
process of reduction, which aims to cause a 
retrogression in the peculiar process of con- 
densation, we find also that wit depends only 
upon the verbal expression which was produced 
by the process of condensation. Naturally our 
entire interest now centers upon this peculiar 
and hitherto almost neglected mechanism. 
Furthermore, we cannot yet comprehend how 
it can give origin to all that is valuable in wit; 
namely, the resultant pleasure. 

Condensation in Dreams 

Have processes similar to those here de- 
scribed as the technique of wit already been 
noted in another sphere of our psychic life? 
To be sure, in one apparently remote sphere. 
In 1900 I published a book which, as indicated 
by its title (The Interpretation of Dreams^), 
makes the attempt to explain the riddle of the 
dream and to trace the dream to normal psychic 

' Transtation of 4th Ed. bf A. A. Brill, the Macmlllaii Co., 
New York, and Allen & Unwln, London. 

^r operatioi 


i operations. I had occasion to contrast there the 
manifest and often peculiar dream-content with 
tbe latent but altogether real thoughts of the 
dream from which it originated, and I took up 
the investigation of the processes which make 
the dream from the latent dream-thought. I 
also investigated the psychological forces which 
participated in this transposition. The sum 
of the transforming processes I designated as 
the dream-work and, as a part of this dream- 
work, I described the process of condensation. 
This process has a striking similarity to the 
technique of wit and, like the latter, it leads to 
abbreviations and brings about substitutive 
formations of like character. 

From recollections of his own dreams the 
reader will be familiar with the compositions 
of persons and objects that appear in them; 
indeed, the dream makes similar compositions 
of words wliich can then be reduced by analysis 
(e.g., Autodidasker — Autodidakt and Lasker ') . 
On other occasions and even much more fre- 
quently, the condensation work of the dream 
produces no compositions, but pictures which 
closely resemble an object or person up to a 
certain addition or variation which comes from 
another source, like the modifications in the 
witticisms of Mr. N. We cannot doubt that 

■ The Inttrpnlalion of Dreami, p. 390. 

foolish boy, a toux et sot." To be sure, I was 
able to add and insert something, but this 
attempt at reduction does not annul the wit. 
It remains fixed and attached to the sound 
similarity of Rousseau. This proves that con- 

roux sot 
densation with substitution plays no part in 
the production of this witticism. 

With what else do we have to deal? New 
attempts at reduction taught me that the joke 
will persistently continue until the name Rous- 
seau is replaced by another. If, e.g., I sub- 
stitute the name Racine for it I find that al- 
though the lady's criticism is just as feasible 
as before it immediately loses every trace of wit. 
Now I know where I can look for the technique 
of this joke although I still hesitate to formu- 
late it. I shall make the following attempt: 
The technique of the witticism lies in the fact 
that one and the same word — the name — is 
used in a twofold application, once as a whole 
and once divided into its syllables like a charade. 

I can mention a few examples of identical 
technique. A witticism of this sort was utilized 
by an Italian lady to avenge a tactless remark 
made to her by the first Napoleon. Pointing 
to her compatriots at a court ball he said: 
" Tutti gli Italian danzano »t male" (all 
Italians dance so badly). To which she quickly 


iieplied: " Non tutti, ma buona parte" (Not 
l&ll, but a great many) — Buona parte.' Brill 
reports still another example in which the wit 
depends on the twofold application of a name: 
" Hood once remarked that he had to be a lively 
Hood for a livelihood." ' 

At one time when Antigone was produced 
in Berlin a critic found that the presentation 
entirely lacked the character of antiquity. The 
wits of Berlin incorporated this criticism in 
the following manner: "Antique? Oh, nay" 

l(Th. Vischer and K. Fischer). 
^H Mamfold Application of the Same Material 
^* In these examples, which will suffice for this 
species of wit, the technique is the same. A 
name is made use of twice; first, as a whole, and 
then divided into its syllables — and in their 
divided state the syllables yield a different 
meaning.' The manifold application of the 
same word, once as a whole and then as the 
component syllables into which it divides itself, 
was the first case that came to our attention 
in which technique deviated from that of con- 

■ Cited by BriU: Piychaiuilyii», p. 335. 

' 1. c, p. 334. 

"The excellence of these jokes depends upon the fact that they, 
^^^ Bt the same time, present another technical meuu of a much 
^^L Vgfaer order. 

Mr. N., but it differs from them in lacking the 
condensation. Everything that was to be said 
has been told in the joke. "I know that you 
yourself were formerly a Jew, therefore I am 
surprised that you should rail against the 

An excellent example of such wit modification 
is also the familiar exclamation: " Traduttore — 
Traditore." ' 

The similarity between the two words, al- 
most approaching identity, results in a very im- 
pressive representation of the inevitability by 
which a translator becomes a transgressor — in 
the eyes of the author. 

The manifoldness of slight modifications pos- 
sible in these jokes is so great that none is 
quite similar to the other. Here is a joke which 
is supposed to have arisen at an examination for 
the degree of law. The candidate was translat- 
ing a passage from the Corpus juris, " Labeo 
ait." "'I fall (faU),' says he," volunteered 
the candidate. " ' You fall (fail),' says I," re- 
plied the examiner and the examination ended. 
MTioever mistakes the name of the celebrated 
Jurist for a word to which he attaches a false 
meaning certainly deserves nothing better. But 
the technique of the witticism lies in the fact 

■Drill dtM a nry analogoos modificatioa witi AtnmUM—' 
Jmfnttt (lorerf— luDBtlcB). 

„.^ examiner used almost the same words 

in punishing the appHcant which the latter used 
to prove his ignorance. Besides, the joke is an 
example of repartee whose technique, as we 
shall see, is closely allied to the one just 

Words are plastic and may be moulded into 
almost any shape. There are some words which 
have lost their true original meaning in cer- 
tain usages which they still enjoy in other 
applications. In one of Lichtenberg's jokes 
just those conditions have been sought for in 
which the nuances of the wordings have re- 
moved their basic meaning. 

"How goes it?" asked the blind of the lame 
one. " As you see," replied the lame one to the 

Language is replete with words which taken 
in one sense are full of meaning and in another 
are colorless. There may be two different 
derivatives from the same root, one of which 
may develop into a word with a full meaning 
while the other may become a colorless suffix or 
prefix, and yet both may have the same sound. 
The similarity of sound between a word having 
full meaning and one whose meaning is color- 
less may also be accidental. In both cases 
the technique of wit can make use of such 
r relationship of the speech material. The 

following examples illustrate some of these 

" T)o you call a man kind ioho remit» noth- 
ing to his family while away? " asked an actor. 
" Call that kindness? " " Yes. unremitting 
kindness," was the reply of Douglas Jerrold. 
The wit here depends on the first syllable un 
of the word unremitting. Un is usually a pre- 
fix denoting " not," but by adding it to " re- 
mitting " a new relationship is unexpectedly 
established which changes the meaning of the 
context. " An undertaker is one who always 
carries out what he undertakes." The strik- 
ing character upon which the wit here depends 
is the manifold application of the words under- 
taker and carry out. Undertaker commonly 
denotes one who manages funerals. Only when 
taken in this sense and using the words carry 
out literally is the sentence witty. The wit 
lies in the manifold application of the same 

Double Meaning and Play on Words 

If we delve more deeply into the variety of 
" manifold application " of the same word we 
suddenly notice that we are confronted with 
forms of " double meaning " or " plays on 
words " which have been known a long time and 


ivliich are universally acknowledged as belong- 
ing to the technique of wit. Then why have we 
bothered our brains about discovering something 
new when we could just as well have gleaned it 
from the most superficial treatise on wit? We 
can say in self-defense only that we are pre- 
senting another side of the same phenomena 
of verbal expressions. What the authors 
call the " playful " character of wit we treat 
from the point of view of " manifold appUca- 

Further examples of manifold application 
which may also be designated under a new and 
third group, the class of double meaning, may 
be divided into subdivisions. These, to be sure, 
are not essentially differentiated from one an- 
other any more than the whole third group from 
the second. In the first place we have : 

(a) Cases of double meaning of a name and 
its verbal significanoe: e.g., "Discharge thy- 
self of our company^ Pütol" {Henry IV, Act 
II). "For Suffolk's duke may he suffocate" 
{Henry IF, Act I). Heine says, "Here m 
Hamburg rules not the rascally Macbeth, but 
Banko (Banquo)." 

In those cases where the unchanged name 
cannot be used, — one might say " misused," — 
one can get a double meaning by means of 
familiar slight modifications: "Why have the 

French rejected Lohengrin? " was a question 
asked some time ago. The answer was, " On 
Eha's (Alsace) account." 

(b) Cases where a double meaning is obtained 
by using a word which has both a verbal and 
metaphoric sense furnish an abundant source 
for the technique of wit. A medical colleague, 
who was well known for liis wit, once said to 
Arthur Schnitzler, the writer: "I am not at all 
surprised that you became a great poet. Your 
father Jiad already held vp the mirror to his 
contemporaries." The mirror used by the 
father of the writer, the famous Dr. Schnitzler, 
was the larjTigoscope. According to the well- 
known quotation from Hamlet (Act III, 
Scene 2), the object of the play as well as 
the writer who creates It is to " hold, as 't were, 
the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her 
own feature, scorn her own image, and the very 
age and body of the time his form and pres- 

(c) Cases of actual double meaning or play 
on words — the ideal case, as it were, of manifold 
application. Here no violence is done to the 
word. It is not torn into syllables. It need 
not undergo any modifications. It need not 
exchange its own particular sphere, say as a 
proper name, for another. Thanks to certain 
circumstances it can express two meanings just 



as it stands in the structure of the sentence. 
Many examples are at our disposal. 

One of the first royal acts of the last Na- 
poleon was, as is well known, the confiscation 
of the estates belonging to the House of Or- 
leans. " C'eat le premier vol de I'aigle " was 
An excellent play on words current at that time. 
" Vol " means hoth flight and theft. Louis XV 
wished to test the wit of one of his courtiers 
whose talent in that direction he had heard 
about. He seized his first opportunity to com- 
mand the cavalier to concoct a joke at his 
(the king's) expense. He wanted to be the 
" subject " of the witticism. The courtier an- 
swered him with the clever bonmot, " Le rot 
n'est pas sujet." " Subject " also means '* vas- 
sal." (Taken from K. Fischer.) 

A phymcian, leaving the sick-bed of a mfe, 
whose husband accompamed him, exclaimed 
dovhtfully: "I do not like her looks." "I 
have not liked her looks for a long time," tea» 
the quick rejoinder of the husband. The 
physician, of course, referred to the condition 
of the wife, but he expressed his apprehension 
about the patient in such words as to afford 
the husband the means of utilizing them to 
assert his conjugal aversion. Concerning a 
satirical comedy Heine remarked : " This satire 
would not have been so biting had the author 


of it had more to bite." This jest is a better 
example of metaphoric and common double 
meaning than of real play upon words, but 
at present we are not concerned about such 
strict lines of demarcation. Charles Matthews, 
the elder, one of England's greatest actors, 
•was asked what he was going to do with Ms 
son {the young man was destined for architec- 
ture). "Why," answered the comedian, "he 
is going to draw houses like his father." Foote 
once asked a man why he forever sang one 
tune. " Became it haunts me," replied the man. 
" No wonder," said Foote, " you are continually 
murdering it." Said the Dyspeptic Philoso- 
pher : " One swallow doesn't make a summer, 
nor quench the thirst" 

A gentleman had shown much ingenuity in 
evading a notorious borrower whom he had 
sent away many times with the request to call 
when he was " in." One day, however, the 
borrower eluded, the servant at the door and cor- 
nered his victim. 

"Ah," said the host, seeing there was no Way 
out of it, " at last I am in." 

"No," returned the borrower in anticipation, 
"at last I am in and you are ovt." 

Heine said in the Harzrcise: "I cannot re- 
call at the moment the names of all the students, 

^f as it s 



as it stands in the structure of the sentence. 
Many examples are at our disposal. 

One of the first royal acts of the last Na- 
poleon was, as is well known, the confiscation 
of the estates belonging to the House of Or- 
leans. " C'est le premier vol de I'aigle " was 
an excellent play on words current at that time. 
" Vol " means both flight and theft. Louis XV 
wished to test the wit of one of his courtiers 
whose talent in that direction he had heard 
about. He seized his first opportunity to com- 
mand the cavalier to concoct a joke at his 
(the king's) expense. He wanted to be the 
" subject " of the witticism. The courtier an- 
swered him with the clever honmot, " Le roi 
n'est pas sujet." " Subject " also means " vas- 
sal." (Taken from K. Fischer.) 

A physician, leaving the sich-bed of a täfe, 
whose husband accompanied Mm, exclaimed 
doubtfidly: "I do not Uke her looks" "I 
have not liked her looks for a long time," was 
the quick rejoinder of the husband. The 
physician, of course, referred to the condition 
of the wife, but he expressed his apprehension 
about the patient in such words as to afford 
the husband the means of utilizing them to 
assert his conjugal aversion. Concerning a 
satirical comedy Heine remarked: "This satire 
would not have been so biting had the author. 

was responsible for the joke mentioned on 
page 42 is likewise responsible for this joke, 
current during the trial of Dreyfus: 

" This girl reminds me of Dreyfus. The 
army does- not believe in her innocence." 

The word innocence, whose double meaning 
fm-nishes the basis of the witticism, has in one 
connection the customary meaning which is the 
opposite of guilt or transgression, while in the 
other connection it has a sexual sense, the 
opposite of which is sexual experience. There 
are very many such examples of double meaning 
and in each one the point of the joke refers 
especially to a sexual sense. The group could 
be designated as " ambiguous." A good ex- 
ample to illustrate this is the story told of a 
Wealthy but elderly gentleman who showed 
his devotion to a young actress by many lavish 
gifts. Being a respectable girl she took the 
first opportunity to discourage his attentions by 
telling him that her heart was already given 
to another man. " I never aspired as high as 
that," was his polite answer. 

If one compares this example of double- 
meaning-with-ambiguity with other examples 
one cannot help noticing a difference which is 
not altogether inconsequential to the technique. 
In the joke about " innocence " one meaning of 
the word is just as good for our understanding 


of it as the other. One can really not decide 
whether the sexual or non-sexual significance 
of the word is more applicable and more 
familiar. But it is different with the other 
example mentioned. Here the final sense of 
the words, " I never aspired as high as that," 
is by far more obtrusive and covers and con- 
ceals, as it were, the sexual sense which could 
easily escape the unsuspecting person. In sharp 
contrast to this let us examine another example 
of double meaning in which there is no attempt 
made to veil its sexual significance — e.g., Heine's 
characterization of a complaisant lady : " She 
could pass {abschlagen) nothing except her 
water." It sounds like an obscene joke and 
the wit in it is scarcely noticed.' But the 
peculiarity that both senses of the double mean- 
ing are not equally manifested can occur also in 
witticisms without sexual reference providing 
that one sense is more common or that it is 
preferred on account of its connection with the 
other parts of the sentence (e.g., c'est le premier 
vol de I'aigle). All these examples I propose 
to call double meaning with allusion. 

' Compsre here K. Fischer (p. 85), who applies the term "double 
raeanlDg " to those witticisms in which both meanings are not 
equaUy prominent, but where one overshadows the other. I 
bave applied ttiis term difTcrently. Such a nomenclature is a mat- 
ter of choice. Usage of speech has rendered no definite de- 
claioD about them. 


densation without substitutive formation. Con- 
densation thus remains as the chief category. A 
compressing or — to be more exact — an eco- 
nomic tendency controls all these techniques. 
As Prince Hamlet says: " Thrift, Horatio, 
thrift." It seems to be all a matter of economy. 

Let us examine this economy in individual 
cases. " C'est le premier vol de I'aigle." That 
is, the first flight of the eagle. Certainly, but 
it is a depredations flight. Luckily for the gist 
of this joke " vol " signifies flight as well as 
depredation. Has nothing been condensed and 
economized by this? Certainly, the entire sec- 
ond thought, and it was dropped without any 
substitution. The double sense of the word 
" vol " makes such substitution superfluous, or 
what is just as correct: The word "vol" con- 
tains the substitution for the repressed thought 
without the necessity of supplementing or 
varying the first sentence. Therein consists the 
benefit of the double meaning. 

Another example: Gold mine, — gold apoon, 
the enormous economy of expression the single 
word " gold " produces. It really tells the his- 
tory of two generations in the life of some 
American families. The father made his for- 
tune through hard toiling in the gold fields dur- 
ing the early pioneer days. The son was bom 
with a golden spoon in his mouth; having been 


brought up as the son of a wealthy man, he he- 
comes a chronic alcohohc and has to take the 
gold cm-e. 

Thus there is no doubt that the condensation 
in these examples produces economy and we 
shall demonstrate that the same is true in all 
cases. Where is the economy in such jokes 
as "Rousseau — rcyux et sot," or "Antigone — 
antique-ok-nay " in which we first failed to 
find the prime factors in causing us to establish 
the technique of the manifold application of the 
same material? In these cases condensation 
will naturally not cover the ground, but when 
we exchange it for the broader conception of 
*' economy " we find no difficulty. What we 
save in such examples as those just given is 
quite obvious. We save ourselves the trouble 
of making a criticism, of forming a judgment. 
Both are contained in the names. The same is 
true in the " Uvelihood " example and the others 
thus far analjTied. Where one does not save 
much is in the example of " I am. in and you 
are out," at least the wording of a new answer is 
saved. The wording of the address, "/ am in," 
serves also for the answer. It is little, hut in 
this little hes the wit. The manifold appUca- 
tion of the same words in addressing and answer- 
ing surely comes under the heading of economy. 
Note how Hamlet sums up the quick succession 

of the death of his father and the marriage of 
his mother: 

" the funeral baked meats 
Did coldl; furnish forth the marriage tables.** 

But before we accept the " tendency to econo- 
mize " as the universal character of wit and ask 
whence it originates, what it signifies, and how 
it gives origin to the resultant pleasure, we shall 
concede a doubt which may justly be con- 
sidered. It may be true that every technique 
of wit shows the tendency to economize in ex- 
pression, but the relationship is not reversible. 
Not every economy in expression or every 
brevity is witty on that account. We once 
raised this question when we still hoped to 
demonstrate the condensation process in every 
witticism and at that we justly objected by 
remarking that a laconism is not necessarily 
wit. Hence it must be a peculiar form of 
brevity and economy upon which the character 
of the wit depends, and just as long as we are 
ignorant of this peculiarity the discovery of the 
common element in the technique of wit will 
bring us no nearer a solution. Besides, we have 
the courage to acknowledge that the economies 
caused by the technique of wit do not impress us 
as very much. They remind one of the man- 
ner in which many a housewife economizes 



when she spends time and money to reach a 
distant market because the vegetables can there 
be had a cent cheaper. What does wit save by 
means of its technique? Instead of putting to- 
gether a few new words, which, for the most 
part, could have been accomphshed without any 
effort, it goes to the trouble of searching for 
the word which comprises both ideas. Indeed, 
it must often at first transform the expression 
of one of the ideas into an unusual form until 
it furnishes an associative connection with the 
second thought. Would it not have been 
simpler, easier, and really more economical to 
express both thoughts as they happen to come 
even if no agreement in expression results? Is 
not the economy in verbal expression more than 
abrogated through the expenditure of intel- 
lectual work? jVnd who economized through it, 
whom does it benefit? We can temporarily cir- 
cumvent these doubts by leaving them unsolved 
until later on. Are we really familiar enough 
vrith all the forms of techniques of wit? It will 
surely be safer to gather new examples and 
submit them to analysis. 


Indeed, we have not 
to one of the largest 
techniques of wit may 

yet given consideration 
groups into which the 
be divided. In this we 


have perhaps been influenced by the low esti- 
mate in which this form of wit is held. It 
embraces those jolies which are commonly called 
" puns." These are generally counted as the 
lowest form of wit, perhaps because they are 
" cheapest " and can be formed with the least 
effort. They really make the least demands on 
the technique of expression just as the actual 
play on words makes the most. Whereas in 
the latter both meanings find expression in the 
identical word, and hence usually in a word 
used only once, in the pun it is enough if two 
words for both meanings resemble each other 
through some slight similarity in structure, in 
rhythmic consonance, in the community of 
several vowels, or in some other similar manner. 
The following examples illustrate these points: 

" We are now fallen into that critical age 
wherein censores hberorum are become censorea 
Ubrorum: Lectores, lActores." 

Professor Cromwell says that Rome in ex- 
changing her religion changed Jupiter to Jew 

It is related that some students wishing to 
play a trick on Agassiz, the great naturalist, 
constructed an insect made up of parts taken 
from different bugs and sent it to him with the 
question, " What hind of a hug is this? " Hi$ 
answer was " Humbug," 


Puns are especially fond of modifying one 
of the vowels of the word; e.g., Hevesi (Alma' 
naccando. Reisen in Italien, p. 87) says of an 
Italian poet who was hostile to tlie German 
emperor, but who was, nevertheless, forced to 
sing his praises in his hexameters, " Since he 
cottid not exterminate the Cirsars he at least 
annihilated the ccE^uras" 

From the multitude of puns which are at 
our disposal it may be of special interest to 
us to quote a really poor example for which 
Heine (Book he Grand, Chapter V) is responsi- 
ble. After parading for a long time before his 
lady as an " Indian Prince " the suitor mddenly 
lays aside his mask and confesses, " Madam, I 
have lied to yon. I have never been in Cal- 
cutta any more than that Calcutta roast which 
I relished yesterday for lunch." Obviously the 
fault of this witticism lies in the fact that both 
words are not merely similar, but identical. 
Tlie bird which served as a roast for his lunch 
is called so because it comes from, or at least 
is supposed to come from, the same city of 

K. Fischer has given much attention to this 
form of wit and insists upon making a sharp 
distinction between it and the " play on words " 
(p. 78) . " A pun," he says, " is a bad play on 
words, for it does not play with the word as 




a word, but merely as a sound." The play on 
■words, however, " transfers itself from the 
sound of the word into the word itself." On 
the other hand, he also classifies such jokes as 
" famillionaire, Antigone (Antique-Oh-nay)," 
etc., with sound-wit. 1 see no necessity to fol- 
low him in this. In the plays on words, also, 
the word serves us only as a sound to which 
this or that meaning attaches itself. Here also 
usage of language makes no distinction, and 
when it treats " puns " with disdain but the play 
on words with a certain respect it seems that 
these estimations are detei-mined by others as 
technical viewpoints. One should bear in mind 
the forms of wit which are referred to as puns. 
There are persons who have the ability, when 
they are in a high-spirited mood, to reply with 
a pun for a long time to every sentence ad- 
dressed to them. Brill ' relates that at a gather- 
ing some one spoke disparagingly of a certain 
drama and wound up hy saying, "It wag ao 
poor that the first act had to be rewritten" 
" And now it w rerotten" added the punster of 
the gathering. 

At all events we can already infer from the 
controversies about the line of demarcation be- 
tween puns and play on words that the former 
cannot aid us in finding an entirely new tech- 

't c, page 339. 



nique of wit. Even if no claims are made for 
the pun that it utUizes the manifold application 
of the same material, the accent, nevertheless, 
falls upon the rediscovering of the familiar and 
upon the agreement between both words form- 
ing the pun. Thus the latter is only a sub- 
species of the group which reaches its height 
in the real play on words. 


There are some witticisms, however, whose 
techniques baffle almost every attempt to classify 
them under any of the groups so far investi- 
gated. It is related that while Heine and the 
poet SouUe were once chatting together in a 
Parisian drawing-room, there entered one of 
those Parisians "whom one usiudly compared to 
Midas, but not alone on accowtit of their money. 
He was soon surrounded by a crowd which 
treated him with the greatest deference. " Look 
over there," said Soulie to Heine, "and see 
how the nineteenth century is worshipping the 
Golden Calf." Heine cast one glance upon the 
object of adoration and replied, as if correct- 
ing his friend: " Oh, he must he older than 
that" (K. Fischer, p. 82). 

Wherein lies the technique of this excellent 
■witticism? According to E. Fischer it lies in 

the play on words. Thus, for example, he says, 
" the words ' Ciolden Calf ' may signify Mam- 
mon as well as idol-worship, — in the first case 
the gold is paramount; in the second case it is 
the animal picture. It may likewise serve to 
designate in a rather uncomplimentary way one 
who has very much money and very little 
brains." If we apply the test and take away 
the expression "Golden Calf" we naturally 
also abrogate the wit. We then cause Soulie 
to say, " Just see how the people are throng- 
ing about that blockhead only because he is 
rich." To be sure, this is no longer witty. Nco* 
would Heine's answer be possible under these 
circumstances. But let us remember that it is 
not at all a matter of Soulie's witty compari- 
son, but of Heine's retort, which is surely much 
more witty. We have then no right to dis- 
turb the phrase " the golden calf " which re- 
mains as a basis for Heine's words and the 
reduction can only be applied to the latter. If 
we dilate upon the words, " Oh, he must be 
older than Uiat," we can only proceed as fol- 

" Oh, he is no longer a calf; he is already a 
full-grown ox." Heine's wit is therefore based 
on the fact that he no longer took the " golden 
calf" metaphorically, but personally by refer- 
ring it to the moneyed individual himself. If 


this double meaning is not already contained 
in the opinion of Soulie ! 

Let us see. We believe that we can state 
that this reduction has not altogether destroyed 
Heine's joke, but, on the contrary, it has left 
its essential element untouched. It reads as if 
Soulie were now saying, " Just see how the 
nineteenth century is worsliipping the golden 
calf," and as if Heine were retorting, " Oh, he 
is no longer a calf. He is already an ox." And 
even in this reduced form it is still a witticism. 
However, another reduction of Heine's words 
is not possible. 

It is a pity that this excellent example con- 
tains ,such complicated technical conditions. 
And as it cannot aid us toward enlightenment 
we shall leave it to search for another in which 
we imagine we can perceive a relationship with 
the former one. 

It is a " bath " joke treating of the dread which 
some Jews are said to have for bathing. We de- 
mand no patent of nobility for our examples 
nor do we make inquiries about their origin. 
The only qualifications we require are that they 
should make us laugh and ser\'e our theoretical 
interest. It is to be remarked that both these 
demands are satisfied best by Jewish jokes. 

TiEO Jews meet near a bathing establishment. 
" Halve you taken a hath? " asked one. " How 


ig that?" replies the other. "Is one missing?" 
A\Tien one laughs very heartily about a joke 
he is not m the best mood to investigate its 
technique. It is for this reason that some 
difficulties are experienced in delving into their 
analyses. " That is a comic misunderstanding" 
is the thought that comes to us. Yes, but how 
about the technique of this joke? Obviously 
the technique lies in the double meaning of the 
word take. In the first case the word is used 
in a colorless idiomatic sense, while in the sec- 
ond it is the verb in its full meaning. It is, 
therefore, a case where the same word is taken 
now in the " full " and now in the " empty " 
sense (Group II, f). And if we replace the 
expression " take a bath " by the simpler 
equivalent " bathed " the wit disappears. The 
answer is no longer fitting. The joke, there- 
fore, lies in the expression " take a bath." 

This is quite correct, yet it seems that in 
this ease, also, the reduction was applied in 
the wrong place, for the joke does not lie in 
the question, but in the answer, or rather in the 
counter question: "How is that? Is there 
one missing? " Provided the same is not de- 
stroyed the answer cannot be robbed of its wit 
by any dilation or variation. We also get the 
impression that in the answer of the second 
Jew the overlooking of the bath is more signifi- 




cant than the misconception of the word " take." 
However, here, too, things do not look quite 
clear and we will, therefore, look for a third 

Once more we shall resort to a Jewish joke 
in which, however, the Jewish element is in- 
cidental only. Its essence is xmiversally human. 
It is true that this example, too, contains un- 
desirable complications, but luckily they are 
not of the kind so far which have kept us from 
seeing clearly. 

In his distreaa a needy man borrowed twenty- 
jive dollars from a wealthy acquaintance. The 
same day he was discovered by his creditor in a 
restaurant eating a disk of salmon with mayon- 
naise. The creditor reproached Mm in these 
words: " You borrow money from me and then 
order salmon with mayonnaise. Is that what 
you needed the money for? " " I don't under- 
stand you," responded the debtor, " when I have 
no money I can't eat salmon with mayonnaise. 
Wlien I liave money I mustn't eat it. WeU 
then, when shall I ever eat salmon with mayon- 

Here we no longer discover any double mean- 
ing. Even the repetition of the words " salmon 
with mayonnaise " cannot contain the technique 
of the witticism, as it is not the " manifold appli- 
cation of the same material," but an actual» 


identical repetition required by the context. 
We may be temporarily nonplussed in this 
analysis, and, as a pretext, we may wish to dis- 
pute the character of the wit in the anecdote 
which causes us to laugh. What else worthy 
of notice can be said about the answer of the 
poor man? It may be supposed that the strik- 
ing thing about it is its logical character, but, 
as a matter of fact, the answer is illogical. The 
debtor endeavors to justify himself for spending 
the borrowed money on luxuries and asks, with 
some semblance of right, when he is to be al- 
lowed to eat salmon. But this is not at all 
the correct answer. The creditor does not blame 
him for eating salmon on the day that he bor- 
rowed the money, but reminds him that in his 
condition he has no right to think of such lux- 
lu-ies at all. The poor bon vivant disregards 
this only possible meaning of the reproach, 
centers liis answer about another point, aüd acts 
as if he did not understand the reproach. 

Is it possible that the technique of this joke 
lies in this deviation of the answer from the 
sense of reproach? A similar changing of the 
viewpoint — displacement of the psychic accent — 
may perhaps also be demonstrated in the two 
previous examples which we felt were related 
to this one. This can be successfully shown 
and solves the technique of these examples. 


Soulie calls Heine's attention to tlie fact that 
society worships the " golden calf " in Uie nine- 
teenth century just as the Jewish nation once 
did in the desert. To this an answer from 
Heine Uke tJie following would seem fit: " Yes, 
that is human nature. Centuries have changed 
nothing in it ; " or he might have remarked 
something equally apposite. But Heine devi- 
ates in his manner from the instigated thought. 
Indeed, he does not answer at all. He makes 
use of the double meaning found in the phrase 
" golden calf " to go off at a tangent. He seizes 
upon one of the components of the phrase, 
namely, " the calf," and answers as if Soulie's 
speech placed the emphasis on it — " Oh, he is 
no longer a calf, etc." ' 

The deviation is much more evident in the 
bath joke. This example requires a grraphic 
representation. The first Jew asks, " Have 
you taken a bath? " The emphasis lies upon 
the bath element. The second answers as if the 
query were: "Have you taken a bath?" The 
displacement would have been impossible if 
the question had been: "Have you bathed?" 
The witless answer would have been: " Bathed? 
What do you mean? I don't know what that 

' Heine's answer is » combiiiHtion of two wlt-technlquea — a d!s< 
placemoit and an alludoB— for he does not uj directlfi "Ha 



means." However, the technique of the wit lies 
in the displacement of the emphasis from " to 
bathe " to " to take." ' 

Let us return to the example " salmon with 
mayonnaise," which is the purest of its kind. 
What is new in it will direct us into various 
paths. In the first place we have to give 
the mechanism of this newly discovered tech- 
nique. I propose to designate it as having 
displacement for its most essential element. 
The deviation of the trend of thought consists 
in displacing the psychic accent to another 
than the original theme. It is then incumbent 
upon us to find out the relationship of the 
technique of displacement to the expression of 
the witticism. Our example (salmon with 
mayonnaise) shows us that the displacement 
technique is absolutely independent of the verbal 
expression. It does not depend upon words, 
but upon the mental trend, and to abrogate it 
we are not helped by substitution so long as 
the sense of the answer is adhered to. The re- 
duction is possible only when we change the 

'The word "lake," owing to Its meanings, lends itself verj 
well towards the formation of plays upon words, a pure example 
of which I wish to cite as a contrast to the displacement men- 
tioned above. While walking; with his friend, in front of a 
catt, a well-known stock-plun^r and bank director made this 
proposal: "Let us go in and take something." His friend 
held tiim back oad atiii " Mj deu* sir, remember there are peopla 



mental trend and permit the gastronomist to 
answer directly to the reproach which he eluded 
in the conception of the joke. The reduced 
conception will then be: " What I like I cannot 
deny myself, and it is all the same to me where 
I get the money for it. Here you have my 
explanation as to why I happen to be eating 
salmon with mayonnaise today just after you 
have loaned me some money." But that would 
not be a witticism but a cynicism. It will be 
instructive to compare this joke with one 
which is closely allied to it in meaning. 

A man who was addicted to drink supported 
kimaelf in a small city by giving lessons. His 
vice gradually became known and he lost moat 
of his pupils in consequence. A friend of hit 
took it upon himself to admonish him to re- 
form. " Look here," he said, " you could have 
the best scholars in town if you would give up 
drinking. Why not do it?" " What are you 
talking about? " was the indignant reply. " I 
am giving lessons in order to he able to drink. 
Shall I give up drinking in order to obtain 
scholars? " 

This joke, too, carries the stamp of logic 
which we have noted in the case of " salmon 
with mayonnaise," but it is no longer displace- 
ment-wit. The answer is a direct one. The 
cynicism, which is veiled there, is openly ad- 


mitted here, " For me drink is the most im- 
portant thing." The teclinique of this witticism 
is really very poor and cannot explain its 
effect. It lies merely in the change in order 
of the same material, or to be more exact, in 
the reversal of the means-and-end relationship 
between drink and giving lessons or getting 
scholars. As I gave no greater emphasis in 
the reduction to this factor of the expression 
the witticism is somewhat blurred; it may be 
expressed as follows: "What a senseless de- 
mand to make. For me, drink is the most im- 
portant thing and not the scholars. Giving 
lessons is only a means towards more drink." 
The wit is really dependent upon the expres- 

In the bath wit, the dependence of the witti- 
cism upon the wording " have you taken a 
bath " is unmistakable and a change in the 
wording nullifies the joke. The technique in 
this case is quite complicated. It is a com- 
bination of double meaning (sub-group f) and 
displacement. The wording of the question 
admits a double meaning. The joke arises 
from the fact that the answer is given not in 
the sense expected by the questioner, but has a 
different subordinate sense. By making the 
displacement retrogressive we are accordingly 
in position to find a reduction which leaves the 


double meaning in the expression and still does 
away with the wit, 

" Have you taken a bath? " " Taken tohat? 
A hath? What is thai? " But that is no longer 
a witticism. It is simply either a spiteful or 
playful exaggeration. 

In Heine's joke about the " golden calf " the 
double meaning plays a quite similar part. It 
makes it possible for the answer to deviate from 
the instigated stream of thought — a thing which 
happens in the joke about " salmon and mayon- 
naise " — without any such dependence upon the 
wording. In the reduction Soulie's speech and 
Heine's answer would be as follows : " It re- 
minds one very much of the worship of the 
golden calf when one sees the people throng 
around that man simply because he is rich." 
Heine's answer would be: "That he is made 
so much of on account of his wealth is not the 
■worst part. You do not emphasize enough the 
fact that his ignorance is forgiven on account 
of his wealth." Thus, while the double mean- 
ing would be retained the displacement-wit 
would be eliminated. 

Here we may be prepared for the objection 
■which might be raised, namely, that we are 
seeking to tear asunder these delicate differen- 
tiations which really belong together. Does 
not every double meaning furnish occasion for 


displacement and for a deviation of tKe stream 
of thought from one sense to another? And 
shall we agree that a " double meaning " and 
" displacement " should be designated as rep- 
resentatives of two entirely different types of 
wit? It is true that a relation between double 
meaning and displacement actually exists, but 
it has nothing to do with our differentiation 
of the techniques of wit. In cases of double 
meaning the wit contains nothing but a word 
capable of several interpretations which allows 
the hearer to find the transition from one 
thought to another, and which with a little 
forcing may be compared to a displacement. 
In the cases of displacement-wit, however, the 
witticism itself contains a stream of thought 
in which the displacement is brought about. 
Here the displacement belongs to the work 
which is necessary for its imderstanding. 
Should this differentiation not be clear to us we 
lan make use of the reduction method, which is 
an unfailing way for tangible demonstration. 
We do not deny, however, that there is some- 
thing in this objection. It calls our attention 
to the fact that we cannot confuse the psychic 
processes in the formation of wit (the wit-work) 
with the psychic processes in the conception of 
the wit {the understanding-work). The object 


of our present investigation will be confined 
only to the former.' 

Are there still other examples of the tech- 
nique of displacement? They are not easily 
found, but the fallowing witticism is a very 
good specimen. It also shows a lack of over- 
emphasized logic found in our former ex- 

A horse-dealer in recommending a saddle 
horse to his client said: " If you mount this 
horse at four o'clock in the morning you xmü 
he in Monticello at sir-thirty in the morning." 
" What •will 1 do in Monticello at six-thirty m 
the morning?" asked the client. 

Here the displacement is very striking. The 
horse-dealer mentions the early arrival in the 
small city only with the obvious intention of 
proving the efficiency of the horse. The client 
disregards the capacity of the animal, about 
which he evidently has no more doubts, and 
takes up only the data of the example selected 

I* For the latter see a later chapter. It trill perhaps not be 
Buperfluoua to add here a few words for better understanding. 
The dUpiatement regularly occurs between a statement and an 
answer, and turos the stream of thought to a direction different 
from the one started in the statement. The justiflcation for 
separating the dlaplaeement from the double meaning is best 
seen in the examples where both are combined, that is, where the 
wording of the statement admits of a double meaning which 
was not intended bj the Epesinr, but which reveals in tbo 
answer the wajr to the displacement (see examples}. 



for the test. The reduction of this joke is com- 
paratively simple. 

More difficulties are encountered by another 
example, the technique of which is very obscure. 
It can be solved, however, through the applica- 
tion of double meaning with displacement. The 
joke relates the subterfuge employed by a 
"schadchen" (Jewish marriage broker). It 
belongs to a class which will claim more of our 
attention later. 

The "schadchen" had assured the suitor 
tJiat the father of the girl was no longer living. 
After the engagement had been announced the 
news halted out that the father was still living 
and serving a sentence in prison. The suitor 
reproached the agent for deceiving Aim. 
" Well," said the latter, " what did I tell yofti? 
Do you call that living? " 
■ The double meaning lies in the word " living," 
and the displacement consists in the fact that 
the " schadchen " avoids the common meaning 
of the word, which is a contrast to " death," and 
uses it in the colloquial sense: " You don't call 
that living." In doing this he explains his 
former utterance as a double meaning, although 
this manifold application is here quite out of 
place. Thus far the technique resembles that 
of the "golden calf" and the "bath" jokes. 
Here, however, another factor comes into con- 


We a 

of tiK 

We dtttt 


sideration ithkh distnrfas the 
the technique throu^ its obtn a s i reaem. 
might say that this joke ii a 
wit." It exxkxron to il lu s tiate bgr 
marriage agent's cliaracte 
mendacioua impudence and rep at teei 
learn that this is only the "Aow-m 
facade of the witticism, that b, ita 
object serves a different p nr poae. 
also defer our attempt at redoctian.' ' 

After these ccanplkated examplo; «iodi an 
not at all easy to analyze, it wül be gratifying 
to find a perfectly pare and transparent ex- 
ample of " displacement-wit*' A beggar im- 
plored the help of a wealthy baron for a trip 
to Oatend, tchere he a**erted the pkytiäana had 
ordered htm to take sea bath* for his health, 
" Very tcell, J shaB assist you" said the rieh 
baron, " but is it absolutely necessary for you to 
go to Ostend, which is ike most expensive of aU 
vxttering-places? " " Sir," zcas the reproving 
f^piy, " nothing is too expensive for my health/* 
Certainly that is a proper attitude, but hardly 
proper for the supplicant. The answer is given 
from the viewpoint of a ridi man. The beggar 
acts as if it were his own money that he was 
willing to sacrifice for his health, as if monqr 
and health concerned the same person. 

'Sec Chapter UL 

Nonsense as a Technical Means 

Let us take up again in this connection the 
instructive example of " sahnon with mayon- 
naise." It also presents to us a side in which 
we noticed a striking display of logical work 
and we have learned from analyzing it that 
this logic concealed an error of thought, namely, 
a displacement of the stream of thought. 
Henceforth, even if only by way of contrast 
association, we shall be reminded of other jokes 
which, on the contrary, present clearly some- 
thing contradictory, something nonsensical, or 
foolish. We shall be curious to discover wherein 
the technique of the witticism lies. I shall 
first present the strongest and at the same time 
the purest example of the entire group. Once 
more it is a Jewish joke. 

Ike was serving in the ariiUery corps. He 
teas seemingly an intelligent lad, hut he was 
unwieldy and had tig interest in the service. 
One of his superiors, who was kindly disposed 
toward him, drew him aside and said to him: 
" Ike, you are out of place among vs. I would 
advise you to buy a cannon and make yourself 

The advice, which makes us laugh heartily, 
is obvious nonsense. There are no cannon to 
be bought and an individual cannot possibly 





make himself independent as a fighting force 
or estabh'sh himself, as it were. One cannot 
remain one minute in doubt but that this ad- 
vice is not pure nonsense, but witty nonsense 
and an excellent joke. By what means does 
the nonsense become a witticism? 

We need not meditate very long. From the 
discussions of the authors in the Introduction 
we can guess that sense lurks in such witty 
nonsense, and that this sense in nonsense trans- 
forms nonsense into wit. In our example the 
sense is easily found. The officer who gives 
the artilleryman, Ike, the nonsensical advice 
pretends to be stupid in order to show Ike how 
stupidly he is acting. He imitates Ike as if to 
say, " I will now give you some advice which is 
exactly as stupid as you are." He enters into 
Ike's stupidity and makes him conscious of it by 
making it the basis of a proposition which must 
meet with Ike's wishes, for if Ike owned a can- 
non and took up the art of warfare on his own 
account, of what advantage would his intelli- 
gence and ambition be to him? How would 
he take care of the cannon and acquaint 
himself with its mechanism in order to meet ' 
the competition of other possessors of can- 

I am breaking off the analysis of this example 
to show the same sense in nonsense in a shorter 



and simpler, though less glaring case of non- 

" Never to he horn tcovM be best for mortal 
man." " But," added the sages of the Fliegende 
Blätter, " hardly one man in a hundred thou- 
sand has this luck." 

The modern appendix to the ancient philo- 
sophical saying is pure nonsense, and becomes 
still more stupid through the addition of the 
seemingly careful " hardly." But this appen- 
dix in attaching itself to the first sentence in- 
contestably and correctly limits it. It can thus 
open our eyes to the fact that that piece of 
wisdom so reverently scanned, is neither more 
nor less than sheer nonsense. He who is not 
born of woman is not mortal; for him there 
exists no " good " and no " best." The nonsense 
of the joke, therefore, serves here to expose 
and present another bit of nonsense as in the 
case of the artilleryman. Here I can add a 
third example which, owing to its context, 
scarcely deserves a detailed description. It 
serves, however, to illustrate the use of non- 
sense in wit in order to represent another ele- 
ment of nonsense. 

A man about to go upon a journey intrusted 
his daughter to his friend, begging him to watch 
over her chastity during his absence. When 
he returned some months later he found that 


ake was pregnant. Naturally he reproached 
his friend, Tlie latter alleged that he conld not 
explain this unfortunate occurrence. " Where 
Jias she been sleeping?" the father finally asked. 
" In the same room with my son," replied the 
friend. " How is it that you allowed her to 
sleep in the same room with your son after I 
had begged you so earnestly to take good care 
of her?" remonstrated the father. "Well," 
explained the friend, " there was a screen be- 
tween them. There was your daughter's bed 
I and over there was my son's bed and between 
' them stood the screen." " And suppose he 
went behind tfie screen? What then?" asked 
the parent. " Well, in that case," rejoined the 
friend thoughtfully, " it might he possible." 
r In this joke — aside from the other quahties 
I of this poor witticism — we can easily get the 
reduction. Obviously, it would read like this: 
'* You have no right to reproach me. How 
could you he so foolish as to leave your daughter 
in a house where she must live in the constant 
companionship of a young man? As if it were 
possible for a stranger to be responsible for 
the chastity of a maiden under such circum- 
stances!" The seeming stupidity of the friend 
here also serves as a reflection of the stupidity 
of the fatlier. By means of the reduction we 
have eliminated the nonsense contained in the 


witticism as well as the witticism itself. We 
have not gotten rid of the " nonsense " element 
itself, as it finds another place in the context of 
the sentence after it has been reduced to its 
true meaning. 

We can now also attempt the reduction of 
the joke about the cannon. The officer might 
have said: " I know, Ike, that you are an in- 
telligent business man, but I must tell you that 
you are very stupid if you do not realize that 
one cannot act in the army as one does in 
business, where each one is out for himself 
and competes with the other. Military service 
demands subordination and co-operation." 

The technique of the nonsense witticisms 
hitherto discussed really consists in advancing 
something apparently absurd or nonsensical 
which, however, discloses a sense serving to 
illustrate and represent some other actual 
absurdity and nonsense. 

Has the employment of contradiction in the 
technique of wit always this meaning? Here is 
another example which answers this affirma- 
tively. On an occasion when Phocion's speech 
was applauded he turned to his friends and 
asked: " Did I say something foolish? " 

This question seems paradoxical, but we 
immediately comprehend its meaning. " What 
have I said that has pleased this stupid crowd? 



I ought really to be ashamed of the applause, 
for if it appealed to these fools, it could not 
have been very clever after all." 

Other examples teach us that absurdity is 
used very often in the technique of wit without 
serving at all the purpose of uncovering another 
piece of nonsense. 

A well-known university teacher "who was 
toont to spice richly with jokes his rather dry 
specialty was once congratulated upon the 
birth of his youngest son, who was bestowed 
upon him at a rather advanced age. " Yes," 
»aid he to the ■well-wishers, " it is remarkable 
what mortal hands can accompliah." This reply 
seems especially meaningless and out of place, 
for children are called the blessings of God to 
distinguish them from creations of mortal hands. 
But it soon dawns upon us that this answer has 
a meaning and an obscene one at that. The 
point in question is not that the happy father 
wishes to appear stupid in order to make some- 
thing else or some other persons appear stupid. 
The seemingly senseless answer causes us as- 
tonishment. It puzzles us, as the authors would 
have it. We have seen that the authors deduce 
the entire mechanism of such jokes from the 
change of the succession of " clearness and con- 
fusion." We shall try to form an opinion about 
this later. Here we content ourselves by re- 



marking that the technique of this witticism 
consists in advancing such confusing and sense- 
less elements. 

An especially peculiar place among the non- 
sense jokes is assimied by this joke of Lichten- 

"He was surprised that the two holes were 
cut in the pelts of cats just -where their eyes 
were located." It is certainly foolish to be 
surprised about something that is obvious in 
itself, something which is really the explanation 
of an identity. It reminds one of a seriously 
intended utterance of Michelet (The Womaei) 
which, as I remember it, runs as follows: " How 
beautifully everything is arranged by nature. 
As soon a» the child comes into the xvorld it 
finds a mother who is ready to care for it." 
This utterance of Michelet is really siUy, but 
the one of Lichtenberg is a witticism, which 
makes use of the absurdity for some purpose. 
There is something behind it. What? At 
present that is something we cannot discuss. 

Sophistic Faulty Thinking 

We have learned from two groups of ex- 
amples that the wit-work makes use of devia- 
tions from normal thought, namely, displace- 
ment and absurdity, as technical means of pre* 



senting witty expressions. It is only just to 
expect that other faulty thinking may find a 
similar application. Indeed, a few examples of 
this sort can be cited. 

A gentleman entered a shop and ordered a 
fancy cake, which, however, he soon returned, 
asking for some liqueur in its stead. He drank 
the liqueur, and was about to leave without 
paying for it. The shopkeeper held him back. 
" What do you want of me? " he asked. 
"Please pay for the liqueur," said the shop- 
keeper. " But I have given you the fancy cake 
for it," " Yes, hut yoti have not paid for that 
either." " Well, neither have I eaten it." 

This little story also bears the semblance of 
logic which we already know as the suitable 
facade for faulty thinking. The error, ob- 
viously, lies in the fact that the cunning cus- 
tomer establishes a connection between the re- 
turn of the fancy cake and its exchange for the 
liqueur, a comiection which really does not 
exist. The state of affairs may be divided into 
two processes which as far as the shopkeeper 
is concerned are independent of each other. 
He first took the fancy cake and returned it, 
so that he owes nothing for it. He then took 
the liqueur, for which he owes money. One 
might say that the customer uses the relation 
*' for it " in a double sense, or, to speak more 

correctly, by means of a double sense he forms 
a relation which does not hold in reality.' 

The opportunity now presents itself for mak- 
ing a not unimportant confession. We are 
here busying ourselves with an investigation of 
technique of wit by means of examples, and 
we ought to be sure that the examples which 
we have selected are really true witticisms. 
The facts are, however, that in a series of 
cases we fall into doubt as to whether or not 
the example in question may be called a joke. 
We have no criterion at our disposal before 
investigation itself furnishes one. Usage of 
language is unreliable and is itself in need of 
examination for its authority. To decide the 
question we can rely on nothing else but a 
certain " feeling," which we may interpret by 
saying that in our judgment the decision fol- 
lows certain criteria which are not yet accessi- 
ble to our knowledge. We shall naturally not 
appeal to this " feeling " for substantial proof. 
In the case of the last-mentioned example we 
cannot help doubting whether we may present 
it as a witticism, as a sophistical witticism, or 

' A similar nonsense technique results when the joke stms to 
tnalntain a Connection whEch seenis to tw removed through the 
■pecial conditionE of its content. A Joke of this sort is related 
l^ J. Pallte (1. e.) : " /* Ihit the place v>here Che Duke of Wetl- 
bigton »poke theie viordi! " " Fm, lAw i> tA« placi; bvt A« iMvcr 
»poka thtte aoTdt." 


merely as a sophism. The fact is that we do 
not yet know wherein the character of wit lies. 
L On the other hand the fallowing example, 
l^rfiich evinces, as it were, the complementary 
faulty thinking, is a witticism without any 
doubt. Again it is a story of a marriage agent. 
The agent is defending the girl he lias proposed 
gainst the attacks of her prospective fiancS. 
" The mother-in-law does not suit me," the 
latter remarks. " She is a crabbed, foolish per- 
aon" " That's true," replies the agent, " hut 
you are not going to marry the mother-in-law, 
hut the daughter." " Yes, hut she is no longer 
young, and she is not pretty, either." " That's 
nothing: if she is not young or pretty you can 
trust her all the more." "But she liasn't much 
money." " Why talk of money? Are you go- 
ing to marry money? You want a wife, don't 
you?" "But she is a hunchback." "Well, 
tehat of that? Do you expect her to have no 
blemishes at all? " 

It is really a question of an ugly girl who is 
no longer young, who has a paltry dowry and a 
repulsive mother, and who is besides equipped 
with a pretty bad deformity, relations which are 
not at all inviting to matrimony. The marriage 
agent knows how to present each individual 
fault in a manner to cause one to become 
TeconcUed to it, and then takes up the 

ecome ■ 

e un- M 

pardonable hunch back as the one fault which 
can be excused in any one. Here again there 
is the semblance of logic which is characteristic 
of sophisms, and which serves to conceal the 
faulty thinking. It is apparent that the girl 
possesses nothing but faults, many of which 
can be overlooked, but one that cannot be passed 
by. The chances for the marriage become very 
slim. The agent acts as if he removed each 
individual fault by his evasions, forgetting that 
each leaves behind some depreciation which is 
added to the next one. He insists upon dealing 
with each factor individually, and refuses to 
combine them into a sum-total. 

A similar omission forms the nucleus of an- 
other sophism which causes much laughter, 
though one can well question its right to be 
called a joke. 

A. had borrowed a copper kettle from B., and 
upon returning it was sued by B. because it had 
a large hole which rendered it unserviceable. 
His defense was this: " In the first place I 
never borrowed any kettle from B., secondly 
the kettle had a hole in it when I received it 
from B., thirdly the kettle was in perfect coti- 
dition when I returned it." Each separate pro- 
test is good by itself, but taken together they 
exclude each other. A. treats individually 
what must be taken as a whole, just as the 


marriage agent when he deals with the imper- 
fections of the bride. One can also say that A. 
uses " and " where only an " cither^-or " is 

Another sophism greets us in the foUowing 
marriage agent story. The suitor objects he- 
cause the bride has a short leg and therefore 
limps. The agent contradicts kim. " You are 
torong," he says. " Suppose you marry a 
Vjoman whose legs are sound and straight. 
What do you gain by it? You are not sure 
from day to day that she tßiü not fall down, 
break a leg, and then be lame for the rest of 
her life. Just consider the pain, the excite- 
ment, and the doctor's biU. But if you marry 
this one nothing can happen. Here you have 
a finished job." 

Here the semblance of logic is very shallow, 
for no one will by any means admit that a 
" finished misfortune " is to be preferred to a 
mere possibility of such. The error in the 
stream of thought will be seen more easily in a 
second example. 

In the temple of Cracoto sat the great Rabbi 
N. praying with his disciples. Suddenly he 
emitted a cry and in response to his troubled 
ditciples said: " The great Rabbi L. died just 
note in Lemberg." The congregation thereupon 
v>ent into mourning for tlie deceased. In the 



course of the next day travelers from, ILemberg 
were asked how the rabbi had died, and what 
had caused his death. They knew nothing 
about the event, however, as, they said, they 
had left him in the best of health. Finally it 
teas definitely ascertained that the Rabbi of 
Lemberg had not died at the hour on which 
Rabbi N. had felt his death telepathically, and 
that he was still living. A stranger seized the 
opportunity to banter a pupil of the Cracow 
rabbi about the episode. " That was a glorious 
exhibition that your rabbi made of himself 
when he saw the Rabbi of Lemberg die." he 
said. " Why, the man is still living! " " No 
matter," replied the pupil. " To look from 
Cracow to Lemberg was wonderful anyhow." 
Here the faulty thinking common to both 
of the last examples is openly shown. The 
value of fanciful Ideas is unfairly matched 
against reality; possibility is made equivalent 
to actuality. To look from Cracow to Lem- 
berg despite the miles between woxdd have been 
an imposing telepathic feat had it resulted in 
some truth, but the disciple gives no heed to 
that. It might have been possible that the 
Rabbi of Lemberg had died at the moment 
when the Rabbi of Cracow had proclaimed his 
death, but the pupil displaces the accent from 
the condition under which the teacher's act 





would be remarkable to the unconditional ad- 
miration of this act. " In magnis rebus voluisse 
»at est " is a similar point of view. Just as in 
this example reality is sacrificed in favor of 
possibility, so in the foregoing example the 
marriage agent suggests to the suitor that the 
possibility of the woman's becoming lame 
through an accident is a far more important 
consideration to be taken into account; whereas 
the question as to whether or not she is lame 
is put altogether into the background. 

Automatic Errors of Thought 

Another interesting group attaches itself to 
thb one of sophistical faulty thinking, a group 
ID which the faulty thinking may be designated 
as automatic. It is perliaps only a stroke of 
fate that all of the examples which I shall cite 
for this new group are again stories referring 
to marriage agents. 

The agent brought along an assistant to a 
conference about a bride. This assistant was 
to confirm hü assertions. " She is as well made 
as a pine tree" said the agent. " hike a pine 
tree," repeated the echo. " She has eyes which 
cne must appreciate." " Wonderful eyes," con- 
firmed the echo. " She is cultured beyond 
ieord». She possesses ewtraordinary culture" 

iatant, I 
.J it.. " 

" Wonderfully cultured," repeated the assistant. 
"However, one thing is true," confessed the 
agent. "She. has a slight hunch on her hack." 
"And what a hunch!" confirmed the echo. 

The other stories are quite analogous to this 
one, but they are cleverer. 

On being introduced to his prospective bride 
the suitor teas rather unpleasantly surprised, 
and drawing aside the marriage agent he re- 
proachfully whispered to him: " Why have you. 
brought me here? She is ugly and old. She 
squints, has had teeth, and hleary eyes." 
" You can talk louder," interrupted the agent. 
"She is deaf, too." 

A prospective bridegroom made his first call 
on his future bride in company with the agent, 
and while in the parlor waiting for the appear- 
ance of the family the agent drew the young 
man's attention to a glass closet containing a 
handsome diver set. " Just look at these 
things," he said. " You can see how wealthy 
these people are." " But is it not possible that 
these articles were just borrowed for the occa- 
sion," inquired the suspicious young man, "so 
as to give the appearance of wealth? " " What 
an idea" answered the agent protestingly. 
" Who in the world would lend them any- 

In all three cases one finds the same thing. 



A person who reacts several times in succession 
in the same manner continues in the same 
manner on the next occasion where it becomes 
unsmted and runs contrary to his intentions. 
Falling into the automatism of habit he fails 
to adapt himself to the demands of the situa- 
tion. Thus in the first story the assistant forgot 
I that he was taken along in order to influence 
I the suitor in favor of the proposed bride, and 
f as he had thus far accomplished his task by 
emphasizing through repetition the excellencies 
attributed to the lady, he now emphasizes also 
her timidly conceded hunch back which he 
should have belittled. 

The marriage agent in the second story is so 
fascinated by the failings and infirmities of the 
bride that he completes the list from his own 
knowledge, which it was certainly neither his 
business nor his intention to do. Finally in 
the third story he is so carried away by his 
zeal to convince the young man of the family's 
wealth that in order to corroborate his proofs 
he blurts out something which must upset all 
his efforts. Everywhere the automatism tri- 
umphs over the appropriate variation of 
thought and expression. 

That is quite easy to understand, although 

it must cause confusion when it is brought to 

I our attention that these three stories could just 

as well be termed " comical " as " witty." IJke 
every act of unmasking and self-betrayal the 
discovery of the psychic automatism also be- 
longs to technique of the comic. We suddenly 
see ourselves here confronted with the problem 
of the relationship of wit to the comic element — 
a subject which we endeavored to avoid (see 
the Introduction). Are these stories only 
"comical" and not "witty" also? Does the 
comic element employ here the same means as 
does the wit? And again, of what does the 
peculiar character of wit consist? 

We must adhere to the fact that the tech- 
nique of the group of witticisms examined last 
consists of nothing else but the establishment of 
" faulty thinking." We are forced to admit, 
however, that so far the investigation has led 
us further into darkness than to illumination. 
Nevertheless we do not abandon the hope of 
arriving at a result by means of a more thor- 
ough knowledge of the technique of wit which 
may become the starting-point for further in- 


The next examples of wit with which we wish 
to continue our investigation do not give us as 
much work. Their technique reminds us very 
much of what we already know. Here is one 


lichtenberg's jokes. "January," he says, 
" i» the month in which one extends good wishes 
to his friends, and the rest are months in which 
the good wishes are not fulfilled." 

As these witticisms may be called clever 
rather than strong, we shall reinforce the im- 
pression by examining a few more. 

" Human life is divided into two halves; dur- 
ing the first one looks forward to the second, 
and during the second one looks backward to 
the first." 

" Experience consists in experiencing what 
one does not care to experience." (The last 
two examples were cited by K. Fischer.) 

One cannot help being reminded by these ex- 
amples of a group, treated of before, which is 
characterized by the " manifold application of 
the same material." The last example espe- 
cially will cause us to ask why we have not 
inserted it there instead of presenting it here 
in a new connection. " Experience " is de- 
scribed through its own terms just as some of 
the examples cited above. Neither would I be 
against this correction. However, I am of the 
opinion that the other two cases, which are 
surely similar in character, contain a different 
factor which is more striking and more im- 
portant than the manifold application of the 
same word which shows nothing here touching 



upon double meaning. And what is more, I 
wish to emphasize that new and unexpected 
identities are here formed which show them- 
selves in relations of ideas to one another, in 
relations of definitions to each other, or to a 
common third. I would call this process unifica- 
tion. Obviously it is analogous to condensation 
by compression into similar words. Thus the 
two halves of human life are described by the 
inter-relationship discovered between them : 
during the first part one longs for the second, 
and in the second one longs for the first. To 
speak more precisely there were two relation- 
ships very similar to each other which were 
selected for description. The similarity of the 
relationship that corresponds to the similarity of 
the words which, just for this reason, might 
recall the manifold application of the same 
material — (looks forward) 
(looks backward). 
In Lichtenberg's joke, January and the 
months contrasted with it are characterized 
again by a modified relationsliip to a third 
factor: these are good wishes which one re- 
ceives in the first month, but are not fulfilled 
during the other months. The difFerentiation 
from the manifold application of the same ma- 
terial which is really related to double meaning 
is here quite clear. 



A good example of unification-wit needing 
no explanation is the following ; 

J. B. Rousseau, the French poet, wrote an 
ode to posterity (a la postente). Voltaire, 
thinking that the poor quality of the poem in 
no way jtistified its reaching posterity, wittily 
remarked. " This poem will not reach its detti- 
nation" (K. Fischer). 

The last example may remind us of the fact 
that it is essentially unification which forms 
the basis of the so-called repartee in wit. For 
ready repartee consists in using the defense for 
aggression and in " turning the tables " or in 
" paying with the same coin." That is, the 
repartee consists in establishing an unexpected 
identity between attack and counter-attack. 

For example, a baker said to a tavern keeper, 
one of whose fingers was festering: " I guess 
your finger got into your beer." The tavern 
keeper replied: " You are wrong. One of your 
rolls got under my finger nail" (Ueberhorst: 
Baa Komische, II, 1900). 

While Serenissimus was traveling through his 
domains he noticed a man in the crowds who 
bore a striking resemblance to himself. He 
beckoned him to come over and asked: "Was 
your mother ever employed in my home?" 
" No, sire," repUed the man, " but my father 

While Duke Karl of Wiirtemberg was riding 
horseback he met a dyer working at his trade. 
" Can you color my white horse blue? " " Yes, 
nre," was the rejoinder, "if the animal can 
stand the boiling!" 

In this excellent repartee, which answers a 
foolish question with a condition that is equally 
impossible, there occurs another technical 
factor which would have been omitted if the 
dyer's reply had been: " No, sire, I am afraid 
that the horse could not stand being boiled." 

Another peculiarly interesting technical 
means at the disposal of unification is the addi- 
tion of the conjunction " and." Such correla- 
tion signifies a connection which could not be 
understood otherwise. WhenHeine (Harzreise) 
says of the city of Göttingen, " In general the 
inhabitants of Göttingen are divided into gtur 
dents, professors, Philistines, and cattle," we 
understand this combination exactly in the sense 
which he furthermore emphasized by adding; 
" These four social groups are distinguished lit- 
tle less than sharply." Again, when he speaks 
about the school where he had to submit " to 
so much Latin, drubbing, and geography," he 
wants to convey by this combination, which is 
made very conspicuous by placing the drubbing 
between the two studies, that the schoolboy's 
conception unmistakably described by the drub- 

V bing 



bing should be extended also to Latin and 

In Lipps's book we find among the examples 
of "witty enumeration" (Koordination) the 
following verse, which stands nearest to Heine's 
" students, professors, Philistines, and cattle." 

" With a fork and with muck effort his 
mother pulled him from a mess." 

" As if effort were an instrument like the 
fork," adds Lipps by way of explanation. But 
we get the impression that there is nothing 
witty in this sentence. To be sure it is very 
comical, whereas Heine's co-ordination is im- 
doubtedly witty. We shall, perhaps, recall these 
examples later when we shall no longer be 
forced to evade the problem of the relationship 
between wit and the comic. 

Representation Through the Opposite 

We have remarked in the example of the 
Duke and the dyer that it would still have been 
a joke by means of unification had the dyer 
replied, " No, I fear that the horse could not 
stand being boiled." In substituting a " yes " 
for the " no " wliich rightly belonged there, we 
meet a new technical means of wit the apphca- 
tion of which we shall study in other examples. 

This joke, which resembles the one we have 

just cited from K. Fischer, is somewhat sim- 
pler. " Frederick the Great heard of a Silesian 
clergyman who had the reputation of communi- 
cating leith spirits. He »eni for him and re- 
ceived him. tcith the following question: 'Can 
you call up ghosts?' 'At your pleasure, your 
majesty,' replied the cUrgymxin, ' hut they 
toon't come.' " Here it is perfectly obvious 
that the wit lies in the substitution of its op- 
posite for the only possible answer, " No." To 
complete this substitution " but " had to be 
added to " yes," so that " yes " plus " but " 
gives the equivalent for '* no." 

This " representation through the opposite," as 
we choose to call it, sen'es the mechanism of 
wit in several ways. In the following cases it 
appears almost in its pure form: 

" This woman resembles Venus de MHo in 
Tnany points. Like her she is extraordinarily 
old, has no teeth, and has white spots on the 
yellow surface of her body" (Heine). 

Here ugliness is depicted by making it agree 
with the most beautiful. Of com-se these agree- 
ments consist of attributes expressed in double 
meaning or of matters of slight importance. 
The latter applies to the second example. 

" The attributes of the greatest men were aU 
united in himself. Like Alexander his head 
•was tilted to one side: like Ccesar he always had 


tomething in his hair. He could drink coffee 
Uke Leibnitz, and once settled in Ids armchair 
he forgot eating and drinking Uke Newton, and 
like him had to be awakened. He wore a wig 
Uke Dr. Johnson, and like Cervantes the fly of 
hi» trousers was always open" (Lichtenberg: 
The Great Mind). 

J. V. Falke's Lebenserinnerungen an eme 
Heise nach Ireland (page 271) furnishes an ex- 
ceptionally good example of " representation 
tlirough the opposite " in which the use of 
■words of a double meaning plays absolutely no 
part. The scene is laid in a wax figure museum, 
like Mnie. Tussaud's. A lecturer discourses on 
one figure after another to his audience, which 
is composed of old and young people. " This is 
the Duke of Wellington and his horse," he says. 
Whereupon a young girl remarks, " Which is 
the duke and which is the horse?" "Just as 
you Uke, my pretty child." is the reply. " You 
pay your money and you take your choice." 

The reduction of this Irish joke would be: 
" It is gross impudence on the part of the 
museum's management to offer such an exhibi- 
tion to the public. It is impossible to distin- 
guish between the horse and the rider (playful 
exaggeration), and it is for this exhibit that 
one pays one's hard-earned money!" The in- 
dignant expression is now dramatized and ap- 

plied to a trivial occurrence. In the place of 
the entire audience there appears one woman 
and the riding figure becomes individually de- 
termined. It is necessarily the Duke of Well- 
ington, who is so very popular in Ireland. But 
the insolence of the museum proprietor or lec- 
turer who takes money from the public and 
offers nothing in return is represented by the 
opposite, through a speech, in which he extols 
himself as a conscientious business man whose 
fondest desire is to respect the rights to which 
the public is entitled through the admission 
fee. One then realizes that the technique of this 
joke is not very simple. In so far as a way 
is found to allow the swindler to assert his 
scrupulosity it may be said that the joke is a 
case of " representation through the opposite." 
The fact, however, that he does it on an occa- 
sion where something different is demanded of 
him, and the fact that he replies in terms of 
commercial integrity when he is expected to dis- 
cuss the similarity of the figures, shows that it 
is a case of displacement. The technique of 
the joke lies in the combination of both technical 


This example is closely allied to another 
small group which might be called " outdoing- 



wit." Here " yes," which would be proper in 
the reduction, is replaced by " no," which, owing 
to its context, is equivalent to a still stronger 
" yes." The same mechanism holds true when 
the case is reversed. The contradiction takes 
the place of an exaggerated confirmation. An 
example of this nature is seen in the following 
epigram from Lessing.' 

" The good Galathee! 'Tis said that she dyes 
her liair black, yet it was black when she bought 

Lichtenberg's make-believe mocking defense 
of philosophy is another example. 

" There are more things in heaven and earth 
than are dreamt of in your philosophy," Prince 
Hamlet had disdainfully declared. Lichten- 
berg well knew that this condemnation was 
by no means severe enough, in that it does not 
take into account all that can be said against 
philosophy. He therefore added the following: 
"" But there is also much in philosophy which ts 
found neither in heaven nor on earth." To be 
sure, his assertion supplements what was lack- 
ing in Hamlet's philosophical utterance, but in 
doing this he adds another and still greater re- 

More transparent still, because they show 
no trace of displacement, are two Jewish 

' Following an example of the Gretk dnthologf. 

of the coarse 


jokes ^diich are, however, 

TtDo Jews were conversing about bathing. 
" I take a bath once a year," said one, " whether 
J need one or not." 

It is clear that this boastful assurance of his 
cleanliness only betrays his state of uncleanli- 

A Jew noticed remnants of food on the beard 
of another. " I can tell you what you ate yes- 
ierday," he remarked. " Well, let's hear it," 
said another. " Beans," said the first one. " You 
are wrong," responded the other. " I had beans 
the day before yesterday." 

The following example is an excellent " out- 
doing " witticism which can be traced easily 
to representation through the opposite. 

The king condescended to pay a xnsit at a 
surgical clinic, and found the professor of sur- 
gery engaged in amputating a leg. He watched 
the various steps of the operation with interest 
and expressed his royal approval with these 
loud utterances: " Bravo, bravo. Professor." 
When the operation was over the professor 
approached the king, bowed low, and asked: 
"Dobs your majesty also command the amputa- 
tion of the other leg?" 

Whatever the professor may have thought 
during this royal applause surely could not 

have been expressed unchanged. His real 
thoughts were: "Judging by this applause he 
must be under the impression that I am ampu- 
tating the poor devil's diseased leg by order 
of and for the pleasure of the king. To be 
sure. I have other reasons for performing this 
operation." But instead of expressing these 
thoughts he goes to the king and says: " I have 
no other reasons but your majesty's order for 
performing this operation. The applause you 
accorded me has inspired me so much that I 
am only awaiting your majesty's command to 
amputate the other leg also." He thus suc- 
ceeded in making himself understood by ex- 
pressing the opposite of what he really thought 
but had to keep to himself. Such an expres- 
sion of the opposite represents an incredible 
exaggeration or outdoing. 

As we gather from these examples, repre- 
sentation through the opposite is a means fre- 
quently and effectively used in the technique 
of wit. We need not overlook, however, some- 
thing else, namely, that this technique is by 
I no means confined only to wit. When Marc 
' Antony, after his long speech in the Forum 
had changed the mood of the mob listen- 
ing to Caesar's obsequies, at last repeats the 

*'For Brutus was an honorable man," 


he well knows that the mob will scream the 
true meaning of his words at him, namely, 
" They are traitors : nice honorable men ! " 
Or when SimpUcissimus transcribes a col- 
lection of unheard-of brutalities and cynicisms 
as expressions of " people with temperaments," 
this, too, is a representation through the oppo- 
site. However, this is no longer designated as 
wit, but as " irony." Indeed, the only technique 
that is characteristic of irony is representation 
through the opposite. Besides, one reads and 
hears about " ironical wit." Hence there is no 
longer any doubt that technique alone is not 
capable of characterizing wit. There must be 
something else which we have not yet dis- 
covered. On the other hand, however, the fact 
that the reduction of the technique destroys the 
wit still remains uncontradicted. For the pres- 
ent it may be difficult for us to unite for the 
explanation of wit the two strong points which 
we have already gained. 

Indirect Expression 

Since representation through the opposite 
belongs to the technical means of wit, we may 
also expect that wit could make use of its re- 
verse, namely, the representation through the 
similar and cognate. Indeed, when we continue 



our investigation we find that this forms the 
technique of a new and especially extensive 
group of thought-witticisms. We can describe 
the peculiarity of this technique much better 
if instead of representation through the " cog- 
nate " we use the expression representation 
through " relationships and associations." We 
shall start with the last characteristic and illus- 
trate it by an example. 

Indirect Expression witk Alltmon 

It is an American anecdote and runs as 
follows. By undertaking a series of risky 
schemes, two not very scrupulous business men 
had succeeded in amassing an enormous for- 
tune and were now intent on forcing their way 
into good society. Among other things tliey 
thought it advisable to have their portraits 
painted by the most prominent and most ew- 
pensive painters in the city, men whose works 
were considered masterpieces. The costly pic- 
tures were exhibited for the first time at a great 
evening gathering, and the hosts themselves led i 
the most prominent connoisseur and art critic 
to the wall of the salon o7i which both portraits 
were hanging side by aide, in order to elicit 
from him a favorable criticism. He examined 
the portraita for a long time, then shook his 


head 08 if he were missing something. At 
length he pcdnted to the bare space between 
the pictures, and asked, "And where is the 
Savior? " 

The meaning of this expression is clear. It 
is again the expression of something which can- 
not be represented directly. In what way does 
this "indirect expression" come about? By a 
series of very obvious associations and conclu- 
sions let us work backwards from the verbal 

The query, " where is the Savior? " or " where 
is the picture of the Savior? " arouses the con- 
jecture that the two pictures have reminded the 
speaker of a similar arrangement familiar to 
him as it is familiar to us. This arrangement, 
of which one element is here missing, shows the 
figure of the Savior between two other figures. 
There is only one such case: Christ hanging 
between the two thieves. The missing element 
is emphasized by the witticism, and the similar- 
ity rests in the figures at the right and left of 
the Savior, which are not mentioned in the jest. 
It can only mean that the pictures hanging in 
the drawing-room are likewise those of thieves. 
This is what the critic wished to, but could 
not say, " You are a pair of scoundrels," or 
more in detail, " What do I care about your 
portraits? You are a pair of scoundrels, that 


I know." And by means of a few associations 
and conclusive inferences he has said it in a 
manner which we designate as " allusion." 

We hnmediately remember that we have 
encountered the process of allusion before. 
Namely, in double meaning, when one of the 
two meanings expressed by the same word 
stands out very prominently, because being used 
much oftener and more commonly, our atten- 
tion is directed to it first, whereas the other 
meaning remains in the background because it 
is more remote — such cases we wished to de- 
scribe as double meaning with allusion. In an 
entire series of examples which we have hitherto 
examined, we have remarked that tlieir tech- 
nique is not simple and we realized that the 
process of allusion was the factor that com- 
plicated it. For example, see the contradiction- 
witticism in which the congratulations on the 
birth of the youngest child are acknowledged by 
the remark that it is remarkable what human 
hands can accomplish (p. 77). 
, In the American anecdote we have the process 
of allusion without the double meaning, and we 
find that the character of this process consists 
in completing the picture through mental asso- 
ciation. It is not difficult to guess that the 
utilized association can be of more than one 
kind. So as not to be confused by large num- 


bers we shall discuss only the most pronouneed 
variations, and shall give only a few examples. 

The association used in the substitution may 
be a mere sound, so that this sub-group may 
be analogous to word-wit in the pun. How- 
ever, it is not similarity in sound of two words, 
but of whole sentences, characteristic combina- 
tions of words, and similar means. 

For example, Lichtenberg coined the saying j 
" New baths heal taell," which immediately re- 
minds one of the proverb, " New brooms clean 
well," whose first and last words, as well as 
whose whole sentence structure, is the same as 
in the first saying. It has undoubtedly arisen 
in the witty thinker's mind as an imitation of 
the familiar proverb. Thus Lichtenberg's say- 
ing is an allusion to the latter. By means of 
this allusion something is suggested that can- 
not be frankly said, namely, that the efficacy 
of the baths taken as cures is due to other 
things beside the thermal springs whose attri- 
butes are the same everywhere. 

The solution of the technique of another one 
of Lichtenberg's jokes is similar: "The girl 
barely twelve modes old." That sounds some- 
thing like the chronological term " twelve 
moons" (i.e., months), and may originally have 
been a mistake in writing in the permissible 
poetical expression. But there is a good deal 


of sense in designating the age of a feminine 
creature by the changing modes instead of by 
the changing of moons. 

The connection of similarity may even con- 
sist of a single slight modification. This tech- 
nique again runs parallel with a word-technique. 
Both kinds of witticisms create almost the 
identical impression, but they are more easily 
distinguishable by the processes of the wit- 

The following is an example of such a word- 
witticism or pun. The great singer, Mary 
Wilt, who was famous not merely on account 
of the magnitude of her voice, suffered the 
mortification of having a title of a play, drama- 
tized from the well-known novel of Jules 
Verne, serve as an allusion to her corpulency. 
"The trip around the Wilt (world) in eighty 

Or: "Every fathom a queen." which is a 
modification of the familiar Shakespearian 
quotation, "Every inch a king," and served as 
an allusion to a prominent woman who was un- 
usually big physically. There would really be 
no serious objection if one should prefer to 
classify this witticism as a substitution for con- 
densation with modification (cf. tete-ä-bete, 
p. 25). 

Discussing the hardships of the medical pro- 

fession, namely, that physicians are obliged to 
read and study constantly because remedies and 
drugs once considered efficacious are later re- 
jected as useless, and that despite the physi- 
eiiin's best efforts the patient often refuses to 
pay for the treatment, one of the doctors present 
remarked: "Yes, every dnig has ita day," to 
which another added, " But not every Doc gets 
his pay." These two witty remarks are both 
modifications with allusion of the well-known 
saying, " Every dog has his day." But here, 
too, the technique could be described as fusion 
with modification. 

If the modification contents itself with a 
change in letters, allusions through modifica- 
tions are barely distinguishable from condensa- 
tion with substitutive formation, as shown in 
this example: " MelUngitis," the allusion to the 
dangerous disease meningitis, refers to the 
danger which the conservative members of a 
provincial borough in England thought im- 
pended if the socialist candidate Mellon were 

The negative particles make very good allu- 
sions at the cost of very little changing. Heine 
referred to Spinoza as: 

" My fellow «nbeliever Spinoza." 

" We, by the Ungrace of God, L'aborers, 
Bondsmen, Negroes, Serfs," etc., is a manifesto 



(which Lichtenberg quotes no further) of these 
unfortunates who probably have more right to 
that title than kings and dukes have to the un- 
modiüed one. 


Finally omission, which is comparable to con- 
densation without substitutive formation, is also 
a form of allusion. For in every allusion there 
is really something omitted, namely, the trend 
of thought that leads to the allusion. It is 
only a question of whether the gap, or the sub- 
stitute in the wording of the allusion which 
partly fills in the gap, is the more obvious 
element. Thus we come back through a series 
of examples from the very clear cases of omis- 
sion to those of actual allusion. 

Omission without substitution is found in 
the following example. There lived in Vienna 
a clever and bellicose writer whose sharp in- 
vectives had repeatedly brought him bodily 
assault at the hands of the persons he assailed. 
During a conversation about a new misdeed by 
one of his habitual opponents, some one said, 
" When X. hears this he will receive another 
box on his ear." The technique of this wit 
shows in the first place the confusion about 
the apparent contradiction, for it is by no means 

dear to us why a box on one's ear should be 
the direct result of having heard something. 
The contradiction disappears if one fiUs in the 
gap by adding to the remark: "then he will 
•write such a caustic article against that person 
that, etc." Allusions through omission and con- 
tradiction are thus the technical means of this 

Heine remarked about some one: " He praises 
himself so much that pastils for fumigation are 
advancing in price." This omission can easily 
be filled in. What has been omitted is replaced 
by an inference which then strikes back as an 
allusion to the same. For self-praise has al- 
ways carried an evil odor with it. 

Once more we encounter the two Jews in 
front of the bathing establishment. " Another 
year has passed by already," says one with a 

These examples leave no doubt that the omis- 
sion is meant as an allusion. 

A still more obvious omission is contained 
in the next example, which is really a genuine 
and correct allusion-witticism. Subsequent to 
an artists' banquet in Vienna a joke book was 
given out in which, among others, the follow- 
ing most remarkable proverb could be read: 

" A tmfe is lile an umbrella, at worst one may 
also take a cab." 


An umbrella does not afford enough protec- 
tion from rain. The words " at worst " can 
mean only: when it is raining hard. A cab 
is a public conveyance. As we have to deal 
here with the figure of comparison, we shall put 
off the detailed investigation of this witticism 
until later on. 

Heine's " Bäder von Lucca " contains a veri- 
table wasps' nest of stinging allusions which 
make the most artistic use of this form of wit as 
polemics against the Count of Platen. Long 
before the reader can suspect their application, 
a certain theme, which does not lend itself espe- 
cially to direct presentation, is preluded by 
allusions of the most varied material possible; 
e.g., in Hirsch-Hyacinth's twisting of words: 
You are too corpulent and I am too lean; you 
possess too much conceit and I the more busi- 
ness ability; I am a practicus and you are a 
diarrheticus, in fine, " You are altogether my 
Antipodex " — " Venus Urinia " — the thick Gu- 
del of Dreckwall in Hamburg, etc. Then the 
occurrences of which the poet speaks take a 
turn in which it merely seems to show the im- 
polite sportiveness of the poet, but soon it dis- 
closes the symbolic relation to the polemical in- 
tention, and in tills way it also reveals itself as 
allusion. At last the attack against Platen 
bursts forth, and now the allusions to the sub- 

ject of the Count's love for men seethe and 
gush from each one of the sentences which 
Heine directs against the talent and the char- 
acter of his opponent, e.g.: 

" Even if the Muses are not well disposed 
to him, he has at least the genius of speech in 
his power, or rather he knows how to violate 
him; for he lacks the free love of this genius, 
besides he must perseveringly run after this 
youth, and he knows only how to grasp the 
outer forms which, in spite of their beautiful 
rotundity, never express anything noble." 

" He has the same experience as the ostrich, 
which considers itself sufficiently hidden when 
it sticks its head into the sand so that only its 
backside is visible. Our illustrious bird would 
have done better if he had stuck his backside 
into the sand, and had shown us his head." 

Allusion is perhap.-i the commonest and most 
easily employed means of wit, and is at the basis 
of most of the short-lived witty productions 
which we are wont to weave into our conversa- 
tion. They cannot bear being separated from 
their native soil nor can they exist independ- 
ently. Once more we are reminded by the 
process of allusion of that relationship which 
has already begun to confuse our estimation of 
the technique of wit. The process of allusion 
is not witty in itself; there are perfectly formed 



allusions which have no claims to this character. 
Only those allusions which show a " witty " 
element are witty, hence the characteristics of 
wit, which we have followed even into its tech- 
nique, again escape us. 

I have sometimes called allusion " indirect ex- 
pression," and now recognize that the different 
kinds of allusion with representation through 
the opposite, as well as the techniques still to be 
mentioned, can be united into a single large 
group for which " indirect expression " would 
be the comprehensive name. Hence, errors of 
thought — unification — indirect representation — 
are those points of view under which we can 
group the techniques of thought-wit which be- 
came known to us. 

Representation Through the Minute or the 
Minutest Element 

On continuing the investigation of our ma- 
terial we think we recognize a new sub-group 
of indirect representation which though sharply 
defined can be illustrated only by few examples. 
It is that of representation through a minute 
or minutest element; solving the problem by 
bringing the entire character to full expression 
through a minute detail. Correlating this 
group with the mechanism of allusion is made 

possible by looking at the triviality as con- 
nected with the thing to be presented and as a 
result of it. For example: 

A Jew who Was riding in a train had made 
himself very comfortable; he had unbuttoned 
his coat, and Had jrut his feet on the seat, when 
a fashionably dressed gentleman came in. The 
Jew immediately put on his best behavior and 
assumed a modest position. The stranger 
turned over the pages of a book, did some cal~ 
culation, and pondered a moment and suddenly 
addressed the Jew. "I beg your pardon, how 
soon will we have Vom Kippur?" (Day of 
Atonement). "Oh, oht" said the Jew, and 
put his feet back on the seat before he an- 

It cannot he denied that this representation 
through something minute is allied to the tend- 
ency of economy which we found to be the final 
common element in the investigation of the 
technique of word-wit. 

The following example is much similar. 

The doctor who had been summoned to help 
the baroness in her confinement declared that 
the critical moment had not arrived, and pro~ 
posed to the baron that they play a game of 
cards in the adjoining room in the meantime. 
After a while the doleful cry of the baroness 
reached the ears of the men. " Ah, mon Dieu, 



que je souffre! " The husband jumped up, but 
the phi/sician stopped kirn saying, " That's 
nothing; let us play on." A little while later 
the woman in labor-pains wag heard again: 
" My God, my God, what pains! " " Don't 
you want to go in. Doctor? " asked the baron. 
" By no means, it is not yet time," answered the 
doctor. At last there rang from the adjacent 
room the unmistakable cry, " A-a-a-ai-e-e-e-e-e-e- 
E-E'E! " The physician then threw down the 
cards and said, " jVohj it's time." 

How the pain allows the original nature to 
break through all the strata of education, and 
how an important decision is rightly made de- 
pendent upon a seemingly inconsequential utter- 
ance — both are shown in this good joke by the 
successive changes in the cries of this child- 
bearing lady of quality. 


Another kind of indirect expression of which 
wit makes use is comparison, which we have not 
discussed so far because an examination of com- 
parison touches upon new difficulties, or rather 
it reveals difficulties which have made their 
appearance on other occasions. We have al- 
ready admitted that in many of the examples 
examined we could not banish all doubts as to 

whether they should really he counted as witty, 
and have recognized in this uncertainty a serious 
shock to tlie principles of our investigation. 
But in no other material do I feel this luicer- 
tainty greater and nowhere does it occur more 
frequently than in the case of comparison-wit. 
The feeling which usually says to me — and I 
dare say to a great many others under the same 
conditions— this is a joke, this may be written 
down as witty before even the hidden and 
essential character of the wit has been uncov- 
ered — this feeling I lack most. If at first I 
experience no hesitation in declaring the com- 
parison to be a witticism, then the next instant 
I seem to think that the pleasure I thus found 
was of a different quahty than that which I am 
accustomed to ascribe to a joke. Also the fact 
that witty comparisons but seldom can evoke 
the explosive variety of laughter by which a 
good joke proves itself makes it impossible for 
me to cast aside the existing doubts, even when 
I limit myself to the best and most effective 

It is easy to demonstrate that there are some 
tspecially good and effective examples of com- 
parison which in no way give us the impres- 
sion of witticisms. A beautiful example of this 
kind which I have not yet tired of admiring, 
and the impression of which still clings to me. 


I shall not deny myself the pleasure of citing. 
It is a comparison with whicli Ferd. Lassalle 
concluded one of his famous pleas {Die Wissen- 
schaft und die Arbeiter) : " A man like myself 
who, as I explained to you, had devoted his 
whole life to the motto ' Die Wissenschaft und 
die Arbeiter' (Science and the Workingman), 
■would receive the same impression from a con- 
demnation which in the course of events con- 
fronts him as would the chemist^ absorbed in 
his scientific experimenis, from the cracking of 
a retort. With a slight knitting of his brow at 
the resistance of the material, he would, as soon 
as tlie disturbance was quieted, calmly con- 
tinue hia labor and investigations." 

One finds a rich assortment of pertinent and 
witty comparisons in the writings of Lichten- 
berg (2 B. of the Göttingen edition, 1853). 
I shall take the material for our investigation 
from that source. 

" /( is almost impossible to carry the torch 
of truth through a crowd •without singeing 
somebody's beard." This may seem witty, hut 
on closer examination one notices that the witty 
effect does not come from the comparison it- 
self but from a secondarj' attribute of the same. 
For the expression " the torch of truth " is no 
new comparison, but one which has been used 
for a long time and which has degenerated into 


a fixed phrase, as always happens when a com- 
parison has the luck to be absorbed into the 
common usage of speech. But whereas we 
hardly notice the comparison in the saying, 
" the torch of truth," its original full force is 
restored it by Lichtenberg, since by building 
further on the comparison it results in a de- 
duction. But the taking of blurred expressions 
in their full sense is already known to us as a 
technique of wit; it finds a place with the Mani- 
fold Application of the Same Material {p. 85). 
It may well be that the witty impression created 
by Lichtenberg's sentence is due only to its re- 
lation to this technique of wit. 

The same explanation will undoubtedly hold 
good for another witty comparison by the same 

" The man was not exactly a shining light, 
but a great candlestick. . . . He was a pro- 
fessor of phUosopky." 

To call a scholar a shining light, a " luTtien 
mundi" has long ceased to be an effective com- 
parison, whether it be originally qualified as a 
witticism or not. But here the comparison was 
freshened up and its full force was restored to 
it by deducting a modification from it and in 
this way setting up a second and new com- 
parison. The way in which the second com- 
parison came into existence seems to contain 



the condition of the witticism and not the two 
comparisons themselves. This would then be 
a case of Identical Wit Technique as in the 
example of the torch. 

The following comparison seems witty on 
other but similarly classifiable grounds: "/ 
look upon reviews as a kind of children's dis- 
ease which more or less attacks new-born books. 
There are cases on record where the healthiest 
died of it, and the puniest have often lived 
through it. Many do not get it at all. At- 
tempts have frequently been made to prevent 
the disease by means of amulets of prefaces and 
dedications, or to color th^m up by personal 
pronunciamentos; but it does not always help." 

The comparison of reviews with children's 
diseases is based in the first place upon their 
susceptibility to attack shortly after they have 
seen the light of the world. Whether this 
makes it witty I do not trust myself to decide. 
But when the comparison is continued, it is 
found that the later fates of the new books may 
be represented within the scope of the same or 
by means of similar comparisons. Such a con- 
tinuation of a comparison is undoubtedly witty, 
hut we know already to what technique it owes 
its witty flavor ; it is a case of unification or the 
establishment of an unexpected association. 
The character of the unification, however, is not 

changed by the fact that it consists here of a 
relationship with the first comparison. 

Doubt in Witty Comparisons 

In a series of other comparisons one is 
tempted to ascribe an indisputably existing 
witty impression to another factor which again 
in itself has nothing to do with the nature of 
the comparison. These are comparisons which 
are strikingly grouped, often containing a com- 
bination that sounds absurd, which comes into 
existence as a result of the comparison. Most 
of Lichtenberg's examples belong to this group. 

" It is a pity that one cannot see the learned 
boicela of the writers, in order to find out what 
they have eaten." "The learned bowels" is a 
confusing, really absurd attribute which is 
made clear only by the comparison. How 
would it be if the witty impression of this com- 
parison should be referred entirely and fully to 
the confusing character of tlieir composition? 
This would correspond to one of the means of 
wit well known to us, namely, representation 
through absm-dity. 

Lichtenberg has used the same comparison of 
the imbibing of reading and educational ma- 
terial with the imbibing of physical nourishment. 

" He thought highly of studying in his room 



and was heartily in favor of learned stable 

The same absurd or at least conspicuous attri- 
butes, which as we are beginning to notice are 
the real carriers of the wit, mark other com- 
parisons of the same author. 

" This is the weatherside of my moral con- 
stitution, here 1 can stand almost any- 

" Every person has also his moral backside 
which he does not show except under the stress 
of necessity and which lie covers as long as 
possible with the pants of good-breeding." 

The " moral backside " is the peculiar attri- 
bute which exists as the result of a comparison. 
But this is followed by a continuation of the 
comparison with a regular play on words 
("necessity") and a second, still more unusual 
combination ("the pants of good-breeding"), 
which is possibly witty in itself; for the pants 
become witty, as it were, because they are the 
pants of good-breeding. Therefore it may not 
take US by surprise if we get the impression of 
a very witty comparison; we are beginning to 
notice that we show a general tendency in our 
estimation to extend a quality to the whole 
thing when it clings only to one part of it. 
Besides, the " pants of good-breeding " remind 
us of a similar confusing verse of Heine. 

"Until, at last, the buttons tore from the 
pants of my patience." 

It is obvious that both of the last comparisons 
possess a character which one cannot find in all 
good, i.e., fitting, comparisons. One might say 
that they are in a large manner " debasing," for 
they place a thing of high category, an abstrac- 
tion (good -breeding, patience), side by side with 
a thing of a very concrete nature of a very low 
kind (pants). Whether tliis peculiarity has 
something to do with wit we shall have to 
consider in another connection. Let us attempt 
to analyze another example in which the de- 
grading character is exceptionally well defined. 
In Nestroy's farce " Einen Jux will er sick 
machen," the clerk, Weinberl, who resolves in 
his imagination how he wiU ponder over his 
youth when he has some day become a well- 
established old merchant, says: " When in the 
course of confidential conversation the ice is 
chopped up before the "warehouse of memory; 
tsohen the portal of the storehouse of antiquity 
is unlocked again; and iahen the mattings of 
phantasy are stocked full xvith -wares of yore." 
These are certainly comparisons of abstractions 
with very common, concrete things, but the 
witticism depends — exclusively or only par- 
tially — upon the circumstance that a clerk 
makes use of these comparisons which are taken 



from the sphere of his daily occupation. But 
to bring the abstract in relation to the common- 
place with which he is otherwise filled is an act 
of wnification. Let us revert to Lichtenberg'» 

Peculiar Attributuma ' 

" The Tnotives for our actions may he ar- 
ranged Uke the thirty-txvo winds, and their 
names may he classified in a similar way, e.g.. 
Bread-bread-glory or Glory-glory-hread." 

As so often happens in Liehtenberg's witti- 
cisms, in this case, too, the impression of appro- 
priateness, cleverness, and ingenuity is so 
marked that our judgment of the character of 
the witty element is thereby misled. If some- 
thing witty is intermingled in such an utterance 
with the excellent sense, we probably are de- 
luded into declaring the whole to be an excep- 
tional joke. Moreover, I dare say that every- 
thing that is really witty about it results from 
the strangeness of the peculiar combination 
bread-bread-glory. Thus as far as wit is con- 
cerned it is representation through absurdity. 

The peculiar combination or absurd attribu- 
tion can alone be represented as a product of a 

Lichtenberg says : " A twice-sleepy woman — 

a once-sleepy church pew." Behind each one 
there is a comparison with a bed; in both cases 
there is besides the comparison also the tech- 
nical factor of allusion. Once it is an allusion 
to the soporific effect of sermons, and the second 
time to the inexhaustible theme of sex. 

Having found hitherto that a comparison as 
often as it appears witty owes this impression 
to its connection with one of the techniques of 
wit known to us, there are nevertheless some 
other examples which seem to point to the fact 
that a comparison as such can also he witty. 

This is Lichtenberg's characteristic remark 
about certain odes. " They are in poetry what 
Jacob Böhm's immortal writings are in prose — 
they are a kind of picnic in which the author 
supplies the words, and the readers the mean- 

" When he philosophizes, he generally sheds 
an agreeable moonlight over his topics, which is 
in the main quite pleasant, but which does not 
show any one subject clearly." 

Again, Heine's description : " Her face resem- 
bled a kodex palimpsestus, where under the new 
block-lettered text of a church father peek forth 
ike half-obliterated verses of an ancient Hel- 
lenic erotic poet." 

Or, the continued comparison of a very de- 
grading tendency, in the " Bäder von Lucca." 


" The Catholic priest is more like a clerk 
who is employed in a big business; the church, 
the big house at the head of which is the Pope, 
gives him a definite salary. He works lazily 
like one who is not working on his own account, 
he has many colleagues, and so easily remains 
unnoticed in the big business enterprise. He is 
concerned only in the credit of the house and 
still more in its preservation, since he would be 
deprived of his means of sustenance in case 
it went bankrupt. The Protestant clergyman, 
on the other hand, is his own boss, and carries 
on the religious businesses on his own account. 
He has no wholesale trade like his Catholic 
brother- tradesman, but deals merely at retail; 
and since he himself must understand it, he 
cannot be lazy. He must praise his articles of 
faith to the people and must disparage the 
articles of his competitors. Like a true small 
trader he stands in his retail store, full of envy 
of the industry of all large houses, particularly 
the large house in Rome which has so many 
thousand bookkeepers and packers on its pay- 
roll, and which owns factories in all four cor- 
ners of the world." 

In the face of this, as in many other examples, 
we can no longer dispute the fact that a com- 
parison may in itself be witty, and that the 
witty impression need not necessarily depend 

on one of the known techniques of wit. But 
we are entirely in the dark as to what deter- 
mines the witty character of the comparison, 
since it certainly does not cling to the similarity 
as a, form of expression of the thought, or to 
the operation of the comparison. We can do 
nothing but include comparison with the differ- 
ent forms of " indirect representation " which 
are at the disposal of the technique of wit, and 
the problem, which confronted us more dis- 
tinctly in the mechanism of comparison than 
in the means of wit hitherto treated, must re- 
main unsolved. There must surely be a special 
reason why the decision whether something is a 
witticism or not presents more difficulties in 
cases of comparison than in other forms of ex- 

This gap in our understanding, however, of- 
fers no ground for complaint that our first in- 
vestigation has been unsuccessful. Considering 
the intimate connection which we had to be pre- 
pared to ascribe to the different types of wit, 
it would have been imprudent to expect that 
we could fully explain this aspect of the prob- 
lem before we had cast a glance over the others. 
We shall have to take up this problem at 
another place. 





Review of the Techniques of Wit 

Are we sure that none of the possible tech- 
niques of wit has escaped our investigation? 
Not exactly; but by a continued examination 
of new material, we can convince ourselves that 
we have become acquainted with the most nu- 
merous and most important technical means of 
wit-work — at least with as much as is necessary 
for formulating a judgment about the nature 
of this psychic process. At present no such 
judgment exists; on the other hand, we have 
come into possession of important indications, 
from tbe direction of which we may expect a 
further explanation of the problem. The inter- 
esting processes of condensation with substitu- 
tive formation, which we have recognized as 
the nucleus of the technique of word-wit, di- 
rected our attention to the dream-formation in 
whose mechanism the identical psychic processes 
were discovered. Thither also we are directed 
by the teclinique of the thought-wit, namely dis- 
placement, faulty thinking, absurdity, indirect 
expression, and representation through the op- 
posite — each and all are also found in the tech- 
nique of dreams. The dream is indebted to 
displacement for its strange appearance, which 
hinders us from recognizing in it the continua- 
tion of our waking thoughts; the dream's use 



of absurdity and contradiction has cost it the 
dignity of a psychic product, and has misled the 
authors to assume that the determinants of 
dream- formation are: collapse of mental activ- 
ity, cessation of criticism, morality, and logic. 
Representation through the opposite is so com- 
mon in dreams that even the popular but en- 
tirely misleading books on dream interpreta- 
tion usually put it to good account. Indirect 
expression, the substitution for the dream- 
thought by an allusion, by a trifle or by a 
symboHsm analogous to comparison, is just ex- 
actly what distinguishes the manner of expres- 
sion of the dream from our waking thoughts.' 
Such a far-reaching agreement as found be- 
tween the means of wit-work and those of 
dream-work can scarcely be accidental. To 
show those agreements in detail and to trace 
their motivations will be one of our future tasks. 

• Cf. my Interpretation of Dream), Chap. VI, The Dream Work, 
translated bj A. A. Brill, The Macmillan Co., New York, and 
Allen Ik Unwin, London. 



Neae the end of the preceding chapter as I 
was writing down Heine's comparison of the 
Catholic priest to an employee of a large busi- 
ness house, and the comparison of the Prot- 
estant divine to an independent retail dealer, 
I felt an inliibition which nearly prevented me 
from using this comparison. I said to myself 
that among my readers probably there would 
be some who hold in veneration not only re- 
ligion, but also its administration and admin- 
istrators. These readers might take offense at 
the comparison and get so wrought up about 
it that it would take away all interest in the 
investigation as to whether the comparison 
seemed witty in itself or was witty only through 
its gamishings. In other examples, e.g., the 
one mentioned above concerning the agreeable 
moonlight shed by a certain philosophy, there 
would be no worry that for some readers it 
might be a disturbing influence in our investi- 

* The word tendentT' encountered hereafter In the expression 
* Tendeney-Wit " (Tendtni Wili) is used adjectivdy in the sune 
sense u in the familiar phrase " Tendency Play." 

gation. Even the most religious person would 
remain in the right mood to form a judgment 
about our problem. 

It is easy to guess the character of the wit- 
ticism by the kind of reaction that wit exerts 
on the hearer. Sometimes wit is wit for its 
own sake and serves no other particular pur- 
pose; then again, it places itself at the service 
of such a purpose, i.e., it becomes purposive. 
Only that form of wit which has such a tend- 
ency runs the risk of ruffling people who do 
not wish to hear it. 

Theo. Vischer called wit without a tendency 
" abstract " wit, I prefer to call it " harmless " 

As we have already classified wit according 
to the material touched by its technique into 
word- and thought-wit, it is incumbent upon us 
to investigate the relation of this classification 
to the one just put forward. Word- and 
thought-wit on the one hand, and abstract- and 
tendency-wit on the other hand, bear no relation 
of dependence to each other; they are two en- 
tirely independent classifications of witty pro- 
ductions. Perhaps some one may have gotten 
the impression that harmless witticisms are pre- 
ponderately word-witticisms, whereas the com- 
plicated techniques of thought-witticisms are 
mostly made to serve strong tendencies. There 


are harmless witticisms that operate through 
play on words and sound similarity, and just as 
harmless ones which make use of all means of 
thought-wit. Nor is it less easy to prove that 
tendency-wit as far as technique is concerned 
may be merely the wit of words. Thus, for ex- 
ample, witticisms that " play " with proper 
names often show an insulting and offending 
tendency, and yet they, too, belong to word-wit. 
Again, the most harmless of all jests are word- 
witticisms. Examples of this nature are the 
popular "shake-up" rhymes (Schüttelreime) 
in which the technique is represented through 
the manifold application of the same material 
■with a very peculiar modification: 

" Having been forsaken by Dane Luck, he 
degenerated into a Lame Duck," 

Let us hope that no one will deny that the 
pleasure experienced in this kind of otherwise 
unpretentious rhyming is of the same nature as 
the one by which we recognize wit. 

Good examples of abstract or harmless 
thought-witticisms abound in Lichtenberg's com- 
parisons with which we have already become ac- 
quainted. I add a few more. " They sent a 
»mall Octavo to the University of Göttingen; 
and received back in body and soul a quarto " 
(a fourth-form boy). 

^ In order to erect tJtia bvüding toeÜ, one 

viust lay above all things a good fowndation, 
and I know of no firmer than by laying im- 
mediately over every pro-layer a contra-layer." 

" One man begets the thought, the second 
acts as its godfather, the third begets children 
by it, the fourth visits it on its death-bed, and 
the fifth buries it " (comparison with unifica- 
tion) . 

" Not only did he disbelieve in ghosts, but he 
was not ever afraid of them." The witticism in 
this case lies exclusively in the absurd repre- 
sentation which puts what is usually considered 
less important in the comparative and what is 
considered more important in the positive de- 
gree. If we divest it of its dress it says; it is 
much easier to use our reason and make light 
of the fear of ghosts than to defend ourselves 
against this fear when the occasion presents it- 
self. But this rendering is no longer witty; it 
in merely a correct and still too little respected 
psychological fact suggesting what Lessing ex- 
presses in liis well-known words: 

" Not all are free who mock their chains." 

Harmless and Tendency Wit 

I shall take the opportunity presented here 
of clearing up what may still lead to a possible 



misunderstanding. " Harmless " or " abstract " 
wit should in no way convey the same mean- 
ing as " shallow " or " poor " wit. It is meant 
only to designate the opposite of the " tend- 
ency " wit to be described later. As shown 
in the aforementioned examples, a harmless 
jest, i.e., a witticism without a tendency, can 
also be very rich in content and express some- 
thing worth while. The quality of a witticism, 
however, is independent of the wit and repre- 
sents the quality of the thought which is here 
expressed wittily by means of a special contri- 
vance. To be sure, just as watch-makers are 
wont to enclose very good works in valuable 
cases, so it may likewise happen with wit that 
the best witty activities are used to invest the 
richest thoughts. 

Now, if we pay strict attention to the dis- 
tinction between thought-content and the witty 
wording of thought-wit, we arrive at an insight 
which may clear up much uncertainty in our 
judgment of wit. For it turns out — astonish- 
ing as it may seem — that our enjoyment of a 
witticism is supplied by the combined impres- 
sion of content and wit-activity, and that one 
of the factors is likely to deceive us about the 
extent of the other. It is only the reduction of 
the witticism that lays bare to us our mistaken 

MNE umvs. ^m'm viss 

The same thing apphes to word-wit. Wüen 
we hear that " experience consists simply of eay 
periencing what one wishes he had not experi- 
enced," we are puzzled, and believe that we 
have leamt a new truth; it takes some time be- 
fore we recognize in this disguise the platitude, 
'* adversity is the school of wisdom " ( K. 
Fischer). The excellent wit-activity which 
seeks to define " experience " by the almost 
exclusive use of the word " experience " de- 
ceives us so completely that we overestimate 
the content of the sentence. The same thing 
happens in many similar cases and also in 
Lichlenberg's unification-witticism about Jan- 
uary (p. 89), which expresses nothing but what 
we already know, namely, that New Year's 
wishes are as seldom realized as other wishes. 

We find the contrary true of other witticisms, 
in which obviously what is striking and correct 
in the thought captivates us, so that we call 
the saying an excellent witticism, whereas it 
is only the thought that is brilliant while the 
wit-activity is often weak. It is especially true 
of Lichtenberg's wit that the path of the 
thought is often of more value than its witty 
expression, though we unjustly extend the 
value of the former to the latter. Thus the 
remark about the " torch of truth " (p. 115) is 
hardly a witty comparison, but it is so striking 



that we are inclined to lay stress on the sen- 
tence as exceptionally witty. 

Lichtenberg's witticisms are above all re- 
markable for their thought-content and their 
certainty of hitting the mark. Goethe has 
rightly remarked about this author that his 
witty and jocose thoughts positively conceal 
problems. Or perhaps it may be more correct 
to say that they touch upon the solutions of 
problems. When, for example, he presents as 
a witty thought: 

" He always read Agamemnon instead of the 
German word angenommen, so thoroughly had 
he read Homer " (technically this is absurdity 
plus sound similarity of words). Thus he dis- 
covered nothing less than the secret of mistakes 
in reading.' The following joke, whose tech- 
nique (p. 78) seemed to us quite unsatisfactory, 
is of a similar nature. 

" He was »urprised that there were two holet 
cut in the pelts of cats just where the eyes were 
located." The stupidity here exhibited is only 
seemingly so; in reahty this ingenuous remark 
conceals the great problem of teleology in the 
structure of animals; it is not at all so self-evi- 
dent that the eyelid cleft opens just where the 

' Cf. tny PigehopaChology of Everyday Lift, translated by A. 
A. Brill, Tbe HacmUlan Co, New Yorl^ «nd T. FUbcr Unwlii. 


ecrsea is exposed, untfl the ^nrvft of cvula- 
tica expLiiEä to cs tim co inridm c e. 

Let OS fae^r in zniod tfaxt m witty «mtmce 
gave us a gryvnl impRssäoa in wbidi we were 
nnaible to dfstfE^:u5sh the »twcMgrf of tfaoqglit- 
eontait from ti&e usocnt of wit-wark; poliaps 
e^en a more sxgnixScuxt parallri to it will be 
found lata*. 

PUcjure S^nlts from tke Tedkmiqme 

Tor cur theoreticsl explanation of tiie nature 
of wit. harmless wit must be of greater value 
tc us than tendencv-wit and shallow wit more 


tti^n profound wit. Harmless and shallow 
plaji en words present to us tiie problem of 
wit in its purest form, because of tiie good 
^erjs0z therein and because there is no purposive 
faßt*:? nor underlyinij philosophy to confuse 
the judgment. With such material our under- 
itatr/iir g can make further progress. 

At the end of a dinner to xchkh I had heen 
mzited, a pastry called Roukard was Meroed; it 
^zcjt a culinary accomplishment rchich pretup' 
po$ed a good deal of skill on the part of the 
CTjok. "Is it home-made?** asked one of the 
guests. ''Oh, yesr replied the host, ''it is a 
Hctme-Eoulard " (Home Rule). 

This time we shall not investigate the tech* 


nique of this witticism, but shall center our at- 
tention upon another, and that one the most 
important factor. As I remember, this impro- 
vised joke delighted all the guests and made us 
laugh. In this case, as in countless others, the 
feeling of ^jleasure of the hearer cannot have 
originated from any purposive element nor the 
thought-content of the wit; so we are forced to 
connect the feeling of pleasure with the tech- 
nique of wit. The technical means of wit which 
we have described, such as condensation, dis- 
placement, indirect expression, etc., have there- 
fore the faculty to produce a feeling of pleas- 
ure in the hearer, although we cannot as yet 
see how they acquired that faculty. By such 
easy stages we get the second axiom for the 
explanation of wit; the first one (p. 17) states 
that the character of wit depends upon the mode 
of expression. Let us remember also that the 
second axiom has really taught us nothing new. 
It merely isolates a fact that was already con- 
tained in a discovery which we made before. 
For we recall that whenever it was possible to 
reduce the wit by substituting for its verbal 
expression another set of words, at the same 
time carefully retaining the sense, it not only 
eliminated the witty character but also the 
laughableness {Lacheffekt) that constitutes the 
I pleasure of wit. 



At present we cannot go further without 
first coming to an understanding with our phil- 
osophical authorities. 

The philosophers who adjudge wit to be a 
part of the comic and deal with the latter itself 
in the field of esthetics, characterize the aes- 
thetic presentation by the following conditions: 
that we are not thereby interested in or about 
the objects, that we do not need these objects 
to satisfy our great wants in life, but that we 
are satisfied with the mere contemplation of the 
same, and with the pleasure of the thought it- 
self. " This pleasure, this mode of conception 
is purely ssthetical, it depends entirely on it- 
self, its end is only itself and it fulfills no other 
end in life" {K. Fischer, p. 68). 

We scarcely venture a contradiction to K. 
Fischer's words — perhaps we merely translate 
his thoughts into our own mode of expression 
— when we insist that the witty activity is, after 
all, not to be designated as aimless or purpose- 
less, since it has for its aim the evocation of 
pleasure in the hearer. I doubt whether we 
are able to undertake anything which has no 
object in view. When we do not use our 
psychic apparatus for the fulfillment of one of 
our indispensable gratifications, we let it work 
for pleasure, and we seek to derive pleasure 
from its own activity. I suspect that this is 


really the condition which underlies all aesthetic 
thinking, but I know too little about ^Esthetics 
to be willing to support this theory. About 
wit, however, I can assert, on the strength of 
the two impressions gained before, that it is 
an activity whose purpose is to derive pleas- 
ure — be it intellectual or otherwise — from the 
psychic processes. To be sure, there are other 
activities which accomplish the same thing. 
They may be differentiated from each by the 
sphere of psychic activity from which they wish 
to derive pleasure, or perhaps by the methods 
which they use in accomplishing this. At pres- 
ent we cannot decide this, but we firmly main- 
tain that at last we have established a connec- 
tion between the technique of wit partly con- 
trolled by the tendency to economize {p. 53) 
and the production of pleasure. 

But before we proceed to solve the riddle of 
how the technical means of wit-work can pro- 
duce pleasure in the hearer, we wish to mention 
that, for the sake of simplicity and more lucid- 
ity, we have altogether put out of the way all 
tendency witticisms. Still we must attempt to 
explain what the tendencies of wit are and in 
what manner wit makes use of these tendencies. 

Hostile and Obscene Wit. 

We are taught above all by an observation 
not to put aside the tendency-wit when we 
are investigating the origin of the pleasure in 
wit. The pleasurable effect of harmless wit 
is usually of a moderate nature; all that it 
can be expected to produce in the hearer is a 
distinct feeling of satisfaction and a slight rip- 
ple of laughter; and as we have shown by fit- 
ting examples (p. 132) at least a part of this 
effect is due to the thought-content. The sud- 
den irresistible outburst of laughter evoked by 
the tendency-wit rarely follows the wit without 
a tendency. As the technique may be identical 
in both, it is fair to assume that by virtue of 
its purpose, the tendency-wit has at its disposal 
sources of pleasure to which harmless wit has 
no access. 

It is now easy to survey wit-tendencies. 
Wherever wit is not a means to its end, i. e., 
harmless, it puts itself in the service of but two 
tendencies which may themselves be united 
under one viewpoint; it is either kostäe wit 
serving as an aggression, satire, or defense, or 
it is obscene wit serving as a sexual exhibition. 
Again it is to be observed that the technical 
form of wit — be it a word- or thought-witticism 
■ — bears no relation to these two tendencies. 


It is a much more complicated matter to 
show in what way wit serves these tendencies. 
In this investigation I wish to present first 
not the hostile but the exhibition wit. The lat- 
ter has indeed very seldom been deemed worthy 
of an investigation, as if an aversion had trans- 
ferred itself here from the material to the sub- 
ject; however, we shall not allow ourselves to 
be misled thereby, for we shall soon touch 
upon a detail in wit which promises to throw 
light on more than one obscure point. 

We all know what is meant by a " smutty '* 
joke. It is the intentional bringing into prom- 
inence of sexual facts or relations through 
speech. However, this definition is no sounder 
than other definitions. A lecture on the anat- 
omy of the sexual organs or on the physiology 
of reproduction need not, in spite of this defini- 
tion, have anything in common with an obscen- 
ity. It must be added that the snmtty joke 
is directed toward a certain person who ex- 
cites one sexually, and who becomes cognizant 
of the speaker's excitement by listening to the 
smutty joke, and thereby in turn becomes sex- 
ually excited. Instead of becoming sexually 
excited the listener may react with shame and 
embarrassment, which merely signifies a reac- 
tion against the excitement and indirectly an 
admission of the same. The smutty joke was 


originally directed against the woman and is 
comparable to an attempt at seduction. If a 
man tells or listens to obscene jokes in male 
society, the original situation, which cannot be 
realized on account of social inhibitions, ia 
thereby also represented. Whoever laughs at 
a smutty joke does the same as the spectator 
who laughs at a sexual aggression. 

The sexual element which is at the basis of 
the obscene joke comprises more than that 
which is peculiar to both sexes, and goes be- 
yond that which is common to both sexes, it 
is connected with all these things that cause 
shame, and includes tlie whole domain of the 
excrementitious. However, this was the sexual 
domain of childhood, where the imagination 
fancied a cloaca, so to speak, within which the 
sexual elements were either badly or not at all 
differentiated from the excrementitious.' In 
the whole mental domain of the psychology of 
the neuroses, the sexual still includes the ex- 
crementitious, and it is understood in the old, 
infantile sense. 

The smutty joke is like the denudation of a 
person of the opposite sex toward whom the 
joke is directed. Through the utterance of ob- 

' Cf. ThTM Contribution* to tk« Tfteorj of 8ex, 2nd Ed., 1018, 
translated hy A. A. Brill, Monograph Series, Jovrtutl of it 
omd Jtfralal Dittaitt. 


scene words the person attacked is forced to 
picture the parts of the body in question, or 
the sexual act, and is shown that the aggressor 
himself pictures the same thing. There is no 
doubt that the original motive of the smutty 
joke was the pleasure of seeing the sexual dis- 

It will only help to clarify the subject if 
here we go back to the fundamentals. One of 
the primitive components of our libido is the 
desire to see the sexual exposed. Perhaps this 
itself is a development — a substitution for the 
desire to touch which is assumed to be the pri- 
mary pleasure. As it often happens, the de- 
sire to see has here also replaced the desire to 
touch.' The libido for looking and touching is 
found in every person in two forms, active and 
passive, or masculine and feminine; and in ac- 
cordance with the preponderance of sex char- 
acteristics it develops preponderately in one or 
the other direction. In young children one can 
readily observe the desire to exhibit themselves 
nude. If the germ of this desire does not ex- 
perience the usual fate of being covered up and 
repressed, it develops into a mania for exhibi- 
tionism, a familiar perversion among grown-up 
men. In women the passive desire to exhibit 

*HoU'a KontrtktatioMlTiab (UDtersachiuigen Ober die Libido 
MmU«. 1898). 


is almost regularly covered by the ma^ed re- 
■ctioD of sexual modesty; despite this, bowever. 
remnants of this desre may always be seen in 
wcHiien's dress. I need only mention how flexi- 
ble and rariable cwiventioo and circumstances 
make that remaining pttttion of exhibitifmism 
still allowed to ^ 

The Tnuuformatitm of the Obtcemty into Oh- 
scent Wit 

In the case of men a great part of this strir- 
ing to exhibit remains as a part of the libido 
and serves to initiate tbe sexual act. If this 
striving asserts itself on first meeting the 
Woman it must make use of speech for two mo- 
tives. First, in order to make itself known to 
the woman; and secondly, because the awak- 
ening of the imagination through speech puts 
the woman herself in a corresponding excite- 
ment and awakens in her the desire to passive 
exhibitionism. This speech of courtship is not 
yet smutty, but may pass over into the same. 
Wherever the yieldingness of the woman mani- 
fests itself quickly, smutty speech is short- 
lived, for it g^ves way to the sexual act. It 
is different if the rapid yielding of the woman 
cannot be counted upon, but instead there ap- 
pears the defense reaction. In that case the 


sexually exciting speech changes into obscene 
wit as its own end ; as the sexual aggression 
is inhibited in its progress towards the act, it 
lingers at the evocation of the excitement and 
derives pleasure from the indications of the 
same in the woman. In this process the ag- 
gression changes its character in the same way 
as any libidinous impulse confronted by a 
hindrance; it becomes distinctly hostile and 
cruel, and utilizes the sadistical components of 
the sexual impulse against the hindrance. 

Thus the imyieldingness of the woman is 
therefore the next condition for the develop- 
ment of smutty wit; to be sure, this resistance 
must be of the kind to indicate merely a defer- 
ment and make it appear that further efforts 
will not be in vain. The ideal case of such 
resistance on the part of the woman usually re- 
sults from the simultaneous presence of another 
man, a third person, whose presence ahnost 
excludes the immediate yielding of the woman. 
This third person soon becomes of the greatest 
importance for the development of the smutty 
wit, but next to him the presence of the 
woman must be taken account of. Among 
rural people or in the ordinary hostelry one 
can observe that not till the waitress or the 
hostess approaches the guests does the obscene 
wit come out; in a higher order of society just 


the opposite happens, here the presence of a 
woman puts an end to smutty talk. The men 
reserve this kind of conversation, which orig- 
inally presupposed the presence of hashful 
women, until they are alone, " by themselves." 
Thus gradually the spectator, now turned the 
listener, takes the place of the woman as the 
ohject of the smutty joke, and through such 
a change the smutty joke already approaches 
the character of wit. 

Henceforth our attention may be centered 
upon two factors, first upon the role that the 
third person — the listener — plays, and secondly, 
upon the intrinsic conditions of the smutty joke 

Tendency-wit usually requires three persons. 
Besides the one who makes the wit there is a 
second person who is taken as the object of 
the hostile or sexual aggression, and a third 
person in whom the purpose of the wit to pro- 
duce pleasure is fulfilled. We shall later on 
inquire into the deeper motive of this relation- 
ship, for the present we shall adhere to the 
fact which states that it is not the maker of 
the wit who laughs about it and enjoys its 
pleasurable effect, but it is the idle listener who 
does. The same relationship exists among the 
three persons connected with the smutty joke. 
The process may be described as follows: As 



soon as the libidinous impulse of the first per- 
son, to satisfy himself through the woman, is 
blocked, he immediately develops a hostile at- 
titude towards this second person and takes the 
originally intruding third person as his confed- 
erate. Through the obscene speech of the first 
person the woman is exposed before the third 
person, who as a listener is fascinated by the 
easy gratification of his own libido. 

It is curious that common people so 
thoroughly enjoy such smutty talk, and that it 
is a never-lacking activity of cheerful humor. 
It is also worthy of notice that in this compli- 
cated process which shows so many character- 
istics of tendency-wit, no formal demands, such 
as characterize wit, are made upon " smutty 
wit." The unveiled nudity aflFords pleasure to 
the first and makes the third person laugh. 

Not until we come to the refined and cul- 
toired does the formal determination of wit 
arise. The obscenity becomes witty and is tol- 
erated only if it is witty. The technical means 
of which it mostly makes use is allusion, i.e., 
substitution through a trifle, something re- 
motely related, which the listener reconstructs 
in his imagination as a full-fledged and direct 
obscenity. The greater the disproportion be- 
tween what is directly oflfered in the obscenity 
and what is necessarily aroused by it in the 



mind of the listener, the finer is the witticism 
and the higher it may venture in good society. 
Besides the coarse and dehcate allusions, the 
witty obscenity also utilizes all other means of 
word- and thought-wit, as can be easily demon- 
strated by examples. 

The Function of Wit in the Service of the 

It now becomes comprehensible what wit ac- 
complishes through this service of its tendency. 
It makes possible the gratification of a craving 
(lewd or hostile) despite a hindrance which 
stands in the way; it eludes the hindrance and 
so derives pleasure from a source that has be- 
come inaccessible on account of the hindrance. 
The hindrance in the way is really nothing 
more than the higher degree of culture and edu- 
cation which correspondingly increases the ina- 
bility of the woman to tolerate the stark sex. 
The woman thought of as present in the final 
situation is still considered present, or her in- 
fluence acts as a deterrent to the men even in 
her absence. One often notices how cultured 
men are influenced by the company of girls of 
a lower station in life to change witty obscen- 
ities to broad smut. 

The power which renders it difficult or im- 



possible for the woman, and in a lesser degree 
for the man, to enjoy unveiled obscenities we 
call " repression," and we recognize in it the 
same psychic process which keeps from con- 
sciousness in severe nervous attacks whole com- 
plexes of emotions with their resultant affects, 
and has shown itself to be the principal factor 
in the causation of the so-called psychoneuroses. 
We acknowledge to culture and higher civili- 
zation an important influence in the develop- 
ment of repressions, and assume that under 
these conditions there has come about a change 
in our psychic organization which may also 
have been brought along as an inherited dis- 
position. In consequence of it, what was once 
accepted as pleasureful is now counted unac- 
ceptable and is rejected by means of all the 
psychic forces. Owing to the repression 
brought about by civilization many primary 
pleasures are now disapproved by the censor 
and lost. But the human psyche finds re- 
nunciation very difficult; hence we discover that 
tendency-wit furnishes us with a means to make 
the renunciation retrogressive and thus to re- 
gain what has been lost. \^Tien we laugh over 
a delicately obscene witticism, we laugh at the 
identical thing which causes laughter in the ill- 
bred man when he hears a coarse, obscene joke; 
in both cases the pleasure comes from the 


same source. The coarse, obscene joke, how- 
ever, could not incite us to laughter, because 
it would cause us shame or would seem to us 
disgusting; we can laugh only when wit comes 
to our aid. 

What we had presumed in the beginning 
seems to have been confirmed, namely, that 
tendency-wit has access to other sources of 
pleasure than harmless wit, in which all the 
pleasure is somehow dependent upon the tech- 
nique. We can also reiterate that owing to 
our feelings we are in no position to distin- 
guish in tendency-wit what part of the pleas- 
ure originates from the technique and what 
part from the tendency. Strictly speaking, toe 
do not know what we are laughing about. In 
all obscene jokes we succumb to striking mis- 
takes of judgment about the "goodness" of 
the joke as far as it depends upon formal con- 
ditions; the technique of these jokes is often 
very poor while their laughing effect is 

Invectives Made Possible Through Wit 

We next wish to determine whether the role 
of wit in the service of the hostile tendency 
is the same. 

Right from the start we meet with similar 



conditions. Since our individual childhood 
and the childhood of human civilization, om" 
hostile impulses towards our fellow-beings have 
been subjected to the same restrictions and the 
same progressive repressions as our sexual 
strivings. We have not yet progressed so far 
as to love our enemies, or to extend to them 
our left cheek after we are smitten on the 
right. Furthermore, all moral codes about the 
subjection of active hatred bear even to-day 
the clearest indications that they were originally 
meant for a small community of clansmen. As 
we all may consider ourselves members of some 
nation, we permit ourselves for the most pari 
to forget these restrictions in matters touch- 
ing a foreign people. But within our own cir- 
cles we have nevertheless made progress in the 
mastery of hostile emotions. Lichtenberg 
drastically puts it when he says: " Where now- 
adays one says, ' I beg your pardon,' formerly 
one had recourse to a cuff on the ear." Vio- 
lent hostility, no longer tolerated by law, has 
been replaced by verbal invectives, and the bet- 
ter understanding of the concatenation of hu- 
man emotions robs us, tlirough its consequen- 
tial " Tout comprendre c'est tout pardonner," 
more and more of the capacity to become angry 
at our fellowman who is in our way. Having 
been endowed with a strong hostile disposition 

in our childhood, higher personal civilization 
teaches us later that it is undignified to use 
abusive language; even where combat is still 
permitted, the number of things which may be 
used as means of combat has been markedly 
restricted. Society, as the third and dispassion- 
ate party in the combat to whose interest it 
is to safeguard personal safety, prevents us 
from expressing our hostile feelings in action; 
and hence, as in sexual aggression, there has 
developed a new technique of invectives, the 
aim of which is to enlist this third person 
against our enemy. By belittling and hum- 
bUng our enemy, by scorning and ridiculing 
him, we indirectly obtain the pleasure of his 
defeat by the laughter of the third person, 
the inactive spectator. 

We are now prepared for the role that wit 
plays in hostile aggression. Wit permits us 
to make our enemy ridiculous through that 
which we could not utter loudly or consciously 
on account of existing hindrances; in otlier 
words, wit affords us the means of surmount- 
ing restrictions and of opening up othertoüe 
inaccessible pleasure sources. Moreover, the 
listener will be induced by the gain in pleas- 
ure to take our part, even if he is not alto- 
gether convinced, — just as we on other occa- 
sions, when fascinated by harmless Tvitticism, 


were wont to overestimate the substance of the 
sentence wittily expressed. " To prejudice 
the laughter in one's own favor " is a com- 
pletely pertinent saying in the German lan- 

One may recall Mr. N.'s witticism given in the 
last chapter (p. 28). It is of an insulting na- 
ture, as if the author wished to shout loudly: 
But the minister of agriculture is himself an ox! 
But he, as a man of culture, could not put 
his opinion in this form. He therefore ap- 
pealed to wit which assured his opinion a re- 
ception at the hands of the listeners which, 
in spite of its amount of truth, never would 
have been received if in an unwittj' form. 
Brill cites an excellent example of a similar 
kind: Wendell Phillips, according to a recent 
biography by Dr. Lorenzo Sears, was on one 
occanon lecturing in Ohio, and •awhile on a 
railroad journey going to keep one of his ap- 
pointments met in the car a number of clergy- 
men returning from some sort of convention. 
One of the ministers, feeling called upon to 
approach Mr. Phillips, asked him, " Are you 
Mr. Phillips? " " 1 am, air." " Are you trying 
to free the niggers?" "Yes, kV; / am an 
abolitionist." " Well, why do you preach your 
doctrines up here? Why don't you go over 
into Kentucky? " " Excuse me, are you a 

preacher?" "I am, sir." "Are you trying to 
save souls from, hell? " " Yes, sir, that's my 
business." " Well, why don't you go there? " 
The assailant hurried into the smoker amid a 
roar of unsanctified laughter. This anecdote 
nicely illustrates the tendency-wit in the 
service of hostile aggression. The minister's 
behavior was offensive and irritating, yet 
Wendell Phillips as a man of culture could 
not defend himself in the same manner as a 
common, ill-hred person would have done, and 
as his inner feelings must have prompted him 
to do. The only alternative under the circum- 
stances would have been to take the affront 
in silence, had not wit showed him the way, 
and enabled him by the technical means of 
unification to turn the tables on his assailant. 
He not only belittled him and turned him 
into ridicule, but by his clever retort, " Well, 
why don't you go there?" fascinated the other 
clergymen, and thus brought them to his side. 
Although the hindrance to the aggression 
which the wit helped to elude was in these 
cases of an inner nature — the lesthetic re- 
sistance against insulting — it may at other 
times be of a purely outer nature. So it was 
in the case when Serenissimus asked the 
stranger who had a striking resemblance to 
himself: " Was your mother ever in my home? " 



and he received the ready reply, " No, but 
my father was." The stranger woxdd cer- 
tainly have felled the imprudent inquirer who 
dared to make an ignominious allusion to the 
memory of his mother; but this imprudent 
person was Serenissimus, who may not be felled 
and not even insulted unless one wishes to 
pay for this revenge with his life. The only 
thing left was to swallow the insult in silence; 
but luckily wit pointed out the way of requit- 
ing the insult without personally imperiling 
one's self. It was accomplished simply by 
treating the allusion with the technical means 
of unification and employing it against the 
aggressor. The impression of wit is here so 
thoroughly determined by the tendency that 
in view of the witty rejoinder we are inclined 
to forget that the aggressor's inquiry is itself 
made witty by allusion. 

Rebellion Against Authority Through Wit 

The prevention of abuse or insulting retorts 
through outer circumstances is so often the 
case that tendency-wit is used with special 
preference as a weapon of attack or criticism 
of superiors who claim to be an authority. 
Wit then serves as a resistance against such 
authority and as an escape from its pressure. 

In this factor, too, lies the charm of carica- 
ture, at which we laugh even if it is badly done 
simply because we consider its resistance to 
authority a great merit. 

If we keep in mind that tendency-wit is so 
well adapted as a weapon of attack upon i^iat 
is great, dignified, and mighty, that which is 
shielded by internal hindrances or external 
circumstance against direct disparagement, we 
are forced to a special conception of certain 
groups of witticisms which seem to occupy 
themselves with inferior and powerless persons. 
I am referring to the marriage-agent stories, — 
with a few of which we have become familiar 
in the investigation of the manifold techniques 
of thought-wit. In some of these examples, 
" But she is deaf, too 1 " and " Who in the world 
would ever lend these people anything!" the 
agent was derided as a careless and thoughtless 
person who becomes comical because the truth 
escapes his lips automatically, as it were. But 
does on the one hand what we have learned 
about the nature of tendency-wit, and on the 
other hand the amoimt of satisfaction in these 
stories, harmonize with the misery of the per- 
sons at whom the joke seems to be pointed? 
Are these worthy opponents of the wit? Or, 
is it not more plausible to suppose that the 
wit puts the agent in the foreground only in 


order to strike at something more important; 
does it, as the saying goes, strike the saddle 
pack, when it is meant for the mule? This 
conception can really not be rejected. 

The above-mentioned interpretation of the 
marriage-agent stories admits of a continua- 
tion. It is true that I need not enter into 
them, that I can content myself with seeing 
the farcical in these stories, and can dispute 
their witty character. However, such subjec- 
tive determination of wit actually exists. We 
have now become cognizant of it and shall 
later on have to investigate it. It means that 
only that is a witticism which I wish to con- 
sider as such. What may be wit to me, may 
be only an amusing story to another. But if 
a witticism admits of doubt, that can be due 
only to the fact that it is possessed of a show- 
side, — in our examples it happens to be a 
fa^de of the comic, — upon which one may be 
satisfied to bestow a single glance while another 
may attempt to peep behind. We also suspect 
that this facade is intended to dazzle the pry- 
ing glance which is to say that such stories 
have something to conceal. 

At all events, if our marriage-agent stories 
are witticisms at all, they are all the better 
witticisms because, thanks to their fa(;ade, they 
are in a position to conceal not only what they 


have to say but also that they have something 
— forbidden — to say. But the continuation of 
the interpretation, which reveals this hidden 
part and shows that these stories having a com- 
ical facade are tendency-witticisms, would be 
as follows: Every one who allows the truth to 
escape his lips in an unguarded moment is 
really pleased to have rid himself of this 
thought. This is a correct and far-reaching 
psychological insight. Without the inner assent 
no one would allow himself to be overpow- 
ered by the automatism which here brings the 
truth to light.' The marriage agent is thus 
transformed from a ludicrous personage into 
an object deserving of pity and sympathy. 
How blest must be the man, able at last to un- 
burden himself of the weight of dissimulation, 
if he immediately seizes the first opportunity 
to shout out the last fragment of truth! As 
soon as he sees that his case is lost, that the 
prospective bride does not suit the young man, 
he gladly betrays the secret that the girl has 
still another blemish which the young man had 
overlooked, or he makes use of the chance to 
present a conclusive argument in detail in 
order to express his contempt for the people 

' It Is the same mechanism that i^ontroh " «lips of the tongoe * 
nnd other phenomena of Belf-betrafiil. Cf. Tht PiyekopatMofg 
of Evtryaay Lift. 



who employ him: "Who in the world would 
ever lend these people anything!" The ludi- 
crousness of the whole thing now reverts upon 
the parents, — hardly mentioned in the story, — 
who consider such deceptions justified to clutch 
a man for their daughter; it also reflects upon 
the wretched state of the girls who get mar- 
ried through such contrivances, and upon the 
want of dignity of the marriage contracted 
after such preliminaries. The agent is the 
right person to express such criticisms, for he 
is best acquainted with these abuses; but he 
may not raise his voice, because he is a poor 
man whose livelihood depends altogether on 
tm-ning these abuses to his advantage. But the 
same conflict is found in the national spirit 
which has given rise to these and similar 
stories ; for he is aware that the holiness of wed- 
lock suffers severely by reference to some of 
the methods of marriage-making. 

We recall also the observation made during 
the investigation of wit-technique, namely, that 
absurdity in wit frequently stands for derision 
and criticism in the thought behind the witti- 
cism, wherein the wit-work follows the dream- 
work. This state of affairs, we find, is here 
once more confirmed. That the derision and 
criticism are not aimed at the agent, who ap- 
pears in the former examples only as the whip- 

ping boy of the joke, is shown by another series 
in which the agent, on the contrary, is pictured 
as a superior person whose dialectics are a 
match for any difficulty. They are stories 
whose facades are logical instead of comical — 
they are sophistic thought-witticisms. In one 
of them (p. 83) the agent knows how to cir- 
cumvent the limping of the bride by stating 
that in her case it is at least " a finished job "; 
another woman with straight limbs would be 
in constant danger of falling and breaking 
a leg, which would be followed by sickness, 
pains, and doctor's fees — all of which can be 
avoided by marrying the one already limping. 
Again in another example (p. 81) the agent 
is clever enough to refute by good argu- 
ments each of the whole series of the suitor's 
objections against the bride; only to the 
last, which cannot be glossed over, he re- 
joins, " Do you expect her to have no blem- 
ishes at all?" as if the other objections had 
not left behind an important remnant. It is 
not difficult to pick out the weak points of the 
arguments in both examples, a thing which we 
have done during the investigation of the tech- 
nique. But now something else interests us. 
If the agent's speech is endowed with such a 
strong semblance of logic, which on more care- 
ful examination proves to be merely a sent- 


blance, then the truth must be lurking in the 
fact that the witticism adjudges the agent to 
be right. The thought does not dare to admit 
that he is right in all seriousness, and replaces 
it by the semblance which the wit brings forth; 
but here, as it often happens, the jest betrays 
the seriousness of it. We shall not err if we 
assume that all stories with logical facades 
really mean what they assert even if these as- 
sertions are deliberately falsely motivated. 
Only this use of sophism for the veiled pres- 
entation of the truth endows it with tlie char- 
acter of wit, which is mainly dependent upon 
tendency. What these two stories wish to in- 
dicate is that the suitor really makes himself 
ridiculous when he collects together so sedu- 
lously the individual charms of the bride which 
are transient after all, and when he forgets at 
the same time that he must be prepared to 
take as his wife a human being with inevitable 
faults; whereas, the only virtue which might 
make tolerable marriage witli the more or less 
imperfect personality of the woman, — mutual 
attachment and willingness for affectionate 
adaptation, — is not once mentioned in the 
whole affair. 

Ridicule of the suitor as seen in these ex- 
amples in which the agent quite correctly as- 
sumes the role of superiority, is mucli more 


clearly depicted in other examples. The more 
pointed the stories, the less wit-technique they 
contain; they are, as it were, merely border- 
line cases of wit with whose technique they 
have only the fa9ade-forraation in common. 
However, in view of the same tendency and 
the concealment of the same behind the facade, 
they obtain the full effect of wit. The poverty 
of technical means makes it clear also that 
many witticisms of that kind cannot dispense 
with the comic element of jargon which acts 
similarly to wit-technique without great sacri- 

The following is such a story, which with all 
the force of tendency-wit obviates all traces 
of that technique. The agent asks: " What 
are you, looking for in your hridc?" The 
reply is: " She must be pretty, she must be 
rich, and she must be cultured." " Very well," 
was the agent's rejoinder. " But what you 
want will make three matches." Here the re- 
proach is no longer embodied in wit, but is 
made directly to the man. 

In all the preceding examples the veiled ag- 
gression was still directed against persons; in 
the marriage-agent jokes it is directed against 
all the parties involved in the betrothal — ^the 
bridegroom, bride, and her parents. The ob- 
ject of attack by wit may equally well be in- 



stitutions, persons, in so far as they may act 
as agents of these, moral or religious precepts, 
or even philosophies of life which enjoy so 
much respect that they can be challenged in no 
other way tlian under the guise of a witticism, 
and one tluit is veiled by a facade at that. No 
matter how few the themes upon which tend- 
ency-wit may play, its forms and investments 
are manifold. I believe that we shall do well 
to designate tliis species of tendency-wit by a 
special name. To decide what name will be 
appropriate is possible only after analyzing a 
few examples of this kind. 

The Witij Cynicism 

I recall the two little stories about the im- 
pecunious gourmand who was caught eating 
" salmon with mayonnaise," and about the tip- 
pling tutor; these witty stories, which we have 
learned to regard as sophistical displacement- 
wit, I shall continue to analyze. We have 
learned since then that when the semblance of 
logic is attached to tlie facade of a story, the 
actual thought is as follows: The man is 
right; but oa account of the opposing contra- 
diction, I did not dare to admit the fact ex- 
cept for one point in which his error is easily 
demonstrable. The " point " chosen is the cor- 



rect compromise between liis right and his 
■wrong; this is really no decision, but bespeaks 
the conflict within ourselves. Both stories are 
simply epicurean. They say, Yes, the man is 
right; nothing is greater than pleasure, and it 
is fairly immaterial in «hat manner one pro- 
cures it. This sounds frightfully immoral, and 
perhaps it is, but fundamentally it is nothing 
more than the " Carpe ilicm " of the poet who 
refers to the uncertainty of life and the bare- 
ness of virtuous renunciation. If we are re- 
pelled by the idea that the man in the joke 
about " salmon with mayormaise " is in the 
right, then it is merely due to the fact that it 
illustrates the sound sense of the man in in- 
dulging himself — an indulgence which seems to 
us wholly unnecessary. la reality each one of 
us has experienced hours and times during 
which he has admitted the justice of this 
philosophy of life and has reproached our sys- 
tem of morality for knowing only how to 
make claims upon us without reimbm-sing us. 
Since we no longer lend credence to the idea 
of a hereafter in which all former renuncia- 
tions are supposed to be rewarded by gratifica- 
tion — (there are very few pious persons if one 
makes renunciation the password of faith) — 
" Carpe diem " becomes the first admonition. I 
am quite ready to postpone the gratification. 


but how do I know whether I shall still be 
alive to-morrow? 

" Di doman' non c'e certezza." ' 
I am quite willing to give up all the paths 
to gratification interdicted by society, but am 
I sure that society will reward me for this re- 
nunciation by opening for me — even after a 
certain delay — one of the permitted paths? 
One can plainly tell what these witticisms 
whisper, namely, that the wishes and desires of 
man have a right to make themselves percepti- 
ble next to our pretentious and inconsiderate 
morality. And in our times it has been said in 
emphatic and striking terms that this morality 
is merely the selfish precept of the few rich 
and mighty who can gratify their desires at 
any time without deferment. As long as the art 
of healing has not succeeded in safeguarding 
our lives, and as long as the social organiza- 
tions do not do more towards making condi- 
tions more agreeable, just so long cannot the 
voice within us which is stri\-ing against the 
demands of morality, be stifled. Every honest 
person finally makes this admission — at least 
to himself. The decision in this conflict is pos- 
sible only through the roundabout way of a 
pew understanding. One must be able to knit 

"There Is nothing certain about to-morrow," Loienio dei 



one's life so closely to that of others, and to 
form such an intimate identification with 
others, that the shortening of one's own term 
of life becomes surmountable; one should not 
unlawfully fulfill the demands of one's own 
needs, but should leave tliem unfulfilled, be- 
cause only the continuance of so many unful- 
filled demands can develop the power to re- 
cast the social order. But not all personal 
needs allow themselves to be displaced in such 
a manner and transferred to others, nor is 
there a universal and definite solution of the 

We now know how to designate the wit- 
ticisms just discussed; they are cynical wit- 
ticisms, and what they conceal are cynicisms. 

Among the institutions which cjiiical wit is 
wont to attack there is none more important 
and more completely protected by moral pre- 
cepts, and yet more inviting of attack, than the 
institution of marriage. Most of the cynical 
jokes are directed against it. For no demand 
is more personal tlian that made upon sexual 
freedom, and nowhere has civilization at- 
tempted to exert a more stringent suppression 
than in the realm of sexuality. For our pur- 
poses a single example sufiices: the "Entries 
in the Album of Prince Carnival '* mentioned 
on page 108. 



'A toife ia like an umbrella, at xcorat one 
may always take a cab." 

We have already elucidated the complicated 
technique of this example; it is a puzzling and 
seemingly impossible comparison which how- 
ever, as we now see, is not in itself witty; it 
shows besides an allusion (cab=puhlic con- 
veyance), and as the strongest technical means 
it also shows an omission which serves to make 
it still more unintelligible. The comparison 
may be worked out in the following manner. 
A man marries in order to guard himself 
against the temptations of sensuality, but it 
then turns out that after all marriage affords 
no gratification for one of stronger needs, just 
as one takes along an umbrella for protection 
against rain only to get wet in spite of it. In 
both cases one must search for better protec- 
tion; in one case one must take a public cab, 
in the other women procurable for money. 
Now the wit has almost entirely been replaced 
by cynicism. Tliat marriage is not the organi- 
zation which can satisfy a man's sexuality, one 
does not dare to say loudly and frankly unless 
indeed it be one hke Christian v. Ehrenfels,' 
who is forced to it by the love of truth and the 
zeal of reform. The strength of tliis witticism 

* See bla omj» ia the PolUUch-anthropologitehtn Rivu4, It, 



lies in the fact that it has expressed the 
thought even though it had to be done through 
all sorts of roundabout ways. 

Cynical Witticisms and Self-criticism 
A particularly favorable case for tendency- 
wit results if the intended criticism of the 
inner resistance is directed against one's own 
person, or, more carefully expressed, against a 
person in whom one takes interest, that is, a 
composite personality such as one's own peo- 
ple. This determination of self-criticism may- 
make clear why it is that a number of the most 
excellent jokes of which we have shown here 
many specimens should have sprung into exist- 
ence from the soil of Jewish national life. 
They are stories which were invented by Jews 
themselves and which are directed against Jew- 
ish peculiarities. The Jewish jokes made up 
by non-Jews are nearly all brutal buffooneries 
in which the wit is spared by the fact that the 
Jew appears as a comic figure to a stranger. 
The Jewish jokes which originate with Jews 
admit this, but they know their real shortcom- 
ings as well as their merits, and the interest 
of the person liimself in the thing to be crit- 
icised produces the subjective determination of 
the wit-work which would otherwise be difficult 
hring about. Incidentally I do not knoi^ 



^H whether one often finds a people that makes 
^V merry so unreservedly over its own shortcom- 
B ings. 

As an illustration I can point to the story 
cited on page 112 in which the Jew in the train 
immediately abandons all sense of decency of 
deportment as soon as he recognizes the new 
arrival in his coupe as his coreligionist. We 
have come to know this joke as an illustration 
by means of a detail — representation through 
a trifle; it is supposed to represent the dem- 
ocratic mode of thought of the Jew who rec- 
ognizes no difference between master and serv- 
ant, but unfortunately this also disturbs dis- 
cipUne and co-operation. Another especially 
interesting series of jokes presents the relation- 
ship between the poor and the rich Jews: their 
heroes are the " shnorrer,'" and the charitable 

■ gentleman or the baron. The shnorrer, who 
was a regular Sunday-dinner guest at a cer- 
tain house, appeared one day accompanied hy 
a young stranger, who prepared to seat himself 
at the table. " Who is that? " demanded the 

■ host. "He became my son-in-law last week," 
was the reply, "and I have agreed to supply 
his board for the first year." The tendency of 
these stories is always the same, and is most 
distinctly shown in the following story. The 

^^^ * An babitual beggar. ^^_ 


ahnorrer supplicates the baron for money to 
visit the bathing resort Ostend, as the phy- 
sician has ordered him to take sea-baths for 
his ailment. The baron remarks that Ostend 
is an especially expensive resort, and that a 
less fashionable place would do just as well. 
But the shnorrer rejects that proposition by 
saying, " Herr Baron, nothing is too expensive 
for my health." That is an excellent displace- 
ment-witticism which we could have taken as 
a model of its kind. The baron is evidently 
anxious to save his money, but the shnorrer ra- 
phes as if the baron's money were his own, 
which he may then consider secondary to his 
health. One is forced to laugh at the insolence 
of the demand, but these jokes are exception- 
ally unequipped with a facade to becloud the 
imderstanding. The truth is that the shnorrer 
who mentally treats the rich man's money as 
his own, really possesses almost the right to 
this mistake, according to the sacred codes of 
the Jews. Naturally the resistance which is 
responsible for this joke is directed against the 
law which even the pious find very oppressing. 
Another story relates how on the steps of a 
rich man's house a shnorrer met one of his own 
kind. The latter counseled him to depart, say- 
ing, " Do not go up to-day, the Baron is out 
of sorts and refuses to give any one more than 



a dollar." " 1 will go up anyway," replied the 
first. " Why in the world should I make him 
a present of a dollar? Is he making me any 
presents? " 

This witticism makes use of the technique of 
absurdity by permitting the shnorrer to declare 
that the baron gives hini nothing at the same 
moment in which he is preparing to beg him 
for the donation. But the absurdity is only 
apparent, for it is almost true that the rich 
man gives him nothing, since he is obligated by 
the mandate to gi^'e alms, and strictly speak- 
ing must be thankful that the shnorrer gives 
hhn an opportunity to be charitable. The 
ordinary, bourgeois conception of alms is at 
cross-purposes with the rehgious one; it openly 
revolts against the rehgious conception in the 
story about the baron who, having been deeply 
touched by the shnorrer's tale of woe, rang 
for his servants and said: " Throw him out of 
the house; he is breaking my heart." This ob- 
vious exposition of the tendency again creates 
a case of border-line wit. From the no longer 
witty complaint; " It is really no advantage to 
be a rich man among Jews. The foreign 
misery does not grant one the pleasure of one's 
own fortune," these last stories are distin- 
guished only by the illustration of a single sit- 


Other stories as tfae following, which, tedt- I 
nically again presenting border-lines of wit, ( 
have tbeir origin in a deeply pessimistic cyn- 
icism. A patient xchose hearing was defective I 
conndted a physician who made the correct 
diagnosis, namely, that the patient probably 
drank too much tchiskey and consequently too» 
becoming deaf. He advised him to desist from. 
drinking and the patient promised to foüow 
his advice. Some time thereafter the doctor 
met him on the street and inquired in a loud 
Voice about his condition. " Thank you. Doc- 
tor," was the reply, " there is no necessity for 
speaking so loudly, I have given up drinldng 
tchiskey and consequently I hear perfectly." 
Some time afterwards they met again. The ] 
doctor again inquired into his condition in the 
usual voice, but noticed that he did not make 
himself understood. " It seems to me that you 
are deaf again because you have returned to 
drinking 'whiskey." shouted the doctor in the 
patient's ear. " Perhaps you are right," an- 
swered the latter, " 1 have taken to drinking 
again, and I shaR teU you why. At long as I 
did not drinJc I could hear, but all that I 
heard rcas not as good a» the whiskey." 
[ Tedmically this joke is nothing more than an 
' illustration. The jargon and the ability of the 
namteur must aid the producing of laughter. 



But behind it there lies the sad question, " Is 
not the man right in his choice?" 

It is the manifold hopeless misery of the 
Jews to which these pessimJstical stories allude, 
which urged me to add them to tendency-wit. 

Critical and Blaaphemoua Wittidtma 

Other jokes, cynical in a similar sense, 
and not only stories about Jews, attack re- 
ligious dogmas and the belief in God Himself. 
The story about the " telepathic look of the 
rabbi," whose technique consisted in the faulty 
thinking which made phantasy equal to reality, 
(the conception of displacement is also tena- 
ble) is such a cynical or critical witticism di- 
rected against miracle-workers and also, surely, 
against belief in miracles. Heine is reported 
to have made a directly blasphemous joke as 
he lay dying. When the kindly priest com- 
mended kirn to God's mercy and inspired him 
with the hope that God would forgive him his 
sins, he replied: " Bien sür qu'ü me pardon' 
nera; c'est son metier." That is a derogatory 
comparison; technically its value Ues only in 
the allusion, for a metier — business or vocation 
— is plied either by a craftsman or a physician, 
and what is more he has only a single metier. 
The strength of tlie wit, however, lies in its 


tendency. The joke is intended to mean noth- 
ing else, but; Certainly he will forgive me; that 
is what he is here for, and for no other pur- 
pose have I engaged him (just as one retains 
one's doetor or one's lawyer). Thus, the help- 
less dying man is stÜl conscious of the fact that 
he has created God for himself and has clothed 
Him with the power in order to make use of 
Him as occasion arises. The so-called creature 
makes itself known as the Creator only a short 
time before his extinction. 

Skeptical Wit 

To the three kinds of tendency-wit discussed 
so far — exhihitionistic or obscene wit, aggres- 
sive or hostile wit, and cynical wit (critical, blas- 
phemous) — I desire to add a fourth and the 
most uncommon of all, whose character can be 
elucidated by a good example. 

Two JeiDS met in a train at a Galidan rail- 
way station. " Where arc you traveling? " 
asked one. " To Cracow" was the reply. " Now 
see here, what a liar you are!" said the first 
one, bristling, " When you say that you are 
traveling to Cracow, you really wish me to be- 
lieve that you are traveling to Lemberg. Weü, 
but I am sure that you are really traveling to 
Cracow, so why He about it?" 



This precious story, which creates an impres- 
sion of exaggerated subtlety, evidently oper- 
ates by means of the technique of absurdity. 
The second Jew has put himself in the way of 
being called a liar because he has said that he 
is traveling to Cracow, which is his real goal I 
However, this strong technical means — absurd- 
ity — is paired here with another technique — 
representation through the opposite, for, ac- 
cording to the uncontradicted assertion of the 
first, the second one is lying when he speaks 
the truth, and speaks the truth by means of a 
lie. However, the more earnest content of this 
joke is the question of the conditions of truth; 
again the joke points to a problem and makes 
use of the uncertainty of one of our commonest 
notions. Does it constitute truth if one 
describes things as they are and does not con- 
cern himself with the way the hearers will in- 
terpret what one has said? Or is this merely 
Jesuitical truth, and does not the real truthful- 
ness consist much more in having a regard for 
the hearer and of furnishing him an exact pic- 
ture of his own mind ? I consider jokes of this 
type sufficiently different from the others to 
assign them a special place. What they attack 
is not a person nor an institution, but the cer- 
tainty of our very knowledge — one of our 
speculative gifts. Hence the name " skeptical " 


atticism wiU be the most expressive for 

In the course of our discussion of the tend- 
encies of wit we have gotten perhaps many an 
elucidation and certainly found numerous incen- 
tives for further investigations. But the results 
of this chapter combine with those of the pre- 
ceding chapter to form a difficult problem. If 
it be true that the pleasure created by wit is de- 
pendent upon the technique on one hand and 
upon the tendency on the other hand, under 
what common point of view can these two ut- 
terly different pleasure-sources of wit be 




We can now definitely assert that we know 
from what sources the peculiar pleasure arises 
furnished us by wit. We know that we can be 
easily misled to mistake our sense of satisfac- 
tion experienced through the thought-content 
of the sentence for the actual pleasure derived 
from the wit, on the other hand, the latter it- 
self has two intrinsic sources, namely, the wit- 
technique and the wit-tendency. What we now 
desire to ascertain is the manner in which 
pleasure originates from these sources and the 
mechanism of this resultant pleasure. 

It seems to us that the desired explanation 
can be more easily ascertained in tendency-wit 
than in harmless wit. We shall therefore com- 
mence with the former. 

The pleasure in tendency-wit results from 
the fact that a tendency, whose Ratification 
would otherwise remain unfulfilled, is actually 
gratified. That such gratification is a source 
of pleasure is self-evident without further dis- 
cussion. But the manner in which wit brings 



about gratification is connected with special 
conditions from which we may perhaps gain 
further information. Here two cases must be 
differentiated. The simpler case is the one in 
which the gratification of the tendency is op- 
posed by an external hindrance which is eluded 
by the wit. This process we found, for exam' 
pie, in the reply which Serenissimus received 
to his query whether the mother of the stranger 
he addressed had ever sojourned in his home, 
and likewise in the question of the art critic 
who asked: "And where is the Savior?" when 
the two rich rogues showed him their portraits. 
In one case the tendency serves to answer one 
insult with another; in the other case it offers 
an affront instead of the demanded expert 
opinion; in both cases the tendency was op- 
posed by purely external factors, namely, the 
powerful position of the persons who are the 
targets of the insult. Nevertheless it may seem 
strange to us that these and analogous tend- 
ency-witticisms have not the power to produce 
a strong laughing effect, no matter how much 
they may gratify us. 

It is different, however, if no external fac- 
tors but internal hindrances stand in the way 
of the direct realization of the tendency, that 
is, if an inner feehng opposes the tendency. 
This condition, according to our assumption» 



was present in the aggressive joke of Mr. N. 
(p. 28) and in the one of Wendell Phillips, in 
whom a strong inclination to use invectives was 
stifled by a highly developed aesthetic sense. 
With the aid of wit the inner resistances in 
these special cases were overcome and the in- 
hibition removed. As in the case of external 
hindrances, the gratification of the tendency is 
made possible, and a suppression with its con- 
comitant " psychic damming " is thus obviated. 
So far the mechanism of the development of 
pleasure would seem to be identical in both 

At this place, however, we are inclined to 
feel that we should enter more deeply into the 
differentiation of the psychological situation be- 
tween the cases of external and internal hin- 
drance, as we have a faint notion that the re- 
moval of the inner hindrance might possibly 
result in a disproportionately higher contribu- 
tion to pleasure. But I propose that we rest 
content here, that we be satisfied for tlie pres- 
ent with this one collection of evidence which 
adheres to what is essential to us. The only 
difference between the cases of outer and inner 
hindrances consists in the fact that here an al- 
ready existing inhibition is removed, while 
there the formation of a new inhibition is 
avoided. We hardly resort to speculation when 

we assert that a "psychic expenditure" is re- 
quired for the formation as well as for the re- 
tention of a psychic inhibition. Now if we find 
that in both cases the use of the tendency-wit 
produces pleasure, then it may be assumed 
that »ach. resultant pleasure corresponds to the 
economy of psychic expenditure. 

Thus we are once more confronted with the 
principle of econ^omy which we noticed first in 
the study of the technique of word-wit. But 
whereas the economy we believed to have foxmd 
at first was in the use of few or possibly the 
same words, we can here foresee an economy 
of psychic expenditure in general in a far more 
comprehensive sense, and we think it possible 
to come nearer to the nature of wit through 
a better determination of the as yet very ob- 
scure idea of " psychic expenditure." 

A certain amount of haziness which we could 
not dissipate during the study of the pleasure 
mechanism in tendency-wit we accept as a 
slight punishment for attempting to elucidate 
the more complicated problem before the sim- 
pler one, or the tendency-wit before the harm- 
less wit. We observe that " economy in the ex- 
penditure of inhibitions or suppressions " seems 
to be the secret of the pleasurable effect of 
tendency-wit, and we now turn to the mechan- 
ism of the pleasure in harmless wit. 


While examining appropriate examples of 
harmless witticisms, in which we had no fear 
of false judgment through content or tend- 
ency, we were forced to the conclusion that the 
techniques of with themselves are pleasure- 
sources; now we wish to ascertain whether the 
pleasure may be traced to the economy in 
psychic expenditure. In a group of these wit- 
ticisms {plays on words) the technique con- 
sisted in directing the psychic focus upon the 
sound instead of upon the sense of the word, 
and in allowing the (acoustic) word-disguise 
to take the place of the meaning accorded to it 
by its relations to reaUty. We are really justi- 
fied in assuming that great relief is thereby af- 
forded to the psychic work, and that in the 
serious use of words we refrain from this con- 
venient procedure only at the expense of a 
certain amount of exertion. We can observe 
that abnormal mental states, in which the pos- 
sibility of concentrating psychic expenditure on 
one place is probably restricted, actually allow 
to come to the foreground word-sound associa- 
tions of this kind rather than the significance of 
the words, and that such patients react in their 
speech with " outer " instead of " inner " as- 
sociations. Also in children who are still ac- 
customed to treat the word as an object we 
notice the inclination to look for the same 


meaning in words of the same or of similar 
sounds, which is a source of great amusement 
to adults. If we experience in wit an unmis- 
takable pleasure because through the use of the 
same or similar words we reach from one set 
of ideas to a distant other one, (as in " Home- 
Roulard " from the kitchen to poHtics), we can 
justly refer this pleasure to the economy of 
psychic expenditure. The pleasure of the wit 
resulting from such a " short-circuit " appears 
greater the more remote and foreign the two 
series of ideas which become related through 
the same word are to each other, or the greater 
the economy in thought brought about by the 
technical means of wit. We may add that in 
this case wit makes use of a means of connec- 
tion which is rejected by and carefully avoided 
in serious thinking.^ 

*ir I may be permilfed to anticipate what later Is dlscnased 
In the lext I ran here throw some light upon the condition wfat^ 
seems to be authoritative in the usage of language when It Is s 
question of calling a jolte "good" or "poor." If by means of 
a double meaning or slightly modified word I have gotten from 
one idee to another by a short route, and if this does not also 
Bimultaneousiy result In senscful association between the two 
ideas, then I have made a "poor" jobe. In this poor Joke one 
word or the "point" forms the only existing association !>»• 
twefn the two widely separated ideas. The jolte " Mom«- 
Boulnrd " used aboTe is such an example. But a "good' joke 
results if the infantile expectation Is right In the end and if with 
the similarity of tlie word another essential similarity In mean* 
Ing is really simultaneously produced — as In the eiuimples Tradut- 
tore— Traditore (translator— traitor), and Amantes— Amentea 

™ A fif 


A second group of technical means of wit — ■ 
unification, similar sounding words, manifold 
application, modification of familiar idioms, al- 
lusions to quotations — all evince one common 
character, namely, that one always discovers 
something familiar where one expects to find 
something new instead. To discover the fa- 
miliar is pleasurable and it is not difficult to 
recognize such pleasure as economy-pleasure 
and to refer it to the economy of psychic ex- 

That the discovery of the familiar — " recog- 
nition " — causes pleasure seems to be uni- 
versally admitted. Groos says:' "Recognition 
is everywhere bound up with feelings of pleas- 

(loven — lunatics). The two disparate Ideas which are here 
linked by an outer asEocialion are held together besides by a 
Eenceful connection which expresses an important relationship 
between them. The outer association only replaces the Inner con- 
nection; it serves to indicate the latter or to clarify it. Not only 
does "translator" sound somewlial similar to "traitor," but he 
Is A sort of a traitor whose claims to that name are good. The 
same may be said of Amantcs— Amentes. Not only do the words 
bear a resemblance, l)ut the similarity between " love " and 
* lunacy" has l^een noted from time immemorial. 

The distinction made here Agrees with the differentiation, to be 
made later, between a "witticism" and a "jest." However, it 
would not be correct to exclude examples like Home-Roulard 
frotn the discussion of the nature of wit. As soon as we take 
Into consideration the peculiar pleasure of wit, we discover that 
the "poor" witticisms arc by no means poor as witticisms, i.e^ 
th^ are by no means unsuited for the production of pleasure. 

■ Di» Spiele der Meniehen. 1S99, p, 1&3, 


ure where it has not been made too mechanical, 
(as perhaps in dressing . . .). Even the mere 
quality of acquaintanceship is easily accom- 
panied by that gentle delight which Faust ex- 
periences when, after an uncanny experience, he 
steps into his study." If the act of recognition 
is so pleasureful, we may expect that man 
merges into the habit of practicing this activ- 
ity for its own sake, that is, he experiments 
playfully with it. In fact, Aristotle recognized 
in the joy of rediscovery the basis of artistic 
pleasure, and it cannot be denied that this 
principle must not be overlooked even if it has 
not such a far-reaching significance as Aris- 
totle assimies. 

Groos then discusses the games, whose char- 
acter consists of heightening the pleasure of 
rediscovery by putting hindrances in its path, 
or in other words by raising a " psychic dam '* 
which is removed by the act of recognition. 
However, his attempted explanation leaves the 
assumption that recognition as such is pleasur- 
able, in that he attributes the pleasure of rec- 
ognition connected with these games to the 
pleasure in power or to the surmounting of a 
difficulty. I consider this latter factor as sec- 
ondary, and I find no occasion for abandoning 
the simpler explanation, that the recognition 
per se, i.e., through the alleviation of the psy- 



chic expenditure, is pleasurable, and that the 
games founded upon this pleasure make use 
of the damming-mechanism merely in order to 
intensify their eflfect. 

We know also that the source of pleasure in 
rhyme, alliteration, refrain, and other forms of 
repetition of similar sounding words in poetry, 
is due merely to the discovery of the familiar. 
, A " sense of power " plays no perceptible role 
I in these techniques, which show so marked an 
agreement with the " manifold appHcation " in 

Considering the close connection between rec- 
ognition and remembering, the assumption is 
no longer daring that there exists also a pleas- 
ure in remembering, i.e., tliat the act of remem- 
bering in itself is accompanied by a feeling of 
pleasure of a similar origin. Groos seems to 
have no objection to such an assumption, but 
he again deducts the pleasure of remembering 
from the " sense of power " in which he seeks — 
as I believe unjustly — the principal basis of 
pleasure in almost all games. 

I The Factor of Actuality 

The use of another technical expedient of 
•wit, which has not yet been mentioned, is also 
dependent upon " the rediscovery of the fa- 



miliar." I refer to the factor of actuality 
(dealing with actual persons, things, or events), 
which in many witticisms provides a prolific 
source of pleasure and explains several pe- 
culiarities in the life history of wit. There are 
witticisms which are entirely free from this con- 
dition, and in a treatise on wit it is incumbent 
upon us to make use of such examples almost 
exclusively. But we must not forget that we 
laughed perhaps more heartily over such peren- 
nial witticisms than over others; witticisms 
whose application now would be difficult, be- 
cause they would require long commentaries, 
and even with that aid the former effect could 
not he attained. These latter witticisms con- 
tained allusions to persons and occurrences 
which were " actual " at the time, which had 
stimulated general interest and were endowed 
with tension. After the cessation of this 
interest, after the settlement of these par- 
ticular affairs, the witticisms lost a part of 
their pleasurable efTect, and a very consider- 
able. Thus, for example, the joke which 
my friendly host made when he called 
the dish that was being served a " Home- 
Roulard," seems to me by no means as good 
now as when the question of Home Rule was 
a continuous headline in the political columns 
of our newspaper. If I now attempt to ex- 



press my appreciation of this joke by stating 
that this one word led us from the idea of the 
kitchen to the distant field of politics, and 
saved us a long mental detour, I should have 
been forced at that time to change this descrip- 
tion as follows : " That this word led us from 
the idea of the kitchen to the very distant field 
of politics; but that our hvely interest was all 
the keener because this question was constantly 
absorbing us." The same thing is true of 
another joke: " This girl reminds me of 
Dreyfus; the army does not believe tn her in- 
nocence," which has become blurred in spite of 
the fact that its technical means has remained 
unchanged. The confusion arising from the 
comparison with, and the double meaning of, 
the word " innocence " cannot do away with the 
fact that the allusion, which at that time 
touched upon a matter pregnant with excite- 
ment, now recalls an interest set at rest. The 
many irresistible jokes about the present war 
will sink in our estimation in a very short time. 
A great many witticisms in circulation reach 
a certain age or rather go through a course 
composed of a flourishing season and a mature 
season, and then sink into complete oblivion. 
The need that people feel to draw pleasure 
from their mental processes continually creates 
new witticisms which are supported by current 


interests of the day. The vitality of actual wit- 
ticisms is not their own, it is borrowed by way 
of allusion from those other interests, the ex- 
piration of which determines the fate of the 
witticism. The factor of actuality which may 
be added as a transitory pleasure-source of wit, 
although it is productive in itself, cannot be 
simply put on the same basis as the rediscovery 
of the familiar. It is much more a question of 
a special qualification of the familiar which 
must be aided by the quality of freshness and 
recency and which has not been affected by for- 
getfulness. In the formation of the dream one 
also finds that there is a special preference for 
what is recent, and one cannot refrain from in- 
ferring that the association with what is recent 
is rewarded or facihtated by a special pleas- 
ure premium. 

Unification, which is really nothing more 
than repetition in the sphere of mental as- 
sociation instead of in material, has been ac- 
corded an especial recognition as a pleasure- 
source of wit by G. Th. Fechner." He says: 
" In my opinion the principle of uniform con- 
nection of the manifold, plays the most im- 
portant role in the field under discussion; it 
needs, however, the support of subsidiary de- 
terminations in order to drive across the thresh- 

' rortehMi» d*r Aetthelik, 1, XVII. 


old the pleasure with its peculiar character 
which the cases here belonging can furnish." ' 

In all of these cases of repetition of the same 
Association or of the same word-material, of re- 
finding the familiar and recent, we surely can- 
not be prevented from referring the pleasure 
thereby experienced to the economy in psychic 
expenditure; providing that this viewpoint 
proves fertile for the explanation of single 
facts as well as for bringing to light new gen- 
eralities. AVe are fully conscious of the fact 
that we have yet to make clear the manner in 
which this economy results and also the mean- 
ing of the expression " psychic expenditure." 

The third group of the technique of wit, 
mostly thought-wit, which includes false logic, 
displacement, absurdity, representation through 
the opposite, and other varieties, may seem at 
first sight to present special features and to be 
unrelated to the techniques of the discovery 
of the familiar, or the replacing of object-as- 
sodations by word-associations. But it will not 
be difficult to demonstrate that this group, too, 
shows an economy or facilitation of psychic 

It is quite obvious that it is easier and more 
convenient to timi away from a definite trend 
of thought than to stick to it; it is easier to 

• Chapter SVll. 


mix up diflferent things than to distinguish 
them; and it is particularly easier to travel 
over modes of reasoning unsanctioned by logic; 
finally in connecting words or thoughts it is 
especially easy to overlook the fact that such 
connections should result in sense. All this is 
indubitable and this is exactly what is done by 
the techniques of the wit in question. It will 
sound strange, however, to assert that such 
processes in the wit-work may produce pleas- 
ure, since outside of wit we can experience only 
unpleasant feelings of defense against all these 
kinds of inferior achievement of our mental ac- 

Word-pleasure and Pleasure in Nonseme 

The " pleasure in nonsense," as we may call 
it for short, is, in the seriousness of our life, 
crowded back almost to the vanishing point. 
To demonstrate it we must enter into the study 
of two cases in one of which it is stUl visible 
and in the other becomes visible for the second 
time. I refer to the behavior of the learning 
child and to the behavior of the adult under un- 
stable toxic influences. When the child leams 
to control the vocabulary of its mother tongue 
it apparently takes great pleasure in " ex- 
perimenting playfully " with that material 


'(Groos) ; it connects words without regard for 
their meaning in order to obtain pleasure from 
the rhyme and rhythm. Gradually the child 
is deprived of this pleasure until only the sense* 
fill connection of words is allowed him. But 
even in later life there is still a tendency to 
overstep the acquired restrictions in the use of 
words, a tendency which manifests itself in 
disfiguring the same by definite appendages, 
and in changing their forms by means of cer- 
tain contrivances (reduplication, trembling 
speech) or even by developing an individual 
language for use in plajTng, — efforts which re- 
appear also among the insane of a certain cate- 

I believe that whatever the motive which 
actuated the child when it began such playings, 
in its further development the child indulges in 
ibem fully conscious that they are nonsensical 
and derives pleasure from this stimulus whic4i 
is interdicted by reason. It now makes use 
of play in order to withdraw from the pressure 
of critical reason. More powerful, however, 
are the restrictions which must develop in edu- 
cation along the lines of right thinking and in 
the separation of reality from fiction, and it is 
for tins reason that the resistance against the 
p r ea suieg of thinking and reality is far-reach' 
i n^ and persistent; even the pbeooroena of 

phantasy formatioQ come under this point of 
view. The power of reason usually grows so 
strong daring the later part of childhood and 
during that period of education which extends 
over the age of puberty, that the pleasure in 
" freed ocmsense " rarely dares manifest itself. 
One fears to utter ntmsense; but it seems to 
me that the inclination characteristic of boys 
to act in a contradictory and inexpedient man- 
ner is a direct outcome of this pleasure in non- 
sense. In pathological cases one often sees 
this tendency so accentuated that it again con- 
trols the speeches and answers of the pupils. 
In the case of some collie students who 
merged into neuroses I could convince myself 
that the unconscious pleasure derived from the 
nonsense produced by them is just as mudi 
responsible for their mistakes as their actual 

Seproductioti of Old UberUea 

The student does not give up his demonstra- 
tions against the pressiires of thinking and 
reality whose domination becomes unceasingly 
intolerant and unrestricted. A good part of 
the tendency of students to skylarking is re- 
sponsible for this reaction. ^lan is an " untir- 
ing pleasure seeker " — I can no longer recall 


which author coined this happy expression — 
and finds it extremely difficult to renounce 
pleasure once experienced. With the hilarious 
nonsense of "sprees" (Bierschwefcl) , college 
cries, and songs, the student attempts to pre- 
serve that pleasure which results from freedom 
of thought, a freedom of which he is more and 
more deprived through scholastic discipline. 
Even much later, when as a mature man he 
meets with others at scientific congresses and 
class reunions and feels himself a student 
again, he must read at the end of the session 
the " Kneipzeitung," or the comic college paper, 
which distorts the newly gained knowledge into 
the nonsensical and thus compensates him for the 
newly added mental inhibitions. 

The very terms " Bicrschwefel " and "'Kneip- 
zeitung " are proof that the reason which has 
stifled the pleasure in nonsense has become so 
powerful that not even temporarily can it be 
abandoned without toxic agency. The change 
in the state of mind is the most valuable thing 
that alcohol offers man, and that is the reason 
why this " poison " is not equally indispensable 
for all people. The hilarious humor, whether 
due to endogenous origin or whether produced 
toxically, weakens the inhibiting forces among 
which is reason and thus again makes acces- 
sible pleasure-sources which are burdened by 



suppression. It is very instructive to see how 
the demand made upon wit sinks with the rise 
in spirits. The latter actually replace wit, just 
as wit must make an effort to replace the men- 
tal state in which the otherwise inhibited pleas- 
ure possibilities (pleasure in nonsense among 
the rest) assert themselves. 

" With little wit and much comfort." 

Under the influence of alcohol the adult 
again becomes a child who derives pleasure 
from the free disposal of his mental stream 
without being restricted by the pressure of 

We hope we have shown that the technique 
of absurdity in wit corresponds to a source of 
pleasiu-e. We need hardly repeat that this 
pleasure results from the economy of psychic 
expenditure or alleviation from the pressure 
of reason. 

On reviewing again the wit-technique classi- 
fied under three headings we notice that the 
first and last of these groups — the replacement 
of object-association by word-association, and 
the use of absurdity as a restorer of old lib- 
erties and as a relief from the pressure of 
intellectual upbringing — can be taken collect- 
ively. Psychic relief may in a way be com- 
pared to economy, which constitutes the tech- 
nique of the second group. Alleviation of the 


already existing psychic expenditure, and econ- 
omy in the yet to be offered psychic expendi- 
ture, are two principles from which all tech- 
niques of wit and with them all pleasure in 
these techniques can be deduced. The two 
forms of the technique and the resultant pleas- 
ures correspond more or less in general to the 
division of wit into word- and thought-witti- 

Play and Jest 

The preceding discussions have led us imex- 
peetedly to an understanding of the history of 
the development of psychogenesis of wit which 
we shall now examine still further. We have 
become acquainted with the successive steps in 
wit, the development of which up to tendency- 
wit will undoubtedly reveal new relationships 
between the different characters of wit. An- 
tedating wit there exists something which we 
may designate as " play " or " jest." Play — 
we shall retain this name — appears in children 
while they are learning how to use words and 
connect thoughts; this playing is probably the 
result of an impulse which urges the child to 
exercise its capacities (Groos). During this 
process it experiences pleasurable effects which 
originate from the repetition of similarities, 
the rediscovery of the familiar, sound-associa- 


tions, etc., which may be explained as an un- 
expected economy of psychic expenditure. 
Therefore it surprises no one that these result- 
ing pleasures urge the chUd to practice play- 
ing and impel it to continue without regard 
for the meaning of words or the connections 
between sentences. Playing with words and 
thoughts, motivated by certain pleasures in 
economy, would thus be the first step of wit. 

This playing is stopped by the growing 
strength of a factor which may well be called 
criticism or reason. The play is then rejected 
as senseless or as directly absurd, and by virtue 
of reason it becomes impossible. Only acci- 
dentally is it now possible to derive pleasure 
from those sources of rediscovery of the fa- 
miliar, etc., which is explained by the fact that 
the maturing person has then merged into a 
playful mood which, as in the ease of merri- 
ment in the child, removes inhibitions. In this 
way only is the old pleasure-giving playing 
made possible, but as men do not wish to wait 
for these propitious occasions and also hate to 
forego this pleasure, they seek means to make 
themselves independent of these pleasant states. 
The further development of wit is directed by 
these two impulses; the one striving to elude 
reason and the other to substitute for the adult 
an infantile state of mind. 


This gives rise to the second stage of wit, the 
jest (Scherz). The object of tlie jest is to 
bring about the resultant pleasure of playing 
and at the same time appease the protesting 
reason which strives to suppress the pleasant 
feeling. There is but one way to accomplish 
this. The senseless combination of words or 
the absurd linking of thoughts must make sense 
after all. The whole process of wit production 
is therefore directed towards the discovery of 
words and thought constellations which fulfill 
these conditions. The jest makes use of almost 
all the technical means of wit, and usage of 
language makes no consequential distinction 
between jest (Scherz) and wit (Witz). What 
distinguishes the jest from wit is the fact that 
the pith of the sentence withdrawn from criti- 
cism does not need to be valuable, new, or even 
good; it matters only that it can be expressed, 
even though what it may say is obsolete, super- 
fluous, and useless. The most conspicuous fac- 
tor of the jest is the gratification it affords by 
making possible that which reason forbids. 

A mere jest is the following of Professor 
Kästner, who taught physics at Göttingen in 
the 16th century, and who was fond of mak- 
ing jokes. Wishing to enroll a student named 
Warr in his class, he asked him his age, and 
upon receiving the reply that he was thirty 



years of age he exclaimed: "Aha, so I have 
tlie honor of seeing the thirty years' War." ^ 
When asked what vocations his sons followed 
Rokitansky jestingly answered: " Two are heal- 
ing and two are howling," (two physicians and 
two singers). The reply was correct and there- 
fore imimpeachable, but it added nothing to 
what is contained in the parenthetic expression. 
There is no doubt that the answer assumed 
another form only because of the pleasure 
which arises from the unification and assonance 
of both words. 

I believe that we now see our way clear. In 
estimating the techniques of wit we were con- 
stantly disturbed by the fact that these are not 
peculiar to wit alone, and yet the nature of wit 
seemed to depend upon them, since their re- 
moval by means of reduction nullified the char- 
acter as well as the pleasure of wit. Now we 
become aware that what we have described as 
techniques of wit — and which in a certain sense 
we shall have to continue to call so — are really 
the sources from which wit derives pleasure; 
nor does it strike us as strange that other 
processes draw from the same som-ces with the 
same object in view. The technique, however, 
which is peculiar to and belongs to wit alone 
consists in a process of safeguarding the use 

* KklDp&uli Di4 tUUt4i d*T Spraefu, 1890. 


f of this pleasure- forming means against the 
protest of reason which would obviate the pleas- 
ure. We can make few generalizations about 
this process. The wit-work, as we have already 
remarked, expresses itself in the selection of 
such word-material and such thought-situations 
as to permit the old play with words and 
thoughts to stand the test of reason; but to ac- 
complish this end the cleverest use must be 
made of all the peculiarities of the stock of 
words and of all constellations of mental com- 
binations. Later on perhaps we shall be in a 
position to characterize the wit-work by a 
definite attribute; for the present it must re- 
main unexplained how our wit makes its ad- 
vantageous selections. The tendency and ca- 
pacity of wit to guard the pleasure-forming 
word and thought combinations against reason, 
ab-eady makes itself visible as an essential cri- 
terion in jests. From the beginning its object 
is to remove inner inhibitions and thereby ren- 
. der productive those pleasure-sources wliich have 
I become inaccessible, and we shall find that it 
remains true to this characteristic throughout 
the course of its entire development. 

We are now in a position to prescribe a cor- 
rect place for the factor " sense in nonsense," 
{see Introduction, page 8), to which the authors 
ascribe so much significance in respect to the 

recognition of wit and the explanation of the 
pleasurable effect. The two firmly established 
points in the determination of wit — its tendency 
to carry through the pleasureful play, and its 
effort to guard it against the criticism of reason 
— make it perfectly clear why the individual 
witticism, even though it appear nonsensical 
from one point of view, must appear full of 
meaning or at least acceptable from another. 
How it accomplishes this is the business of the 
wit-work; if it is not successful it is relegated 
to the category of " nonsense." Nor do we find 
it necessary to deduce the resultant pleasure 
of wit from the conflict of feelings which 
emerge either directly or by way of " confu- 
sion and clearness," from the simultaneous 
sense and nonsense of the wit. There is just 
as little necessity for our delving deeper into 
the question how pleasure can come from the 
succession of that part of the wit considered 
senseless and from that part recognized as 
senseful. The psychogenesis of wit has taught 
us that the pleasure of wit arises from word- 
play or from the liberation of nonsense, and 
that the sense of wit is meant only to 
guard this pleasure against suppression through 


Jeit and Wit 

Thus the problem of the essential character 
of wit could almost be explained by means of 
the jest. We may follow the development of 
the jest until it reaches its height in the tend- 
ency-wit. The jest gives tendency a prior 
position when it is a question of supplying us 
with pleasure, and it is content when its utter- 
ance does not appear utterly senseless or in- 
sipid. But if this utterance is substantial and 
valuable the jest changes into wit. A thought, 
which would have been worthy of our interest 
even when expressed in the most unpretentious 
form, is now invested in a form which must in 
itself excite our sense of satisfaction. Such 
an association we cannot help thinking cer- 
tainly has not come into existence unintention- 
ally; we must make effort to divine the inten- 
tion at the bottom of the formation of wit. 
An incidental observation, made once before, 
will put us on the right track. We have al- 
ready remarked that a good witticism gives 
us, so to speak, a general feeling of satisfac- 
tion without our being able to decide offhand 
which part of the pleasure comes from the 
witty form and which part from the excellent 
thought contained in the context (p. 181). We 
are deceiving ourselves constantly about this 

di r k ion; win liiw s wc anrnkat die qodfty^ of 
dfee wit OD ^iiHB i l of cnr mdaamtitrnk for tiie 

• I I I ■ '^ ( I 

orerestmixtr tiie tsIdc of tiie Ihrn^ght oo 
eocmt €fi the {deasnrc afforded us by the witty 
mrcstmeiiL We know not wluit gires os pleas- 
ure nor at wbat we are langtHUg. Hub un- 
eertainty of our judgment, a^wimmg it to be 
a fact, may hare gircn the motive for tiie 
formation <rf wit in the Uteral sense. The 
tiioag^ sedcs the witty disguise because it 
tfaerebv recommends itsdf to oar attention and 
can tfaos appear to os more impcntant and val- 
uable than it really is; but above all because 
this di^^uise fascinates and omf uses our rea- 
son« We are apt to attribute to tbe tfaouglit 
the pleasure derired from tiie witty form, and 
we are not inclined to consider improper wbat 
bas given us pleasure, and in this way deprive 
ourselves of a source of pleasure. For if wit 
made us laugh it was because it established in 
us a mood most unfavorable to reason, which 
in turn has forced upon us that state of mind 
which was once contented with mere plajring 
and which wit has attempted to replace with 
all the means at its command. Although we 
have already established the fact that such wit 
is harmless and does not yet show a tendency» 
we may not deny that, strictly speaking, it is 




the jest alone which shows no tendency; that 
is, it serves to produce pleasure only. For wit 
is really never purposeless even if the thought 
contained therein shows no tendency and 
merely serves a theoretical, intellectual interest. 
Wit carries out its purpose in advancing the 
thought by magnifying it and by guarding it 
against reason. Here again it reveals its orig- 
inal nature in that it sets itself up against an 
inhibiting and restrictive power, or against the 
critical judgment. 

The first use of wit, which goes bej'ond the 
mere production of pleasure, points out the 
road to be followed. Wit is now recognized 
as a powerful psychic factor whose weight can 
decide the issue if it falls into this or that side 
of the scale. The great tendencies and im- 
pulses of our psychic life enlist its service for 
their own purposes. The original purposeless 
wit, which began as play, becomes related in a 
secondary manner to tendencies from which 
nothing that is formed in psychic life can 
escape for any length of time. We already 
know what it can achieve in the service of the 
exhibitionistic, aggressive, cynical, and scepti- 
cal tendencies. In the case of obscene wit, 
which originated in the smutty joke, it makes 
a confederate of the third person who orig- 
inally disturbed the sexual situation, by giving 



him pleasure through the utterance which 
causes the woman to be ashamed in his pres- 
ence. In the case of the aggressive tendency, 
wit by the same means changes the original in- 
diflFerent hearers into active haters and scom- 
ers, and in this way confronts the enemy with 
a host of opponents where formerly there was 
but one. In the first case it overcomes the in- 
hibitions of shame and decorum by the pleas- 
ure premium whicli it offers. In the second 
case it overthrows the critical judgment which 
would otherwise have examined the dispute in 
question. In the third and fourth cases where 
wit is in the service of the cynical and sceptical 
tendency, it shatters the respect for institu- 
tions and truths in wliich the hearer had be- 
lieved, first by strengthening the argument, 
and secondly by resorting to a new method of 
attack. Where the argument seeks to draw 
the hearer's reason to its side, wit strives to 
push aside this reason. There is no doubt that 
wit has chosen the way which is psychologically 
more efiScacious. 

The Development into Tendency-mt 

What impressed us in reviewing the achieve- 
ments of tendency-wit was the effect it pro- 
duced on the hearer. It is more important. 



^f liowevei 


lowever, to understand the effect produced by 
wit on the psychic life of the person who makes 
it, or more precisely expressed, on the psychic 
life of the person who conceives it. Once be- 
fore we have expressed the intention, which we 
find occasion to repeat here, that we wish to 
study the psychic processes of wit in regard 
to its apportionment between two persons. 
We can assume for the present that the psychic 
process aroused by wit in the hearer is usuaUy 
an imitation of the psychic processes of the wit 
producer. The outer inlilbitions which are to 
be overcome in the hearer correspond to the 
inner inhibitions of the wit producer. In the 
latter the expectation of the outer hindrance 
exists, at least as an inhibiting idea. The inner 
hindrance, which is overcome in tendency-wit, 
is evident in some single cases; for example, in 
Mr. N.'s joke (p. 28) we can assume that it 
not only enables the hearer to enjoy the pleas- 
ure of the aggression through injuries but it 
also makes it possible for him to produce the 
wit in the first place. Of the different kinds 
of inner inhibitions or suppressions one is 
especially worthy of our interest because it is 
the most far-reaching. We designate that 
form by the term " repression." It is char- 
acterized by the fact that it excludes from con- 
sciousness certain former emotions and their 

?!<K} BTK 


|H'<xiiiH4. We shall learn -flott h mlimj wA 
M^Jt* in capable of liheratmg 
iiiHiic*('<i (Iml have undergane 
i^vuc'cMuiiW of outer hizidri 
ftiicci, (ti the manner indicated 
iHliihlllcHiM and repressions 
tiHilciM'y wit proves more denSj- iftm 
niUcr cic'vc'topmcntal stage of wit Ikat tte 
I'luiiMiic r of wit-nialdng is to act free pleaaiiEe 
hy it-iHoviiiK inhibitions. It reinf oracs tadeDcks 
(•) wbuJi it ifivos its serviees by bringn^ Abb 
NfiibicilMiii^c) from repressed emotions; or ft pob 
übt If n( (be disposal of the repressed tcDd* 
ciuiüti ilircrily. 

Oiu? iiiitv rc'iicblv concede that these are tte 
fiiiiiiiiuiti of ioiidoncy-wit, but one must ne^- 
c^rUu'Ueitt Htbiiii that wc do not understand in 
M^bHi iimiuic*r those functions can succeed in 
niviniipbtthin^ iboir end. The power of tend- 
eiu\Y-wit iHin.NiNts in the pleasure which it de- 
rives from the MHinvs of word-plays and lib- 
erated luuismse, and if one can judge from 
tlie iinpressiiuis rtHvivtnl from purposeless jests» 
one cannot possil>ly consider the amount of the 
pleasure so great as to l)elieve that it has the 
power to annul dtvp-nx^ted inhibitions and re- 
pressions. As a matter of fact we do not deal 
here with a simple propelling power but rather 
with a more complicated mechanism. Instead 


r tof covering the long circuitous route through 
■which I arrived at an understanding of this re* 
lationship, I shall endeavor to demonstrate it by 
a short synthetic route. 

G. Th. Fechner has established the principle 
of aesthetic assistance or enhancement which he 
explains in the following words : " From the 
unopposed meeting of pleasurable states (Be- 
dingungen) which individually accomplish lit' 
tie, there results a greater, often much greater 
resultant pleasure than is warranted by the 
rum of the pleasure values of the separate 
Hates, or a greater result than could be ac- 
counted for as the sum of the individual ef- 
fects; in fact the mere meeting of this kind can 
result in a positive pleasure product which 
overflows the threshold of pleasure when the 
factors taken separately are too weak to ac- 
complish this. The only condition is that in 
comparison to others they must produce a 
greater sense of satisfaction." ' I am of the 
opinion that the theme of wit does not give us 
the opportunity to test the correctness of this 
principle which is demonstrable in many other 
artistic fields. But from wit we have learned 
something, which at least comes near this prin- 
ple, namely, that in a co-operation of many 

• Vonchule der dtilhvlik. Vol. 1, V, p. 51, 8nd Ed., Leipdfi 

pieasiire-producdng factors we are in no posi- 
tion to assign to each one the resultant part 
which really belongs to it (see p. 131 ) . But the 
situation assumed in the principle of assistance 
can be Taried. and for these new conditions we 
can formulate the following combination of 
questions which are worthy of a reply. What 
usually happens if in one constellation there is 
a meeting of pleasurable and painful condi- 
tions? Upon what depwids the result and the 
previous intimations of the result? Tendency- 
wit particularly shows these possibilities. 
There is one feeling or impulse which strives 
to liberate pleasure from a certain source and 
under unrestricted conditions certainly would 
liberate it, but there is another impulse whidi 
works against this development of pleasure, 
that is, which inhibits or suppresses it. The 
suppressing stream, as the result shows, must 
be somewhat stronger than the one suppressed, 
which however is by no means destroyed. 

The Fore-pUaaure Principle 
But now there appears another impulse 
which strives to set free pleasure by this identi- 
cal process, even though from different sources 
it thus acts like the suppressed stream. What 
can be the result in such a case? An example 
can make this clearer than this sdiematizati<m. 



There is an impulse to insult a certain person; 
but this is so strongly opposed by a feeling 
of decorum and testhetic culture that the im- 
pulse to insult must be crushed. If, for exam- 
ple, by virtue of some changed emotional state 
the insult should happen to break through, this 
insulting tendency would subsequently be pain- 
fully perceived. Therefore the insult is omit- 
ted. There is a possibility, however, of mak- 
ing good wit from the words or thoughts which 
would have served in the insult; that is, pleas- 
ure can be set free from other sources without 
being hindered by the same suppression. But 
the second development of pleasure would have 
to be foregone if the insulting quality of the 
wit were not allowed to come out, and as the 
latter is allowed to come to the surface, it is 
connected with the new release of pleasure. 
Experience with tendency-wit shows that under 
such circumstances the suppressed tendency 
can become so strengthened by the aid of wit- 
pleasure as to overcome the otherwise stronger 
inhibition. One resorts to insults because wit 
is thereby made impossible. But the satisfac- 
tion thus obtained is not produced by wit 
alone; it is incomparably greater, in fact it is 
by so much greater than the pleasure of the 
wit, that we must assume that the former sup- 
pressed tendency has succeeded in breaking 


through, perhaps without the need of an out- 
let. Under these circumstances tendency-wit 
causes the most prolific laughter. 

Perhaps the investigation of the determina- 
tions of laughter will aid us in forming a 
clearer picture of the process of the aid of wit 
against suppression. But we see even now 
that the case of tendency-wit is a special case 
of the principle of aid. A possibility of the 
development of pleasure enters into a situation 
in which another pleasure possibihty is so 
hindered that individually it would not result 
in pleasure. The result is a development of 
pleasure which is greater by far than the added 
possibility. The latter acted, as it were, as an 
alluring premium; with the aid of a small sum 
of pleasure a very large and almost inaccessi- 
ble amount is obtained. I have good grounds 
for thinking that this principle corresponds to 
an arrangement which holds true in many 
widely separated spheres of the psychic life, 
and I consider it appropriate to designate the 
pleasure serving to liberate the large sum of 
pleasure as fore-pleasure and the principle as 
the principle of fore-pleasure. 

Play-pleasure and Bemoval-pletaure 

The effect of tendency-wit may now be 
formulated as follows: It enters the service of 

^r tenden 


tendendes in order to produce new pleasure by 
removing suppressions and repressions. This it 
does, using wit-pleasure as fore-pleasure. 
When we now review its development we may 
say that wit has remained true to its nature 
from b^inning to end. It begins as play in 
order to obtain pleasure from the free use of 
words and thoughts. As soon as the growing 
reason forbids this senseless play with words 
and thoughts, it turns to the jest or joke in 
order to hold to these sources of pleasure and 
in order to be able to gain new pleasure from 
the liberation of the absurd. In the role of 
harmless wit it assists the thoughts and forti- 
fies them against the impugnment of the criti- 
cal judgment, whereby it makes use of the 
principle of intermingling the pleasure-sources. 
Finally, it enters into the great struggling 
suppressed tendencies in order to remove inner 
inhibitions in accordance with the principle of 
fore-pleasure. Reason, critical judgment, and 
suppression, these are the forces which it com- 
bats in turn. It firmly holds on to the original 
word-pleasure sources, and beginning with the 
stage of the jest opens for itself new pleasure 
sources by removing inhibition. The pleasure 
which it produces, be it play-pleasure or re- 
moval-pleasure, can at all times be traced to 
the economy of psychic expenditure, in so far 



as sucfa a conception does not contradict UK 
nature of pleasure, and proves itself produc- 
, tire also in other fields.' 

I b Oil trcaUM^ dcMTie ■ 

la *irv «r tiK slgnifleuce attrOwtal bf out oooecpUiMi fa» UM 
bctor 'waat I* noaaatte," one migbt be tempted to ■*——-* 
Itet enrj witUciaai rtKNild be ■ tMrnaenw-joke. Bat tfaii b not 
a tca» t r j. became onlj the pUy with thoii|ltb iDcritaM; leadi 
to DOnamcc^ wbetcu tbe other source of wit-pleasure, Hk pUf 
wfth word*, nukes tbii imprcsiian inddental and does not rtgor 
Urlf invoke tbe criticisin connected with it Tbe donbk root of 
wll-pleasure — frooi the play with words and thoughts, which 
corre&ponds to the most Important diiision into word- and thou^t- 
witUdnn« — sets its face against a sliort fonnatation of general 
prindplct about wit as a tangible aggraiatJoa of HUKphIh^, 
Ibe plaf with words produces laughter, as is well known, in con- 
aeqnence of tlie factor of recofnition described above, and tber»- 
fore suffers suppression only in a small degree. TTie play with 
thoughts conoot be motivated through such pie »sure; it has 
suffered a very energetic suppression and the pleasure which It 
«n give is only Uie pleasure of released inhibltioiis. AmiTdingly 
one may say that wit-pleasure shows a kernel of tbe original 
play-pleasure and a shell of removal-pleasure. Naturally we 
do not grant that the pleasure in nonsense-wit is due to the 
fact that we have succeeded in making nonsense despite tbe sup- 
pression, while we do notice that the play with words gives ti5 
pleasure. Nonsense, which has remained fixed in thought wit, 
acquires secondarily the function of stimulating our attention 
through confusion. It serves as a reinforcement of the effect of 
wit, but only when it fs insistent, so that tbe confusion coa 
anticipate the intellect by a definite fraction of time. Hilt 
nonsense In wit may also he employed to «present a judgment 
contained within the thought faas been demonstrated by the ex- 
unple on p. 73. But even this h not the primal signification of 
Bonsense In wit. 

A series of wit-like productions for which we have no appn^ 
priate oame, but which may lay claim to the designation of 



*«ftty BOBKBM»* miy be added to the nonsense- Jokes. They 

bat I shall cite only two examples i As the 
to a guest at the table he put both hnnds twice 
faito the mqromiaiie uid then ran them through his hair, nctng 
looked at fajr Us nei^ibor with astonishment he seemed to have 
noticed Ids nriitakr and excnsed liimself» sayings ** Pardon me» 
I tbooght it was sptnadL** 

Ort "Ute it Bke a suspension bridge^ said the one. ** How la 
that?* aiked the other. ''How should I know?*' was the answer. 

Thew e xtr e m e eaamples produce an effect through the fact that 
Ifaej give rise to tbe expectation of wit, so that one makes the 
effort to find the hidden sense behind the nonsense. Dut none 
if foondt tfaej axe really nonsense. Under that deception it was 
IMTwtW* for one moment to liberate the pleasure in nonsense. 
These wittielsms are not altogether without tendrncics, thry fur- 
bUi the narrator a certain pleasure in that they drcriTe and 
annoy the hearer. The latter then calms his anger by resolving 
that he hfantelf dionld take the place of the narrator. 


It seems superfluous to speak of the motives 
of wit, since the purpose of obtaining pleasure 
must be recognized as a sufficient motive of the 
wit-work. But on the one hand it is not im- 
possible that still other motives participate in 
the production of wit, and on the other hand, 
in view of certain well-known experiences, the 
theme of the subjective determination of wit 
must be discussed. 

Two things above all urge us to it. Though 
wit-making is an excellent means of obtaining 
pleasure from the psychic processes, we know 
that not all persons are equally able to make 
use of it. Wit-making is not at the disposal 
of all, in general there are but a few persons 
to whom one can point and say that they are 
witty. Here wit seems to be a special ability 
somewhere within the region of the old " psy- 
chic faculties," and this shows itself in its ap- 
pearance as fairly independent of the other 
faculties such as intelligence, phantasy, mem- 
ory, etc. A special talent or psychic de- 



termination permitting or favoring wit-making 
must be presupposed in all. wit-makers. 

I am afraid that we shall not get very far 
in the exploration of this theme. Only now 
and then do we succeed in proceeding from 
the understanding of a single witticism to the 
knowledge of the subjective determinations in 
the mind of the wit-maker. It is quite acci- 
dental that the example of wit with which we 
began our investigation of the wit-technique 
permits us also to gain some insight into the 
subjective determination of the witticism. I 
am referring to Heine's witticism, to which also 
Heymans and Lipps have paid attention. 

"I was sitting next to Solomon Rothschild 
and he treated me just as an equal, quite fa- 
mälionaire " {" Bäder von Lucca ") . 

Subjective Determination of the " Famillion~ 
aire " Witticism, 

Heine put this word in the mouth of a com- 
ical person, Hirsch-Hyacinth, collector, oper- 
ator and tax appraiser from Hamburg, and 
valet of the aristocratic baron, Cristoforo Gum- 
pelino (formerly Gumpel). Evidently the 
poet has experienced great pleasure in these 
productions, for he allows Hirsch-Hyacinth to 
talk big and puts in his mouth the most amus- 


ing and most candid utterances; he positively 
endows him with the practical wisdom of a 
Sancho Panza. It is a pity that Heine, as it 
seems, had no liking for this dramatic figure 
and that he drops the delightful character so 
soon. From many passages it would seem that 
the poet himself is speaking behind the trans- 
parent mask of Hirsch-Hyacinth, and we are 
quite convinced that this person is nothing but 
a parody of the poet himself. Hirsch tells of 
reasons why he has discarded his former name 
and now calls himself Hyacinth. " Besides I 
have the advantage," he continues, " of having 
an H on my seal already, and therefore I am 
in no need of having a new letter engraved." 
But Heine himself resorted to this economy 
when he changed his surname " Harry " to 
" Heinrich '* at his baptism. Every one ac- 
quainted with the life of the poet will recall 
that in Hamburg, where one also meets the 
personage Hirsch-Hyacinth, Heine had an un- 
cle of the same name, who played the greatest 
role in Heine's life as the wealthy member of 
the family. The uncle's name was likewise Sol- 
omon, just like the elderly Rothschild who 
treated the impecunious Hirsch on such a fa- 
millionaire basis. \\Tiat seems to be merely 
I jest in the mouth of Hirsch-Hyacinth sooo 
reveals a background of earnest bitterness 




when we attribute it to the nephew Harry- 
Heinrich. For he belonged to the family, nay, 
more, it was his earnest wish to marry a 
daughter of this uncle, but she refused him, 
and his uncle always treated him on a some- 
what famillionaire basis, as a poor relative. 
His rich relatives in Hamburg always dealt 
with him condescendingly. I recall the story 
of one of his old aunts by marriage who, when 
she was still young and pretty, sat next to some 
one at a family dinner who seemed to her un- 
prepossessing and whom the other members 
of the family treated shabbily. She did not 
feel herself called upon to be any more con- 
descending towards him. Only many years 
later did she discover that the careless and 
neglected cousin was the poet Heinrich Heine. 
We know from many a record how keenly 
Heine suffered from these repulses at the 
hands of his wealthy relatives in his youth and 
during later years. The witticism " famillion- 
aire " grew out of the soil of such a subjective 
emotional feeling. 

One may suspect similar subjective determin- 
ations in many other witticisms of the great 
scoffers, but I know of no other example by 
which one can show this in such a convincing 
way. It is therefore hazardous to venture a 
more definite opinion about the nature of this 


jwrsonal determination. Furthermore, one is 
not inclined in the first place to claim similar 
complicated conditions for the origin of each 
and every witticism. Neither are the witty 
productions of other celebrated men better 
suited to give us the desired insight into the 
subjective determination of wit. In fact, cme 
gels the impression that the subjective de- 
termination of wit production is oftentimes not 
unrelated to persons suflfering from neurotic 
diseases, when, for example, one learns that 
Lichtenberg was a confirmed hypochondriac 
burdened with all kinds of eccentricities. The 
great majority of witticisms, especially those 
produced from current happenings, are anoay- 
mous; one might be inquisitive to know niiat 
kind of people they are who originate them. 
The physician occasionally has an opportunity 
to make a study of persons who, if not re- 
nowned wits, are recognized in their circle as 
witty and as originators of many passable wit- 
ticisms; he is often surprised to find sudi per^ 
sons showing dissociated personalities and a 
predisposition to nervous affectiaos. However, 
owing to insufficient data, we certainly cannot 
maintain that such a psychoneurotic constitu- 
ticm is a regular or necessary subjective coo- 
1 for wit-making. 
. dearer case is afforded by Jewidi vitt^ 



dsms which, as before mentioned, are made ex- 
clusively by Jews themselves, whereas Jewish 
stories of different origin rarely rise above the 
level of the comical strain or of brutal mock- 
ery (p. 166). The determination for the self- 
participation here, as in Heine's joke " fa- 
miliionaire," seems to be due to the fact that 
the person finds it difficult to express directly 
his criticism or aggression and is thus com- 
pelled to resort to by-ways. 

Other subjective determinations or favora- 
ble conditions for wit-making are less shrouded 
in darkness. The motive for the production of 
harmless wit is usually the ambitious impulse 
to display one's spirit or to " show off." It is 
an impulse comparable to the impulse toward 
sexual exhibition. The existence of numerous 
inhibited impulses whose suppression retains 
some weakness produces a stale favorable for 
the production of tendenc^'-wit. Thus certain 
single components of the sexual constitution 
may appear as motives for wit-formation. A 
whole series of obscene witticisms lead one to 
the conclusion that a person who gives origin 
to such wit conceals a desire to exhibit. Per- 
sons having a powerful sadistical component in 
their sexualitj', which is more or less inhibited 
in life, are most successful with the tendency- 
"wit of aggression. 

The ImpuUe to Impart Wit 

The second fact which impels one to examine 
the subjective determination of wit is the com- 
mon experience that nobody is satisfied with 
making wit for himself. Wit-making is insep- 
arably connected with the desire to impart it; 
in fact this impulse is so strong that it is often 
realized after overcoming strong objections. 
In the comic, too, one experiences pleasure by 
imparting it to another person; but this is not 
imperative; one can enjoy the comic alone 
when one happens on it. Wit, on the other 
hand, must be imparted. Apparently the 
process of wit-formation does not end with the 
conception of wit. There remains something 
which strives to complete the mysterious process 
of wit-formation by imparting it. 

We cannot conjecture, in the first place, 
what may have motivated the impulse to im- 
part wit. But in wit we notice another pe- 
culiarity which again distinguishes it from the 
comic. If I encounter the latter I can laugh 
heartily over it alone; I am naturally pleased 
if by imparting it to some one else I make him 
laugh too. In the case of wit, however, which 
occurs to me or which I have made, I cannot 
laugh over it in spite of the unmistakable feel- 
ing of pleasiire which I experience in the wit- 

Bat «i^ do I not kn«^ aver arr o«a joke? 
Aad «fcst rale does the otber penon plij in 

Let us conaider the last odctt firsL In the 
^"f"** oaMlly two ppr^'Mifc ecue into coosidenk* 
ban. Bcsna n^ onm ego tnerc h anotner pcp- 
soa in vlran I fiwJ «nw^rf l f i ng eocnic; if ol>- 
jeeta appcu comkad to me, it takes [dace by 
means of a sort of penomficatton wfaich is not 
imriwiiiinn in our ootioDal life. The eoniie 
I HUc ea s is satisfied with these two persoos, the 
c;gD and the object person: there may also be 
a third person, but it is not obligatory. Wit 
as a pUv with one's own words and thoughts 
at first dispenses with an object person, but 
already, upon the first step of the jest, it de- 
mands another person to whom it can impart 
its result, if it has succeeded in safeguarding 
play and nonsense against the remonstrance 
of reason. The second person in wit does not, 
however, correspond to the object person, but 
to the third person who is the other perstm in 
the comic. It seems that in the jest the deci- 
sion as to whether wit has fulfilled its task is 
tnmsf erred to the other person, as if the ego 



were not quite certain of its opinion in the 
matter. The harmless wit is also in need of 
the other person's support in order to ascer- 
tain whether it has accomplished its purpose. 
If wit enters the service of sexual or hostile 
tendencies, it can be described as a psychic 
process among three persons, just as in the 
comic, with the exception that there the third 
person plays n different role. The psychic 
process of wit is consummated here between 
the first person — the ego, and the third person 
— the stranger, and not, as in the comic, be- 
tween the ego and tlie object person. 

Also, in the case of the third person of wit, 
the wit is confronted with subjective determina- 
tions which can make the goal of the pleasure- 
stimulus imattainable. As Shakespeare says 
in Love'» Labor's Lost (Act V, Scene 2) : 

" A jest's prosperity lies in the ear 
Of him that hears it, never in the tongue 
Of him that makes it." 

He whose thoughts ran in sober channels is 
incompetent to declare whether or not the jest 
is a good one. He himself must be in a jovial, 
or at least indifferent, state of mind in order 
to become the third person of tlie jest. The 
ksame hindrance is present in the case of both 



hiLniiless and tendency wit; but in the latter 
the aDtagonism to the tendency which wishes 
to serve wit, appears as a new hindrance. The 
readiness to laugh about an excellent smutty 
joke cannot manifest itself if the exposure con- 
cerns an honored kinsman of the third person. 
In an assemblage of divines and pastors no one 
would dare to refer to Heine's comparison of 
Catholic and Protestant priests as retail deal- 
ers and employees of a wholesale business. In 
the presence of my opponent's friends the wit- 
tiest invectives with which I might assail him 
would not be considered witticisms but invec- 
tives, and in tbe minds of my bearers it would 
innate not pleasure, but indignation. A cer- 
tain amount of willingness or a certain indif- 
ference, the absence of all factors which might 
evoke strong feelings in opposition to the tend- 
ency, are absolute conditions for the participa- 
tion of the third person in the completion of 
the wit process. 

The Thvd Perton of ike WitticUm 

Wherever such hindrances to the operation 
of wit fail, we see the phenomenon which we 
are now investigating, namely, that the pleas- 
ure which the wit has provided manifests itself 
more clearly in the third person than in the 




originator of the wit. We must be satisfied to 
use tlie expression " more clearly " where we 
should be inclined to ask whether the pleasure 
of the hearer is not more intensive than that of 
the wit producer, because we are obviously 
lacking the means of measuring and comparing 
it. We see, however, that the hearer shows his 
pleasure by means of explosive laughter after 
the first person, in most cases with a serious 
expression on his face, has related the joke. 
If I repeat a witticism which I have heard, I 
am forced, in order not to spoil its effect, to 
conduct myself during its recital exactly like 
him who made it. We may now put the ques- 
tion whether from this determination of 
laughter over wit we can draw conclusions con- 
cerning the psychic process of wit-formation. 

Now it cannot be our intention to take into 
consideration everything that has been asserted 
and printed about the nature of laughter. We 
are deterred from this imdertaking by the 
statement which Dugas, one of Ribot's pupils, 
put at the beginning of his book Psychologie 
du rire (1902). "II n'est pas de fait plus 
banal et plus etudie que le rire, U n'en est pas 
qui ait eu le don d'exciter davantage la curi- 
osite du vulgaire et celle des phUosopbes, il n'ent 
est pas sur lequel on ait recueUli plus d'ob- 
servations et bäti plus de theories, et avec cela 



I n'en est pas qui demeure plus inexpliqu^, on 
"serait tente de dire avec les sceptiques qu'il 
faut etre content de rire et de ne pas chercher 
iL savoir pourquoi on rit, d'autant que peut-etre 
le reflexion tue le rire, et qu'il serait alors con- 
tradictoire qu'elle en decouvrit les causes " 
(page 1). 

On the other hand, we must make sure to 
utilize for our purposes a view of the mechan- 
ism of laughter which fits our own realm of 
thought excellently. I refer to the attempted 
explanation of H. Spencer in his essay entitled 
Physiology of Laughter^ 

According to Spencer laughter is a phenom- 
enon of discharge of psychic irritation, and an 
evidence of the fact that the psychic utilization 
of this irritation has suddenly met with a 
hindrance. The psychological situation, which 
discharges itself in laughter, he describes in the 
following words : " Laughter naturally results 
only when consciousness is unawares trans- 
ferred from great things to small — only when 
there is what we call a descending incongru- 

' H. Spencer, Th» PXytiology of LaughttT <flrrt publbhed fa 
MaemiHa^'i Magatiiie for March, 1860), Essays, Vol. II, 1901. 

•Different poinls in this deelaratlon woold demand an ei- 
hanstlTe Inquiry into an inTestigation of the pleasure of the 
comie, a thing that other authors have already done, and which, 
ftt all CTcnts, does not touch our diKusaion. It (cema to ma 

restraiDt," seems to me to appnwdi . 
Spencer's conceptions nearer than many 
authors would have us believe. 

However, we experience Ibe desire to mod- 
ify Spencer's thought; to give a more definite 
meaning to some of the ideas and to change 
others. W'c would say that laughter arises 
when the sum total of psychic energy, formerly 
used for the occupation of certain psychic 
channels, has become unutilizable so that it can 
experience absolute discharge. We know what 
criticism such a declaration invites, but for our 

that Sp«iu«r was not happj in his explanation of wfaf the dia- 
charge happens to find just that path, the excJIempnt of whidi 
results In the phfsicol picture of laughter. 1 should like to add 
one Jiingle contrihulion to the subject of tiie phj-siologkal ex* 
planntion of laughter, that ia, to the derivation or interpretation 
of tlie niuBculur acttons that characteriie laughler— a subject 
that has been often treated before and since Darwin, but which 
bag never been conclusively settled. According to the best of 
my knowledge the grimaces and contortions of the corners of Öie 
mouth Uiat characteriie laughter appear first in the satisfied and 
aatiatcd nursling when be drowsily quits the breasts. There It 
Is a correct motion of expression since It bespeaks the detcr- 
minalion to lake no more nouri.shment, an " enough," so to speak, 
or rather a "• more than enough." This primal sense of pleunr- 
«ble satiation may have furnished the smile, which ever remalni 
the basic phenomenon of laughler, the later connection 
pleasurable processes of discharge. 



dcfcoK we daax exte <i pertliiait quiitatioit firam 
lipps's treatiae oa Krjmik find Humor, an 
analyab widdi tiiraw!« ligfat on otfier problems 
besides tbe omiic and faumnr. He svs: "^ In 
tbe end indmdnal puTcimLoincal problems at- 
ways kad as fairly deeply into ^wj^iioiaf^^ so 
tiiat fimdamnrtally nn psychnlnincal problem 
may be oonsdered by itself*' /p. 71;. Tbe 
terms '^psydde €ncn?yr'' ** discfaarge^'^ and tiie 
treatment of psychic energy as a quantity have 
beeome babitoal modes of rfifti^TTTg since I be* 
gm to explain to myself the fact of psycho» 
pathology philosophically. Being of the same 
opinion as lipps I ha^e essayed to represent 
in my Interpretaünn of DreaTtm the nn- 
oonscions psydiic processes as real entities, and 
I have not represented the conscious contents 
as the " real psychic activity/' ' Only when I 
speak aboot the ** investing energy (Besetzung) 

'Cf. Tl# Imi^rprttatum nr Dm*wmä, Outp. VTI, also O» tks 
Pwytkie Fwrc9, «tew in 0« «Jwv« rtted btiok of lipps (p. 125), 
where he scjs: "Thto b the jpeneral principfe: The daramaiit 
fMors of the psychic life «re not represented bj the cunlcnts 
of consdoiisness bfit by those psychic processes which «re v»> 
coDscioiis. The task of psyrholofsj, pn ifi d ed it does not fimH 
Rseif to a mere description of the content of conscioasness» anst 
also consist of rereaiing the natnre of these nn co na r ion s processes 
fhini the nstnre of the contests of conschnisuess and its ten»* 
poral relationship. PsycholoirT most itself be a theorj of tiiese 
processes. But such a psjdiology wiD sooo And that tiiere 
exist quite a mnnber of diaracteristics of tibese processes which 
•fe nnreprescBted in tiie eonespoD&ig co ntents of 

of psychic channels," do I seem to devi- 
ate from the analogies that Lipps uses. The 
knowledge that I have gained about the fact 
that psychic energy can be displaced from one 
idea to another along certain association chan- 
nels, and about the almost indestructible con- 
servation of the traces of psychic processes, 
have actually made it possible for me to at- 
tempt such a representation of the unknown. 
In order to obviate the possibility of a misun- 
derstanding I must add that I am making no 
attempt to proclaim that cells and fibers, or i 
the neuron system in vogue nowadays, repre- 
sent these psychic paths, even if such paths 
would have to be represented by the organic 
elements of the nervous system in a manner 
which cannot yet be indicated. 

Laughter as a Dückarge 

Thus, according to our assumption, the con- 
ditions for laughter are such that a sum of 
psychic energy hitherto employed in the occu- 
pation of some paths may experience free dis- 
charge. And since not all laughter, (but ' 
surely the laughter of wit), is a sign of pleas- 
ure, we shall be inclined to refer this pleasure 
to the release of previously existing static 
energy {Besetzungsenergie) . When w 


that the hearer of the witticism laughs, while 
the creator of the same camiot, then that must 
indicate that in the hearer a sum of damming 
energy has been released and discharged, 
whereas during the wit formation, either in the 
release or in the discharge, inhibitions resulted. 
One can characterize the psychic process in the 
hearer, in the third person of the witticism, 
hardly more pointedly than by asserting that 
he has bought the pleasure of the witticism 
with very little expenditure on his part. One 
might say that it is presented to him. The 
words of the witticism which he hears necessar- 
ily produce in him that idea or thought-connec- 
tion whose formation in him was also resisted 
by great inner hindrances. He would }iave 
had to make an effort of his own in order to 
bring it about spontaneously like the first per- 
son, or he would have had to put forth at least 
as much psychic expenditure as to equalize the 
force of the suppression or repression of the 
inhibition. This psychic expenditure he has 
saved himself; according to our former discus- 
sion (p. 80) we should say that his pleasure 
corresponds to this economy. Following oiu* 
tmderstanding of the mechanism of laughter 
we should be more likely to say that the static 
energy utilized in the inhibition has now sud- 
denly become superfluous and neutralized be- 


cause a forbidden idea came into existence on 
the way to auditory perception and is there- 
fore ready to be discharged through laughter. 
Essentially both statements amount to the 
same thing, for the economized expenditure 
corresponds exactly to the now superfluous in- 
hibition. The latter statement is more obvious, 
for it permits us to say that the hearer of the 
witticism laughs with the amount of psychic 
energy which was Uberated by the suspension 
of inhibition energy; that is, he laughs away, 
as it were, this amount of psychic energy. 

Why the First Person Does Not Laugh 

If the person in whom the witticism is 
formed cannot laugh, then it indicates, as we 
have just remarked, that there is a deviation 
from the process in the case of the third per- 
son which concerns either the suspension of the 
inhibition energy or the discharge possibihty of 
the same. But the first of the two cases is in- 
conclusive, as we must presently see. The in- 
hibition energy of the first person must have 
been dissipated, for otherwise there would have 
been no witticism, the formation of which had 
to overcome just such a resistance. Otherwise, 
too, it would have been impossible for the first 
person to experience the wit-pleasure which the 




removal of the inhibition forced us to deduce. 
But there remains a second possibility, namely, 
that even though he experienced pleasure the 
first person cannot laugh, because the possibil- 
ity of discharge has been disturbed. In the 
production of laughter such discharge is es- 
sential; an interruption in the possibiUty of dis- 
charge might result from the attachment of 
the freed occupation energy to some immediate 
endopsychic possibility. It is well that we have 
become cognizant of this possibility; we shall 
soon pay more attention to it. But with the 
wit-maker still another condition leading to the 
same result is possiMe. Perhaps, after all, no 
appreciable amount of energy has been liber- 
ated, in spite of the successful release of occu- 
pation energy. In the first person of the wit- 
ticism wit-work actually takes place wliich 
must correspond to a certain amount of fresh 
psychic expenditure. Thus the first person 
contributes the power which removes the inhibi- 
tions and which surely results in a gain of 
pleasiu-e for himself; in the case of tendency- 
wit it is indeed a very big gain, since the fore- 
pleasiu"e gained from the wit-work takes upon 
itself the further removal of inhibitions. But 
the expenditure of the wit-work is, in every 
case, derived from the gain which is the result 
of the removal of inhibitions; it is the same 

expenditure which escapes from the hearer of 
the witticism. To confirm what was said above 
it may be added that the witticism loses Its 
laughter effect in the third person as soon as 
an expenditure of mental work is exacted of 
him. The allusions of the witticism must be 
striking, and the omissions easily supplemented; 
with the awakening of conscious interest in 
thinking, the effect of the witticism is regularly 
made impossible. Here lies the real distinction 
between the witticism and the riddle. It may 
he that the psychic constellations during wit- 
work are not at all favorable to the free dis- 
charge of the energy gained. We are not here 
in a position to gain a deeper understanding; 
our inquiry as to why the third person laughs 
we have been able to clear up better than the 
question why the first person does not laugh. 

At any rate, if we have well in mind these 
views about the conditions of laughter and 
about the psychic process in the third person, 
we have arrived at a place where we can sat- 
isfactorily elucidate an entire series of peculiar- 
ities which are familiar in wit, but which have 
not been understood. Before an amount of 
interlocked energy, capable of discharge, is to 
be liberated in the third person, there are sev- 
eral conditions which must be fulfilled or which at 
least are desirable. 1. It must be definitely 



established that the third person really pro- 
duces this expenditure of energy. 2. Care 
must be taken that when the latter becomes 
freed that it should find another psychic use 
instead of offering itself to the motor dis- 
diarge. 8. It can be of advantage only if the 
energy to be liberated in the third person is 
first strengthened and heightened. Certain 
processes of wit-work which we can gather to- 
gether under the caption of secondary or auxil- 
iary techniques serve all these purposes. 

The first of these conditions determines one 
of the qualifications of the third person as 
hearer of the witticism. He must throughout 
be so completely in psychic harmony with the 
first person that he makes use of the same inner 
inhibitions which the wit-work has overcome in 
the first person. Whoever is focused on smutty 
jokes will not be able to derive pleasure from 
clever exhibitionistic wit. Mr. N.'s aggressions 
will not be understood by uncultured people 
who are wont to give free rein to their pleas- 
ure gained by insulting others. Every witti- 
cism thus demands its own public, and to laugh 
over the same witticisms is a proof of absolute 
psychic agreement. We have indeed arrived at 
a point where we are at libert>' to examine even 
more thoroughly the process in the third per- 
son's mind. The latter must be able habitually 

to produce the same inhibition which the joke 
has surmounted in the first person, so that, as 
soon as he hears the joke, there awakens within 
him compulsively and automatically a readiness 
for this inhibition. This readiness for the in- 
hibition, which I must conceive as a true ex- 
penditure analogous to the mobilization of an 
army, is simultaneously recognized as super- 
fluous or as belated, and is thus immediately 
discharged in its nascent state through the 
channel of laughter.' 

The second condition for the production of 
the free discharge, a cutting off of any other 
outlets for the liberated energ>', seems to me of 
far greater importance. It furnishes the theo- 
retical explanation for the uncertainty of the 
effect of wit; if the thoughts expressed in the 
witticism evoke very exciting ideas in the 
hearer, {depending on the agreement or antag- 
onism between the wit's tendencies and the 
train of thought dominating the hearer), the 
witty process either receives or is refused at- 
tention. Of still greater theoretical interest, 
however, are a series of auxiliary wit-tech- 
niques which obviously serve the purpose of 
diverting the attention of the listeners from the 

■ Heymalis (ZeiUchrift far Fiyehol, XI) has taken np the 
viewpoint of the nascent state In a somewhat different con- 


wit-process so as to allow the latter to proceed 
automatically. I advisedly use the term " auto- 
matically " rather than " unconsciously " be- 
cause the latter designation might prove mis- 
leading. It is only a question of keeping the 
psychic process from getting more than its 
share of attention during the recital of the wit- 
ticism, and the usefulness of these auxiliary 
techniques permits us to assume rightfully that 
it is just the occupation of attention which has 
8 large share in the control and in the fresh 
utilization of the freed energy of occupation. 

The Automatism of the Wit-procest 

It seems to he by no means easy to avoid 
the endopsychic utilization of energy that has 
become superfluous, for in our mental processes 
we are constantly in the habit of transferring 
such emotional outputs from one path to 
another without losing any of their energy 
through discharge. Wit prevents this in the 
following way. In the first place it strives 
for the shortest possible expression in order 
to expose less points of attack to the attention. 
Secondly, it strictly adheres to the condition 
that it be easily understood (v. «.), for as soon 
as it has recourse to mental eflFort or demands 
a choice between difiFerent mental paths, it 



imperils the effect not only through the un- 
avoidable mental expenditure, but also through 
the awakening of attention. Besides this, wit 
also makes use of the artifice of diverting the 
attention by offering to it something in the ex- 
pression of the witticism which fascinates it so 
that meanwhile the liberation of inhibition 
energy and its discharge can take place undis- 
turbed. The omissions in the wording of wit 
already carry out this intention. They impel 
us to fill in the gaps and in this way they keep 
the wit-process free from attention. The tech- 
nique of the riddle, as it were, which attracts 
attention is here pressed into the service of the 
wit-work. The fa9ade formations, which we 
have already discovered in many groups of 
tendency-wit, are still more effective (see p. 
155). The syllogistical fa<;ades excellently ful- 
fill the purpose of riveting the attention by an 
allotted task. While we begin to ponder 
wherein the given answer was lacking already 
we are laughing; our attention has been sur- 
prised, and the discharge of the hberated emo- 
tional inhibition has been effected. The same 
is true of witticisms possessing a comic faqade 
in which the comic serves to assist the wit- 
technique. A comic fa<;ade promotes the ef- 
fect of wit in more than one way; it makes 
possible not only the automatism of the wit- 



process by riveting the attention, but also it 
facilitates the discharge of wit hy sending 
ahead a discharge from the comic. Here the 
effect of the comic resembles that of a fascinat- 
ing fore-pleasure, and we can thus understand 
that many witticisms are able to dispense en- 
tirely the fore-pleasures produced by other 
means of wit, and make use of only the comic 
as a fore-pleasure. Among the true techniques 
of wit it is especially displacement and rep- 
resentation through absurdity which, besides 
other properties, also develop the deviation of 
attention so desirable for the automatic dis- 
charge of the wit-process." 

We already surmise, and later will be able 
to see more clearly, that in this condition of 
deviation of attention we have disclosed no un- 

* Through an eitample of ilisplocemeDt-wlt I desire to discnis 
another interesting charaftcr of tlie tfchnlquc of wit. The 
genial actress Gallmeycr when once asked hnw old s?ie was is 
ssid to have answered this unwelcome question with ahashed and 
downcast eyes, l>y saying, " In Brunn." This is a very good 
example of displacemcnl. Hnvinjc been aslted her age, she re- 
plied by naming the place of her hirth, thus anttelpating tbe 
next query, and In this manner she wishes to Imply: "Thfa la a 
question wliirh I prefrr to pnsa by." And still we feel (hat the 
character of the witHrl5m does not here come to CTpresslon un- 
dimmed, the deviation from the question Is too obvfous; ttie 
displacement is much loo conEpieuous. Our attention under- 
stands immediately thai it is a matter of an intentlnnat dis- 
placement. In other displncement-witticlsms the dispin cement 
Is disguised and our attention U riveted by the efTort to dis- 
cover it. In one of the displacement-witticisms (p. 09) the reply 


essential characteristic of the psychic process 
in the hearer of wit. In conjunction with this, 
we can understand something more. First, 
how it happens that we rarely ever know in a 
joke why we are laughing, although by an- 
alytical investigation we can determine the 
cause. This laughing is the result of an auto- 
matic process which was first made possible by 
keeping our conscious attention at a distance. 
Secondly, we arrive at an understanding of 
that characteristic of wit as a result of which 
wit can exert its full effect on the hearer only 
when it is new and when it comes to him as 
a surprise. This property of wit, which causes 
wit to be short-lived and forever urges the 
production of new wit, is evidently due to the 
fact that it is inherent in the surprising or the 
unexpected to succeed but once, When we re- 

to the recommendation of the horse — " What in the world should 
I do in Montioello at 6:30 in the morning?"— the dispWemenI is 
also an obtrusive one, but as a substitute for it it acts upon 
the attention in a. senseless and confusing manner, whereas in 
the interrogation of the actress we know immediately bow to 
dispose of her displaeement answer. 

The so-cailed "facetious questions" which may make lue of 
the best techniques deviate from wit in other wuys. An example 
of the facetious question with displacement is the following: 
•* What is a cannibal who devours his father and mother? — An- 
swer: An orphan. — And when he has devoured all his other rela- 
tives? — Sole-heir. — And wliere can such a monster ever find 
sympathy? — In the dictionary under S." The facetloui ques- 
tions arc not full witticisms because the required w 
csoDot be guessed like the allusions, omissionsj etc., of wit. 


peat wit the awakened memory leads the at- 
tention to the first hearing. This also explains 
the desire to impart wit to others who have not 
heard it before, for the impression made by 
wit on the new hearer replenishes that part of 
the pleasm-e which has been lost by the lack of 
novelty. And an analogous motive probably 
urges the wit producer to impart his wit to 

Elements Favoring the Wit-process 

As elements favoring the wit-process, even 
if we can no longer consider them essentials, 
I present in the third place three technical 
aids to wit-work which are destined to increase 
the sums of energy to be discharged and thus 
enhance the effect of the wit. These technical 
aids also very often accentuate the attention 
directed to the wit, but they neutralize its in- 
fluence by simultaneously fascinating it and 
impeding its movements. Everj-thing that 
provokes interest and confusion exerts its in- 
fluence in these two directions. This is espe- 
cially true of the nonsense and contrast ele- 
ments, and above all the *' contrast of ideas," 
which some authors consider the essential char- 
acter of wit, but in which I see only a means 
to reinforce the effect of wit. All that is con- 



fusing evokes in the hearer that condition of 
distribution of energy which Lipps has desig- 
nated as "psychic damming"; and, doubtless, 
he has a right to assume that the force of the 
" discharge " varies with the success of the 
damming process which precedes it. Lipps's ex- 
position does not explicitly refer to wit, but to 
the comic in general, yet it seems quite prob- 
able that the discharge in wit, releasing a gush 
of inhibition energy, is brouglit to its height 
in a similar manner by means of the damming. 
At length we are aware that the technique 
of wit is really determined by two kinds of 
tendencies, those which make possible the 
formation of wit in the first person, and those 
guaranteeing that the witticism produces in the 
third person as much pleasurable effect as pos- 
sible. The Janus-like double- facedness of 
wit, which safeguards its original resultant 
pleasure against the impugnment of critical 
reason, belongs to the first tendency together 
with the mechanism of fore-pleasure; the other 
complications of technique produced by the 
conditions discussed in this chapter concern the 
third person of the witticism. Thus wit in it- 
self is a double-tongued villain which serves 
two masters at the same time. Everj'thing 
that aims toward gaining pleasure is calculated 
by the witticism to arouse the third person, as 


if inner, unsurmountable inhibitions in the first 
person were in the way of the same. Thus one 
gets the full impression of the absolute neces- 
sity of this third person for the completion of 
the wit-process. But while we have succeeded 
in obtaining a good insight concerning the na- 
ture of this process in the third person, we feel 
that the corresponding process in the first per- 
son is still shrouded in darkness. So far we 
have not succeeded in answering the first of 
our two questions: Why can we not laugh 
over wit made by ourselves? and: AVhy are we 
urged to impart our own witticisms to others? 
We can only suspect that there is an intimate 
connection between the two facts yet to be ex- 
plained, and that we must impart our wit- 
ticisms to others for the reason that we our- 
selves are unable to laugh over them. From 
our examinations of the conditions in the third 
person for pleasure gaining and pleasure dis- 
charging we can draw the conchision that in 
the first person the conditions for discharge 
are lacking and that those for gaining pleasure 
are only incompletely fulfilled. Thus it is not 
to be disputed that we enhance our pleasure 
in that we attain the — to us impossible — 
laughter in tliis roundabout way from the im- 
pression of the person who was stimulated to 
laughter. Thus we laugh, so to speak, par 




Dugas expresses it. Laughter 
to those manifestations of psychic 
states which are highly infectious; if I make 
some one else laugh by imparting my wit to 
him, I am really using him as a tool in order 
to arouse my own laughter. One can really 
notice that the person who at first recites the 
witticism with a serious mien later joins the 
hearer with a moderate amoimt of laughter. 
Imparting my witticisms to others may thus 
serve several purposes. First, it serves to give 
me the objective certainty of the success of the 
wit-work; secondly, it serves to enhance my 
own pleasiu-e through the reaction of the hearer 
upon myself; thirdly, in the case of repeating 
a not original joke, it serves to remedy the loss 
of pleasure due to the lack of novelty. 


Economy and Full Expenditure 

At the end of these discussions about the 
psychic processes of wit, in so far as they are 
enacted between two persons, we can glance 
back to the factor of economy which impressed 
us as an important item in the psychological 
conception of wit since we offered the first ex- 
planation of wit-technique. Long ago we dis- 
missed the nearest but also the simplest con- 
ception of this economy, where it was a matter 



of avoiding psychic expenditure in general by 
a maximum restriction in the use of words and 
by the production of associations of ideas. We 
had then already asserted that brevity and 
laconisms are not witty in themselves. The 
brevity of wit is a peculiar one; it has to be 
a " witty " brevity. The original pleasure 
gain produced by playing with words and 
thoughts resulted, to be sure, from simple 
economy in expenditure, but with the develop- 
ment of play into wit the tendency to econ- 
omize also had to shift its goals, for whatever 
might be saved by the use of the same words 
or by avoiding new thought connections would 
surely be of no account when compared to the 
colossal expenditure of our mental activity. 
We may be permitted to make a comparison 
between the psychic economy and a business 
enterprise. So long as the latter's transactions 
are very small, good policy demands that ex- 
penses be kept low and that the costs of op- 
eration be minimized as much as possible. 
The economy still follows the absolute height 
of the expenditure. Later on when the vol- 
ume of business has increased, the importance 
of the business expenses dwindles; increases in 
the expenditure totals matter little so long as 
the transactions and returns can be sufficiently 
increased. Keeping down running expenses 



would be parsimonious; in fact, it would mean 
a direct loss. Nevertheless it would be equally 
false to assume that with a very great expendi- 
ture there would be no more room for saving. 
The manager inclined to economize would now 
make an effort to save on particular things and 
would feel satisfied if the same establishment, 
with its costly upkeep, could reduce its ex- 
penses at all, no matter how small the saving 
would seem in comparison to the entire ex- 
penditure. In quite an analogous manner the 
detailed economy in our complicated psychic 
affairs remains a source of pleasure, as may be 
shown by everj'day occurrences. Whoever 
used to have a gas lamp in his room, but now 
uses electric light, will experience for a long 
time a definite feeling of pleasure when he 
presses the electric light button; this pleasure 
continues as long as at that moment he remem- 
bers the complicated arrangements necessary 
to light the gas lamp. Similarly the economy 
of expenditure in psychic inhibition brought 
about by wit — small though it may be in com- 
parison to the sum total of psychic expendi- 
_ ture — will remain a source of pleasure for us, 
ise we thereby save a particular expendi- 
i which we were wont to make and which 
before we were ready to make. That the 
iture is expected and prepared for is a 


factor which stands unmistakably in the fore- 

A localized economy, as the one just consid- 
ered, will not fail to give us momentary pleas- 
ure, but it will not bring about a lasting al- 
leviation so long as what has been saved here 
can be utilized in another place. Only when 
this disposal into a different path can be 
avoided, will the special economy be trans- 
formed into a general alleviation of the psychic 
expenditures. Thus, with clearer insight into 
the psychic processes of wit, we see that the fac- 
tor of alleviation takes the place of economy. 
Obviously the former gives us the greater feel- 
ing of pleasure. The process in the first person 
of the witticism produces pleasure by remov- 
ing inhibitions and by diminishing local ex- 
penditure; it does not, however, seem to come 
to rest until it succeeds through the interven- 
tion of the third person in attaining general 
relief through discharge. 




At the end of the chapter which dealt with 
the elucidation of the technique of wit (p. 125) 
we asserted that the processes of condensation 
with and without substitutive formation, dis- 
placement, representation through absurdity, 
representation through the opposite, indirect 
representation, etc., all of which we found par- 
ticipated in the formation of wit, evinced a 
far-reaching agreement with the processes of 
" dream-work." We promised, at that lime, 
first to examine more carefully these similari- 
ties, and secondly, so far as such indications 
point to search for what is common to both wit 
and dreams. The discussion of this compar- 
ison would be much easier for us if we could 
assume that one of the subjects to be com- 
pared — the " dream-work " — were well known. 
But we shall probably do better not to take 
this assumption for granted. I received the 
impression that my book The Interpretation 
of Dreams created more " confusion " than 
" enlightenment " among my colleagues, and I 


know that the wider reading circles Have con- 
tented themselves to reduce the contents of 
the book to a catchword, " Wish fulfillment " 
— a term easily remembered and easily abused. 

However, in my continued occupation with 
the problems considered therein, for the study 
of which Diy practice as a psychotherapeutist 
affords me much opportunity, I found nothing 
that would impel me to change or improve on 
my ideas; I can therefore peacefully wait until 
the reader's comprehension has risen to my 
level, or until an intelligent critic has pointed 
out to me the basic faults in my conception. 
For the purposes of comparison with wit, I 
shall briefly review the most important features 
of dreams and dream-work. 

We know dreams by the recollection which 
usually seems fragmentary and which occurs 
upon awakening. It is then a structure made 
up mostly of visual or other sensory impres- 
sions, which represents to us a deceptive pic- 
ture of an experience, and may be mingled 
with mental processes (the " knowledge " in 
the dream) and emotional manifestations. 
What we thus remember as a dream I call 
" the manifest dream-content." The latter is 
often altogether absurd and confused, at other 
times it is merely one part or another that is 
so affected. But even if it be entirely coherent. 



as in the case of some anxiety dreams, it stands 
out in our psychic life as something strange, 
for the origin of which one camiot account. 
Until recently the explanation for these pe- 
culiarities of the dream has been sought in the 
dream itself in that it was considered roughly 
speaking an indication of a muddled, dissoci- 
ated, and " sleepy " activity of the nervous ele- 

As opposed to this view I have shown that 
the excessively peculiar " manifest " dream- 
content can regularly be made comprehensible, 
and that it is a disfigured and changed 
transcription of certain correct psychic forma- 
tions which deserve the name of " latent dream- 
thoughts." One gains an understanding of 
the latter by resolving the manifest dream-con- 
tent into its component parts without regard 
for its apparent meaning, and then by follow- 
ing up the threads of associations which ema- 
nate from each one of the now isolated ele- 
ments. These become interwoven and in the 
end lead to a structure of thoughts, which is 
not only entirely accurate, but also fits easily 
into the familiar associations of our psychic 
processes. During this " analysis " the dream- 
content loses all of the peculiarities so strange 
to us; but if the analysis is to be successful, 
we must firmly cast aside the critical objections 


which incessantly arise against the reproduc- 
tion of the individual associations. 

The Dream-work 

From the comparison of the remembered 
manifest dream-content with the latent dream- 
thoughts thus discovered there arises the con- 
ception of " dream-work." The entire sum of 
the transforming processes which have changed 
the latent dream-thought into the manifest 
dream is called the dream-work. The aston- 
ishment which formerly the dream evoked in 
us is now perceived to be due to the dream- 

The function of the dream-work may be 
described in the following manner. A struc- 
ture of thoughts, mostly very complicated, 
which has been built up during the day and 
not brought to settlement — a day remnant — 
clings firmly even during night to the energy 
which it had assumed— the imderJying center 
of interest — and thus threatens to disturb sleep. 
This day remnant is transformed into a dream 
by the dream-work and in this way rendered 
harmless to sleep. But in order to make pos- 
sible its employment by the dream-work, this 
day remnant must be capable of being east 
into the form of a wish, a. condition that is not 




difficult to fulfill. The wish emanating from 
the dream-thoughts forms the first step and 
later on the nucleus of the dream. Experience 
gained from analyses — not the theory of the 
dream — teaches us that with children a fond 
wish left from the waking state suffices to 
evoke a dream, which is coherent and senseful, 
but almost always short, and easily recogniz- 
able as a " wish fulfillment." In the case of 
adults the universally valid condition for the 
dream-creating wish seems to be that the latter 
should appear foreign to conscious thinking, 
that is, it should be a repressed wish, or that 
it should supply consciousness with reinforce- 
ment from unknown sources. Without the as- 
simiption of the unconscious activity in the 
sense used above, I should be at a loss to de- 
velop further the theory of dreams and to ex- 
plain the material gleaned from experience in 
dream-analyses. The action of this unconscious 
wish upon the logical conscious material of 
dream-thoughts now results in the dream. The 
latter is thereby drawn down into the uncon- 
scious, as it were, or to speak more precisely, 
it is exposed to a treatment which usually 
takes place at the level of unconscious mental 
activity, and which is cliaracteristic of this 
mental level. Only from the results of the 
" dream-work " have we thus far learned tQ 


know the qualities of this unconscious mental 
activity and its differentiation from the " fore- 
conscious " which is capable of consciousness. 

The Unconscious 

A novel and difficult theory that runs 
counter to our habitual modes of thinking can 
hardly gain in lucidity by a condensed exposi- 
tion. I can therefore accomphsh little more 
in this discussion than refer the reader to the 
detailed treatment of the unconscious in my 
Interpretation of Dreams, and also to Lipps's 
■work, which I consider most important. I 
am aware that he who is under the spell of 
a good old philosophical training, or stands 
aloof from a so-called philosophical system, 
will oppose the assumption of the " unconscious 
psychic processes " in Lipps's sense and in mine 
and will desire to prove the impossibility of it 
preferably by means of definitions of the term 
psychic. But definitions are conventional and 
changeable. I have often found that persons 
who dispute the unconscious on the grounds of 
its absurdity or impossibility have not received 
their impressions from those sources from 
which I, at least, have found it necessary to 
draw, in order to become aware of its existence. 
These opponents had never witnessed the ef- 



feet of a posthypnotic suggestion, and they 
were inunensely surprised at the evidence I 
imparted to them gleaned from my analysis of 
unhypnotized neurotics. They had never 
gained the conception of the imconscious as 
something which one does not really know, 
while cogent proofs force one to supplement 
this idea by saying that one understands by 
the unconscious something capable of con- 
sciousness, something concerning which one has 
not thought and which is not in the field of 
vision of consciousness. Nor had they at- 
tempted to convince themselves of the existence 
of such unconscious thoughts In their own 
psychic life by means of an analysis of one 
of their own dreams, and when I attempted 
this with them, they could perceive their 
own mental occurrences only with astonish- 
ment and confusion. I have also gotten 
the impression that these are essentially af- 
fective resistances which stand in the way of 
the acceptation of the " unconscious," and that 
they are based on the fact that no one is de- 
sirous of becoming acquainted with his un- 
conscious, and it is most convenient to deny al- 
together its possibility. 


Condeiuation and Displacement in the Dream- 

The dream-work, to which I return after 
this digression, subjects the thought material 
uttered in the optative mood to a very peculiar 
elaboration. First of all it proceeds from the 
optative to the indicative mood; it substitutes 
" it is " for " would it werel " This " it 
is " is destined to become part of an hallucina- 
tory representation which I have called the 
" regression " of the dream-work. This re- 
gression represents the path from the mental 
images to the sensory perceptions of the same, 
or if one chooses to speak with reference to 
the still unfamiliar — not to be understood 
anatomically — topic of the psychic apparatus, 
it is the region of the thought-formation to the 
region of the sensory perception. Along this 
road wliich runs in an opposite direction to the 
course of development of psychic complications 
the dream- thoughts gain in clearness; a plastic 
situation finally results as a nucleus of the 
manifest " dream picture." In order to arrive 
at such a sensory representation the dream- 
thoughts have had to experience tangible 
changes in their expression. But while the 
thoughts are changed back into mental images 
they are subjected to still greater chaDges» 


some of which are easily conceivable as neces- 
sary, while others are surprising. As a nec- 
essary secondary result of the regression one 
understands that nearly all relationships within 
the thoughts which have organized the same 
are lost to the manifest dream. The dream- 
work takes over, as it were, only the raw ma- 
terial of the ideas for representation, and not 
the thought-relations which held each other in 
check; or at least it reserves the freedom of 
leaving the latter out of the question. On the 
other hand, there is a certain part of the dream- 
work which cannot be traced to the regression 
or to the recasting into mental images; it is 
just that part which is significant to us for the 
analogy to wit-formation. The material of the 
dream-thoughts experiences an extraordinary 
compression or coTidensaiion during the dream- 
work. The starting-points of this condensa- 
tion are those points which are common to two 
or more dream-thoughts because they naturally 
pertain to both or because they are inevitable 
consequences of the contents of two or more 
dream-thoughts, and since these points do not 
regularly suffice for a prolific condensation 
new artificial and fleeting common points come 
into existence, and for this purpose preferably 
words are used which combine different mean- 
ings in their sounds. The newly framed com- 


mon points of condensation enter as represent- 
atives of the dream-thoughts into the manifest 
dream-content, so that an element of the dream 
corresponds to a point of junction or intersec- 
tion of the dream-thoughts, and with regard 
to the latter it must in general be called " over- 
determined." The process of condensation is 
that part of the dream-work which is most 
easily recognizahle; it suffices to compare the 
recorded wording of a dream with the written 
dream-thoughts gained by means of analysis, 
in order to get a good impression of the pro- 
ductiveness of dream condensation. 

It is not easy to convince one's self of the 
second great change that takes place in the 
dream-thoughts through the agency of the 
dream-work. I refer to that process which I 
have called the dream displacement. It man- 
ifests itself by the fact that what occupies the 
center of the manifest dream and is endowed 
with vivid sensory intensity has occupied a 
peripheral and secondary position in the dream- 
thoughts, and vice versa. This process causes 
the dream to appear out of proportion when 
compared with the dream-thoughts, and it is 
because of this displacement that it seems 
strange and incomprehensible to the waking 
state. In order that such a displacement 
should occur it must be possible for the occu- 



pation energy to pass uninhibited from im- 
portant to insignificant ideas, — a process which 
in normal conscious thinking can only give the 
impression of " faulty thinking." 

Transformation into expressive activity, con- 
densation, and displacement are the three 
great functions which we can ascribe to the 
dream-work. A fourth, to which too little at- 
tention was given in The Interpretation of 
Dream«, does not come into consideration here 
for our purpose. In a consistent elucidation 
of the ideas dealing with the " topic of the 
psychic apparatus " and " regression," which 
alone can lend value to these working hy- 
potheses, an effort would have to be made to 
determine at what stages of regression the vari- 
ous transformations of the dream-thoughts oc- 
ciu*. As yet no serious effort has been made 
in this direction, but at least we can speak 
definitely about displacement when we say that 
it must arise in the thought material while the 
latter is in the level of the unconscious proc- 
esses. One will probably have to think of 
condensation as a process that extends over the 
entire course up to the outposts of the percep- 
tive region; hut in general it suffices to assume 
that there is a simultaneous activity of all the 
forces which participate in the formation of 
dreams. In view of the reserve which one must 


naturally exercise in the treatment of sucK 
problems, and in consideration of the inability 
to discuss here the main objections to these 
problems, I should like to trust somewhat to 
the assertion that the process of the dream- 
work which prepares the dream is situated in 
the region of the unconscious. Roughly speak- 
ing, one can distinguish three general stages 
in the formation of tlie dream; first, the trans- 
ference of the conscious day remnants into the 
unconscious, a transference in which tlie condi- 
tions of the sleeping state must co-operate; 
secondly, the actual dream-work in the 
unconscious; and thirdly, the regression of 
the elaborated dream material to the region 
of perception, whereby the dream becomes 

The forces participating in the dream-forma- 
tion may be recognized as the following: the 
■wish to sleep; the sum of occupation energy 
which still clings to the day remnants after the 
depression brought about by the state of sleep; 
the psychic energy of the unconscious wish 
forming the dream; and the opposing force of 
the " censor," which exercises its authority in 
our waking state, and is not entirely abolished 
during sleep. The task of dream-formation is, 
above all, to overcome the inhibition of the 
censor, and it is just this task that is fulfilled 


by the displacement of the psychic energy 
within the material of the dream-thoughts. 

The Formula for Wit-work 

Now we recall what caused us to think of 
the dream while investigating wit. We found 
that the character and activity of wit were 
bound up in certain forms of expression and 
technical means, among which the various 
forms of condensation, displacement, and indi- 
rect representation were the most conspicuous. 
But the processes which led to the same results 
— condensation, displacement, and indirect ex- 
pression — we learned to know as peculiarities 
of dream-work. Does not this analogy ahnest 
force us to the conclusion that wit-work and 
dream-work must be identical at least in one 
essential point? I believe that the dream-work 
lies revealed before us in its most important 
characters, but in wit we find obscured just 
that portion of the psychic processes which we 
may compare with the dream-work, namely, 
the process of wit-formation in the first per- 
son. Shall we not yield to the temptation to 
construct this process according to the analogy 
of dream-formation? Some of the characteris- 
tics of dreams are so foreign to wit that that 
part of the dream-work corresponding to them 


cannot be carried over to the wit-formation. The 
regression of the stream of thought to percep- 
tion certainly falls away as far as wit is con- 
cerned. However, the other two stages of 
dream-formation, the sinking of a forecon- 
scious ' thought into the unconscious, and the 
unconscious elaboration, would give us exactly 
the result which we might observe in wit if we 
assumed this process in wit-formation. Let us 
decide to assume that this is the proceeding of 
wit-formation in the case of the first person. 
A foreconscious thought is left for a moment 
to unconscious elaboration and the results are 
forthwith grasped by the conscious perception. 
Before, however, we attempt to prove the 
details of this assertion we wish to consider an 
objection which may jeopardize our assumption. 
We start with the fact that the techniques of 
wit point to the same processes which become 
known to us as peculiarities of dream-work. 
Now it is an easy matter to say in opposition 
that we would not have described the tech- 
niques of wit as condensation, displacement, 
etc., nor would we have arrived at such a com- 
prehensive agreement in the means of repre- 
sentation of wit and dreams, if our previous 
knowledge of dream-work had not influenced 
our conception of the technique of wit; so that 

' Cf. Th« InttrprttatUm of Drtamt, Chspter VII. 




at the bottom we find that wit confirms only 
those tentative theories which we brought to it 
from our study of dreams. Such a genesis of 
agreement would be no certain guarantee of its 
stability beyond our preconceived judgment. 
No other author has thought of considering 
condensation, displacement, and indirect ex- 
pression as active factors of wit. This might 
be a possible objection, but nevertheless it 
would not be justified. It might just as well 
be said that in order to recognize the real 
agreement between dreams and wit our ordi- 
nary knowledge must be augmented by a 
specialized knowledge of dream-work. How- 
ever, the decision will really depend only upon 
the question whether the examining critic can 
prove that such a conception of the technique 
of wit in the individual examples is forced, and 
that other nearer and farther-reaching inter- 
pretations have been suppressed in favor of 
mine; or whether the critic will have to admit 
that the tentative theories derived from the 
study of dreams can be really confirmed 
through wit. My opinion is that we have 
nothing to fear from such a critic and that 
our processes of reduction have confidently 
pointed out in which forms of expression 
we must search for the techniques of wit. 
That we designated these techniques by names 


which previously anticipated the result of the 
agreement between the technique of wit and 
the dream-work was our just prerogative, and 
really nothing more than an easily justified 

There is still another objection which would 
not be vital, but which could not be so com- 
pletely refuted. One might think that the 
techniques of wit that fit in so well considering 
the ends we have in view deserve recognition, 
but that they do not represent all passible 
techniques of wit or even all those in use. 
Also that we have selected only the techniques 
of wit which were influenced by and would suit 
the pattern of the dream-work, whereas others 
ignored by us would have demonstrated that 
such an agreement was not common to all 
cases. I really do not trust myself to make the 
assertion that I have succeeded in explaining 
all the current witticisms with reference to 
their techniques, and I therefore admit tlie 
possibility that my enumeration of wit-tech- 
niques may show many gaps. But I have not 
purposely excluded from my discussion any 
form of technique that was clear to me, and I 
can affirm that the most frequent, the most es- 
sential, and the most characteristic technical 
means of wit have not eluded my attention. 



Wit as an Inspiration 

Wit possesses still another character whicK 
entirely corresponds to our conception of the 
wit-work as originally discovered in our study 
of dreams. It is true that it is common to hear 
one say " I made a joke," but one feels that 
one behaves differently during this process 
than when one pronounces a judgment or of- 
fers an objection. Wit shows in a most pro- 
nounced manner the character of an invol- 
untary " inspiration " or a sudden flash of 
thought. A moment before one cannot tell 
what kind of joke one is going to make, though 
it lacks only the words to clothe it. One 
usually experiences something indefinable 
which I should like most to compare to an 
absence, or sudden drop of intellectual tension; 
then all of a sudden the witticism appears, 
usually simultaneously with its verbal invest- 
ment. Some of the means of wit are also 
utilized in the expression of thought along 
other lines, as in the cases of comparison and 
allusion. I can purposely will to make an al- 
lusion. In doing this I have first in mind (in 
the inner hearing) the direct expression of my 
thought, but as I am inhibited from expressing 
the same through some objection from the situ- 
ation in question, I almost resolve to substi- 


tute the direct expression by a form of indirect 1 
expression, and then I utter it in the form 
of an allusion. But the allusion that comes 
into existence in this manner having been 
formed under my continuous control is never i 
witty, no matter how useful it may be. On J 
the other hand, the witty allusion appears 
without my having been able to follow 
up these preparatory stages in my mind. 
I do not wish to attribute too much value to 
this procedure, it is scarcely decisive, but it 1 
does agree well with our assumption that in 
wit-formation a stream of thought is dropped | 
for a moment and suddenly emerges from the 
unconscious as a witticism. 

Witticisms also evince a peculiar behavior , 
along the lines of association of ideas. Fre- 
quently they are not at the disposal of our 
memory when we look for them; on the other 
hand, they often appear unsolicited and at 
places in our train of thought where we cannot 
understand their presence. Again, these are 
only minor qualities, but none the less they 
point to their unconscious origin. 

Let us now collect the properties of wit ■ 
whose formation can be referred to the uncon- 
scious. Above all there is the peculiar brevity I 
of wit which, though not an indispensable, is a 
marked and distinctive characteristic feature. 



When we first encountered it we were inclined 
to see in it an expression of a tendency to 
economize, but owing to very evident objec- 
tions we ourselves depreciated the value of this 
conception. At present we look upon it more 
as a sign of the unconscious elaboration which 
the thought of wit has undergone. The 
process of condensation which corresponds to 
it in dreams we can correlate with no other 
factor than with the localization in the uncon- 
scious, and we must assume that the conditions 
for such condensations which are lacking in the 
foreconscious are present in the unconscious 
mental process." It is to be expected that in 
the process of condensation some of the ele- 
ments subjected to it become lost, while others 
which take over their occupation energy are 
strengthened by the condensation or are built 
up too energetically. The brevity of wit, like 
the brevity of dreams, would thus be a neces- 
sary concomitant manifestation of the con- 
densation which occurs in both cases; both 
times it is a result of the condensation process. 

' Besides the dream-work and the teclinique of wit I have been 
able lo demonstrate condensation as a regular and sijcniflcant 
proeew In another psychic occurrence, in tlie mechanistu of 
norma] (not purposive) forg:ettlng. Sin^ar impressions put 
dUficulties in the way of forgetting; impressions in any way 
analogous arc forgotten hy becoming fused at their points of 
contact. The confusion of uudogoiu imprftaiona ia one of the 
first steps in forgetting. 


The brevity of wit is indebted also to this 
origin for its peculiar character which though 
not further assignable produces a striking im- 

The Unconscioua and the Infantile. 

We have defined above the one result 
of condensation — the manifold applicatloD 
of the same material, play upon words, and 
similarity of sound — as a localized economy, 
and have also referred the pleasure produced 
by harmless wit to that economy. At a later 
place we have found that the original purpose 
of wit consisted in producing this kind of pleas- 
ure from words, a process which was permitted 
to the individual during the stage of playing, 
but which became banked in during the course 
of intellectual development or by rational crit- 
icism. Now we have decided upon the assump- 
tion that such condensations as serve the tech- 
nique of wit originate automatically and with- 
out any particular purpose during the process 
of thinking in the unconscious. Have we not 
here two diflferent conceptions of the same fact 
which seem to be incompatible with each other? 
I do not think so. To be sure, there are two 
different conceptions, and they demand to he 
brought in unison, but they do not contradict 



each other. They are merely somewhat 
strange to each other, and as soon as we have 
estahlished a relationship between them we 
shall probably gain in knowledge. That such 
condensations are sources of pleasure is in per- 
fect accord with the supposition that they 
easily find in the unconscious the conditions 
necessary for their origin; on the other hand, 
we see the motivation for the sinking into the 
unconscious in the circumstance that the pleas- 
ure-bringing condensation necessary to wit 
easily results there. Two other factors also, 
which upon first examination seem entirely 
foreign to each other and which are brought 
together quite accidentally, will be recog- 
nized on deeper investigation as intimately 
connected, and perhaps may be found to 
be substantially the same. I am referring 
to the two assertions that on the one hand 
wit could form such pleasure-bringing con- 
densations during its development in the stage 
of playing, that is, during the infancy of rea- 
son; and, on the other hand, that it accom- 
plishes the same function on higher levels by 
submerging the thought into the unconscious. 
For the infantile is the source of the uncon- 
scious. The unconscious mental processes are 
no others than those which are solely produced 
during infancy. The thought which sinks into 


the unconscious for the purpose of wit-forma- 
tion only revisits there the old homestead of 
the former playing with words. The thought 
is put back for a moment into the infantile 
state in order to regain in this way childish 
pleasure-sources. If, indeed, one were not al- 
ready acquainted with it from the investigation 
of the psychology of the neuroses, wit would 
surely impress one with the idea that the pe- 
culiar unconscious elaboration is nothing else 
but the infantile type of the mental process. 
Only it is by no means an easy matter to 
grasp, in the unconscious of the adult, this pe- 
culiar infantile manner of thinking, because it 
is usually corrected, so to say, statu nascendi. 
However, it is successfully grasped in a series 
of cases, and then we always laugh about the 
" childish stupidity." In fact every exposure 
of such an unconscious fact affects us in a 
" comical " manner.' 

It is easier to comprehend the character of 
these unconscious mental processes in the utter- 
ances of patients suffering from various psy- 

■ Many of my patients while imder psychoanalytic treatment 
«re wonl to prove regularly by their laughlcr that 1 have suc- 
ceeded in demonstrating faithfully to their conscious perception 
the veiled unconscious; they Isu^ also when tlie content of 
what Is disclosed does not at ail justify thi; laughter. To be sure. 
It is conditional that they have approached this onconsciooj 
closely enough to grasp It when the physician hog conjectured it 
sad presented It to them. 



crac disturbances. It is very probable that, 
following the assumption of old Griesinger, 
we would be in a position to understand the 
deliria of the insane and to turn them to good 
account as valuable information, if we would 
not make the demands of conscious thinking 
upon them, but instead treat them as we do 
dreams by means of our art of interpretation/ 
In the dream, too, we were able to show the 
" return of psychic life to the embryonal state." * 
In discussing the processes of condensation 
we have entered so deeply into the signiücation 
of the analogy between wit and dreams that we 
can here be brief. As we know that displace- 
ments in dream-work point to the influence of 
the censor of conscious thought, we will con- 
sequently be inclined to assume that an inhibit- 
ing force also plays a part in the formation of 
wit when we find the process of displacement 
among the techniques of wit. We also know 
that this is commonly the case; the endeavor of 
wit to revive the old pleasure in nonsense or 
the old pleasure in word-play meets with re- 
sistance in every normal state, a resistance 
which is exerted by the protest of critical rea- 
son, and which must be overcome in each in- 

' Id doing this we must not forget to reckon witli the diitor- 
tian brought about bj the censor which 1b stUl •ctlra in the 
psf chores. 

'Th4 l»t9rpT»tatio« of Drtomt. 



dividual case. But a radical distinction be- 
tween wit and dreams is shown in the manner 
in which the wit-work solves this difficulty. In 
the dream-work the solution of this task is 
brought about regularly through displacements 
and through the choice of ideas which are re- 
mote enough from the objectionable ones to 
secure passage through the censor; the latter 
themselves are but offsprings of those whose 
psychic energy they have taken upon them- 
selves through full transference. The dis- 
placements are therefore not lacking in any 
dream and are far more comprehensive; they not 
only comprise the deviations from the trend of 
thought but also all forms of indirect expression, 
the substitution for an important but offensive 
element of one seemingly indifferent and harm- 
less to the censor which form very remote allu- 
sions to the first, they include substitution also 
occurring through sj'mbols, comparisons, or 
trifles. It is not to be denied that parts of this 
indirect representation really originate in the 
foreconscious thoughts of the dream, — as, for 
example, symbolical representation and repre- 
sentation through comparisons — because other- 
wise the thought would not have reached the state 
of the foreconscious expression. Such indi- 
rect expressions and allusions, whose reference 
to the original thought is easily findable, are 



really permissible and customary means of ex- 
pression even in our conscious thought. The 
dream-work, however, exaggerates the applica- 
tion of these means of indirect expression to an 
imlimited degree. Under the pressure of the 
censor any kind of association becomes good 
enough for substitution by allusion; the dis- 
placement from one element to any other is 
permitted. The substitution of the inner as- 
sociations (similarity, causal connection, etc.) 
by the so-called outer associations (simultane- 
ity, contiguity in space, assonance) is partic- 
ularly conspicuous and characteristic of the 

The Difference between Dream-technique and 

AH these means of displacement also occur 
as techniques of wit, but when they do occur 
they usually restrict themselves to those limits 
prescribed for their use in conscious thought; 
in fact they may be lacking, even though wit 
must regxilarly solve a task of inhibition. One 
can comprehend this retirement of the process 
of displacement in wit-work when one remem- 
bers that wit usually has another technique at 
its disposal through which it defends itself 
against inhibitions. Indeed, we have discov- 


ered nothing more characteristic of it than just 
this technique. For wit does not have recourse 
to compromises as does the dream, nor does it 
evade the inliibition; it insists upon retaining 
the play with words or nonsense unaltered, but 
thanks to the ambiguity of words and multi- 
plicity of thought-relations, it restricts itself to 
the choice of cases in which this play or non- 
sense may appear at the same time admissible 
(jest) or senseful (wit). Nothing distin- 
guishes wit from all other psychic formations 
better than this double-sidedness and this dou- 
ble-dealing; by emphasizing the "sense in non- 
sense," the authors have approached nearest 
the understanding of wit, at least from this an- 

Considering the unexceptional predominance 
of this peculiar technique in overcoming inhibi- 
tions in wit, one might find it superfluous that 
wit should make use of the displacement-tech- 
nique even in a single case. But on the one 
hand certain kinds of this technique remain 
useful for wit as objects and sources of pleas- 
ure — as, for example, the real displacement 
(deviation of the trend of thought) which in 
fact shares in the nature of nonsense, — and on 
the other hand one must not forget that the 
highest stage of wit, tendency-wit, must fre- 
quently overcome two kinds of inhibitions which 



oppose both itself and its tendency {p. 147), 
and that allusion and displacements are qual- 
ified to facilitate this latter task. 

The numerous and unrestricted application 
of indirect representation» of displacements, 
and especially of allusions in the dream-work, 
has a result which I mention not because of 
its own significance but because it became for 
me the subjective inducement to occupy my- 
self with the problem of wit If a dream 
analysis is imparted to one unfamiliar with the 
subject and unaccustomed to it, and the pe- 
culiar ways of allusions and displacements 
(objectionable to the waking thoughts but 
utilized by the dream-work) are explained, the 
hearer experiences an uncomfortable impres- 
sion; he declares these interpretations to be 
*' witty," but it seems obvious to him that these 
are not successful jokes but forced ones which 
run contrary to the rules of wit. This impres- 
sion can be easily explained; it is due to the 
fact thai the dream-work operates with the 
same means as wit, but in the application of 
the same the dream exceeds the bounds which 
wit restricts. We shall soon learn that in con- 
sequence of the role of the third person wit 
is boimd by a certain condition which does not 
affect the dream. 



Among those techniques wfaidi are oommoo 
to both wit and dreams representation through 
the opposite and the apphestion of absurdity 
are especially interesting. The first belongs 
to the strongly effectire means of wit as shown 
in the examples of "out-doing wit" (p. 98). 
The representation through the opposite, un- 
like most of the wit-techntques, is unable to 
withdraw itself from conscious attention. He 
who intentionally tries to make use of wit- 
work, as in the case of the *' habitual wit," soon 
discovers that the easiest way to answer an as- 
sertion with a witticism is to conc«itrate one's 
mind on the opposite of this assertitm and 
trust to the chance flash of tbou^t to bnisfa 
aside the feared objection to this opposite by 
means of a different interpretation. Maybe 
the representation through its opposite is in- 
debted for such a preference to the fact that 
it forms the nucleus of another pleasurable 
mode of mental expression, for an understand- 
ing of whidi we do not have to consult the un- 
conscious. I refer to irony, which is very sim- 
ilar to wit and is considered a sub-species of 
the comic. The essence of irony consists in im- 
parting the very opposite of what one intended 
to express, but it precludes the anticipated 



contradiction by indicating through the inflec- 
tions, concomitant gestures, and through slight 
changes in style — if it is done in writing — that 
the speaker himself means to convey the op- 
posite of what he says. Irony is applicable 
only in cases where the other person is pre- 
pared to hear the reverse of the statement 
actually made, so that he cannot fail to be in- 
clined to contradict. As a consequence of this 
condition ironic expressions are particularly 
subject to the danger of being misunderstood. 
To the person who uses it, it gives the advan- 
tage of readily avoiding the difficulties to which 
direct expressions, as, for example, invectives, 
are subject. In the hearer it produces comic 
pleasure, probably by causing him to make 
preparations for contradiction, which are im- 
mediately foimd to be unnecessary. Such a 
comparison of wit with a form of the comical 
that is closely allied to it might strengthen us 
in the assumption that the relation of wit to 
the imconscious is the peculiarity that also dis- 
tinguishes it from the comical.' 

In dream-work, representation through the 
opposite has a far more important part to play 
than in wit. The dream not only delights in 

' The character of the oomlcal which is refened la aa tt« 
"drjneaa" also depends In the broadest sense npon the differen- 
tiation of ttie things spoken fram the antics accompanying it. 


representing a pair of opposites by means of 
one and the same composite image, but in ad- 
dition it often changes an element from the 
dream-thoughts into its opposite, thus causing 
considerable difBculty in the work of interpre- 
tation. In the case of any element capable of 
having an opposite it is impossible to tell 
whether it is to be taken negatively or posi- 
tively in the dream-thoughts/ 

I must emphasize that as yet this fact has 
by no means been understood. Nevertheless, 
it seems to give indications of an important 
characteristic of unconscious thinking which in 
all probability results in a process comparable 
to "judging." Instead of setting aside judg- 
ments the unconscious forms " repressions." 
The repression may correctly be described as 
a stage intermediate between the defense re- 
flex and condemnation.' 

' Th» InttTpratatiim of Drtami, p. 99S. 

*Thls Tciy remarkable and still inadequately understood be- 
bATJor of antagonistic relationsiiipa is probably not without value 
for the understanding of the symptom of negativism In neurotics 
and in the insane. Cf. the two latest works on the subject: Bleu- 
ler, " Über die negative Suggeatibilitüt," PiycÄ.-jVem-oi. (TocJUm- 
tehrifC, ld(H, and Otto Groas'a Zur Differential diaffnollik n*ga~ 
tinittUchsr Phänomen«, also my review of the Oegetuinm dn 
VneOTtt, In Jahrb. f. PäyehoMlyt» II, IDIO. 



The Unconscious as the Psychic Stage of the 

Nonsense, or absurdity, which occurs so 
often in dreanis and which has made them the 
object of so much contempt, has never really 
come into being as the result of an accidental 
shuffling of conceptual elements, but may in 
every case be proven to have been purposely 
admitted by the dream-work. Nonsense and 
absurdity are intended to express embittered 
criticism and scornful contradiction within the 
dream-thoughts. Absurdity in the dream-con- 
tent thus stands for the judgment: " It's pure 
nonsense," expressed in dream-thoughts. In 
my work on the Interpretation of Dreams, 
I have placed great emphasis on the demon- 
stration of this fact because I thought that I 
could in this manner most strikingly contro- 
vert the error expressed by many that the 
dream is no psychic phenomenon at all — an 
error which bars the way to an understanding 
of the unconscious. Now we have learnt (in 

I the analysis of certain tendency-witticisms on 
p. 73) that nonsense in wit is made to serve 
the same purposes of expression. We also 
know that a nonsensical faj^ade of a witticism 
is peculiarly adapted to enhance the psychic 
expenditure in the hearer and hence also to in- 



crease the amount to be discharged through 
laughter. Moreover, we must not forget that 
nonsense in wit is an end in itself, since the 
purpose of reviving the old pleasure in non- 
sense is one of the motives of the wit-work. 
There are other ways to regain the feeling of 
nonsense in order to derive pleasure from it; 
caricature, exaggeration, parody, and travesty 
utilize the same and thus produce " comical 
nonsense." If we subject these modes of ex- 
pression to an analysis similar to the one used 
in studying wit, we shall find that there is no 
occasion in any of them for resorting to un- 
conscious processes in our sense for the pur- 
pose of getting explanations. We are now 
also in a position to understand why the 
" witty " character may be added as an em- 
bellishment to caricature, exaggeration, and 
parody; it is the manifold character of the per- 
formance upon the " psychic stage " ' that 
makes this possible. 

I am of the opinion that by transferring the 
wit-work into the system of the unconscious we 
have made a distinct gain, since it makes it pos- 
sible for us to understand the fact that the 
various techniques to which wit admittedly ad- 
heres are on the other hand not its exclusive 

' An expression of G. T. Fechner's whldi has «quired Bignifl- 
cuice from the point of view of my coDceptlon. 




property. Blany doubts, which have arisen in 
the beginning of our investigation of these 
techniques and which we were forced temporar- 
ily to leave, can now be conveniently cleared 
up. Hence we shall give due consideration to 
the doubt which expresses itself by asserting 
that the undeniable relation of wit to the un- 
conscious is correct only for certain categories 
of tendency-wit, while we are ready to claim 
this relation for all forms and all the stages of 
development of wit. We may not shirk the duty 
of testing this objection. 

We may assume that we deal with a sure 
case of wit-formation in the unconscious when 
it concerns witticisms that serve unconscious 
tendencies, or those strengthened by uncon- 
scious tendencies, as, for example, most " cyn- 
ical " witticisms. For in such cases the un- 
conscious tendency draws the foreconscious 
thought down into the unconscious in order to 
remodel it there; a process to which the study 
of the psychology of the neuroses has added 
many analogies with which we are acquainted. 
But in the case of tendency-wit of other vari- 
eties, namely, harmless wit and the jest, this 
power seems to fall away, and the relation of 
the wit to the unconscious is an open question. 

But now let us consider the case of the witty 
expression of a thought that is not without 



value in itself and that comes to the surface in 
the course of the association of mental 
processes. In order that this thought may be- 
come a witticism, it is of coiu-se necessary that 
it make a choice among the possible forms of 
expression in order to find the exact form that 
will bring along the gain in word-pleasure. 
We know from self-observation that this choice 
is not made by conscious attention; but the 
selection will certainly be better if the occu- 
pation energy of the foreconscious thought is 
lowered to the unconscious. For in the uncon- 
scious, as we have learnt from the dream-work, 
the paths of association emanating from a 
word are treated on a par with associations 
from objects. The occupation energj' from 
the unconscious presents by far the more fa- 
vorable conditions for the selection of the ex- 
pression, Moreover, we may assume without 
going farther that the possible expression 
which contains the gain in word-pleasure exerts 
a lowering effect on the still fluctuating self- 
command of the foreconscious, similar to that 
exerted in the first case by the unconscious 
tendency. As an explanation for the simpler 
case of the jest we may imagine that an ever- 
watchful intention of attaining the gain in 
word-pleasure seizes the opportunity offered 
in the foreconscious of again drawing the in- 




Testing energy down into the unconscious, ac- 
cording to the famihar scheme. 

I earnestly wish that it were possible for me 
on the one hand to present one decisive point 
in my conception of wit more clearly, and on 
the other hand to fortify it with compelling 
arguments. But as a matter of fact it is not 
a question here of two failures, but of one 
and the same failure. I can give no clearer 
exposition because I have no further testimony 
on behalf of my conception. The latter has 
developed as the result of my study of the 
technique and of comparison with dream-work, 
and indeed from this one side only. I now 
find that the dream-work is altogether excel- 
lently adapted to the peculiarities of wit. This 
conception is now concluded; if the conclusion 
leads us not to a familiar province, but rather 
to one that is strange and novel to our modes 
of thought, the conclusion is called a " hy- 
pothesis," and the relation of the hypothesis to 
the material from which it is drawn is justly 
not accepted as " proof." The hypothesis is 
admitted as " proved " only if it can be reached 
by other ways and if it can be shown to be the 

I junction point for other associations. But 
such proof, in view of the fact that our knowl- 
edge of unconscious processes has hardly be- 
gun, cannot be had. Realizing then that we are 


on soil still virgin, we shall be content to pro- 
ject from our viewpoint of observation one nar- 
row slender plank into the unexplored region. 
We shall not build a great structure on such 
a foundation as this. If we correlate the dif- 
ferent stages of wit to the mental dispositions 
favorable to them we may say: The jest has 
its origin in the happy mood; what seems to 
be peculiar to it is an inclination to lower the 
psychic static energies (Besetzungen). The 
jest already makes use of all the characteristic 
techniques of wit and satisfies the fundamental 
conditions of the same through the choice of 
such an assortment of words or mental associa- 
tions as will conform not only to the require- 
ments for the production of pleasure, but also 
conform to the demands of the intelligent critic. 
We shall conclude that the sinking of the men- 
tal energy to the unconscious stage, a process 
facilitated by the happy mood, has already 
taken place in the case of the jest. The mood 
does away with this requirement in the case of 
harmless wit connected with the expression of 
a valuable thought; here we must assume a 
particular personal adaptation which finds it as 
easy to come to expression as it is for the fore- 
conscious thought to sink for a moment into 
the unconscious. An ever watchful tendency 
to renew the original resultant pleasure of wit 



exerts thereby a lowering effect upon the still 
fluctuating foreconscious expression of the 
thought. Most people are probably capable of 
making jests when in a happy mood; aptitude 
for joking independent of the mood is found 
only in a few persons. Finally, the most pow- 
erful incentive for wit-work is the presence of 
strong tendencies which reach back into the un- 
conscious and which indicate a particular fit- 
ness for witty productions; these tendencies 
might explain to us why the subjective condi- 
tions of wit are so frequently fulfilled in the 
case of neurotic persons. Even the most in- 
apt person may become witty under the influ- 
ence of strong tendencies. 

Differences Between Wit and Dreams 

This last contribution, the explanation of 
wit-work in the first person, though still hy- 
pothetical, strictly speaking, ends our interest 
in wit. There still remains a short comparison 
of wit to the more familiar dream and we may 
expect that, outside of the one agreement al- 
ready considered, two such diverse mental ac- 
tivities should show nothing but differences. 
The most important difference lies in their so- 
cial behavior. The dream is a perfectly asocial 
psychic product. It has nothing to tell to any- 



one else, having originated in an individual as 
a compromise between conflicting psychic 
forces it remains incomprehensible to the per- 
son himself and has therefore altogetlier no 
interest for anybody else. Not only does the 
dream find it unnecessary to place any value 
on intelligibleness, but it must even guard 
against being understood, as it would then be 
destroyed; it can only exist in disguised form. 
For this reason the dream may make use 
freely of the mechanism that controls uncon- 
scious thought processes to the extent of pro- 
ducing undecipherable disfigurements. Wit, on 
the other hand, is the most social of all those 
psychic functions whose aim is to gain pleas- 
ure. It often requires three persons, and the 
psychic process which it incites always requires 
the participation of at least one other person. 
It must therefore bind itself to the condition 
of intelligibleness; it may employ disfigiu-e- 
ment made practicable in the unconscious 
through condensation and displacement, to no 
greater extent than can be deciphered by the 
intelligence of the third person. As for the 
rest, wit and dreams have developed in alto- 
gether different spheres of the psychic life, and 
are to be classed under widely separated cate- 
gories of the psychological system. No matter 
how concealed the dream is still a wish, while 



■wit is a developed play. Despite its apparent 
unreality the dream retains its relation to the 
great interests of life; it seeks to supply what 
is lacking through a regressive detour of hal- 
lucinations; and it owes its existence solely to 
the strong need for sleep during the night. 
Wit, on the other hand, seeks to draw a small 
amount of pleasure from the free and unen- 
cumbered activities of our psychic apparatus, 
and later to seize this pleasure as an incidental 
gain. It thus secondarily reaches to important 
functions relative to the outer world. The 
dream serves preponderately to guard from 
pain while wit serves to acquire pleasure; in 
these two aims all our psychic activities meet. 



We have approached the problems of 
comic in an unusual manner. It appeared to usi 
that wit, which is usually regarded as a sub-1 
species of the comic, offered enough peculiarities 
to warrant our taking it directly under consid- 
eration, and thus it came about that we avoided . 
discussing its relation to the more comprehen-J 
sive category of the comic as long as it waal 
possible to do so, yet we did not proceed with- 1 
out picking up on the way some hints that 1 
might be valuable for studying the comic. We I 
found it easy to ascertain that the comic differs I 
from wit in its social behavior. The comic can I 
be content with only two persons, one who 
finds the comical, and one in whom it is found. 
The third person to whom the comical may be 
imparted reinforces the comic process, but adda« 
nothing new to it. In wit, however, this third] 
person is indispensable for the completion c^l 
the pleasure-bearing process, while the second I 
person may be omitted, especially when it 
not a question of aggressive wit with a tend<*| 



ency. Wit is made, while the comical is found; 
it is found first of all in persons, and only 
later by transference may be seen also in ob- 
jects, situations, and the like. We know, too, 
in the case of wit that it is not strange per- 
sons, but one's own mental processes that con- 
tain the sources for the production of pleas- 
ure. In addition we have heard that wit oc- 
casionally reopens inaccessible sources of the 
comic, and that the comic often serves wit as 
a facade to replace the fore-pleasure usually 
produce by the well-known technique (p. 
236). All of this does not really point to a 
very simple relationship between wit and the 
comic. On the other hand, the problems of the 
comic have shown themselves to be so compli- 
cated, and have until now so successfully de- 
fied all attempts made by the philosophers to 
solve them, that we have not been able to 
justify the expectation of mastering it by a 
sudden stroke, so to speak, even if we approach 
it along the paths of wit. Incidentally we 
came provided with an instrument for investi- 
gating wit that had not yet been made use of 
by others; namely, the knowledge of dream- 
work. We have no similar advantage at our 
disposal for comprehending the comic, and we 
may therefore expect that we shall learn noth- 
ing about the nature of the comic other than 


that which we have already become aware of 
in wit; in so far as wit belongs to the comic 
and retains certain features of the same un- 
changed or modified in its own nature. 

The Naive 

The species of the comic that is most closely 
allied to wit is the naive. Like the comic the 
naive is found universally and is not made like 
in the case of wit. The naive cannot be made 
at all, while in the case of the pure comic the 
question of making or evoking the comical may 
be taken into account. The naive must re- 
sult without our intervention from the speech 
and actions of other persons who take the place 
of the second person in the comic or in wit. 
The naive originates when one puts himself 
completely outside of inhibition, because it 
does not exist for him; that is, if he seems to 
overcome it without any efi'ort. What condi- 
tions the function of the naive is the fact that 
we are aware that the person does not possess 
this inhibition, otherwise we should not call it 
naive but impudent, and instead of laughing 
we should be indignant. The effect of the 
naive, which is irresistible, seems easy to under- 
stand. An expenditure of that inhibition en- 
ergy which is commonly already formed in us 



suddenly becomes inapplicable when we hear 
the naive and is discharged through laughter; 
as the removal of the inhibition is direct, and 
not the result of an incited operation, there is 
no need for a suspension of attention. We be- 
have like the hearer in wit, to whom the econ- 
omy of inhibition is given without any eflfort 
on his part. 

In view of the understanding about the 
genesis of inhibitions which we obtained while 
tracing the development of play into wit, it 
will not surprise us to learn that the naive is 
mostly found in children, although it may also 
be observed in uneducated adults, whom we 
look on as children as far as their intellectual 
development is concerned. For the purposes 
of comparison with wit, naive speech is nat- 
urally better adapted than naive actions, for 
speech and not actions are the usual forms of 
expression employed by wit. It is significant, 
however, that naive speeches, such as those of 
children, can without straining also be desig- 
nated as " naive witticisms." The points of 
agreement as well as demonstration between 
wit and naivete will become clear to us upon 
consideration of a few examples.' 

A little girl of three years was accustomed 
to hear from her German nurse the exclamatory 

' Given by Translator. 



word "Geaundkett" (God Mesa you!; liter- 
ally, may you be healthy!) whenever she hap- 
pened to sneeze. While sufering from a se- 
vere cold during which the profuse coughing 
and sneezing caused her considerable pain, she 
pointed to her chest and said to her father, 
" Daddy, Gesundheit hurts." 

Another little girl of four years heard her 
parents refer to a Jewish acquaintance as a 
Hebrew, and on later hearing the latter's wife 
referred to as Mrs. X, she corrected her 
mother, saying, " No, that is not her name; if 
her husband is a Hebrew she is a Shehretc." 

In the first example the wit is produced 
through the use of a contiguous association in 
the form of an abstract thought for the con- 
crete action. The child so often heard the 
word " Gesundheit " associated with sneezing 
that she took it for the act itself. While the 
second example may be designated as word- 
wit formed by the technique of sound similar- 
ity. The child divided the word Hebrew into 
He-brew and having been taught the genders 
of the personal pronouns, she naturally 
imagined that if the man is a He-brew his wife 
must be a She-brew. Both examples could 
have originated as real witticisms upon which 
we would have unwillingly bestowed a little 
mild laughter. But as examples of naivet6 



^H nui 


they seem excellent and cause loud laughter. 
But what is it here that produces the difference 
between wit and naivete? Apparently it is 
neither the wording nor the technique, which is 
the same for both wit and the naive, but a fac- 
tor which at first sight seems remote from both. 
It is simply a question whether we assume that 
the speakers had the intention of making a wit- 
ticism or whether we assume that they — the 
children — wished to draw an earnest conclusion, 
a conclusion held in good faith though based 
on imcorrected knowledge. Only the latter 
case is one of naivete. It is here that our at- 
tention is first called to the mechanism in which 
the second person places himself into the psy- 
chic process of the person who produces the 

The investigation of a third example will 
confirm this opinion. A brother and a sister, 
the former ten and the latter twelve years old, 
produce a play of their own composition before 
an audience of uncles and aunts. The scene 
represents a hut on the seashore. In the first 
act the two dramatist-actors, a poor fisherman 
and his devoted wife, complain about the hard 
times and the difficulty of getting a Uvelihood. 
The man decides to sail over the wide ocean 
in his boat in order to seek wealth elsewhere, 
and after a touching farewell the curtain is 



drawn. The second act takes place several 
years later. The fisherman has come home 
rich with a big bag of money and tells his wif^ 
whom he finds waiting in front of the hut, 
what good luck he has had in the far countries. 
His wife interrupts him proudly, saying: " Nor 
have I been idle in the meanwhile," and opens 
the hut, on whose floor the fisherman sees 
twelve large dolls representing children asleep. 
At this point of the drama the performers 
were interrupted by an outburst of laughter 
on the part of the audience, a thing which they 
could not imderstand. They stared dum- 
founded at their dear relatives, who had thus 
far behaved respectably and had listened at- 
tentively. The explanation of this laughter 
lies in the assumption on the part of the audi- 
ence that the young dramatists know nothing 
as yet about the origin of children, and were 
therefore in a position to believe that a wife 
would actually boast of bearing offspring 
during the prolonged absence of her husband, 
and that the husband would rejoice with her 
over it. But the results achieved by the dram- 
atists on the basis of this ignorance may be 
designated as nonsense or absurdity. 

These examples show that the naive occu- 
pies a position midway between wit and the 
comic. As far as wording and contents are 



concerned, the naive speech is identical with 
wit; it produces a misuse of words, a bit of 
nonsense, or an obscenity. But the psychic 
process of the first person or producer which, 
in the case of wit, offered us so much that was 
interesting and puzzling, is here entirely ab- 
sent. The naive person imagines that he is 
using his thoughts and expressions in a simple 
and normal manner; he has no other purpose 
in view, and receives no pleasure from his 
naive production. All the characteristics of 
the naive lie in the conception of the hearer, 
who corresponds to the third person in the case 
of wit. The producing person creates the 
naiive without any effort. The complicated 
technique, which in wit serves to paralj^e the 
inhibition produced by the critical reason, does 
not exist here, because the person does not pos- 
sess this inhibition, and he can therefore read- 
ily produce the senseless and the obscene with- 
out any compromise. The naive may be added 
to the realm of wit if it comes into existence 
after the important function of the censor, as 
observed in the formula for wit-formation, has 
been reduced to zero. 

If the affective determination of wit con- 
sists in the fact that both persons should be 
subject to about the same inhibitions or inner 
resistances, we may say now that the determina- 



tion of the naive consists in the fact that one 
person should have inhibitions which the other 
lacks. It is the person provided with inhibi- 
tions who understands the naive, and it is he 
alone who gains the pleasure produced by the 
naive. We can easily understand that this 
pleasure is due to the removal of inhibitions. 
Since the pleasure of wit is of the same origin 
— a kernel of word-pleasure and nonsense- 
pleasure, and a shell of removal- and release- 
pleasure, — the similarity of this connection to 
the inhibition thus determines the inner rela- 
tionship between the naive and wit. In both 
cases pleasure results from the removal of in- 
ner inhibitions. But the psychic process of the 
recipient person (which in the naive regularly 
corresponds with our ego, whereas in wit we 
may also put ourselves in place of the produo 
ing person) is by as much more complicated in 
the case of the naive as it is simpler in the pro-- 
ducing person in wit. For one thing, the 
naive must produce the same effect upon the 
receiving person as wit does, this may be fully 
confirmed by our examples, for just as in wit 
the removal of the censor has been made pos- 
sible by the mere effort of hearing the naive. 
But only a part of the pleasure created by the 
naive admits of this explanation, in other case» 
of naiVe utterances, even this portion would I 

ion would ba 



endangered, as, for example, while listening to 
naive obscenities. We would react to a naifve 
obscenity with the same indignation felt to- 
ward a real obscenity, were it not for the fact 
that another factor saves us from this indigna- 
tion and at the same time furnishes the more 
important part of the pleasure derived from 
the naive. 

This other factor is the result of the condi- 
tion mentioned before, namely, that in order to 
recognize the naive we have to be cognizant of 
the fact that there are no inner inhibitions in 
tiie producing person. It is only ■ when this is 
assured that we laugh instead of being indig- 
nant. Hence we take into consideration the 
psychic state of the producing person; we 
imagine ourselves in this same psychic state 
and endeavor to understand it by comparing 
it to our own. This putting ourselves into the 
psychic state of the producing person and com- 
paring it with our own results in an economy 
of expenditure which we discharge through 

We might prefer the simpler explanation, 
namely, that when we reflect that the person 
has no inhibition to overcome our indignation 
becomes superfluous; the laughing therefore 
results at the cost of economized indignation. 
In order to avoid this conception, which is, in 


general, misleading, I shall distinguisH man 
sharply between two cases that I had treat« 
as one in the above discussion. The naive, as 
it appears to us, may either he in the nature 
of a witticism, as in our example, or an obscen- 
ity, or of anything generally objectionablea 
which becomes especially evident if the uain 
is expressed not in speech but in action, 
This latter case is really misleading; foa 
it might lead one to assume that the pleaaJ 
ure originated from the economized and tran 
formed indignation. The first case is the 
laminating one. The naive speech in the ex«| 
ample " Hebrew " can produce the effect of i 
light witticism and give no cause for indig 
tion; it is certainly the more rare, or the men 
pure and by far the more instructive case, 
so far as we think thai the child took the sylla- 
ble " he " in " Hebrew " seriously, and without 
any additional reason identified it with the 
masculine personal pronoun, the increase ii| 
pleasxu-e as a result of hearing it has no longea 
anything to do with the pleasure of the wit^ 
We shall now consider what has been $ai(| 
from two viewpoints, first how it came int( 
existence in the mind of the child, and 
ondiy, how it would occur to us. In foUow«| 
ing this comparison we find that the child 1 
discovered an identity and has overcome 




riers which exist in us, and by continuing still 
further it may express itself as follows: "If 
you wish to understand what you have heard, 
you may save yourself the expenditure neces- 
sary for holding these barriers in place." The 
expenditure which became freed by this com- 
parison is the source of pleasure in the naive, 
and is discharged through laughter; to be sure, 
it is the same expenditure which we would 
have converted into indignation if our under- 
standing of the producing person, and in this 
case the nature of his utterance, had not pre- 
cluded it. But if we take the case of the naive 
joke as a model for the second case, viz., the 
objectionable naive, we shall see that here, too, 
the economy in inhibition may originate di- 
rectly from the comparison. That is, it is un- 
necessary for us to assume an incipient and 
then a strangulated indignation, an indigna- 
tion corresponding to a different application of 
the freed expenditure, against which, in the 
case of wit, complicated defensive mechanisms 
were required. 

Source of Comic Pleasure in the Naive 
This comparison and this economy of ex- 
penditure that occur as the result of putting 
one's self into the psychic process of the pro- 
ducing person can have an important bearing 


on the naiVe only if they do not belong to the ] 
naive alone. As a matter < 
that this mechanism which is so completely 
foreign to wit is a part — perhaps the essential 
part — of the psychic process of the comic 
This aspect — it is perhaps the most 
portant aspect of the naive — thus repre- ' 
sents the naive as a form of the comic 
Whatever is added to the wit-pleasure by the 
naive speeches in our examples is " comical " 
pleasure. Concerning the latter we might be I 
inclined to make a general assumption that ' 
this pleasure originates through an economized 
expenditure by comparing the utterance of 
some one else with our own. But since we are 
here in the presence of very broad views 
shall first conclude our consideration of the 1 
naive. Tlie naive would thus be a form of the 
comic, in so far as its pleasure originates from 
the difference in expenditure which results in 
our effort to understand the other person; and 
it resembles wit through the condition that the 
expenditure saved by the comparison must be 
an inhibition expenditure.' 

» I have everywhere Identified the naive with the nalre-comt^ 
a practice which is certainly not permissible iu all caaes. But 
it is sufficient for our purposes to study llie characteristics of the 
naive as exhibiled by the " naive joke" and the " naive obscenity.* 
It Is onr intentloD to proceed from here with the ii 
the Dstuie of Uk comic. 




the inveaUgaUon of -^H 




Before concluding we shall rapidly point out 
a few agreements and differences between the 
conceptions at which we have just arrived and 
those that have been known for a long time 
in the psychology of the comic. The putting 
one's self into the psychic process of another 
and the desire to understand him is obviously 
nothing else than the " comic burrowing " 
{komisches Leihen) which has played a part 
in the analysis of the comic ever since the time 
of Jean Paul; tbe " comparing " of the psychic 
process of another with our own corresponds 
to a " psychological contrast," for which wc here 
at last find a place, after we did not know 
what to do with it in wit. But in our ex- 
planation of comic pleasure we take issue with 
many authors who contend that this pleasure 
originates through the fluctuation of our atten- 
tion to and fro between contrasting ideas. 
We are unable to see how such a mechanism 
could protluce pleasure, and we point to the 
fact that in the comparing of contrasts there 
results a difference in expenditure which, if 
not used for anything else, becomes capable of 
discharge and hence a source of pleasure.' 

'Also Bergson (Lavghler, An essay on (he Meaning of the 
Comic, translated by Brrreton and Rothwell, The Maemillan Co., 
191*) rejects with sound arguments this sort of explanation of 
comic pleasure, which has unmislakabljr been Influenced by the 
effort to create an analogy to the laughing of a person tickled. 


It is with misgiving only that we approad 
the problem of the comic. It would be pre- 
sumptuous to expect from our efforts any de- 
cisive contribution to the solution of this problem-l 
after the works of a large number of excellen 
thinkers have not resulted in an explanatia 
that is in every respect satisfactory. As a mat- 
ter of fact, we intend simply to follow out into ' 
the province of the comic certain observations 
that have been found valuable in the study of wit. 

Occurrence and Origin of the Comic 

The comical appears primarily as an 
tentional discovery in the social relations 
human beings. It is found in persons, that 'laM 
in their movements, shapes, actions, and chai 
acteristic traits. In the beginning it is found ' 
probably only in their psychical peculiarities 
and later on in their mental qualities, especially 
in the expression of these latter. Even an 
and inanimate objects become comical . 
result of a widely used method of personifica- 
tion. However, the comical can be considered 
apart from the person in whom it is found, if _ 
the conditions under which a person 

The explanation of comic pleasure hy Llpps which might, I 
connection with his conception of the comic, be represented u ■ 
1 trifle^" is of an entirely different nature. 

as th^ 



comical can be discerned. Thus arises the com- 
ical situation, and this knowledge enables us 
to make a person comical at will by putting 
him into situations in which the conditions nec- 
essary for the comic are bound up with his ac- 
tions. The discovery that it is in our power to 
make another person comical opens the way to 
unsuspected gains in comic pleasure, and forms 
the foundation of a highly developed tech- 
nique. It is also possible to make one's self 
just as comical as others. The means which 
serve to make a person comical are trans- 
ference into comic situations, imitations, dis- 
guise, unmasking, caricature, parody travesty, 
and the like. It is quite evident that these 
techniques may enter into the service of hostile 
or aggressive tendencies. A person may be 
made comical in order to render him contemp- 
tible or in order to deprive him of his claims 
to dignity and authority. But even if such a 
purpose were regularly at the bottom of all at- 
tempts to make a person comical tliis need not 
necessarily be the meaning of the spontaneous 

As a result of this superficial survey of the 
manifestations of the comic we can readily see 
that the comic originates from wide-spread 
sources, and that conditions so specialized as 
those found in the naive cannot be expected 



in the ease of the comic. In order to gel ; 
clue to tbe conditions that are applicable t 
the comic the selection of the first example i 
most important, ~^^'e will examine first the 
comic movement because we remember that 
the most primitive stage performance, the 
pantomime, uses this means to make us laugh. 
The answer to the question, ^^^IJ■ do we laugh 
at the actions of clowns? would be that they 
appear to us immoderate and inappropriate; 
that is, we really laugh over the excessive ex- 
penditure of energy. Let us look for tha 
same condition outside of the manufactured 
comic, that is, under circumstances where 
may unintentionally be found. The child's 
motions do not appear to us comical, even if i 
jumps and fidgets, but it is comical to see i 
little boy or girl follow with the tongue the 
movement of his pen-holder when he is trying 
to master the art of writing; we see in these 
additional motions a superfluous expenditure^ 
of energy which under similar conditions 
should save. In the same way we find it com- 
ical to see unnecessary motions or evai 
marked exaggeration of expressive motions in 
adults. Among the genuinely comic cases we 
might mention the motions made by tbe bowler 
after he has released the ball while he is fol- 
lowing its course as though he were stiU ablfi 



to control it; all grimaces which exaggerate 
the normal expression of the emotions are com- 
ical, even if they are involuntary, as in the 
case of persons suffering from St. Vitus' 
dance (chorea) ; the impassioned movements 
of a modern orchestra leader will appear com- 
ical to every unmusical person, who cannot 
imderstand why they are necessary. Indeed, 
the comic element found in bodily shapes and 
physiognomy is a branch of the comic of motion, 
in that they are conceived as though they were 
the result of motion that either has been carried 
too far or is purposeless. Wide exposed eyes, 
a crook-shaped nose bent towards the mouth, 
handle-like ears, a hunch back, and all similar 
physical defects probably produce a comical 
impression only in so far as the movements 
that would be necessary to produce these 
features are imagined, whereby the nose and 
other parts of the body are pictured as more 
movable than they actually are. It is cer- 
tainly comical if some one can *' wiggle his 
ears," and it would undoubtedly be a great 
deal more comical if he could raise and lower 
his nose. A large part of the comical impression 
that animals make upon us is due to the fact that 
we perceive in them movements which we cannot 


Comic of Motion 

Sut bow does it come about that we laugh 
as soon as we hare recognized that the actions 
of some one else are immoderate and inap- 
propriate? I believe that we laugh because we 
compare the motions obseired in others with 
those which we ourselves should produce if we 
were in their place. The two persons must 
naturally be compared in accordance with the 
same standard, but this standard is my own 
innervation expenditure connected with my 
idea of motion in the one case as well as the 
other. This assertion is in need of discussion 
and amplification. 

What we are here putting into juxtaposition 
is, on the one hand, the psychic expenditure of 
a given idea, and on the other hand, the con- 
tent of this idea. We maintain that the 
former is not primarily and principally inde- 
pendent of the latter — the content of the 
idea — particularly because the idea of some- 
thing great requires a larger expenditure 
than the idea of something small. As long as 
we are concerned only with the idea of differ- 
ent coarse movements we shall encounter no 
difficulties in the theoretical determination of 
our thesis or in establishing its proof through 
observation. It will be shown that in this case 


an attribute of the idea actually coincides with 
an attribute of the object conceived, although 
psychology warns us of confusions of this sort. 

I obtain an idea of a definite coarse move- 
ment by performing this motion or by imitat- 
ing it, and in so doing I set a standard for 
this motion in ray feelings of innervation.' 

Now if I perceive a similar more or less 
coarse motion in some one else, the surest way 
to the understanding — to apperception — of the 
same is to carry it out imitatively and the com- 
parison will then enable me to decide in which 
motion I expended more energy. Such an im- 
pulse to imitate certainly arises on perceiving 
a movement. But in reality I do not carry 
out the imitation any more than I still spell 
out words simply because I have learnt to read 
by means of spelling. Instead of imitating the 
movement by my muscles I substitute the idea 
of the same through my memory traces of the 
expenditures necessary for similar motions. 
Perceiving, or " tliinking," differs above all 

* The recollection of this innervation expenditure will remalii 
the essential part of the idea of this motion, and there will 
always be mcthoda of thoupht In my psychic life in which the 
Idea will be represented by nothing eUe than this expenditure. 
In other conneclions a substitute for tliis element may possibly 
be put in the form of other ideas, for instance the visual idea 
of the object of the motion, or it may be put in the form of the 
word-idea; and in certain types of abstract thought « aign tn- 
Etead of the foU content itself may suffice. 



from acting or carrying out tilings by the fact 1 
that it entails a very much smaller displace- 
ment of energj' and keeps the main expendi- 
ture from being discharged. But how is the , 
quantitative factor, the more or less big ele- 
ment of the movement perceived, given ex- 
pression in the idea? And if the representa- ' 
tion of the quantity is left off from the idea that 
is composed of qualities, how am I to difiFer- 
entiate the ideas of different big movements, 
how am I to compare them? 

Here, physiology shows the way in that it [ 
teaches us that even while an idea is in the 
process of conception innervations proceed to | 
the muscles, which naturally represent only a i 
moderate expenditure, It is now easy to as- 
sume that this expenditure of innervation 
which accompanies the conception of the idea 
is utilized to represent the quantitative factor 
of the idea, and that when a great motion is 
imagined it is greater than it would be in the 
case of a small one. The conception of greater 
motions would thus actually be greater, that 
is, it would be a conception accompanied by 
greater expenditure. 

Ideational Mimicry 

Observation shows directly that human be- 
ings are in the habit of expressing the big and 1 



small things in their ideation content by means 
of a manifold expenditure or by means of a 
sort of ideational mimicry. 

When a child or a person of the common 
people or one belonging to a certain race im- 
parts or depicts something, one can easily ob- 
serve tiiat he is not content to make his ideas 
intelligible to the hearer through the choice of 
correct words alone, but that he also repre- 
sents the contents of the same through his ex- 
pressive motions. Thus he designates the 
quantities and intensities of " a high moun- 
tain " by raising his hands over his head, and 
those of " a little dwarf " by lowering his 
hand to the ground. If he broke himself of 
the habit of depicting with his hands, he would 
nevertheless do it with his voice, and if He 
should also control his voice, one may be sure 
that in picturing something big he would dis- 
tend his eyes, and describing something httle 
he would press his eyes together. It is not liis 
own affects that he thus expresses, but it is 
really the content of what he imagines. 

Shall we now assume that this need for 
mimicry is first aroused through the demand 
for imparting, whereas a good part of this 
manner of representation still escapes the at- 
tention of the hearer? I rather believe that this 
mimicry, though less vivid, exists even if all 


imparting is left out of the question, that Ä 
coiues about when the person imagines for 
himself alone, or thinks of something in a 
graphic manner; that then such a person, just 
as in talking, expresses through his body the 
idea of big and small which manifests itself at 
least through a change of innervation in the 
facial expressions and sensory organs. Indeed, 
I can imagine that the bodily innervation 
which is consensual to the content of the idea 
conceived is the beginning and origin of mim* 
icry for purposes of communication. For, in 
order to be in a position to serve this purpose, 
it is only necessary to increase it and make it 
conspicuous to the other. Wlien I take the 
view that this " expression of the ideation con- 
tent " should be added to the expression of the 
emotions, which are known as a physical by- 
effect of psychic processes, I am well aware 
that my observations which refer to the eate* 
gory of the big and small do not exhaust 
the subject. I myself could add still other 
things, even before reaching to the phenom- 
enon of tension through which a person 
physically indicates the accumulation of his at- 
tention and the niveau of abstraction upon 
which his thoughts happen to rest. I maintain 
that this subject is very important, and I be- 
lieve that tracing the ideation mimicry in other 


fields of esthetics would be just as useful for 
the understanding of the comic as it is here. 

To return to tlie comic movement, I repeat 
that with the perception of a certain motion 
the impulse to conceive it will be given through 
a certain expenditure. In the " desire to 
imderstand," in the apperception of this move- 
ment I produce a certain expenditure, and I 
behave in this part of the psychic process just 
as if I put myself in the place of the person 
observed. Simultaneously I probably grasp 
the aim of the motion, and through former ex- 
periences I am able to estimate the amount of 
expenditure necessary to attain this aim. I 
thereby drop out of consideration the person 
observed and behave as if I myself wished to 
attain the aim of the motion. These two idea- 
tional possibilities depend on a comparison of 
the motion observed with my own inhibited 
motion. In the case of an immoderate or inap- 
propriate movement on the part of the other, 
r my greater expenditure for understanding be- 
I €X)mes inhibited statu nascendi during the mob- 
ilization as it were, it is declared superfluous 
and stands free for further use or for dis- 
charge through laughing. If other favorable 
conditions supervened this would be the na- 
ture of the origin of pleasure in comic move- 
ment, — an innervation expenditure which. 



when compared with one's own motion, bfr 
comes an inapplicable surplus. 

Comparison of Two Kinds of Expenditure 

We now note that we must continue our 
discussion by following two different paths; 
■first, to determine the conditions for the dis- 
charge of the surplus; secondly, to test 
whether the other cases of the comic can 
conceived similarly to our conception of comic 

We shall turn first to the latter task axA 
after considering comic movement and actioii 
we shall turn to the comic found in the psy^ 
chic activities and peculiarities of others. 

As an example of this kind we may 
sider the comical nonsense produced by 
norant students at examinations; it is more dif- 
ficult, however, to give a simple example 
the peculiarities. We must not be confused 
by the fact that nonsense and foolishness whidi 
so often act in a comical manner are neverthe- 
less not perceived as comical in all cases, just 
as the same things which once made us laugh 
because they seemed comical later may appear 
to us contemptible and hateful. This fai 
which we must not forget to take into accou 


seems only to show that besides the comparison 
familiar to us other relations come into con- 
sideration for the comic effect, — conditions 
which we can investigate in other connections. 
The comic found in the mental and psychic 
attributes of another person is apparently 
again the result of a comparison between him 
and my own ego. But it is remarkable that it 
is a comparison which mostly furnishes the 
result opposite to that obtained through comic 
movement and action. In the latter case it is 
comical if the other person assumes a greater 
expenditure than I believe to be necessary for 
me; in the case of psychic activity it is just 
the reverse, it is comical if the other person 
economizes in expenditure, which I consider 
indispensable; for nonsense and foolishness are 
nothing but inferior activities. In th^ first 
case I laugh because he makes it too difficult 
for himself, and in the latter case because he 
makes it too easy for himself. In the case of 
the comic eflfect it seems to be a question only 
of the difference between the two energy ex- 
penditures — the one of " feeling one's self into 
something" (Einfühlung) — and the other of 
the ego — and it makes no difference in whose 
favor this difference inclines, Tliis peculiarity, 
which at first confuses our judgment, disap- 
pears, however, when we consider that it is in 


accord with our personal development towards 
a higher stage of culture, to limit our muscular 
work and increase our mental work. By 
heightening our mental expenditure we pro- 
duce a diminution of motion expenditure for 
the same activity. Our machines bear witness 
to this cultural success.' 

Thus it coincides with a uniform understand- 
ing that that person appears comical to us who 
puts forth too much expenditure in his psychical 
activities and too little in his mental activities; 
and it cannot be denied that in both cases our 
laughing is the expression of a pleasurably 
perceived superiority which we adjudge to 
ourselves in comparison with him. If the re- 
lation in both cases becomes reversed, that is, 
if the somatic expenditure of the other is less 
and the psychic expenditure greater, then we 
no longer laugh, but are struck with amaze- 
ment and admiration.^ 


Comic of Situation. 

The origin of the comic pleasure discussed here, I 
that is, the origin of such pleasure in a com- | 

'"What one has not in his head," as the saying goes, "hs I 
must have in his legs." 

' The problem has been greatly confused by the general condi- 
tions determining the comic, whereby the comic pleasure Is s 
to have its source now in a too-muchness and now Id • not- 1 



parison of the other person with one's own self 
in respect to the difference I)etween the iden- 
tification expenditure {Einfühlungsaufwand) 
and normal expenditure — is genetically proba- 
bly the most important. It is certain, however, 
that it is not the only one. We have learned 
before to disregard any such comparison be- 
tween the other person and one's self, and to 
obtain the pleasure-bringing difference from 
one side only, either from identification, or 
from the processes in one's own ego, proving 
thereby that the feeling of superiority bears 
no essential relations to comic pleasure. A 
comparison is indispensable, however, for the 
origin of this pleasure, and we find this com- 
parison between two energy expenditures 
which rapidly follow each other and refer to 
the same function. It is produced either in 
ourselves by way of identification with the 
other, or we find it without any identification 
in our own psychic processes. The first case, 
in which the other person still plays a part, 
though he is not compared with ourselves, re- 
sults when the pleasure-producing difference 
of energy expenditures comes into existence 
through outer influences which we can compre- 
hend as a " situation," for which reason this 
species of comic is also called the " comic of 
situation." The peculiarities of the person who 



furnishes the comic do not here come into es- 
sential consideration; we laugh when we admit 
to ourselves that had we been placed in the 
same situation we should have done the same 
thing. Here we draw the comic from the re- 
lation of the individual to the often all-loo- 
powerful outer world, which is represented in 
the psychic processes of the individual by the 
conventions and necessities of society, and evea 
by his bodily needs, A typical example of the 
latter is when a person engaged in an activity, 
which claims all his psychic forces, is suddenly 
disturbed by a pain or excremental need. The 
opposite case which furnishes us the comic 
difference through identification, lies between 
the great interest which existed before the 
disturbance occiu-red and the minimum left 
for his psychic activity after the disturb- 
ance made its appearance. The person who 
furnishes us this difference again become» 
comical through inferioritj'; but he is only in- 
ferior in comparison with his former ego and 
not in comparison with us, for we know that 
in a similar case we could not have behaved 
diflFerently. It is remarkable, however, that 
we find this inferiority of the person only in 
the case where we " feel ourselves " into some 
one, that is, we can only find it comical in the 
other, whereas we ourselves are conscious only 



of painful emotions when such or similar em- 
barrassments happen to us. It is by keeping 
away the painful from our own person that we 
are probably first enabled to enjoy as pleas- 
urable the difference which resulted from the 
comparison of the changing energy. 

Comic of Expectation 

The other source of the comic, which we find 
in our own changes of investing energy, lies 
in our relations to the future, which we are 
accustomed to anticipate through our ideas of 
expectation. I assume that a quantitatively 
determined expenditure underlies our every 
idea of expectation, which in case of disap- 
pointment becomes diminished by a certain dif- 
ference, and I again refer to the observations 
made before concerning " ideational mimicry." 
But it seems to me easier to demonstrate 
the real mobilized psychic expenditure for the 
cases of expectation. It is well known con- 
cerning a whole series of cases that the mani- 
festation of expectation is formed by motor 
preliminaries; this is first of all true of cases 
in which the expected events make demands 
on my motility, and these preparations are 
quantitatively determinable without anything 
further. If I am expecting to catch a ball 


thrown at me, I put my body in states of ten- 1 
sion in order to enable me to withstand the I 
collision with the ball, and the superfluous mo- 1 
tions wliich I make if the ball turns out to bei 
light make me look comical to tlie spectators, ! 
I allowed myself to be misled by the expecta-J 
tion to exert an immoderate expenditure of I 
motion. A similar thing happens if, for exam-| 
pie, I lift out a basket of fruit which I took I 
to be heavy but which was hollow and formed! 
out of wax in order to deceive me. By its up*:! 
ward jerk my arm betrays the fact that I have! 
prepared a superfluous innervation for thisfl 
purpose and hence I am laughed at. In factj 
there is at least one case in which the expecta- 
tion expenditure can be directly demonstrated I 
by means of physiological experimentation with! 
animals. In Pawlof's experiments with sali- J 
vary secretions of dogs who, provided with sali- 1 
vary fistulse, are shown different kinds of food, i 
it is noticed that the amount of saliva secreted J 
through the fistuls depends on whether the 1 
conditions of the experiment have strengthened! 
or disappointed the dogs' expectation to 
fed with the food shown them. 

Even where the thing expected lays claimafl 
enJy to my sensory organs, and not to my mo- 1 
tility, I may assume that the expectation mani^l 
fests itself in a certain motor emanation t 




ing tension of the senses, and I may even con- 
ceive the suspension of attention as a motor 
activity which is equivalent to a certain amount 
of expenditure. Moreover, I can presuppose 
that the preparatory activity of expectation 
is not independent of the amount of the ex- 
pected impression, but that I represent mim- 
ically the bigness and smallness of the same 
by means of a greater or smaller preparatory 
expenditure, just as in the case of imparting 
something and in the case of thinking when 
there is no expectation. The expectation ex- 
penditure naturally will be composed of many 
components, and also for my disappointment 
diverse factors will come into consideration; it 
is not only a question whether the realized 
event is perceptibly greater or smaller than the 
expected one, but also whether the expectation 
is worthy of the great interest which I had of- 
fered for it. In this manner I am instructed 
to consider, besides the expenditure for the 
representation of bigness and smallness (the 
conceptual mimicry), also the expenditure for 
the tension of attention {expectation expendi- 
ture), and in addition to these two expendi- 
tures there is in all cases the abstraction ex- 
penditure. But these other forms of expendi- 
ture can easily be reduced to the one of big- 
ness and smallness, for what we call more in- 




teresting, more sublime, and even more ab- 
stract, are only particularly qualified special 
cases of what is greater. Let us add to this 
that, among other things, Lipps holds that the 
quantitative, not the qualitative, contrast is 
primarily the source of comic pleasure, and we 
shall be altogether content to have chosen the 
comic element of motion as the starting-point 
of our investigation. 

In working out Kant's thesis, " The comic 
is an expectation dwindled into nothing," 
Lipps made the attempt in his book, often 
cited here, to trace the comic pleasure alto- 
gether to expectation. Despite the many in- 
structive and valuable results which this at- 
tempt brought to light I should like to agree 
with the criticism expressed by other authors, 
namely, that Lipps has formulated a field of 
origin of the comic which is much too narrow, 
and that he could not subject its phenomena 
to his formula without much forcing. 


Hmnan beings are not satisfied with enjoy- 
ing the comic as they encounter it in life, but 
they aim to produce it purposely, thus we dis- 
cover more of the nature of the comic by 
studying the methods employed in producing 



the comic. Above all one can produce comical 
elements in one's personality for the amuse- 
ment of others, by making one's self appear 
awkward or stupid. One then produces the 
comic exactly as if one were really so, by com- 
plying with the condition of comparison which 
leads to the difference of expenditure; hut one 
does not make himself laughable or contempti- 
ble through this; indeed, under certain circimi- 
stances one can even secure admiration. The 
feeling of superiority does not come into exist- 
ence in the other when he knows that the actor 
is only shamming, and this furnishes us a good 
new proof that the comic is independent in 
principle of the feeling of superiority. 

To make another comical, the method most 
commonly employed is to transfer him into 
situations wherein he becomes comical regard- 
less of his personal qualities, as a result of hu- 
man dependence upon external circumstances, 
especially social factors; in other words, one 
resorts to the comical situation. This trans- 
ferring into a comic situation may be real as 
in practical jokes, such as placing the foot in 
front of one so that he falls like a clumsy per- 
son, or making one appear stupid by utilizing 
his credulity to make him believe some non- 
sense, etc., or it can be feigned by means of 
speech or play. It is a good aid in aggression. 


in the semce of which production of thel 
comic is wont to place itself in order that the I 
comic pleasure may be independent of the I 
realitj- of the comic situation; thus every per- I 
son is really defenseless against being made.! 

But there are still other means of makingl 
one comical which deserve special attentionl 
and which in part also show new sources of I 
comic pleasure. Imitation, for example, be- 1 
longs here; it accords the hearer an extraor-l 
dinary amount of pleasure and makes its i 
subject comic, even if it still keeps away from 
the exaggeration of caricature. It is mudi 
easier to fathom the comic effect of caricature 
than that of simple imitation. Caricature» i 
parody and travesty, like their practical! 
counterpart — unmasking, range themselves 
against persons and objects who command 
authority and respect and who are exalted in 
some sense — these are procedures tending to-j 
wards degradation.^ In the transferred psy-- 
chic sense, the exalted is equivalent to some- 
thing great and I want to make the statement, 
or more accurately to repeat the statement, 
that psychic greatness like somatic greatness i 

■Degradation: A. Bain (The Bmotioiu and th» Will, 9od Ed, I 
1SS5) states: "The occasion of tlie ludicrous ts the dcgradatioB I 
Of some person of interest possessing dignity. In cirnunstUKOi I 
thata excite no other strong emation" (p. 348). 







is exhibited by means of an increased expendi- 
ture. It needs little observation to ascertain 
that when I speak of the exalted I give a dif- 
ferent innervation to my voice, I change my 
facial expression, an attempt to bring my en- 
tire bearing as it were into complete accord 
with the dignity of that which I present. I 
impose upon myself a dignified restriction not 
much different than if I were coming into the 
presence of an illustrious personage, monarch, 
or prince of science. I can scarcely err when 
I assmne that this added innervation of con- 
ceptual mimicry corresponds to an increased 
expenditure. The third case of such an added 
expenditure I readUy find when I indulge in 
abstract trains of thought instead of in the 
concrete and plastic ideas. If I can now 
imagine that the mentioned processes for de- 
grading the illustrious are quite ordinary, that 
during their activity I need not be on my 
guard and in whose ideal presence I may, to 
use a military formula, put myself " at ease," 
all that saves me the added expenditure of 
dignified restriction. Moreover, the compari- 
son of this manner of presentation instigated 
by identification with the manner of presenta- 
tion to which I have been hitherto accus- 
tomed which seeks to present itself at the 
same time, again produces a diiference in 

cxptiiditiirc vlikii can be <liiiliBiggil lliwingh 

» M 

*t ,Ui\'m 

As is kimmiy camestnre Ltiuj^ alwiiil tiie 
de^ndatioD by resdciiDg praninent one f es- 
tuRy oomic in itself, from the entire pkliiie of 
the exalted object, a featore wUch would be 
creriookcd if viewed wxtfa the entire picture. 
Only bjr iscJatiiig this feature can the eomie 
effect be obtained wfaicfa spreads in our mem- 
Q17 orer the whole picture. This has, how- 
erer, this condition; the presence of the exalted 
itself must not force us into a disposition of 
reverence. Where such a comical feature is 
reaUy larking then caricature unhesitatingly 
creates it by exaggerating one that is not ocnn- 
ical in itself. It is again diaracteristic of the 
origin of comic pleasure that the effect of the 
caricature is not essentially impaired through 
such a falsifying of reality. 


Parody and travesty accomplish the d^^ra^ 
dation of the exalted by other means; they 
destroy the uniformity between the attributes 
of persons familiar to us and their speech and 
actions; by replacing either the illustrious per- 
sons or their utterances by lowly ones. 
Therein they differ from caricature, but not 



through the mechanism of the production of 
the comic pleasure. The same mechanism also 
holds true in unmasking, which comes into 
consideration only where some one has attached 
to himself dignity and authority which in 
reality should be taken from him. We have 
seen the comic effect of unmasking through 
several examples of wit, for example, in the 
story of the fashionable lady who in her first 
labor-pains cries: "Ah, mon Dieu!" but to 
whom the physician paid no attention xmtil she 
screamed: " A-a-a-ai-e-e-e-e-e-e-E-E-E 1 " Be- 
ing now acquainted with the character of the 
comic, we can no longer dispute that this story 
is really an example of comical unmasking and 
has no just claim to the term witticism. It 
recalls wit only through the setting, through 
the technical means of " representation through 
a trifle"; here it is the cry which was found 
sufficient to indicate the point. The fact re- 
mains, however, that our feeling for the nice- 
ties of speech, when we call on it for judg- 
ment, does not oppose calling such a story a 
witticism. We can find the explanation for 
this in the reflection that usage of speech does 

I not enter scientifically into the nature of wit 
so far as we have evolved it by means of this 
painstaking examination. As it is a function 
of the activities of wit to reopen hidden 




sources of comic pleasure (p. 150), every 
fice which does not hring to light barefaced' 
comic may in looser analogy be called a wit- 
ticism. This is especially true in the case of 
unmasking, though in other methods of comio- 
making the appellation also holds good.' 

In the mechanism of " unmasking " one can^ 
also utilize those processes of comic-making 
already known to us which degrade tlie dignity 
of individuals in that they call attention to one 
of the common human frailties, but particu-i 
larly to the dependence of his mental fune-' 
tions upon physical needs. Unmasking them] 
becomes equivalent to the reminder: This or 
that one who is admired like a demtgod 
only a human being like you and me after 
Moreover, all efforts in this mechanism servi 
to lay bare the monotonous psychic automatism 
which is behind wealth and apparent freedom 
of psychic achievements. We have become 
acquainted with examples of such " unmask-j 
ing " through the witticisms dealing with mar-] 
riage agents, and at that time to be sure we 
felt doubt whether we could rightly count 
these stories as wit. Now we can decide with 
more certainty that the anecdote of the echo 
who reinforces all assertions of the marriage 

• " Thus every conscious and clever evocation of the cotnk 
called nit, be it the comic of views or situatians, Naturollf 
caotiot lue tbis view of wit bere." Upps, L c, p. TS. 



^ airent j 


agent and in the end reinforces the latter's 
admission that the hride has a hunch hack with 
the exclamation "And what a hunch!" is es- 
sentially a comic story, an example of the un- 
masking of the psychic automatism. But here 
the comic story serves only as a faijade; to 
any one who wishes to note the hidden meaning 
of the marriage agent, the whole remains a 
splendidly put together piece of wit. He who 
does not penetrate so far sees only the comic 
story. The same is true of the other witticism 
of the agent who, to refute an objection, fi- 
nally confirms the truth through the exclama- 
tion : " But who in the world would lend them 
anything? " This is a comic unmasking which 
serves as a facade for a witticism. Still the 
character of the wit is here quite evident, as 
the speech of the agent is at the same time an 
expression through the opposite. In trying to 
prove that the people are rich he proves at the 
same time that they are not rich but very poor. 
Wit and the comic unite here and teach us 
that a statement may he simultaneously witty 
and comical. 

We eagerly grasp the opportunity to re- 
turn from the comic of unmasking to wit, for 
our real task is to explain the relation between 
wit and comic and not to determine the na- 
ture of the comic. Hence to the case of un- 


OTTeriD^ tiie psvciiic antcmitiiBii» ■/!!*■■ i^m our 
feeding kft us in dodbt as to ^pfaetlier tiie mai- 
ter was camical or wittr, we add MnoAer^ tfae 
case of nonsense-wit ^dieram likefnse wit and 
Hie comic fuse. But our investigatioii will 
ultimatelT show us that in this seooDd case the 
meeting of wit and comic may be tfae areti cally 

In the discussion of Hie tedmiqoes of wit 
we have found that giving free play to audi 
modes of thinking as are common in the un- 
ocmsdous and which in ccmsciousness are om- 
ceived only as '* faulty thinking,^ furnishes the 
technical means of a great many witticisms. 
We had then doubted their witty character 
and were inclined to classify them simply as 
comic stories. We could ccMne to no decisioii 
regarding our uncertainty because in the first 
place the real character of wit was not familiar 
to us. Later we found this character by fol- 
lowing the analogy to the dream-work as to 
the compromise formed by the wit-work be- 
tween the demands of the rational cnitic and 
the impulse not to abandon the old word-pleas- 
ure and nonsense-pleasure. What thus c:ame 
into existence as a cx)mpromise, when the fore- 
conscious thought was left for a moment to 
unconscious elaboration, satisfied both demands 
in all cases, but it presented itself to the critic^ 



in various forms and had to stand various crit- 
icisms from it. In one case wit succeeded in 
surreptitiously assuming the form of an unim- 
portant but none the less admissible proposi- 
tion; a second time it smuggled itself into the 
expression of a valuable thought. But within 
the outer limit of the compromise activity it 
made no effort to satisfy the critic, and defi- 
antly utilizing the pleasure-sources at its dis- 
posal, it appeared before the critic as pure 
nonsense. It had no fear of provoking con- 
tradiction because it could rely on the fact that 
the hearer would decipher the disfigurement of 
the expression through the operation of his un- 
conscious and thus give back to it its meaning. 
Now in what case will wit appear to the 
critic as nonsense? Particularly when it makes 
use of those modes of thought, which are com- 
mon in the unconscious, but forbidden in con- 
scious thought; that is, when it resorts to 
faulty thinking. Some of tlie modes of think- 
ing, of the unconscious, have also been re- 
tained in conscious thinking, for example, 
many forms of indirect expression, allu- 
sions, etc., even though their conscious use 
has to be much restricted. Using these 
techniques wit will arouse little or no op- 
position on the part of the critic; but this only 
happens when it also uses that technical means 


with which conscious thought no longer can 
to have anything to do. Wit can still further^ 
avoid offending if it disguises the faulty think- 
ing by investing it with a semblance of logic 
as in the story of the fancy cake and liqueur, 
salmon with mayonnaise, and similar ones.J 
But should it present the faulty thinking un-l 
disguised, the critic is sure to protest. 

The Meeting of Wit and the Comic 
In this case, something else comes to the aid I 
of wit. The faulty thinking, which as a form I 
of thinking of the unconscious, wit utilizes fori 
its technique, appears comical to the critic,! 
although this is not necessarily the case. The! 
conscious giving of free play to the unconsciousl 
and to those forms of thinking which are re-i 
jected as faulty, furnishes a means for the pro- 
duction of comic pleasure. This can be easily; 
imderstood, as a greater expenditure is surely 
needed for the production of the foreconscious 
investing energy than for the giving of free 
play to the unconscious. When we hear the i 
thought which is formed like one from the un-| 
conscious we compare it to its correct fonn.! 
and this results in a difference of expenditure 1 
which gives origin to comic pleasure. A wit-' 
ticism which makes use of such faulty thinking 1 
as its technique and therefore appears absmdJ 


can produce a comic impression at the same 
time. If we do not strike the trail of the wit, 
there remains to us only the comic or funny 

The story of the borrowed kettle, which 
showed a hole on heing returned, whereupon 
the borrower excused himself by stating that 
in the first place he had not borrowed the ket- 
tle; secondly, that it already had a hole when 
he borrowed it; and thirdly, that he had re- 
turned it intact without any hole {p. 82), is an 
excellent example of a purely comic effect 
through giving free play to one's unconscious 
modes of thinking. Just tliis mutual neutrali- 
zation of several thoughts, each of which is well 
motivated in itself, is the province of the un- 
conscious. Corresponding to this, the dream in 
which the unconscious thoughts become mani- 
fest, also shows an absence of either — or.' 
These are expressed by putting the thoughts 
next to one another. In that dream example 
given in my Interpretation of DreaTna,' which 
in spite of its complication I have chosen as 
a type of the work of interpretation, I seek 
to rid myself of the reproach that I have not 
removed the pains of a patient by psychic 
treatment. l\Iy arguments are: 1. she is her- 

* At the most this is inserted bj tbe dreamer u aa explanation. 
•L c, p. 99*. 


self to blame for her illness, because she does 
not wish to accept my solution, 2. her pains 
are of organic origin, therefore none of my 
concern, 3. her pains are connected with her 
widowhood, for which I am certainly not to 
blame, 4. her pains resulted from an injection 
with a dirty syringe, which was given by 
another. Ail these motives follow one another 
just as thougli one did not exclude the 
other. In order to escape the reproach that 
it was nonsense I had to insert the words 
" either — or " instead of the " and " of the 

A similar comical story is the one which teH» 
of a blacksmith in a Hungarian village who ha» 
committed a crime puniahable by death; the 
burgomaster, however, decreed that not the 
smith but a tailor was to be hanged, as there 
were two tailors in the village but only one 
blacksmith, and the crime had to be expiated. 
Such a displacement of guilt from one person 
to another naturally contradicts all laws of 
conscious logic, but in no ways the mental 
trends of the unconscious. I am in doubt 
whether to call this story comic, and still I put 
the story of the kettle among the witticisms. 
Now I admit that it is far more correct to des- 
ignate the latter as comic rather than witty. 
But now I understand how it happens that my 


feelings, usually so reliable, can leave me in 
the lurch as to whether this story be comic 
or witty. The case in which I cannot come 
to a conclusion through my feelings is the one 
in which the comic results through the uncov- 
ering of modes of thought which exclusively 
belong to the unconscious. A story of that 
kind can be comic and witty at the same time; 
but it will impress me as bemg witty even if 
it be only comic, because the use of the faulty 
thinking of the unconscious reminds me of 
wit, just as in the case of the arrangements 
for the uncovering of the hidden comic dis- 
cussed before {p. 325). 

I must lay great stress upon making clear 
this most delicate point of my analysis, namely, 
the relation of wit to the comic, and will there- 
fore supplement what has been said with some 
negative statements. First of all, I call at- 
tention to the fact that the case of the meeting 
of wit and comic treated here (p. 827) is not 
identical with the preceding one. I grant it 
is a fine distinction, but it can be drawn with 
certainty. In the preceding case the comic 
originated from the uncovering of the psychic 
automatism. This is in no way peculiar to the 
unconscious alone and it does not at all play a 
conspicuous part in the technique of wit. Un- 
masking appears only accidentally in relation 



with wit, in that it serves another technique of 
wit, namely, representation through the oppo- 
site. But in the case of giving free play to 
unconscious ways of thinking the union of wit 
and comic is an essential one, because the 
same method which is used by the first person 
in wit as the technique of releasing pleasure 
will naturally produce comic pleasure in the 
third person. 

We might be tempted to generalize this last 
case and seek the relation of wit to the comic 
in the fact that the effect of wit upon the third 
person follows the mechanism of comic pleas- 
ure. But there is no question about that; con- 
tact with the comic is not in any way found 
in all nor even in most witticisms; in most 
cases wit and the comic can be cleanly sep- 
arated. As often as wit succeeds In escaping 
the appearance of absurdity, which is to say 
in most witticisms of double meaning or of al- 
lusion, one cannot discover any effect in the 
hearer resembling the comic. One can make 
the test with examples previously cited or witfa' 
some new ones given here. 

Congratulatory telegram to be sent to 
gambler on his 70th birthday. 

" Trente et quarante"' (word-diviaitHi 
allusion) . 

'"Trente et quar&ntc" ia a gambling gacoe. 


Madame de Maintenon was called Madame 
de Maintenant (modification of a name). 

We might further beüeve that at least all 
jokes with nonsense fa(;ades appear comical 
and must impress us as such. But I recall 
here the fact that such witticisms often have 
a diflFerent effect on the hearer, calling forth 
confusion and a tendency to rejection (see foot-* 
note, p. 212). Therefore it evidently depends 
whether the nonsense of the wit appears comical 
or common plain nonsense, and the conditions 
for this we have not yet investigated. Accord- 
ingly we hold to the conclusion that wit, judg- 
ing by its nature, can be separated from the 
comic, and that it unites with it on the one 
hand only in certain special cases, on the other 
in the tendency to gain pleasure from intel- 
lectual sources. 

In the course of these examinations con- 
cerning the relations of wit and the comic there 
revealed itself to us that distinction which we 
must emphasize as most significant, and which 
at the same time points to a psychologically 
important characteristic of the comic. We had 
to transfer to the unconscious the source of 
wit- pleasure ; there is no occasion which can be 
discovered for the same localization of the 
comic. On the contrary all analyses which we 
have made thus far indicate that the source 


of comic pleasure lies in the comparison of 
two expenditures, both of which we must 
adjudged to the foreconscious. Wit and the 
comic can above all be differentiated in the 
psychic localization; "wit is, so to speak, tke 
contribution to the comic from the sphere oj 
the unconscious. 

Comic of Imitation 

We need not blame ourselves for digressing' 
from the subject, for the relation of wit to the 
comic is really the occasion which urged us to 
the examination of the comic. But it is time 
for us to return to the point under discussion, 
to the treatment of the means which serve f 
produce the comic. We have advanced the 
discussion of caricature and unmasking, be- 
cause from both of them we can borrow several 
points of similarity for the analysis of the 
comic of imitation. Imitation is mostly 
placed by caricature, which consists in the ex- 
aggeration of ■ certain otherwise not striking 
traits, and also bears the character of degrada- 
tion. Still this does not seem to exhaust the 
nature of imitation; it is incontestable that in 
itself it represents an extraordinarily rich 
source of comic pleasure, for we laugh partio 
ularly over faithful imitations. It is not easjT 


to give a satisfactory explanation of this if we 
do not accept Bergson's view/ according to 
which the comic of imitation is put next to the 
comic produced hy imcovering the psychic 
automatism. Bergson heh'eves that everything 
gives a comic impression which manifests itself 
in the shape of a machine-like inanimate move- 
ment in the human being. His law is that 
" the attitudes, gestures, and movements of 
the human body are laughable in exact pro- 
portion as that body reminds us of a mere 
machine." He explains the comic of imitation 
by connecting it with a problem formulated 
by Pascal in his Thoughts, why is it that we 
laugh at the comparison of two faces that are 
alike although neither of them excites laughter 
by itself. " The truth is that a really hving 
life should never repeat itself. Wherever 
there is repetition or complete similarity, we 
always suspect some mechanism at work behind 
the living." Analyze the impression you get 
from two faces that are too much alike, and 
you will find that you are thinking of two 
copies cast in the same mould, or two impres- 
sions of the same soul, or two reproductions of 
the same negative, — in a word, of some manu- 
facturing process or other. This deflection of 
life towards the mechanical ia here the real 

* BerpOD. 1. c, p. 29. 


cause of laughter (1. c, p. 34) . We might say, it 
is the degradation of the human to the me- 
chanical or inanimate. If we accept these 
winning arguments of Bergson, it is moreover 
not difficult to subject his view to our own 
formula. Taught by experience that every 
living being is different and demands a definite 
amount of expenditure from our understand- 
ing, we find ourselves disappointed when, as 
a result of a perfect agreement or deceptive 
imitation, we need no new expenditure. But 
we are disappointed in the sense of being re- 
lieved, and the expenditure of expectation 
which has become superfluous is discharged 
through laughter. The same formula will also 
cover all cases of comic rigidity considered b; 
Bergson, such as professional habits, fixed 
ideas, and modes of expression which are re- 
peated on every occasion. All these cases aim 
to compare the expenditure of expectation 
with what is commonly required for the under- 
standing, whereby the greater expectation de 
pends on observation of individual variety ani 
human plasticity. Hence in imitation the 
source of comic pleasure is not the comic ol 
situation but that of expectation. 

As we trace the comic pleasure in general 
to comparison, it is incimibent upon us to in* 
vestigate also the comic element of the 

■ pariser 


parison itself, which likewise serves as a means 
of producing the comic, Our interest in this 
question will be enhanced when we recall that 
in the case of comparison the " feeling " as 
to whether something was to be classed as 
witty or merely comical often left us in the 
lurch (v. p. 114). 

The subject really deserves more attention 
than we can bestow upon it. The main qual- 
ity for which we ask in comparison is whether 
it is pertinent, that is, whether it really calls 
our attention to an existing agreement between 
two different objects. The original pleasure 
in refinding the same thing (Groos, p. 108)' 
is not the only motive which favors the use 
of comparison. Besides this there is the fact 
that comparison is capable of a utilization 
which facilitates intellectual work; when for 
example, as is usually the case, one compares 
the less familiar to the more familiar, the ab- 
stract to the concrete, and explains through 
this comparison the more strange and the more 
difficult objects. With every such compari- 
son, especially of the abstract to the concrete, 
there is a certain degradation and a certain 
economy in abstraction expenditure (in the 
sense of a conceptual mimicry) yet this nat- 
urally does not suffice to render prominent 
the character of the comic. The latter does not 


emerge suddenly from the freed pleasure of 
the comparison but comes gradually; there 
axe many cases which only touch the comic, in 
which one might doubt whether they show the 
comic character. The comparison undoubtedly 
becomes comical when the niveau difference 
of the expenditure of abstraction between the 
two things compared becomes increased, if 
something serious and strange, especially of 
intellectual or moral nature is compared to 
something banal and lowly. The former re- 
lease of pleasure and the contribution from 
the conditions of conceptual mimicry may per- 
haps explain the gradual change — which is de- 
termined by quantitative relations, — from the 
universally pleasurable to the comic, which 
takes place during the comparison. I am 
certainly avoiding misunderstandings in that 
I emphasize that I deduce the comic pleasure 
in the comparison, not from the contrast of 
the two things compared but from the differ- 
enee of the two abstraction expenditures. 
The strange which is difficult to grasp, the ab- 
stract and really intellectually sublime, throu^, 
its alleged agreement with a famiUar lowl; 
one, in the imagination of which every abstrac-' 
tion expenditure disappears, is now itself m»-i 
masked as something equally lowly. 



' comic of comparison thus becomes reduced to 
a case of degradation. 

The comparison, as we have seen above, can 
now be witty without a trace of comic admix- 
ture, especially when it happens to evade the 
degradation. Thus the comparison of Truth 
to a torch which one cannot carry through a 
crowd without singeing somebody's beard is 
pure wit, because it takes an obsolete expres- 
sion ("The torch of truth") at its full value 
and not at all in a comical sense, and because 
the torch as an object does not lack a certain 
distinction, though it is a concrete object. 
However, a comparison may just as well be 
witty as comic, and what is more one may be 
independent of the other, in that the compari- 
son becomes an aid for certain teclmiques of 
wit, as, for example, unification or allusion. 
Thus Nestroy's comparison of memory to a 
"Warehouse" {p. 120) is simultaneously comi- 
cal and witty, first, on account of the extra- 
ordinary degradation to which the psychologi- 
cal conception must consent in the comparison 
to a " Warehouse," and secondly, because he 
who utilizes the comparison is a clerk, and in 
this comparison he establishes a rather unex- 
pected unification between psychology and his 
Tocation. Heine's verse, " until at last the 
buttons tore from the pants of my patience," 


seems at first an excellent example of a comic 
degrading comparison, but on closer reflection 
we must ascribe to it also the attribute of wit- 
tiness, since tbe comparison as a means of al- 
lusion strikes into the realm of the obscene and 
causes a release of pleasure from the obscene, i 
Through a imion not altogether incidental the I 
same material also gives us a resultant pleas- 
ure which is at the same time comical and 
witty; it does not matter whether or not the 
conditions of the one promote the origin of tbe J 
other, such a union acts confusingly on the ^ 
" feeling " whose function it is to announce to 
us whether we have before us wit or the comic, 
and only a careful examination independent 
of the disposition of pleasure can decide 

As tempting as it would be to trace Üiese 
more intimate determinations of comie pleas- 
ure, the author must remember that neither 
his previous education nor his daily vocation 
justifies him in extending his investigations be- 
yond the spheres of wit, and he must confess 
that it is precisely the subject of comic com- 
parison which makes him feel his incompetence. 

We are quite willing to be reminded that . 
many authors do not recognize the clear no- ] 
tional and objective distinction between wit J 
and comic, as we were impelled to do, and Hialfa 




f they 


they classify wit merely as " the comic of 
speech " or " of words." To test this view let 
us select one example of intentional and one 
of involuntary comic of speech and compare 
it with wit. We have already mentioned be- 
fore that we are in a good position to dis- 
tinguish comic from witty speech. " With a 
fork and with effort, his mother pulled him 
out of the mess," is only comical, but Heine's 
verse about the four castes of the population 
of Göttingen: "Professors, students, Phihs- 
tines, and cattle," is exquisitely witty. 

As an example of the intentional comic of 
speech I will take as a model Stettenheim's 
Wippchen. We call Stettenheim witty be- 
cause he possesses the cleverness that evokes 
the comic. The wit which one " has " in con- 
tradistinction to the wit which one " makes," 
is indeed correctly conditioned by this ability. 
It is true that the letters of Wippchen are 
also witty in so far as they are interspersed 
with a rich collection of all sorts of witticisms, 
some of which very successful ones, (as " fes- 
tively imdressed " when he speaks of a parade 
of savages), but what lends the peculiar char- 
acter to these productions is not these iso- 
lated witticisms, but the superabundant flow 
of comic speech contained therein. Originally 
Wippchen was certainly meant to represent 



a satirical character, a modification of Frey- 
tag's Sclmiock, one of those uneducated per- 
sons who trade in the educational treasure of 
the nation and abuse it; but tlie pleasure in 
the comic effect experienced in representing 
this person seems gradually to have pushed to 
the background the author's satirical tendency. 
Wippchen's productions are for the most part 
*' comic nonsense." The author has justly 
utilized the pleasant mood resulting from the 
accumulation of such achievements to present 
beside the altogether admissible material all 
sorts of absurdities which would be intolerable 
in themselves. Wippchen's nonsense appears 
to he of a specific nature only on account of 
its special technique. If we look closer into 
some of these " witticisms," we find that some 
forms which have impressed their character ott 
the whole production are especially conspicu- 
ous. Wippchen makes use mostly of composi- 
tions (fusions), of modifications of familiar 
expressions and quotations. He replaces some 
of the banal elements in these expressions by 
others which are usually more pretentious and 
more valuable. This naturally comes near to 
the techniques of wit. 


TIte Comic of Speech 

Some of the fusions taken from the preface 
and the first pages are the following: " Tur- 
key's money is like the hay of the sea." This 
is only a condensation of the two expressions, 
" Money like hay," " Money like the sands of 
the sea." Or; "I am nothing but a leafless pü- 
lar which tells of a vanished splendor," which 
is a fusion of " leafless trunk " and " a pillar 
■which, etc." Or: " Where is Ariadne's thread 
•which leads out of the Scylla of this Augean 
»table? " for which three different Greek myths 
contribute an element each. 

The modifications and substitutions can be 
treated collectively without much forcing; their 
character can be seen from the following exam- 
ples which are peculiar to Wippchen, they are 
regularly permeated by a dififerent wording 
which is more fliuent, most banal, and reduced 
to mere platitudes. 

" To hang mij paper and ink high" The 
saying: " To hang one's bread-basket high," 
expresses metaphorically the idea of placing 
one under difficult conditions. But why not 
stretch this figure to other material? 

" Already in my youth Pegasus was alive m 
me" When the word " pegasus " is replaced 
by " the poet," one can recognize it as an ex- 



preanoD often used in uitoinpgnplnes. Kife 
jin33j "pegasas" is Dot the proper word 
repUee the words "the poet," but it hil 
tiiougfat associations to it and is a higfa-sount 
iag word. 

Fran Wippcben's other nomerous produc- 
tions some examples can be shown which pre- 
sent the pure comic. As an example of couue 
dtsiUusiomuent the fc^owing can be cited: 
" For hourg the battle raged, ßnaUy it f»- 
nutined undecisive"; an example of comicd 
unmasking (of ignorance) is the foHowing: 
" Clio, the Medtua of history, " at quotatww 
like the following: " Habent sua fata 
gana." But our interest is aroused nwre bf 
the fusions and modifications because tbey rt- 
call familiar techniques of wit. We may ooi 
pare them to sudi modification witticisma ■ 
the following: " He has a great future i 
him," and Lichtenberg's modification witt 
such as : " New baths heal well," etc Should 
Wippchen 's productions having the same tech- 
nique be called witticisms, or what distinguishes 
them from the latter? 

It is surely not difficult to answer thii. 
Let us remember that wit presents to tfae 
hearer a double face, and forces him to 
different views. In nonsense-witticisms such' 
as those mentioned last, one view, which con- 



^ders only the wording, states that they are 
nonsense; the other view, which, in obedience 
to suggestion, follows the road that leads 
through the hearer's unconscious, finds very 
good sense in these witticisms. In Wippchen's 
wit-like productions one of these views of wit 
i« empty, as if stunted. It is a Janus head 
with only one countenance developed. One 
would get nowhere should he be tempted to 
proceed by means of this technique to the un- 
conscious. The condensations lead to no case 
to which the two fused elements really result 
hi a new sense; they fall to pieces when an 
Attempt is made to analyze them. As in wit, 
the modifications and substitutions lead to a 
current and familiar wording, but they them- 
selves tell us little else and as a rule nothing 
that is of any possible use. Hence the only 
thing remaining to these '* witticisms " is the 
nonsense view. Whether such productions, 
which have freed themselves from one of the 
most essential characters of wit, should be 
called " bad " wit or not wit at all, every one 
must decide as he feels inclined. 

There is no doubt that such stunted wit pro- 
duces a comic effect for which we can account 
in more than one way. Either the comic 
originates through the uncovering of the un- 
conscious modes of thinking in a manner sim- 


ilar to the cases considered above, or the wit, 
originates by comparison with perfect wit 
Nothing prevents us from assuming that we 
here deal with a union of both modes of origin 
of the comic pleasure. It is not to be denied 
that it is precisely the inadequate dependence 
on wit which here shapes the nonsense into 
comic nonsense. 

Comic of Inadequacy 

There are, of course, other quite apparent 
cases, in which such inadequacy produced by 
the comparison with wit, makes the nonsense 
irresistibly comic. The counterpart to wit, tlie 
riddle, can perhaps give us better examples 
for this than wit itself. A facetious question 
states: WJiat is this: It hangs on the -wall and 
one can dry his hands on it? It would be 
foolish riddle if the answer were: a towel. On 
the contrary this answer is rejected xmth the 
statement: No, it is a herring. — "But. for 
mercy's sake," is the objection. " a herring 
does not hang on the wall," — "But ymt can 
hang it there," — " But who wants to dry U» 
hands on a herring?" — "Well," ia the soft 
answer, "you don't have to." This explana- 
tion given through two typical displacement; 
show how much this question lacks of being 




real riddle, and because of this absolute insuf- 
ficiency it impresses one as irresistibly comic, 
rather than mere nonsensical foolishness. 
Through such means, that is, by not restricting 
essential conditions, wit, riddles, and other 
fonns, which in themselves produce no comic 
pleasure, can be made into sources of comic 

It is not so difficidt to understand the case 
of the involuntary comic of speech which we 
can perhaps find realized with as much fre- 
quency as we like in the poems of Frederika 


Fraternal Bcntiment should urge as 
To champion the Guinea-pig, 
For has it not a soul like ours, 
Although most likely not as big? 

Or a conversation between a loving couple. 


The young wife whispers " I'm so happy," 
" And I ! " chimes in her husband's voice, 
" Because your virtues, dearest help-mate, 
Reveal the wisdom of my choice." 

■Sixth Ed., Berlin, 1891. 



There is nothing here which makes one think 
of wit. Doubtless, however, it is the inadequate 
of these " poetic productions/' as the very ex- 
traordinary clumsiness of the expressions which 
recall the most commonplace or newspaper 
style, the ingenious poverty of thoughts, the 
absence of every trace of poetic manner of 
thinking or speaking,— it is all these inad* 
equacies which make these poems comic. Nev- 
ertheless it is not at all self-evident that we 
should find Kempner's poems comical; many 
similar productions we merely consider very 
bad, we do not laugh at them but are ratbef 
vexed with them. But here it is the great dis- 
parity in our demand of a poem which impels 
us to the comic conception; where this differ- 
ence is less, we are inclined to criticise rather* 
than laugh. The comic effect of Kempner's 
poetic productions is furthermore assured by 
the additional circumstances of the lady 
thor's unmistakably good intentions, and by 
the fact that her helpless phrases disarm oar 
feeling of mockerj' and anger. We are now 
reminded of a problem the consideration of 
which we have so far postponed. The differ- 
ence of expenditure is surely the main condi- 
tion of the comic pleasure, but observation 
teaches that such difference does not atways 
produce pleasure. What other conditions must 



be added, or what disturbances must be 
checked in order that pleasure should result 
from the difference of expenditure? But be- 
fore proceeding with the answers to these 
questions we wish to verify what was said in 
the conclusions of the former discussion, 
namely, that the comic of speech is not synony- 
mous with wit, and that wit must be some- 
tiling quite different from speech comic. 

As we are about to attack the problem just 
formulated, concerning the conditions of the 
origin of comic pleasure from the difference of 
expenditure, we may permit ourselves to facili- 
tate this task so as to cause ourselves some 
pleasure. To give a correct answer to this 
question would amount to an exhaustive 
presentation of the nature of the comic for 
which we are fitted neither by ability nor author- 
ity. We shall therefore again be content to 
elucidate the problem of the comic only 
so far as it distinctly separates itself from 

All theories of the comic were objected to 
by the critics on the ground that in defining 
the comic these theories overlooked the essen- 
tial element of it. This can be seen from the 
Mlowing theories, with their objections. The 
comic depends on a contrasting idea; yes, in 
, so far as this contrast effects one comically and 


in no other way. The feeling of the comic re- 
sults from the dwindling away of an expecta- 
tion; yes, if the disappointment does not prove 
to be painful. There is no doubt that these 
objections are justified, but they are overestr 
mated if one concludes from them that the es- 
sential characteristic mark of the comic has 
hitherto escaped our conception. VVbal depre- 
ciates the general validity of these definitions 
are conditions which are indispensable for the 
origin of the comic pleasure, but which will be 
searched in vain for the nature of comic pleas- 
ure. The rejection of the objections and the 
explanations of the contradictions to the defini- 
tions of the comic will become easy for us, 
only after we trace back comic pleasure to the 
difference resulting from a comparison of two 
expenditures. Comic pleasure and the effect 
by which it is recognized^Iaugbter, can orig- 
inate only when this difference is no longer 
utilizable and when it is capable of discharge. 
We gain no pleasurable effect, or at most 
flighty feeling of pleasure in which the comic 
does not appear, if the difi'erence is put to 
other use as soon as it is recognized. Just 
as special precautions must be taken in wit, 
in order to guard against making new use of 
expenditure recognized as superfluous, so also 
can comic pleasure originate only under rela- 


tions which fulfil this latter condition. The 
cases in which such differences of expenditure 
originate in our ideational life are therefore 
uncommonly numerous, while the cases in 
which the comic originates from them is com- 
paratively very rare. 

The Conditions of Isolation of the Comic 

Two obser\'ations ohtrude themselves upon 
the ohserver who reviews even only superficially 
the origin of comic pleasure from the difference 
of expenditure; first, that there are cases in 
which the comic appears regularly and as if 
necessarily; and, in contrast to these cases, 
others in which this appearance depends on the 
conditions of the case and on the viewpoint of 
the observer; but secondly, that unusually 
large differences very often triumph over un- 
favorable conditions, so that the comic feeling 
originates in spite of it. In reference to the 
first point one may set up two classes, the in- 
evitable comic and the accidental comic, al- 
though one will have to he prepared from the 
beginning to find exceptions in the first class 
to the inevitableness of the comic. It would 
be tempting to follow the conditions which are 
essential to each class. 

What is important in the second class are 



1^^^. pi 

the conditions of which one may be designaixi 
as the " isolation " of the ccanic case. A closer 
analysis renders conspicuous relations 901 
thing like the following: 

a) The favorable condition for the origis 
of comic pleasure is brought about by a geo' 
eral happy disposition in which " one is in the 
mood for laughing." In happy toxic states al- 
most everything seems comic, which probably 
results from a comparison with the expendi- 
ture in normal conditions. For wit, the comic; 
and all similar methods of gaining pleasurt 
from the psychic activities, are nothing but 
ways to regain this happy state — euphoria— 
from one single point, when it does not exist 
as a general disposition of the psyche. 

b) A similar favorable condition is pro* 
duced by the expectation of the comic or hf 
putting one's self in the right mood for comic 
pleasure. Hence when the intention to maktf^ 
things comical exists and when this feeling i 
shared by others, the differences required are 
so slight that they probably would have beeir 
overlooked had they been experienced in un- 
premeditated occurrences. He who decides tff 
attend a comic lecture or a farce at the theater 
is indebted to this intention for laughing orcT 
things which in his everyday life would hardl;^ 
produce in him a comic effect. He final^ 


lau^s at the recollection of having laughed, at 
the expectation of laughing, and at the appear- 
ance of the one who is to present the comic, 
even before the latter makes the attempt to 
make him laugh. It is for this reason that 
people admit that they are ashamed of that 
which made them laugh at the theater. 

c) Unfavorable conditions for the comic re- 
sult from the kind of psychic activity which 
may occupy the individual at the moment. 
Imaginative or mental activity tending towards 
serious aims disturbs the discharging capacity 
<rf the investing energies which the activity 
needs for its own displacements, so that only 
unexpected and great differences of expendi- 
ture can break through to form comic pleas- 
ure. All manner of mental processes far 
enough removed from the obvious to cause a 
«ispension of ideational mimicry are unfavora- 
ble to the comic; in abstract contemplation 
there is hardly any room left for the comic, 
except when this form of thinking is suddenly 

d) The occasion for releasing comic pleas- 
ure vanishes wlien the attention is fixed on the 
comparison capable of giving rise to the comic. 
Undw sudi circumstances the comic force Js 
lost from that which is otherwise sure to pro- 
4ucß a «omie effect. A movement or a mental 



activity cannot become comical to him wbose 
interest is fixed at the time of comparing this 
movement with a standard which distinctly 
presents itself to him. Thus the examiner does 
not see the comical in the nonsense produced 
by the student in his ignorance; he is simply 
annoyed by it, whereas the offender's class- 
mates who are more interested in his chances 
of passing the examination than in what he 
knows, laugh heartily over the same nonsense. 
The teacher of dancing or gymnastics seldom 
has any eyes for the comic movements of hia 
pupils, and the preacher entirely loses sight of 
humanity's defects of character, which the 
writer of comedy brings out with so much ef- 
fect. The comic process cannot stand examina- 
tion by the attention, it must be able to pro- 
ceed absolutely unnoticed in a maimer similar 
to wit. But for good reasons, it would con- 
tradict the nomenclature of " conscious proo* 
esses " which I have used in The IvterpretOf 
tion of Dreams, if one wished to call it of 
necessity unconscious. It rather belongs to 
the foreconscious, and one may use the fitting 
name " automatic " for all those processes 
which are enacted in the foreeonscious and 
dispense with the attention energy wliich is 
connected with consciousness. The process 
of comparison of the expenditures must re- 


I main automatic if it is to produce comic 

Conditions Disturbing the Discharge 

e) It is exceedingly disturbing to the comic 
if the case from which it originates gives rise 
at the same time to a marked release of af- 
fect. The discharge of the affective difference 
is then as a rule excluded. Affects, disposition, 
and the attitude of the individual in occasional 
cases make it clear that the comic comes or 
goes with the viewpoint of the individual per- 
son; that only in exceptional cases is there an 
absolute comic. The dependence or relativity 
of the comic is therefore much greater than 
of wit, which never happens but is regularly 
made, and at its production one may already 
give attention to the conditions under which 
it finds acceptance. But affective development 
is the most intensive of the conditions which 
disturb the comic, the significance of which is 
well known.' It is therefore said that the 
comic feeling comes most in tolerably indiffer- 
ent cases which evince no strong feelings or 
interests. Nevertheless it is just in cases with 
affective release that one may witness the pro- 
duction of a particularly strong expenditure- 

' " You maj well laugh, that no longer concerns joa." 



differenoe id the automatism of 
When Colonel Butler answers Octario's 
monitions with " bitter Liugfater," exd 

"Thanits from the boow of Atutoa.!*' 

his bitteroess has thus not prerented the lauglhl 
t^r which results from the recollection 
disappointment which be believes he has 
ieoced; and on the other hand, the magnitude 
of this disappointment could not hare been 
more impressively depicted by the poet than 
by showing it capable of affecting laughter in 
the midst of the storm of unchained sffe<^ 
It is my belief that this explanation may be 
applicable in all cases in which laughing occun 
on other than pleasurable occasions, and inj 
conjunction with exceedingly painful or teoMM 
affects. ' 

t) If we also mention that the development 
of the comic pleasure can be promoted I^ 
means of any other pleasurable addition to the 
case wbicli acts like a sort of contact-eflfect 
(after the manner of the fore-pleasure princi- 
ple in the tendency-wit), then we have 
cussed surely not all the conditions of 
pleasure, yet enough of them to serve our pur-" 
pose. We then see that no other assumption 
so easily covers these conditions, as well as the 
inooQstam^ and dependence of the comic ef-/ 

ve di»J 



feet, as this: the assumption that comic pleas- 
ure is derived from the discharge of a differ- 
ence, which under many conditions can be di- 
verted to a different use than discharge. 

It still remains to give a thorougli consider- 
ation of the comic of the sexual and obscene, 
but we shall only skim over it with a few ob- 
servations. Here, too, we shall take the act 
of exposing one's body as the starting-point. 
An accidental exposure produces a comical 
effect on us, because we compare the ease with 
which we attained the enjoyment of this view 
with the great expenditure otherwise necessary 
for the attainment of this object. The case 
thus comes nearer to the naive-comic, but it is 
simpler than the latter. In every case of ex- 
hibitionism in which we are made spectators — 
or, in the case of the smutty joke hearers, — 
we play the part of the third person, and the 
person exposed is made comical. We have 
heard that it is the purpose of wit to replace 
obscenity and in this manner to reopen a 
source of comic pleasure that has been lost. 
On the contrary, spying out an exposure forms 
no example of the comic for the one spying, 
because the effort he exerts thereby abrogates 
the condition of comic pleasure; the only thing 
remaining is the sexual pleasin-e in what is 


seen. If the spy relates to another what he 
has seen, the person looked at again becomes 
comical, because the viewpoint that predom- 
inates is that the expenditure was omitted 
which would have been necessary for the con- 
ceahnent of the private parts. At all events, 
the sphere of the sexual or obscene offers the 
richest opportunities for gaining comic pleas- 
ure beside the pleasurable sexual stimulation, 
as it exposes the person's dependence on his 
physical needs (degradation) or it can uncover 
behind the spiritual love the physical demands 
of the same (immasking.) 

The Psychogenem of the Comic 

An invitation to seek the understanding of 
the comic in its psychogenesis comes sur- 
prisingly from Bergson's well written and 
stimulating book Laughter. Bergson, whose 
formula for the conception of the comic char- 
acter has already become known to 
" mechanization of life," " the substitution of 
something mechanical for the natural " — 
reaches by obvious associations from autwn- 
atism to the automaton, and seeks to trace 
a series of comic effects to the blurred memories 
of children's toys. In this connection he once 
reaches this viewpoint, which, to be sure, he sooq 



drops; he seeks to trace the comic to the after- 
effect of childish pleasure. " Perhaps we 
ought even to carry simplification still farther, 
and, going back to our earliest recollection, 
try to discover in the games that amused us 
as children the first faint traces of the com- 
binations that make us laugh as grown-up 
persons." ..." Above all, we are too apt 
to ignore the childish elementj so to speak, 
latent in most of our joyful emotions " (p. 67). 
As we have now traced wit to that childish 
playing with words and thoughts which is 
prohibited by the rational critic, we must be 
tempted to trace also these infantile roots of 
the comic, conjectured by Bergson. 

As a matter of fact we meet a whole series 
of conditions which seem most promising, when 
we examine the relation of the comic to the 
«hild. The child itself does not by any means 
seem comic to us, although its character fulfills 
all conditions which, in comparison to our own, 
would result in a comic difference. Thus we 
see the immoderate expenditure of motion as 
well as the slight psychic expenditure, the con- 
trol of the psychic activities through bodily 
functions, and other features. The child gives 
us a comic impression only when it does not 
behave as a child but as an earnest grown-up, 
and even then it affects us only in the same 


manner as other persons in disguise; but . 
long as it retains the nature of the child ■ 
perception of it furnishes us a pure pleasure 
which perhaps recalls the comic. We call it 
naive in so far as it displays to us the absenoe 
of inhibitions, and we call naive-comic those < 
its utterances which in another we would haw 
considered obscene or witty. 

On the other hand the child lacks all feel- 
ing for the comic. This sentence seems to say] 
no more than that this comic feeling, like i 
others, first makes its appearance in the course 
of psychic development; and that would by do" 
means be remarkable, especially since we must 
admit that it shows itself distinctly even dur- 
ing years which must be accredited to child«J^ 
hood. Nevertheless it can be demonstrati 
that the assertion that the child lacks feeling* 
for the comic has a deeper meaning than one 
would suppose. In the first place it will read- 
ily be seen that it cannot be different, if ou 
conception is correct, that the comic feeling i 
suits from a difference of expenditure pn 
duced in the effort to understand the oth^J 
Let us again take comic motion as an exampl&j 
The comparison which furnislies the difference 
reads as follows, when put in conscious formu- 
lee: "So he does it," and: "So I would doi 
it," or " So I have done it." But the • 

^iing , 






lacks the standard contained in the second 
sentence, it understands simply through imita- 
tion; it just does it. Education of the child 
furnishes it with the standard: " So you shall 
do it," and if it now makes use of the same 
in comparisons, the nearest conclusion is : " He 
has not done it right, and I can do it better." 
In this case it laughs at the other, it laughs 
at him with a feeling of superiority. There 
is nothing to prevent us from tracing this 
laughter also to a difference of expenditure; 
but according to the analogy with the exam- 
ples of laugiiter occurring in us we may con- 
clude that the comic feeling is not experienced 
by the child when it laughs as an expression 
of superiority. It is a laughter of pure pleas- 
ure. In our own case whenever tlie judgment 
of our own superiority occurs we smile rather 
than laugh, or if we laugh, we are still able 
to distinguish clearly this conscious realization 
of our superiority from the comic which makes 
us laugh. 

It is probably correct to say that in many 
cases which we perceive as " comical " and 
■which we cannot explain, the child laughs out 
iof pure pleasure, whereas the child's motives 
are clear and assignable. If, for instance, 
some one slips on the street and falls, we laugh 
because this impression — we know not why — 


is comical. The child laughs in the same case 
out of a feeling of superiority or out of jcy 
over the calamity of others. It amounts to 
saying: "You fell, but I did not." Certain 
pleasure motives of the child seems to be lost 
for us grown-ups, but as a substitute for these 
we perceive under the same conditions the- 
" comic " feeling. 

The Infantile and the Comic 

If we were permitted to generalize, it would 
seem very tempting to transfer the desired 
specific character of the comic into the awak- 
ening of the infantile, and to conceive tb 
comic as a regaining of " lost infantile laugh" 
ing." One could then say, " I laugh every tir 
over a difference of expenditure between 
other and myself, when I disco\'er in the otha 
the child." Or expressed more precisely, 
whole comparison leading to the comic ' 
read as follows: 

"He does it this way — I do it differently— 
He does it just as I did when I was a child.** 


This laughter would thus result every ■ 
from the comparison between the ego of 
grown-up and the ego of the child. The UDcei^ 
tainty itself of the comic difference, 


now the lesser and now the greater expendi- 
ture to appear comical to me, would corre- 
spond to the infantile determination; the comic 
therein is actually always on the side of the in- 

This is not contradicted by the fact that the 
child itself as an object of comparison does not 
make a coniic impression on me hut a purely 
pleasurable one, nor by the fact that this com- 
parison with the infantile produces a comic 
effect only when any other use of the differ- 
ence is avoided. For the conditions of the 
discharge come therebj' into consideration. 
Everything that confines a psychic process in 
an association of ideas works against the dis- 
charge of the surplus occupation of energy 
and directs the same to other utilization; what- 
ever isolates a psychic act favors the discharge. 
By consciously focussing on the child as the 
person of comparison, the discharge necessary 
for the production of comic pleasure therefore 
becomes impossible; only in foreconscious en- 
ergetic states is there a similar approach to the 
isolation which we may moreover also ascribe 
to the psychic processes in the child. The ad- 
dition to the comparison : " Thus I have also 
dcme it as a child," from which the comic ef- 
fect would emanate, could come into consider- 
fttitm for the average difference only when no 


other association could obtain control over the 
freed surplus. 

If we still continue with our attempt to find 
the nature of the comic in the foreconscious 
association of the infantile, we have to go a 
step further than Bergson and admit that the 
comparison resulting in the comic need not 
necessarily awake old childish pleasure and 
play, but that it is enough if it touches the 
childish nature in general, perhaps even child- 
ish pain. Herein we deviate from Bergson, 
but remain consistent with ourselves, when we 
connect the comic pleasure not with remem- 
bered pleasure but always with a comparison- 
This is possible, for cases of the first kind com- 
prise in a measure those which are regularly 
and irresistibly comic. Let us now draw up 
the scheme of the comic possibilities instanced 
above. We stated that the comic difference 
would be found either 

(a) through a comparison between the other 
and one's self, or (b) through a comparison al- 
together within the other, or (c) through a 
comparison altogether within one's self. 

In the first case the other would appear to 
me as a child, in the second he would put him- 
self on the level of a child, and in the third I 
would find the child in myself. To the first 
class belong the comic of movement and of 


forms, of psychic activity and of character. 
The infantile corresponding to it would be the 
motion-impulse and the inferior mental and 
moral development of the child, so that the fool 
would perhaps become comical to me by re- 
minding me of a lazy child, and the bad per- 
son by reminding me of a naughty child. 
The only time one might speak of a childish 
pleasm-e lost to grown-ups would he where the 
child's own motion pleasure came into consid- 

The second case, in which the comic alto- 
gether depends on identification with the other, 
comprises numerous possibilities such as the 
comic situation, exaggeration (caricature), imi- 
tation, degradation, and unmasking. It is 
under this head that the presentation of in- 
fantile viewpoints mostly take place. For the 
comic situation is largely based on embarrass- 
ment, in which we feel again the helplessness 
of the child. The worst of these embarrass- 
ments, the disturbance of other activities 
through the imperative demands of natural 
wants, corresponds to the child's lack of con- 
trol of the physical functions. 'Where the 
comic situation acts through repetitions it is 
based on the pleasure of constant repetition 
peculiar to the child (asking questions, telling 
stories) , through which it makes itself a 



nuisance to grown-ups. Exaggeration, whidi 
also affords pleasure even to the grown-up in 
so far as it is justified by his reason, corre* 
spends to the characteristic want of moderation 
in the child, and its ignorance of all quanti- 
tative relations which it later really learns to 
know as qualitative. To keep within bounds, 
to practice moderation even in permissible feel« 
ings is a late fruit of education, and is gained 
through opposing inhibitions of the psychic 
activity acquired in the same assodatioa. 
Wherever this association is weakened as in the 
unconscious of dreams and in the monoideation 
of the psychoneiu'oses, the want of moderatioD 
of the child again makes its appearance. 

The understanding of comic imitation 
caused us many difficulties so long as we left 
out of consideration the infantile factor. But 
imitation is the child's best art and is tiie im- 
pelling motive of most of its playing. The 
child's ambition is not so much to distinguish 
himself among his equals as to imitate the big* 
fellows. The relation of the child to tfatf 
grown-up determines also the comic of degTsd»* 
tion, which corresponds to the lowering of tfaff 
grown-up in the life of the child. Few things 
can afford the child greater pleasure than wbe9 
the grown-up lowers himself to its level, disre* 
gards bis superiority, and plays with the diild 



as its equ&I. The alleviation which furnishes 
the child pure pleasure is a debasement used by 
the adult as a means of making things comic 
and as a source of comic pleasure. As for un- 
masking we know that it is based on degrada- 

The infantile determination of the third case, 
the comic of expectation, presents most of the 
difficulties; this really explains why those au- 
thors who put this case to the foreground in 
their conception of the comic, found no occa- 
sion to consider the infantile factor in their 
studies of the comic. The comic of expecta- 
tion is farthest from the child's thoughts, the 
abihty to understand this is the latest quality 
to appear in him. Most of those cases which 
produce a comic effect in the grown-up are 
probably felt by the child as a disappointment. 
One can refer, however, to the blissful ex- 
pectation and gullibility of the child in order 
to understand why one considers himself as 
comical " as a child," when he succumbs to 
comic disappointment. 

If the preceding remarks produce a certain 
probability that the comic feeling may be 
translated into the thought; everything is comic 
that does not fit the grown-up, I still do not 
feel bold enough, — in view of my whole posi- 
tion to the problem of the comic — to defend 



this last proposition with the same earnestness 
as those that I formulated before. I am una- 
ble to decide whether the lowering to the level 
of the child is only a special case of comic 
degradation, or whether everything comical 
fundamentally depends on the degradation to 
the level of the child.' 


An examination of the comic, however super- 
ficial it may be, would be most incomplete if 
it did not devote at least a few remarks to the 
consideration of humor. There is so little 
doubt as to the essential relationship between 
the two that a tentative explanation of the 
comic must furnish at least one component for 
the understanding of humor. It does not mat- 
ter how much appropriate and important ma- 
terial was presented as an appreciation of hu- 
mor, which, as one of the highest psychic fuDo 
tions, enjoys the special favor of thinkers, we 
still cannot elude the temptation to express 
its essence through an approach to the formul«, 
given for wit and the comic. 

*Iliat comic pleasure has Its source In the " quBntltBUve 
trast," in the comparison of big and gmall, which ultimate!]' 
expresses the essential relation of the child to the gtowtt-vpt' 
would indeed lie a peculiar eoiocidence if the comic lud 
else to do with the infantile. 


We have heard that the release of painful 
emotions is the strongest hindrance to the 
comic effect. Just as aimless motion causes 
harm, stupidity mischief, and disappointment 
pain; — the possibility of a comic effect eventu- 
ally ends, at least for him who cannot defend 
himself against such pain, who is himself af- 
fected by it or must participate in it, whereas 
the disinterested party shows by his behavior 
that the situation of the case in question con- 
tains everything necessary to produce a comic 
effect. Humor is thus a means to gain pleas- 
ure despite the painful affects which disturb 
it; it acts as a substitute for this affective de- 
velopment, and takes its place. If we are in 
a situation which tempts us to liberate painful 
affects according to our habits, and motives 
then urge us to suppress these affects statu 
naacendij we have the conditions for humor. 
In the cases just cited the person affected by 
misfortune, pain, etc., could obtain humoristic 
pleasure while the disinterested party laughs 
over the comic pleasure. We can only say that 
the pleasure of humor results at the cost of 
this discontinued liberation of affect; it orig- 
inates through the economized ewpenditure of 


The Economy in Expenditure of Afect 

Humor is the most self-sufficient of the 
forms of the comic; its process consummating 
itself in one single person and the participation 
of another adds nothing new to it. I can 
enjoy the pleasure of humor originating in my- 
self without feeling the necessity of imparting 
it to another. It is not easy to tell what hap- 
pens during the production of humoristic pleas- 
ure in a person; hut one gains a certain in- 
sight by investigating these cases of humor 
which have emanated from persons with whom 
we have entered into a sympathetic under- 
standing. By sympathetically understanding 
the humoristic person in these cases one get« 
the same pleasure. The coarsest form of hu- 
mor, the so-called humor of the gallows or 
grim-humor {Galgenhumor) , may enlighten 
us in this regard. The rogue, on heing led to 
execution on Monday, remarked: "Yes, this 
week is heginning well." This is really a wit- 
ticism, as the remark is quite appropriate in it- 
self, on the other hand it is displaced in the 
most nonsensical fashion, as there can be no 
further happening for him this week. But it 
required humor to make such wit, that is, to 
overlook what distinguished the beginning of 
this week from other weeks, and to deny the 


difference which could give rise to motives for 
very particular emotional feelings. The case 
is the same when on the way to the gallows he 
requests a neckerchief for his bare neck, in 
order to guard against taking cold, a precau- 
tion which would be quite praiseworthy under 
different circumstances, but becomes exceed- 
ingly superfluous and indifferent in view of 
the impending fate of this same neck. We 
must say that there is something like greatness 
of soul in this blague, in this clinging to his 
usual nature and in deviating from that which 
would overthrow and drive this nature into 
despair. This form of grandeur of himior thus 
appears unmistakably in cases in which our 
admiration is not inhibited by the circum- 
stances of the humoristic person. 

In Victor Hugo's Emani the bandit who 
entered into a conspiracy against his king, 
Charles I, of Spain, (Charles V, as the G«r- 
man Emperor) , falls into the hands of his 
most powerful enemy; he foresees his fate; as 
one convicted of high treason his head will 
fall. But this prospect does not deter him 
from introducing himself as a hereditary 
Grandee of Spain and from declaring that he 
has no intention of waiving any prerogative 
belonging to such personage. A Grandee of 


Spain could appear before his royal 
with his head covered. Well: 

" Nos tetes ont le droit 
De tomber couvertes devant de toi," 

This is excellent humor and if we do not lau^ 
on hearing it, it is because our admiration cov-1 
ers the humoristic pleasure. In the case of the 
rogue who did not wish to take cold on the 
way to the gallows we roar with laughter. 
The situation which should have driven 
criminal to despair, might have evoked in 
intense pity, but this pity is inhibited because 
we understand that he who is most concerned 
is quite indifferent to the situation. As a re- _ 
suit of this understanding the expenditure : 
pity, which was already prepared in us, becam 
inapplicable and we laughed it off. The in- 
difference of the rogue, which we notice has 
cost him a great expenditiu-e of psychic labor, 
infects us as it were. 

Economy of sympathy is one of the most 
frequent sources of humoristic pleasure, j 
Mark Twain's humor usually follows 
mechanism. When he tells us about the hfe ( 
his brother, how, as an employee in a largi 
road-building enterprise, he was hurled into 
the air through a premature explosion of 

' " Onr heads ban the right to fall covered before tbee.* 



-ause I 
I re- 



blast, to come to earth again far from the place 
where he was working, feelings of sympathy 
for this mifortunate are invariably aroused in 
us. We should like to inquire whether he sus- 
tained no injury in this accident; but the con- 
tinuation of the story that the brother lost a 
half-day's pay for being away from the place 
he worked diverts us entirely from sympathy 
and makes us almost as hard-hearted as that 
employer, and just as indifferent to the possi- 
ble injury to the victim's health. Another time 
Mark Twain presents us his pedigree, which he 
traces back almost as far back as one of the 
companions of Columbus, But after describ- 
ing the character of this ancestor, whose entire 
possessions consisted of several pieces of linen 
each bearing a different mark, we cannot help 
laughing at the expense of the stored-up piety, 
a piety which characterized our frame of mind 
at the beginning of this family history. The 
mechanism of humoristic pleasure is not dis- 
turbed by our knowing that this family history 
is a fictitious one, and that this fiction serves 
a satirical tendency to expose the embellish- 
ments which result in imparting such pedigrees 
to others; it is just as independent of the con- 
ditions of reality as the manufactured comic. 
Another of Mark Twain's stories relates how 
his brother constructed for himself subter- 



ranean quarters into which he brought a brf, i 
table, and a lamp, and that as a roof he used 
a large piece of sail-cloth with a hole through 
the centre; how during the night after the 
room was completed, a cow being driven home 
fell through the opening in the ceiling on to 
the table and extinguished the lamp; how his 
brother helped patiently to hoist the animal out 
and to rearrange everything; how he did the 
same thing when the same distiu-bance was re- 
peated the following night; and then every 
succeeding night; such a story becomes com* 
ical through repetition. But Mark Twain 
closes with the information that in the forty- 
sixth night when the cow again fell througfai 
his brother finally remarked that the thing wat 
beginning to grow monotonous; and here we 
can no longer restrain our humoristie pleasure^ 
for we had long expected to hear how tbö 
brother would express his anger over this 
chronic tncdheur. The slight humor which w»; 
draw from our own life we usually produce a6, 
the expense of anger instead of irritating our>- 

*The excellent humorisUc effect of a character like Ibat of 
the fat knight, Sir John Faistaff, ia based on ecooomiaed eon*' 
tempt and indignation. To be sure we recognise in him tta 
tinworth]r glutton and fashioDablf dressed swindler, but our coo* 
demnatlon is disarmed througli a whole aeries of factors. T#< 
understand tbat be knows blmself to be Just as we estimate Uib|. 


Forma of Humor 

The forms of humor are extraordinarily 
varied according to the nature of the emotional 
feelings which are economized in favor of hu- 
mor, as sympathy, anger, pain, compassion, 

be Impresses us through his wit ; and besides that, his physical 
dcfoTmit7 produces a cootoet-effect in favor of s comic con- 
ception of his personality instead of a serious one; as If our de- 
monds for morality and honor must recoil from auch a big 
stomach. His activiUes are altogether harmless and are almost 
excused by the comic lowness of those he deceives. We admit 
.that the poor devil has a right to live and enjoy himself lllce any 
ate else, and we almost pity him because in the principal situa- 
tion we find him a puppet in the hands of one much his superior. 
It ii for this reason that we rsnnat bear him any grudge and 
turn all wc economise In him in Indignation into comic pleasure 
which be otherwise provides. Sir John's own bomor really 
emanates from the superiority of an ego which neither his physical 
Oor hte moral defects can rob of its joviality and security. 

On the otlier hand the courageous knight Don Quixote de U 
Moncha is a figure who possesses no humor, and In his seriou»- 
nesa furnishes us a pleasure which can be called humoristic 
Although its mechanism shows a decided deviation from that of 
bnmor. OrlgiiiiJly Don Quixote is a purely comic figure, a big 
child whose fancies from his tiooks on knighthood have gone to 
his head, tt is known that at first the poet wanted to show only 
that phase of his character, and that the creation gradually out' 
grew the author's original Intentions. But after the poet en- 
' dowed this ludicrous person with the profoundest wisdom and 
noblest aims and made him the symbolic representation of an 
idealism, a man who iwlievcd in the realiiatton of his alms, who 
took duties seriously and promises literally, be ceased to be a 
comic personality. Like humoristic pleasure which results from 
a prevention of emotional feelings It originates here through the 
disturbance of comic plensore. However, in these example* we 
already depart perceptibly from the sfanpk cases of bm&or. 



etc. And this series seems incomplete because 
the sphere of himior experiences a constant en- 
largement, as often as an artist or writer suc- 
ceeds In mastering humoristically the, as yet, 
unconquered emotional feelings and in making 
them, through artifices similar to those in the 
above example, a source of humoristic pleas- 
ure. Thus the artists of SmpUcissimut 
have worked wonders in gaining humor at the 
expense of fear and disgust. The manifesta- 
tions of humor are above all determined by two 
peculiarities, which are connected with the con- 
ditions of its origin. In the first place, humor 
may appear fused with wit or any other form 
of the comic; whereby it is entrusted with the 
task of removing a possible emotional devel- 
opment which would form a hindrance to the 
pleasurable effect. Secondly, it can entirely 
set aside this emotional development or only 
partially, which is really the more frequent 
case, because the simpler function and the dif- 
ferent forms of " broken " ' humor, results in 
that humor which smiles under its tears. It 
withdraws from the affect a part of its energy 
and gives instead the accompanying humoristic 

As may be noticed by fonner examples the 


htimoristic pleasure gained by entering into 
sympathy with a thing results from a special 
tedmique resembliBg displacement through 
vihich the liberation of affect held ready is dis- 
appointed and the energy occupation is de- 
flected to other, and, not often, to secondary 
matters. This does not help us, however, to 
understand the process by which the displace- 
ment from the development of aflFeet proceeds 
in the humoristic person himself. We see that 
the recipient intimates the producer of the 
humor in his psychic processes, but we 
discover nothing thereby concerning the 
forces which make this process possible in 
the latter. 

We can only say, when, for example, some- 
body succeeds in paying no heed to a painful 
affect because he holds before himself the 
greatness of the world's interest as a contrast 
to his own smallness, that we see in tliis no 
function of humor but one of philosophic 
tiiinking, and we gain no pleasure even if we 
put ourselves into his train of thought. The 
humoristic displacement is therefore just as 
impossible in the light of conscious attention as 
is the comic comparison; like the latter it is 
connected witii the condition to remain in the 
foreconscious — that is to say, to remain auto- 


One reaches some solution of humoristic cUs- 
placement if one examines it in the light of & 
defense process. The defense processes are 
the psychic correlates of the flight reflex and 
follow the task of guarding against the origin 
of pain from inner sources; in fulfilling this 
task they serve tlie psychic functiqn as an 
automatic adjustment, which finally proves 
harmful and therefore must be subjected to 
the control of the conscious thinking. A 
definite form of this defense, the failure of re- 
pression, I have demonstrated as the eflFective 
mechanism in the origin of the psychoneuroses. 
Humor can now be conceived as the loftiest 
variant of this defense activity. It disdains to 
withdraw from conscious attention the ideas 
which are connected with the painful affect, as 
repression does, and thus it overcomes the de- 
fense automatism. It brings this about by 
finding the means to withdraw the energy re- 
sulting from the liberation of pain which is held 
m readiness and through discharge dianges the 
same into pleasure. It is even credible that it is 
again the connection with the infantile that 
puts at humor's disposal the means for this 
function. Only in childhood did we experience 
intensively painful aflfects over which to-day u 
grown-ups we would laugh; just as a humorist 
laughs over his present painful affects. The 


elevation of liis ego, of which humoristic dis- 
placement gives evidence, — the translation of 
which would read: I am too hig to have these 
causes affect me painfully — he could find in 
the comparison of his present ego with his in- 
fantile ego. This conception is to some extent 
confirmed hy the role which falls to the infan- 
tile in the neurotic processes of repression. 

I The Relation of Humor to Wit and Comic 

On the whole humor is closer to the comic 
than wit. Like the former its psychic locali- 
Bfltion is in the foreconscious, whereas wit, 
as we had to assume, is formed as a compro- 
mise between the unconscious and the forecon- 
scious. On the other hand, humor has no share 
in the peculiar nature in which wit and the 
comic meet, a peculiarity which perhaps we have 
I not hitherto emphasized strongly enough. It 
I is a condition for the origin of the comic that 
we be induced to apply — either simultaneously 
or in rapid succession — to the same thought 
function two different modes of ideas, between 
which the " comparison " then takes place and 
thus forms the comic difference. Such differ- 
ences originate between the expenditure of the 
stranger and one's own, between the usual ex- 
penditure and the emergency expenditure, be- 



tween an anticipated expenditure and one 
which has already occurred.' 

The diiference between two forms of concep- 
tion resulting simultaneously, which work with 
diflferent expenditures, comes into considerfl' 
tion in wit, in respect to the hearer. The one 
of these two conceptions, by taking the hints 
contained in the witticism, follows the train of 
thought through the unconscious, while the 
other conception remains on the surface and 
presents the witticism hke any wording from 
the foreconscious which has become conscious. 
Perhaps it would not be considered an unjusti- 
fied statement if we should refer the pleasure 
of the witticism heard to the difference be- 
tween these two forms of presentation. 

Concerning wit we here repeat our former 
statement concerning its Janus-like double- 
facedness, a simile we used when the relation 
between wit and the comic still appeared to us 

* If one does not hesitate to do some violence to tfae eoDccp- 
tion of expectation, one may ascribe — according to the procesl 
of Upps — a verj large sphere of the comic to the comic of ex- 
pectation; but probably the most origins) cases of the comic which 
result through a comparison of a strange expenditure with oae's 
own will fit least into this conception. 

'The characteristic of the "double face" naturally did not 
escape the authors. Melinaud, from whom I borrowed the abore 
expression, conceives the condition for laughing in the following 
formula: "Ce qui fait rire c'est qui est h la fois, d'un col^ 
absurde et de Taatre, familier" ("Pourqum rit-on?" Aant* d^ 




The character thus put into the foreground 
becomes indistinct when we deal with humor. 
To be sure, we feel the humoristic pleasure 
where an emotional feeling is evaded, which we 
might have expected as a pleasure usually be- 
longing to the situation; and in so far humor 
really falls under the broadened conception of 
the comic of expectation. But in humor it is 
no longer a question of two different kinds of 
presentations having the same content; the 
fact that the situation comes under the dom- 
ination of a painful emotional feeling which 
should have been avoided, puts an end to pos- 
sible comparison with the nature in the comic 
and in wit. The humoristic displacement is 
really a case of that different kind of utiliza- 
tion of a freed expenditure which proved to 
be so dangerous for the comic effect. 

FormulcE for Wit, Comic, and Humor 
Now, that we have reduced the mechanism 
of humoristic pleasure to a formula analogous 

ilmu) TOonde», FebniRry. 199S). This fonnulB flU in better «rllh 
«rit than with the comic, but it reailf dews not altogether cover 
the former. Bergson (1. c. p. 96) defines titc comic situation bj 
the "reeiprocnl interference of Berles," nnd slatesi "A lituatton 
Is Invsriablf comic when it belongs simultaneously to two al- 
together indepenilcnt scries of events and is capable of bdng 
interpreted in two entirely dilferent meanings at the same time." 
According to Lipps the comic is " the greatness and smallness of 
the same." 


to the formula of comic pleasure and of wit, 
we are at the end of our task. It has seemed 
to us that the pleasure of wit originates from 
an economy of eocpenditure in inhibition, of 
the comic from an economy of expenditure in 
thought, and of humor from an economy of ex- 
penditure in feeling. All three activities of 
our psychic apparatus derive pleasure from 
economy. They all strive to bring back from 
the psychic activity a pleasiu*e which has really 
been lost in the development of this activity. 
For the euphoria which we are thus striving 
to obtain is nothing but the state of a bygone 
time in which we were wont to defray our 
psychic work with slight expenditure. It is 
the state of our childhood in which we did not 
know the comic, were incapable of wit, and did 
not need humor to make us happy. 



^^^p ^^1 


Comic, of speech, 346 ^| 

motion, 304 ^1 

V l&bftnet wit, 128 

pleasure, its origin, 361 ^M 

^ Abiurdlty, 77 

situations, 303. 314 ^^^H 

Actuality, 186 

Comical character, 277 ^^^^^H 

ieatheticB, 2 

CompariBon. 113 ^^^^M 

AgaMU, 64 

with uniflcation, 130 ^^^^M 

ARgrcMioii, 138, 1S2, 160, 232 

Composition, 31 ^^^^H 

Alluring-premiumB. 210 

AlluBions. 107. 108. 232 

examples of, 21, 22, 23 ^H 

Ambiguity. 45 

In dreams, 31, 49, 256 ^1 

Ambitious impulse. 219 

with modification and ■nb' ^M 

Applicntian of une roateriftl. 

Btitutlon, 26 ^^^^1 


Conflict, 163 ^^^H 

Aristotle, 184 

8 ^^^^B 

Attributions. 121 

Critical witticisms. 171 ^^^H 

Cynical tcndene?. 204 ^^^H 

■ Ant«matiuiiB, 8S. 80, 87, 235, 

witticisms and »elferfUolMn. ^M 

■ 358 

166 ^M 


Cyniciam, 65, 161 ^M 


pessimistic. 170 ^H 

B»in. 228, 322 


Bargson, 301, 337, 380 


BiBgpbentous witticisms, 171 
Bleuler. 278 

Darwin, 226 ^^^^H 

^ Bonmot, 43 

Defence. 138 ^^^H 

K Brevity, 10. 29. 62. 243 

reaction, 142 ^^^^H 

■ Brill, 22, 31, 35, 37, 38, 50 

DeriBion, 157 ^^^H 


De Quincey. 22 ^^^^H 


Disguise. 303 ^^^H 


Displacement, 57. 61, 161 ^H 

Caricature. 280. 303, 320 

Id dreams. 256 ^M 

Censor, 260 

Displacement-wit, 68, 71, 237 ^M 

Characterixation-wit. 71 

Don Quiiote, 377. H 

Child, 190. 300, 362 

Double meaning. 40, 103 ■ 

Childhood. 149 

Comic. 4. 10. 221, 287, 313 

Ota name. 41 ■ 

element, 88 

Doubt in witty compariMns, ,^M 

facade. 236 

118 ^^M 

m its origin. 302 

Dream- format ion, 260 _^^^^^H 

■ Its psychogeneiis. 360 

Dream-work, 249. 27S ^^^^H 

■ or eipeeUtion, 317 

Dreams. 250. 261 ^^^^1 

■ Of iniUtioii, 330 

Dugu, 224. 242 ^^^^M 

L^ 1 


INDEX ^^^1 


InliibitlOD«. 140. 197. 2M, 2M. 
231. 236, 290 

^1 Economr. *^. 62. i*^. S4S 

expenditure ot, ISO 

Innilte. 209 

^H Ehrenfela, 165 

Iiweotivei. 148. 277 

^H ExBggeniUoD, 280 

Irani«»] wit, 100 

^M ExhibiUoDism. 142 

Irony, 276 


^1 Fac*de, 16&, IBS 
^^B Pintious questions, 23B 
^^B F&lbe 14. eO SS 

Je«t,197, 201, 211, 274,88* 
JohoMn. 45 
Jokes, C}iücal. 164 

^H FalsUff. Sir John. 376 
^H Faulty tfainkiog. 81. S4 
^H Fecbuer, ISS, 207. S80 

good or poor. 182 

Jewish, fi9. 72. 97, 10«. 21B 

BDut^, 139. 140, 145, 2tt 

^H FischfT, 3. 4, 8, n, 43, 4T, 



B^ 89. isa, 13« 

■ Flaubert 24 

■ Fore-pleaiUK, 200, 211 

Kuit. 320 
Kleinpaul, IW 
Kraepelitt, 7 



H Qoetta, in 

^K Grim hamor, 372 

Laugh. 221 

^H GiwM. 183. IM, lai, US 

Längster aa a »mkum « 

^H GniM, 278 

fU detennlnaUon. SM. 126 
Lewing, B7, ISO 


Libido, 141 

104.115. 118, Ut.U^ ICO. 

^H 222, 284 

132, 149, 218 

^M and tcBd«iK7-nt. 190 

Lipp^ 3. 4. «, 10. 30. Bib U% 

^m Heine, ». 15. SQ, 43. 44. 47, 



H 57. »2. 94. ItM. IM. lis. 

■ 12« 171, 215, 216,223, MI 


H He^uu. S, 216 

^H Botnm. 37 

Manifold an«alii^4it 4» 

^B BnfD. ST3 

MattliFw«. 44 

^1 Humor. 370 

Midielrt. 78 

^H Mark Tw9ia\ ST4 

Modifieitio*. 42 
MolL 141 


Morally. 169 ^^ 
Uati-n», 214. 23S ^^^H 

H lalMfaM, MS. 322 

■ ESSS^tÄ-iS." 

Nam. CM ^^^H 

^^^^ »ia «DmIim. 101 

^^^^^ bfutile and Um eomie, 3M 


eiamplN ^ 2U ^^^H 


NegatirifiB, VI 6 
Nestroy. 120, 341 
Nohmdm, 72. 1»S. 200, 2t9 
Nonwnw-witticiimB, TS 

ObsMne wit, 138, 203 
Otwconibr, 142 
OmiMion, 82. 107, 232 
Outdolng wit, S6, B7 

Faiody, 880, SU 

PucaJ, 337 

Paul, 3. 7. S, IS, 29, SOI 

Persons in tuideiicy-wit, 144, 

221, 222, 230, 231, 240 
PerreraioB. 141 
PhillipB, Ut 
Play, 211 

and jeat, ISfi 

on words, 40 
Playing with wordi, 190 
Pleaaure Id noDMnae, ISO, 271 

mechanism« of wit, 177 
, 150 

Paychic energy, 227 
Paychoneuioaea, 147 
Pddh, 53 


RepreaentatioD through the op- 
poaite, 93. GS 
through the minute, 111, 112 
RfpreaaioD. 147, 20S, 211 
Riddle, 232 
Rouaseau, J. B., 91 
Bouascftu, J. J., 33 

Sexual tlementa, 130, 140, 810 
Shakesp^re, 222 
Shake up rhymcB, 120 
Skylarking, 1112 
Smutty jokes, 139, 146, 233 
Society, 160 
Sophiam, 82. 83, 160 
Sophistic displacement, 181 
faulty thinking, 78. 79 

Sonne, 57 

Bound, ainiiUrity. SO 

Spencer, 225 

Spinoia, 100 

Btettenheim, 343 

Buhjective dptenainadonB, 156, 

16«, 186, 216, 217 
Substitutive formation, 20 

Tendencies of wit, 127, 20S 
Tendency to economy, 49 
Tendency-wit, 130 

lU effect, 210 
Thought-wit, 128 

its techniques, 154 
Travesty, 280, 324 


Ueberhorat, 91 

Unconacious, 264, 255, 269, 279, 
281, 329 
and the infantile, 26S 
Uniflcation. 45, 88. 117, 121, 

Unmasking, 303, 3 

Suieho Puua. 219 

Satire. 43, 137 Winalow, 46 

Bchnitcler. 42 Wish fulfilment, 240. 263 

Sense in oonsenie, 73, 74, 75, Wit, 4 

IB» ud oomic, 4, 330 



Wit, ftnd draim, 249, 278, 285 
and rebellion ftgainit author- 
ity, 188 
as an inapiration, 268 
as a soeiat prooeai, 21i 
by word-division, 82 
definitioBB of, 6, 7, 8 
desire to impart it, 289 
double-f aeedness of, 240 
harmless, 128 
hostile and obscene, 188 
in the seryice of tendencies, 

ironical, 100 
its motives, 214 
its subjective determinations, 

its tndeneies, 127 

Wit; literafurer of, 134 

outdoing^ 96, 97 

pleasure mechanisms of, 177, 

p^yohogenesis of, 177, 196, 

shallow, 181 

skeptical, 172, 178 

taAnique of, 14, 194, 240 
Wit-work, its formula, 261 
Witticism and riddle, 282 

critical, 171 
Witticisms, blasphemous, 171 
Witty nonsense, 211, 212 
Woman, unyieldingness of, 143 
Word-division, 32, 83, 34 
Word-pleasure, 190 . 
iWord-wit» 128, 181 


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