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Searching for metaphors in the co-text of humour related expression demonstrates that evaluation of humour and reasoning about its functions is strongly influenced by metaphors. At the same time, it has demonstrated that looking for humour related vocabulary does not yield a lot of examples of humour. In fact, most metaphors - including creative metaphors - about humour were not funny. Nevertheless, there were also some witty metaphors about humour which could be analysed in depth and in contrast to other non-humorous elaborated metaphors.

It seems that vehicle reconstruction - which was, for instance, necessary in example 4 - tended to be less funny. This would lead to the hypothesis that metaphors which leave the analogy partly implicit by only hinting at the metaphorical vehicle need further explanation and are less disposed to trigger humour.

The case is different with metaphorical punning where vehicle and topic are expressed simultaneously. These examples build up a clear incongruity between literal and figurative sense and show, therefore, a stronger disposition to trigger humour. Moreover, funny creative metaphors, such as Jean Paul’s wit as priest in disguise elaborated the vehicle in terms of a rich scenario. This elaboration seems to be important. For instance, one can talk quite seriously about an artist as performer of religious functions, and in this context it is also possible to use “priest” in a rather serious way, e.g., Die Musen weihten dich zum Priester (Holderlin). However, in Jean Paul’s witticism ‘priest’ refers not to another person, but to something abstract (wit) which is disguised as a priest, and this metaphor is elaborated as a caricature of prototypical activities of a priest. This could point towards a particular technique of humorous creative metaphors which consists of pushing analogies even further, thereby accentuating the inherent incongruity of cross-domain analogies. For instance, Friedrich Theodor Vischer (1807-1888) elaborated Jean Paul’s metaphor even further by adding that the priest marries couples with preference against the consent of their relatives.[1] We could call this technique “exploration of analogies”. Exploring a metaphor means to treat a target domain entirely according to the logic of the source domain, in such a way that one commits deliberately categorical mistakes to the verge of absurdity. “Exploring analogies” might produce new incongruent metaphors: “How do words divorce? How many patchwork families have been left in Jean Paul’s work?” etc. This is very different from explaining analogies, which would probably increase understanding without making us laugh. This proves again that the study of humour and metaphor is a deadly serious subject.

  • [1] (Vischer, 1922/1846: 457): Geistreich nennt J. Paul (ebenda) den Witz den verkleideten Priester,der jedes Paar kopuliert. Er ist aber der Schmied zu Gretna-Green, der lauter Paare traut, derenTrauung die Verwandten (der methodisch wahre Zusammenhang) nicht dulden wollen.
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