January 11, 2009


God gave us humor to make us Human…and we play with language in order to make ourselves laugh. Take for example the silly words we create.

HOBBIT: The vast majority of those of you reading this know that this word is a pronoun denoting a very specific imaginary being as depicted in JRR Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS novels.

NARNIA: A large number of you know that this is a proper noun attached to an imaginary land found in the works of English author, C. S. Lewis.

GROK: Nowhere near as many of you would know that Robert A. Heinlein made up this Martian word to explain a process or state of being somewhat related to “knowing” or “understanding” and the laughter its use engendered in the early 1960s.

FOIPIARGNAAADI: None of you will recognize this as a word meaning something like “the humorous power of made up words”. That’s because myself, my wife and four young adults (two of them related to us, two of them not) invented it one night playing an impromptu game of SCRABBLE®. We even invented grammar! The triple “a” pluralizes the word and the suffix “di” feminizes the noun. Why did we do this then conclude the game with gales of laughter?

I think it’s because on Earth, language (and the humor it creates) is innate and perhaps even unique to Humans. Don’t get me wrong. Every living thing communicates. There are levels of communication as well. Few people would question that flax plants and flatworms communicate differently than orcas and octopi. I think I’m safe in saying that two adult chimpanzees with four young adult chimpanzees in a safe environment at a Primate Research Center somewhere would be unlikely to make up a word, create a simple grammar then find the whole thing amusing.

I contend that it is the “spark of the divine” in us – or bluntly, the hand of God on us – that gives Humans the ability to use language of extreme complexity. In the Bible, Numbers 22 tells the tale of a man who was beating his donkey who had refused to walk past an angel because it recognized that the angel was about to kill the man. The man’s name was Balaam. In the end, the angel granted the donkey the ability to speak to the man. Even the rankest “animals-are-the-same-as-humans” activist and those who believe that animals deserve all the protection granted humans under law, would find it hard to credit this story as fact. So even they must grant that there are more complex ways to communicate and simpler ways to communicate.

Humor is communication at its most complex and least understood. “What makes us special is the range and amount of laughter we seek and produce, which in large part stems from our unique evolution, as well as our culture. Indeed, as Martin writes (p. 3): ‘…being able to enjoy humor and express it through laughter seems to be an essential part of what it means to be human.’” (Evolutionary Psychology www.epjournal.net – 2008.6(1): 90-95 Book Review Survival of the Funniest: A review of Rod Martin, Psychology of Humor: An Integrative Approach. Elsevier Academic Press, Email: Humorology@gmail.com)

It is the complexity of humor, given to us by God that separates us from the animals. While it’s been said that “a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare.” (The Infinite Monkey Theorem: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infinite_monkey_theorem ), the same article goes on to explain that the obvious meaning isn’t the significant meaning of this statement. Monkeys aren’t going to write “Much Ado About Nothing” because monkeys aren’t Human.

All this to say that God gave us humor to make us Human…and we play with language in order to make ourselves laugh. Which is of course, ancillary evidence for this statement as well: God has a sense of humor… ;-)

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