Logic and reasoning in jokes

Graeme Ritchie

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It has often been remarked that jokes involve some form of distorted logic, but the details of this joke logic have not been fully explored. We offer a contribution to the methodology of this exploration by clarifying some abstract theoretical distinctions. Firstly, we separate two crucially different notions of “reasoning” which are relevant to joke comprehension: internal logic and audience inference. Internal logic is a system of logical rules, in the traditional sense, which define relationships within the fictional world of the joke, particularly the relation of consequence. Audience inference is a dynamic process which the recipient of a joke undertakes in order to make sense of it. Previous writings on the topic of logic in jokes seem to conflate these two very different concepts. Another distinction which is sometimes overlooked is between internal logic and other joke techniques with different functions, such
as strategies for presenting information. We also consider whether the logic of jokes requires a qualitatively different inference mechanism from that of conventional logic, concluding that there is not yet any evidence to suggest this. Finally, we reflect on how we might go on to address the open question of what is possible as pseudo-logic within a joke.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)50-60
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Journal of Humour Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jul 2014


  • theory of humour
  • jokes
  • logic
  • inference
  • cognitive processing


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