10 Literary Devices Used For Humor

What are Literary Devices?

Literary devices are tools that writers use to express ideas, enhance their writing, and help readers understand complex concepts in an enjoyable way. When used for humor, these devices can make us laugh, think, and appreciate the cleverness of the writing.

Literary Devices Used for Humor

  1. Pun
  2. Hyperbole
  3. Irony
  4. Understatement
  5. Sarcasm
  6. Parody
  7. Malapropism
  8. Exaggeration
  9. Incongruity
  10. Slapstick

1- Pun

A pun is a play on words that have similar sounds but different meanings, or on a single word that has multiple meanings. It creates humor through the unexpected connection of these meanings.

Example in literature

“Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare

In the novel, Mercutio makes a pun as he is dying from a wound:

“Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man.”

The writer tactfully puns to bring in a sense of humor even amid the tragedy that is brewing in the story itself. From the very onset, there exist ideological rifts between the families, Le Monta and the Prince of Verona.

Further strengthening this relationship is the fact that Paris the suitor is also Condina’s relative, thus igniting Romeo’s dislike for this character.

A pun here is used with the double sense of “grave”. On the verge, “grave” conveys the serious or solemn condition, proving to be consistent with the gravity of his affair which is he is dying. On a much wider sense, “grave” designates a burial place, and by tomorrow, you are considered dead and even a grave.

These puns help introduce and maintain the tragic irony in the scene. The death of the young hero is aptly illustrated by means of the words, which are in fact identifying his romantic interest. 

That in particular emphasizes the Shakespearean practice of pun-usage to either create a comic effect or give a meaning to more serious themes, thereby it becomes an excellent line of not only funny but also wise one.

2- Hyperbole

Hyperbole involves extreme exaggeration to create a humorous or emphatic effect.

Example in literature

“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams

The phrase,

“The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t”

The line is full of absurdist humor and ironic comparison. It is the source of laughter. 

The expression “The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t,” contains irony, which brings to the reader’s minds the image of astronauts walking on the Moon and laughingly compares the seemingly common fact that bricks are heavy and solid as opposed to the unbelievable phenomenon of enormous ships staying above the sky. 

The humor is the result from the incongruousness of the comparison that compares two totally unlike objects—floating in the sky and bricks—that also underlies the obviously unrealistic and weird nature of the scene. 

3- Irony

Irony occurs when words are used in a way that their intended meaning is different from the actual meaning of the words. It often involves a contrast between expectations and reality.

Example in literature

“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen

“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

The line shows the use of irony to produce humor. Here, Mr. Bennett displays his sarcastic humor against life purpose stating comically that people live to have their neighbors entertained and as a response they get amused as well. 

Instead of merely retelling this normal social fact, there is a kind of humor in its unreasonable exaggeration, so that the prevalence of talked-about trifles and gossip in small places looks illogical. 

Austen’s ironic strategy does not only expose the flaws of the society but also adds a slice of comedy by in turn showing weaknesses behind such façade. It is another exciting one from the speakers point of view since now his monologue has changed the serious thought about life purpose to witty comment on people’s social games.

4- Understatement

Understatement is when a writer or speaker intentionally makes a situation seem less important or serious than it is.

Example in literature

“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain

The line,

“I was brung up ignorant,”

Huck frequently uses this understatement for comic effect to explain his lack of schooling. The casual manner of stating his poor education contrasts humorously with the seriousness of the topic.

5- Sarcasm

Sarcasm is a sharp, often cutting remark or form of irony, used to mock or convey contempt.

Example in literature

“The importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde

In the novel, Lady Bracknell’s statement,

“To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness,”

It is one of the examples of wit of the writer and his skill in using it as a weapon of irony. When Lady Bracknell reveals that she has heard that both Mr. Worthing’s parents had recently died, she delivers this sentence with emphasis. 

In the next case, the humor becomes the absurditic and the unexpectedness of her response. Mostly, the death of the parents is an event which is devalued. 

Wilde’s employment of this dramatic irony carries the message that the Victorian society has always been in bad condition in which the norms and values are sometimes just shallow and absurd. Besides, she accomplished it attractively by the flawed assumptions and presented them through her own unique intellect.

6- Parody

Parody mimics the style of a specific writer, genre, or work in a humorous way to comment on the original content.

Example in literature

“Don Quixote” by Miguel de Cervantes

“Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.”

Through humor, the text argues how protagonist Alonso Quixano gets bored with reading novels of chivalry, thus losing his sanity.

Finally, he decides to call himself Don Quixote to become knight-errant. What Cervantes is hinting here is the laughable aspect, as according to him, the excessive reading of chivalric tales has started to dry up the brains of his characters.

The author introduces this absurd notion to stage comic effect in order to make his literary work more funny and to explain some peculiarities of a certain character. Another fascinating aspect of the story, apart from the music, which help enrich the narrative, is the humor that adds lightness to the narrative as well, making the character’s fall look amusing and exhilarating at the same time.

7- Malapropism

Malapropism occurs when a word is mistakenly used in place of another word with a similar sound, creating a nonsensical yet humorous expression.

Example in literature

“The Rivals” by Richard Brinsley Sheridan

“She’s as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of Nile.”

This is a dialog from Mrs. Malaprop which is a character in the play. The character is famous for her humorous but unintentional errors in speech. In this particular case, Mrs. Malaprop means to express alligator, however, what she says is much closer to allegory, which is another word for literary figure of speech involved in telling a bigger story usually with some moral message. 

The carnival of laughter circles around her ambitious choice that initially seems to be very clever yet its definition doesn’t fit well into the sentence in the end, which makes Doctor Proudhon very funny by choice. 

The line skillfully reveals the character’s superficiality and absentmindedness towards herself – it’s the essence of the humorous veracity in her speech near the end of the play. He practices malapropism by which he brings a wonderful humor to mere words and yet, he does not escape the upper class affectations and social pretensions.

8- Exaggeration

Similar to hyperbole, exaggeration involves enlarging a fact or statement beyond what is true to emphasize the absurdity or humor of a situation.

Example in literature

“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain

“Tom was in ecstasies. In such ecstasies that he even controlled his tongue and was silent. He had never dreamed that any walk—that anything—could give him so much happiness.”

In the passage, exaggeration has been used for the purpose of making jokes. It also shows the powerful emotions of Tom. In this scene, Tom Sawyer is overcome with a delightful feeling after taking a small walk.

It is even more intense that he becomes senseless, being filled with the grace of ecstasy, and even loses his voice, which is surprising for such a loquacious boy. 

Through exaggeration, the writer brings to light Tom’s ability to pull out for himself with an amazing sense of perspective, such an extent that he can enjoy a simple walk like this and turn it into a grand adventure. 

The use of exaggeration also adds a layer of humor and portrays Tom’s reactions as larger-than-life. It also subtly mocks the dramatic tendencies of young children and making Tom’s adventures relatable and amusing to the readers.

The use of hyperbolic descriptions by the writer throughout the novel contributes significantly to its enduring charm and humor.

9- Incongruity

Incongruity involves placing ideas and elements together that do not typically go together, creating a situation that is unexpected and therefore funny.

Example in literature

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll

“Have some wine,’ the March Hare said in an encouraging tone. Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea. ‘I don’t see any wine,’ she remarked. ‘There isn’t any,’ said the March Hare.”

The author has utilized incongruity to produce humor. In the scene where a chocolate-colored liquid is called wine during a tea party where clearly no wine is present, Absurdity and Humor arises from this. 

Logic-driven Alice’s assessment and fact-conditioned response of the Hare demonstrate that in no way does Wonderland correlate with usual logic where expectations too are unexpectedly neglected. The dialogue here is droll and ironical too.

It makes the scenes look like that Alice is in a schizophrenic mood because there is tea at this table but they are suggesting wine. Carroll’s resort to such incongruity performs a key role in making humor, which makes ordinary interactions comically bewildering and entertainingly illogical.

10- Slapstick

Slapstick is a form of comedy involving exaggerated physical activity that exceeds the boundaries of common sense, often including physical violence and pratfalls that are humorous.

Example in literature

“Three Men in a Boat” by Jerome K. Jerome

“I did not say much. I flicked the horse with the whip, and it jogged on again. I flicked it once more, but this time harder. It jogged on faster, but I had not yet solved the problem as to whether it was going to accept the whip cordially, or feel insulted about it. So I flicked it again, and this time I broke the whip. The horse stopped, looked round at us, and took the whip out of my hand. Then it came over the side of the cart and bit Montmorency.”

The passage illustrates a slapstick comedy, because the physical comedy is extremely exaggerated and usually causes a chaos or absurdity. 

The scene in the story has a comical touch in it, and it shows the main character’s whipping the horse and getting into a tough situation instead. 

Each attempt to flick the whip increases in intensity until it breaks, leading to an even more comical and unexpected reaction from the horse: the whip, which belonged to the narrator, was punished at the first bite, and it was the Bite that eventually inflicted pain on Montmorency, the dog. 

This old age style of humor banks on the element of surprise and on the inevitable zaniness of physical mishaps or comical overreactions to situations which writer cycles through at will and uses to relief the reader and illustrate the characters’ fumbling incompetence.

Literary Devices Used For Humor
Literary Devices Used For Humor

These literary devices showcase the variety of ways humor can be integrated into writing. Each device plays on different aspects of humor, from linguistic mix-ups to absurd situations, providing richness and depth to storytelling and enhancing the engagement of the audience.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *