English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

When describing a person as humor-challenged, what does it mean?

share|improve this question
The format xxxx-challenged has been around for at least a century, but it's really taken off in the last couple of decades. Contrary to what @Barrie says, I don't think it was just a passing fad - one of the most common is intellectually-challenged (i.e. - "thick, stupid"), which I don't think is falling into disuse at all yet. But arguably the format is becoming something of a cliche nowadays. – FumbleFingers Jan 2 '12 at 16:36
It means someone who doesn't laugh at my jokes. It is obviously a fault of theirs and not of my jokes. – GEdgar Jan 2 '12 at 21:57
The first word is usually an adverb rather than a noun. A noun sat there doesn't make a lot of sense, e.g. "I'm car challenged". Jocularly challenged perhaps – Chris S Jan 2 '12 at 22:11
@GEdgar: How is it a fault of theirs when they come from a different background, or are not familiar with the language you are using? – Tim Jan 2 '12 at 22:14
@Tim: You are humor-challenged! – GEdgar Jan 3 '12 at 1:48
up vote 16 down vote accepted

It must describe someone who lacks a sense of humour. Humour is a big challenge for such people: they struggle to see that anything is funny. Such phrases were quite popular a few years ago. Someone short would be called vertically challenged, someone fat would be called circumferentially challenged and so on.

share|improve this answer
@Tim: RE your point (1), no it doesn't mean that they are challenging others in any way. "Challenged" here started out as a polite way of saying "below average" or "deficient". As in FumbleFingers comment, instead of saying someone was stupid, you would say "Bob is, umm, let's say intellectually-challenged." It's not that his intellect challenged anyone. Just the opposite. It just sounds nicer than saying "Bob is intellectually deficient". Likewise instead of saying someone was lazy you might say he was "motivation-challenged", etc. (continued) – Jay Jan 2 '12 at 16:52
(continued) But it came to be something of a cliche, and people started using it as a joke. Like Barrie's example, calling a short person "vertically challenged", or a bald person "follicle challenged". It's not really an insult to say that someone is short or bald, so there was no real need for a polite way to say these things. But it became a joke and people use it for all sorts of things now. – Jay Jan 2 '12 at 16:54
How did this answer get so far without citing "political correctness"? – Ben Jackson Jan 2 '12 at 20:21
@Tim The best one was "vertically challenged" for short people. – Daniel Roseman Jan 2 '12 at 20:50
@Tim this thing started out being a politically correct way of saying something, for example, intellectually-challenged as opposed to retarded. a lot of people think politically correct speak is annoying, so they started to make a joke out of it by reductio ad absurdum – wim Jan 3 '12 at 0:21

It means they lack a sense of humor, being a play on the phrase "mentally challenged", which is one polite way of indicating mental retardation.

share|improve this answer

The idea behind being "xxxx challenged" is that you struggle personally with "xxxx". It's a more polite way of mentioning it because it supposedly gives more dignity to the person. There is a hope of rising above the challenge (as in mentally challenged) vs. something labelled as an "inability" or "handicap".

However, some find the "xxxx challenged" terms patronizing.

The humor behind "humor-challenged" is that it is patronizing in the same way. It can be used kindly to say, "Don't worry you'll figure out the joke at some point." But, I've also heard it used to mean that they think you have an inability to understand any kind of humor.

share|improve this answer
Thanks! "The humor behind "humor-challenged" is that it is patronizing in the same way." If A calls B humor-challenged, then A is patronizing/condescending. What humor is behind? For example, GEdgar called me humor-challenged in a comment following my original post. – Tim Jan 5 '12 at 20:25
Unfortunately the humor is for others at your expense. Unless it's playful teasing among friends. – Sam Washburn Jan 6 '12 at 2:42

It generally means that they have trouble recognizing irony, and double meanings. Depending on the context it can also mean that the person lacks a sense of humor in general, as Barry said.

share|improve this answer

"XXX-challenged" is a form of political correctness, or a parody of it. It's an exaggerated euphemism for saying someone lacks a sense of humour.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.