The etymology of humor shows it represented bodily fluids. It is understood that there was a belief in the ancient time, when each type of bodily fluids were attributed to particular state of mind. But it is not clear how it ended up representing something funny.

  • 4
    – Mitch
    Apr 27, 2013 at 16:49
  • Well I did look there before posting here, but the connection is still not clear. Thought someone got more to add to it.
    – Benny
    Apr 27, 2013 at 17:44
  • 1
    Probably it was from the phrase (in) (a) good humour, which came to simply assume good, much as style or taste have default assumptions of good style or taste. Apr 27, 2013 at 19:47
  • @Benny: If you looked there before asking here, it's usually a good idea to mention that specifically in your question, along with a link, or some pasted text in a quote box. (Otherwise, we don't know you've seen that, so it's harder to realize that you're looking for something "more.")
    – J.R.
    Apr 28, 2013 at 1:57
  • Why close? Do you know the answer? Heh?!
    – Kris
    Apr 28, 2013 at 5:01

1 Answer 1


According to the humors theory of physiology, both mental and physical health are dependent on a balance of the four primary humors: bile, black bile, phlegm and blood. A person who has an excess of one humor and a deficiency of the others is out of balance and is accordingly spoken of (still) as being out of temper (Latin temperare, 'mix') or as having a melancholy, bilious, phlegmatic or sanguine temperament.

Humor thus came to be a synonym for imbalance or eccentricity of character, the stock-in-trade of intellectual Renaissance comedy. Ben Jonson for instance wrote a popular play, Every Man In His Humour, and a sequel, Every Man Out of His Humour; the prologue of the latter defines the comic treatment:

        Some one peculiar quality
Doth so possess a man, that it doth draw
All his affects, his spirits, and his powers,
In their confluctions, all to run one way.

Over the next century, humor passed by degrees from signifying what makes a character ridiculous to anything which excites more or less sympathetic laughter.

  • Brilliant answer! Provided more information than I hoped for. It is amazing how meanings change over time, particularly getting influenced by imagination of artists of the time (poets in those days, writers and comedians in this age along with poets of course)
    – Benny
    Apr 29, 2013 at 13:08
  • Humor was a chic buzzword in Jonson's day: he heaps scorn on the dandies who liked to characterize their fantastic mannerisms of dress and behavior as humors. Apr 29, 2013 at 13:13

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