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Dcobranchi wrote: OK. I think we need a convention for when the poster is JOKING. Come on, folks. Lighten up a bit.

Identifying a humorous comment from a serious one can be difficult on message boards. Certainly, replying with righteous indignation at a post written in jest, can be embarrassing. Therefore, as a public service I have written the following guide that I hope will be helpful and taken with the appropriate seriousness.

Many posters identify a non-serious comment with a "punctuation face", i.e. an :-) or, if you don't like noses, : ). The humor of the comment can be further emphasized by including a wink, ;-). To really hammer the point home for the more humor-challenged boards, one can add a "(ha ha)" or "(just kidding)" or "(this is a joke you idiot)" to the end of the sentence. Though helpful, there are two problems with these approaches.

First, these "humor tags" are the web equivalent of a canned laugh track. In effect, when a poster adds a ":-)" to the end of a sentence, he/she is really saying to the reader "I believe you are such a moron that you can't identify a joke unless it is beaten into your head." This of course is most likely the case, but it seems rude to point it out publicly

The second problem is more devious. The addition of a humor tag makes it possible to seriously insult someone while pretending to be funny. I can't tell you how often I get messages like "Coralville, you are a jackass and I will kill you, :-)", usually from faculty colleagues. After a while, one becomes suspicious about the sincerity of the smiley face.

I would therefore urge that we avoid the use of "humor tags" and instead, train our minds to be more perceptive about the subliminal context of a post that should instantly signal "This was a funny phrase not to be taken seriously". Let's consider two recent examples that caused some confusion.

mmmmmbeer wrote the following post (30652):
No! No! No!

Did this "Incredible Universe" have a web front end? Did they sell books? Did they have auctions? Or zshops? Were they the king of e-commerce? Was their CEO summa-cumma-magna-laude from Princeton?

I did not think so!

Your comparison is therefore irrelevant! Irrelevant! Irrelevant! Irrelevant! Irrelevant! Irrelevant! Irrelevant! Irrelevant! Irrelevant! Irrelevant!

The fact that some other company which is not Amazon went out of business because they could not turn a profit is Irrelevant! They were/are not AMZN!!!!


This was immediately criticized as a serious statement coming from an irrational bull. However, a humor-perceptive reader would have noted that there are 3 "No!s" and 15 "irrelevants", recognizing immediately that the use of odd number repetitions can only mean an attempt at making a witticism. This is further supported by the allusion to Princeton University, which is usually only mentioned in the context of a joke. Final confirmation comes from the inclusion of the term "cumma", a slightly risque word that will inevitably bring giggles from the sexually repressed. Now that this post has been academically dissected, I think the humor is clearly evident and irrepressible. It is the ability to perform this type of analysis that explains why genetics professors have such a reputation for comedic wit.

The second example is more subtle. Logicalthought stated in post 30803 with regards to a search for Tom Sawyer, Moby Dick, etc.: "Why don't you try searching for a book someone might have heard of?

Here the humor is based on exaggeration and the clear ridiculousness of the suggestion. Is it really possible that someone as intelligent as Logicalthought appears from his posts would not have heard of such classics as Tom Sawyer and Moby Dick??? Well is it? Well? Hmm...

Let me finally end with the comment that there will always be variability in what is considered funny. For example, it has been empirically demonstrated that the great majority of individuals with a Y chromosome (i.e. males) find the following scenes hysterical:

1. Cowboys eating beans then sitting around a campfire expelling gas.
2. A rabbit viciously attacking and defeating fully armed Knights of the Round Table.
3. Curly extending his right fist outward. Moe hitting the fist downward. The right arm follows a 360°C arc and ends up hitting Moe on the head. Moe then puts two fingers in Curly's eyes.

The same scenes are not funny to individuals without a Y chromosome (i.e. females), religious fanatics, and people who sell beans. The point is that humor is complicated, and therefore should not be tried at home or on message boards without expert supervision.
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