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Winick, C. (1963). A Content Analysis of Orally Communicated Jokes. Am. Imago, 20(3):271-291.

(1963). American Imago, 20(3):271-291

A Content Analysis of Orally Communicated Jokes

Charles Winick

Humor may be a valuable clue to public opinion. This study was undertaken to test the hypothesis that orally communicated jokes may permit the expression of aggression toward some aspect of society. It was hypothesized that the person telling a joke is able to express aggression toward some public figure or current event or social innovation while blunting the force of the expression by sharing it with another person. As Simmel has pointed out, telling a joke is a gift behind which its giver becomes invisible.1 We can speculate that it is a gift of shared aggression. It was further hypothesized that the manifest content of jokes may change in accordance with current events and changes in objects of social concern.


This study was conducted by collecting jokes which were communicated orally in the New York City area over a period of five years, from January 15, 1956, through January 15, 1961. Men and women adults in all five boroughs of that city were the cooperating rapporteurs, who were unpaid volunteers. They were largely middle class; it is probable that the lower and upper extremes of the socioeconomic spectrum were un-derrepresented. The average rapporteur collected jokes for 3.1 years, with a range from eight months to five years. A rapporteur who stopped collecting, whether from boredom with the task, moving, a change in life situation, or whatever reason, was replaced by a rapporteur who lived in the same general geographic area. There was a total of 92 rapporteurs.

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