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Abrahams, R.D. Dundes, A. (1969). On Elephantasy and Elephanticide. Psychoanal. Rev., 56B(2):225-241.

(1969). Psychoanalytic Review, 56B(2):225-241

On Elephantasy and Elephanticide

Roger D. Abrahams, Ph.D. and Alan Dundes, Ph.D.

The literature on the theory of humor and wit and related subjects is vast and includes works by some of the greatest minds in Western history: Aristotle, Bergson, Freud, Meredith, and others more recent. These writers have tended to concentrate on two aspects of the humor problem: the structure of devices which make people laugh and what laughter does to individuals.1 These philosophical or psychological commentators have attempted to analyze the reasons why people are amused. Nevertheless, there have been few attempts to discern the effect of time and place on the creation and dissemination of jokes and other witticisms. Though it is widely known that the “sense of humor” of one era or region differs from others, little of substance has been written to explain these differences. The effect of time and place on humorous devices becomes especially important in analyzing joke cycles, for here the jokes often achieve a spontaneous popularity and a widespread diffusion in a relatively short time. Yet the question remains unanswered as to why and how this phenomenon occurs. In hopes of taking one step toward this answer, we will investigate the latent content of one recent joke cycle, the elephant riddles, and discuss it in relation to certain important psychological and social factors in the lives of those who have transmitted these bits of jokelore.2


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