Sunday, March 15, 2009

On Mongrel Humour Cloaked in the Truth of Sarcasm

At a recent teeball game I overheard a parent ‘encourage’ their son to succeed: “Four home runs today, son,” they charged. I immediately wondered how on God’s green earth was this eleven year old going to do that. Then I realised it was a throwaway line, and perhaps I was taking things too literally. It did, however, remind me somewhat of the phenomenon I call mongrel humour; this parent’s comment was not said humorously, but it was etched with some intent of wayward truth.

Thinking about it some more, I walked past the sausage sizzle stand and briefly overheard four portly men using a similar sort of mongrel humour, and gaining an incredible sense of amusement. (I always think of ‘amusement’ in an ancient sense of meaning--light engagement; entertainment requiring little thought.) These guys patently weren’t using their brains; their banter seemed a little off as it attacked members of the other gender who weren’t present.

I would define mongrel humour as a cross between types of comic amusement and real truth, often accompanied with a humorously sarcastic tone; that which is oddly intended to endear, but often estranges. In other words, the humorously sarcastic tone is humorous mainly for the originator of the humour, but only sometimes for the receiver.

It’s the type of humour that’s likely to offend at one point or other. For that reason it’s a style of speech that’s best avoided as it reveals a somewhat mongrel and incongruent (perhaps untrustworthy) character. Often the person at the receiving end is forced into laughing off the offbeat humour because their credibility as a ‘decent person’ is attacked if they acknowledge feelings of offence--as if they were prudes.

My main point is why speak if it’s not the truth? When we speak humorously yet it’s cloaked in some form of truth, I can’t see how it’s not intended to deceive or to put the receiver of the humour on the back foot as to say, ‘What does he or she really mean?’ The half intuitive listener will pick up the implicit intent almost straight away; then they have to deal with it... ‘Does (he or she) really mean that?’

Whenever there’s a strong hint of truth to the humour (for either person) I think the mongrel humour is starting to go off-course.

The ultimate test of mongrel humour is to turn the tables on originator; to give them some of their own medicine. But I can scarcely see anyone who’s rightly related with God doing that because they won’t want to risk offending people; for these, love’s too important a commodity to be thrown to the dogs.

The person who is dedicated to truth[1] does not engage in any mongrel humour, or any mongrel anything; truth’s too important a commodity for them.

The person who’s dedicated to truth won’t exasperate their partners, kids or work mates with this twisted form of humour for they have regard for other people and not simply for themselves.

A final word for parents and supervisors: a good way to really potentially harm your relationship with your kids and workers is to engage in any communication style that leaves them somewhat confused as to your intent or meaning. The more truth we can get into our communications the better we’ll all be. We can’t afford anything less.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

[1] See M. Scott Peck, Wisdom from the Road Less Traveled (Kansas City, Andrews McMeel Publishing / Ariel Books, 2001), pp. 28-46. Peck discusses dedication to truth as one of four important characteristics in true success (wisdom).

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