From the Humour of Science to (pedagogical uses for) the Science of Humour

Carmela Chateau - Smith


Science is generally seen as a serious subject, yet scientific discoveries may sometimes have humorous aspects. Joking about science is often used as a coping strategy by the general public, as a means of dealing with feelings of inadequacy about the relentlessness of scientific progress. Several recent newspaper articles bear witness to this tendency. Humour may also be used by scientists, with the aim of making science seem less threatening, or to make science more accessible to the layperson, particularly in the form of popular science, from books to keynote speeches. The etymology of the words “humour and “science”, and any changes in their frequency of use over time, will be examined through dictionaries, and corpus data. This paper will then explore in greater depth the many parallels between science and humour, with examples drawn from several fields, including Geology, the science of the Earth, and Linguistics, the science of language. Although no firm answers can yet be provided, the following questions will be discussed: i) Can moments of paradigm shift be identified in scientific articles by analysing their use of humour?  and ii) Can humour be used pedagogically, to teach science more effectively?


Corpus Linguistics, Earth Sciences, Humour, OED, SketchEngine, BYU corpora

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