There is a particular phenomenon I would like to reference. I'm sure most people are aware of it, but I am not sure if I have ever heard it mentioned.

It happens when someone, often a comedian but it could be anyone and may even be a character in a movie or tv show, makes a reference to something obscure. The reference might be mildly amusing, but not enough to elicit laughter, however, a portion of the audience will laugh in a way that feels unnatural and seems to say 'I know what s/he is talking about! I get the reference! I am laughing to let those around me who understand the reference know that I also understand it.'

Another related phenomenon happens when the above mentioned entertainer who may likely be a comedian makes a criticism that is often political in nature. The criticism may be mildly funny, but again, not funny enough to elicit laughter in and of it self, yet people will still laugh as if to say, 'I agree with the criticism you are making. While it is not funny enough for me to laugh, I am laughing anyway to let those around me know that I agree with this criticism.'

I wish I could reference this phenomenon in an offhand way while talking about something else, but I couldn't think of a context that I could comfortably slip it into. Also, I am not a succinct enough writer to be able to causally mention it without having to give a long explanation as I have just done.

One more thing: It would be neat if this phenomenon had a name. A word by which it was referred to. If the word was 'bork', for example, people could say, 'That is the sort of guy who always borks loudest when we go to comedy clubs, I don't like him.' If this occurrence were labeled it might cause people to think about it more and hopefully decrease its occurrence. Bork isn't a great word, if anyone has any suggestions of a word which could be used please let me know. Perhaps together we can introduce it into the American lexicon.


Vincent said...

American lexicon? Think big, go international!

Your piece reminds me of the late Stephen Potter, who coined the word "one-upmanship" and observed human behaviour with a satirical eye like yours. He inspired the 1960 film "School for Scoundrels" of which there has been a recent remake, which I will not deign to bother with.

He would have approved of "borking" which has resemblances to another of his coinages, "plonking" (though it has older roots):

S. POTTER Some Notes Lifemanship iii. 44 If you have nothing to say, or, rather, something extremely stupid and obvious, say it, but in a ‘plonking’ tone of voice---i.e. roundly, but hollowly and dogmatically. (quoted in the Oxford English Dictionary).

Potter would also have laughed at your "I wish I could reference this phenomenon in an offhand way while talking about something else". His books---One-upmanship, Gamesmanship, Lifemanship etc---are based on teaching techniques for this kind of thing, in a mock-solemn didactic style.

I want your word in the English lexicon!

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