The Herring

  • The notion “Contradiction forms the basis of humor” is developed by Hazlitt, Schopenhauer and Kant. Hazlitt claims that the essence of what makes you smile is contradiction. Also, Kant says that laughing occurs when stressful waiting turns into a nothing.


    Mathematics and Humor was written by John Allen Paulos in 1980. I purchased its first Turkish edition from Sarmal Publishing. I read this book almost every year. It defines the logic and mathematical ways of humor in the best way. The wits, jokes, riddles and paradoxes are analyzed really good in the book. While I was searching another book in my bookshelf, I noticed “Mathematics and Humor” again. I like to share a beautiful example of the relationship of humor, maths and contradiction from the book:


    Father asks son: “What is the thing that is hanged on the wall, green, wet, and that whistles?”. Child thinks for a while but he can’t find the answer. Then, father tells it: “It is the herring”.  “The herring? But it cannot climb to the wall” says the child. Father responds: “Then we hang it there”. Child: “But the herring is not green”. Father: “Then we paint it”. Child: “But the herring is not wet”. Father: “It can be wet after we paint it”. “But...” says the child while stammering, “The herring doesn’t whistle!”. Father smiles and says: “You are right, I just added it to make the riddle more difficult”.  (The Joys of Yiddish, 1968, Leo Rosten)


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