Quotation by Harold Nicolson

It will be agreed that the essential difference between humour and wit is that, whereas wit is always intentional, humour is always unintentional. Wit possess an object; it is critical, aggressive, and often cruel; it depends for its success upon condescension, revelation, suddenness, and surprise, and it necessitates a quick and deliberate motion of the mind; it is not a private indulgence but invariably needs an audience; it is thus a social phenomenon. Humour on the other hand has no object; it does not seek to wound others, it seeks only to protect the self; it is not a sword but a shield. So far from entailing an expenditure of intellectual or psychic effort, it seeks to economise that effort; it does not depend on suddenness or surprise, but is contemplative, conciliatory, ruminating; and it is largely a private indulgence and does not require an audience for its enjoyment.
Harold Nicolson (1886–1968), British critic, biographer. "The English Sense of Humour," The English Sense of Humour and Other Essays, Funk & Wagnalls (1968).
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