A laudable use of brain scanner methodology.

Regular joke: Why did Cleopatra bathe in milk? Because she couldn’t find a cow tall enough for a shower.

Funny pun: Why were the teacher’s eyes crossed? Because she couldn’t control her pupils.

Unfunny pun: What was the problem with the other coat? It was difficult to put on with the paint-roller.

The regular joke and the funny pun are both amusing, but for different reasons: in the decidedly unfunny parlance of humor theorists, the pun has “semantic ambiguity” and the joke does not. Part of the fun in the funny pun, in other words, is thinking through the two meanings of pupil.

But now compare the funny pun and the unfunny pun. Both have semantic ambiguity. So why is the funny one funny? The researchers say it’s because both meanings of the ambiguous word (pupil) are true at the same time, whereas in the unfunny pun, only one of the meanings of the ambiguous word (coat) is true.

Read the article to find out why.

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