Evasive Targets: Deciphering Polysemy in Mediated Humor

Lillian Boxman-Shabtai*, Limor Shifman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


While polysemy has been discussed in communication studies for decades, a fundamental question has evaded systematic analysis: Which textual features make mediated texts open to multiple interpretations? Focusing on humor, we addressed this question by using a somewhat unusual point of departure-a failed intercoder reliability test. We analyzed 130 humorous forwards, of which 55 elicited disagreement between coders regarding the target of mockery and 75 were uncontroversial. Our comparative analysis yielded six textual attributes that augment polysemy in mediated humor: narrative-valence discrepancies, unstereotypical stereotyping, debatable personality traits, self-deprecating humor, intertextuality, and centrifugal multimodality. We demonstrate the utility of the proposed typology by analyzing public controversies stirred by humorous communication, and discuss its applicability to the study of audiences and nonhumorous genres.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)977-998
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Communication
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 International Communication Association.


  • Active audience
  • Email forwards
  • Humor
  • Interpretation
  • Polysemy


Dive into the research topics of 'Evasive Targets: Deciphering Polysemy in Mediated Humor'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this