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.
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© 2014 International Communication Association.
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