Accepted paper:

Riddles and humour


Annikki Kaivola-Bregenhöj (Turku University)

Paper short abstract:

Riddling is a social pastime that values entertainment, quick-wittedness, getting the answer right, humiliation and its tolerance. Riddlers say it is fun, and produces a lot of laughs. Is this fun humour, and what are the limits? How do riddles relate to the prevailing social reality?

Paper long abstract:

Riddles are expressions comprising a question image and an answer. Riddling is a deliberately misleading form of verbal exchange. The 'true' riddle image is either sensible (Two ships at sea, forever sailing, never meeting. The sun and moon) or impossible (One mouse, two tails. A shoe). The answer is always surprising. In riddle jokes, the question is seemingly sensible (White and up a tree), but the answer is always jokey and unrealistic (Shy buttermilk). In both types the images and answers reflect the social reality. If they do not, people do not understand the riddle and they are not amused. Examples are true riddles with an agrarian image. The new riddle jokes concern for example politics, sport, topical scandals. Riddles both hide and reveal their object. They lead the listener astray and seek to provide a new perspective on something familiar to all. People say riddling is fun and produces a lot of laughs. They do not, however, specify what makes them laugh. The status of the riddler and riddlee is always at stake. Initially, the riddler has the upper hand because he knows the answer. Contrary to general practice, misleading the riddlee is considered humorous, but riddling would scarcely have been so popular if it had always made the riddlee look stupid. Why have riddles made people laugh and is their joking humour? My paper examines riddles and riddling material in the Folklore Archives of the Finnish Literature Society. A collection in 1967 yielded accounts of authentic situations.

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Short folklore forms in contemporary use