mid-14c., "fluid or juice of an animal or plant," from Old North French humour (Old French humor; Modern French humeur), from Latin umor "body fluid" (also humor, by false association with humus "earth"); related to umere "be wet, moist," and to uvescere "become wet," from PIE *wegw- "wet."
In ancient and medieval physiology, "any of the four body fluids" (blood, phlegm, choler, and melancholy or black bile) whose relative proportions were thought to determine state of mind. This led to a sense of "mood, temporary state of mind" (first recorded 1520s); the sense of "amusing quality, funniness" is first recorded 1680s, probably via sense of "whim, caprice" (1560s), which also produced the verb sense of "indulge," first attested 1580s. "The pronunciation of the initial h is only of recent date, and is sometimes omitted ...." [OED] For types of humor, see the useful table below, from H.W. Fowler ["Modern English Usage," 1926].
|motive/aim||discovery||throwing light||amendment||inflicting pain||discredit||exclusiveness||self-justification||self-relief|
|province||human nature||words & ideas||morals & manners||faults & foibles||misconduct||statement of facts||morals||adversity|
|method/means||observation||surprise||accentuation||inversion||direct statement||mystification||exposure of nakedness||pessimism|
|audience||the sympathetic||the intelligent||the self-satisfied||victim & bystander||the public||an inner circle||the respectable||the self|
1580s; see humor (n.). Related: Humored; humoring.
humor hu·mor (hyōō'mər)
A body fluid, such as blood, lymph, or bile.
One of the four fluids of the body, blood, phlegm, choler, and black bile, whose relative proportions were thought in ancient and medieval physiology to determine a person's disposition and general health.
A person's characteristic disposition or temperament.
An often temporary state of mind; a mood.
Our Living Language : Doctors in ancient times and in the Middle Ages thought the human body contained a mixture of four substances, called humors, that determined a person's health and character. The humors were fluids (humor means "fluid" in Latin), and they differed from each other in being either warm or cold and moist or dry. Each humor was also associated with one of the four elements, the basic substances that made up the universe in ancient schemes of thought. Blood was the warm, moist humor associated with the element fire, and phlegm was the cold, moist humor associated with water. Black bile was the cold, dry humor associated with the earth, and yellow bile was the warm, dry humor associated with the air. Illnesses were thought to be caused by an imbalance in the humors within the body, as were defects in personality, and some medical terminology in English still reflects these outmoded concepts. For example, too much black bile was thought to make a person gloomy, and nowadays symptoms of depression such as insomnia and lack of pleasure in enjoyable activities are described as melancholic symptoms, ultimately from the Greek word melancholia, "excess of black bile," formed from melan-, "black," and khole, "bile." The old term for the cold, clammy humor, phlegm, lives on today as the word for abnormally large accumulations of mucus in the upper respiratory tract. Another early name of yellow bile in English, choler, is related to the name of the disease cholera, which in earlier times denoted stomach disorders thought to be due to an imbalance of yellow bile. Both words are ultimately from the Greek word chole, "bile."
Note: Physicians in the Middle Ages believed that four principal humors — blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile — controlled body functions and that a person's temperament resulted from the humor that was most prevalent in the body. Sanguine people were controlled by blood, phlegmatic people by phlegm, choleric people by yellow bile (also known as “choler”), and melancholic people by black bile (also known as “melancholy”).