Etymology of "Good Humor"

By Gary Amirault

"Good" is an Old English word which goes back to the Germanic word gut (pronounced "goot"). Its most ancient source seems to have come from the prehistoric Germanic word gath which meant to 'bring together' (source of our English gather and together).

Webster's primary definitions of the word are:

  1. Sufficient or satisfactory for its purpose and
  2. In excess, ample, full.

Humor stems from the Latin humere which meant 'be moist.' From this word came the word humidus, the source of the English word humid. Related to the word humid was the word humor, which meant simply 'liquid.' According to the Dictionary of Word Origins, humor came to be used for any of the four bodily fluids (blood, phlegm, choler, and black bile). Much superstition surrounded the various body liquids in the medieval days. The "liquid" meaning of the word stayed as its meaning until it gradually developed in meaning via 'mental disposition at a particular time, mood' and 'inclination, or whim.' In the late 17th century it finally developed into the modern meaning of 'funniness.'

Bill Moss of Portland, Missouri has written a few thoughts on 'Good Humor.' Here are his words:

Good humor is the leaven that leavens the whole lump. I say 'good' humor to distinguish it from the witless attempts to imitate it and the sterile substitutes we employ in our vaudevillian-like lives. Nothing that hurts or destroys is good humor. Nothing that casts down or denigrates is good humor. For good humor is an attitude and not simply a witty saying or artful phrasing. It sees, and it comments on what it sees. But it is never bitter nor despairing. And it alone approaches the game of life with the proper perspective. Will Rogers is credited with the line "I never met a man I didn't like." If he did indeed use the line and was sincere in the sentiment, he most assuredly was not saying that every man he had ever met was likeable. No. What he was saying was that the good humor which was at home in him gave him the forgiving nature that did not impute sin to those he met. And, if so, he has become the patron saint to all those who manifest the same spirit in their dealings with their fellows. Good humor is not naivete. Good humor is fully cognizant. And yet it is the twinkle in the eye of God.

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