Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Show Summary Details
More options …


International Journal of Humor Research

Editor-in-Chief: Ford, Thomas E.

IMPACT FACTOR 2017: 0.660
5-year IMPACT FACTOR: 1.059

CiteScore 2017: 1.27

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2017: 0.415
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2017: 1.228

See all formats and pricing
More options …
Volume 31, Issue 4


Lexical priming in humorous satirical newspaper headlines

Stephen Skalicky
  • Corresponding author
  • Department of Applied Linguistics, Georgia State University, 25 Park Place, 15th Floor, Atlanta, GA 30303, USA
  • Email
  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
Published Online: 2018-08-08 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/humor-2017-0061


Satire is a type of discourse commonly employed to mock or criticize a satirical target, typically resulting in humor. Current understandings of satire place strong emphasis on the role that background and pragmatic knowledge play during satire recognition. However, there may also be specific linguistic cues that signal a satirical intent. Researchers using corpus linguistic methods, specifically Lexical Priming, have demonstrated that other types of creative language use, such as irony, puns, and verbal jokes, purposefully deviate from expected language patterns (e.g. collocations). The purpose of this study is to investigate whether humorous satirical headlines also subvert typical linguistic patterns using the theory of Lexical Priming. In order to do so, a corpus of newspaper headlines taken from the satirical American newspaper The Onion are analyzed and compared to a generalized corpus of American English. Results of this analysis suggest satirical headlines exploit linguistic expectations through the use of low-frequency collocations and semantic preferences, but also contain higher discourse and genre level deviations that cannot be captured in the surface level linguistic features of the headlines.

Keywords: satire; corpus linguistics; Lexical Priming; The Onion


  • Abrams, Meyer Howard & Geoffrey Harpham. 2009. A glossary of literary terms, 9th edn. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.Google Scholar

  • Boukes, Mark, Hajo G. Boomgaarden, Marjolein Moorman & Claes H De Vreese. 2015. At odds: laughing and thinking? The appreciation, processing, and persuasiveness of political satire. Journal of Communication 65(5). 721–744.CrossrefWeb of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • Davies, Mark. 2008. The corpus of contemporary American English. BYE, Brigham Young University.Google Scholar

  • Dynel, Marta. 2009. Humorous garden-paths: A pragmatic-cognitive study. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.Google Scholar

  • Forabosco, Giovannantonio. 1992. Cognitive aspects of the humor process: the concept of incongruity. Humor 5(1/2). 45–68.Google Scholar

  • Forabosco, Giovannantonio. 2008. Is the concept of incongruity still a useful construct for the advancement of humor research?. Lodz Papers in Pragmatics 4(1). 45–62.Google Scholar

  • Goatly, Andrew. 2012. Meaning and humour. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

  • Goatly, Andrew. 2017. Lexical priming in humorous discourse. European Journal of Humour Research 5(1). 52–68.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Hanks, Patrick. 2013. Lexical analysis: Norms and exploitations. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar

  • Hoey, Michael. 2005. Lexical priming: A new theory of words and language. London; New York: Routledge.Google Scholar

  • Johnson, Ann, Esteban Del Rio & Alicia Kemmitt. 2010. Missing the joke: A reception analysis of satirical texts. Communication, Culture & Critique 3(3). 396–415.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • LaMarre, Heather L., K. D. Landreville & M. A. Beam. 2009. The irony of satire: Political ideology and the motivation to see what you want to see in The Colbert Report. The International Journal of Press/Politics 14(2). 212–231.CrossrefWeb of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • LaMarre, Heather L., Kristen D Landreville, Dannagal Young & Nathan Gilkerson. 2014. Humor works in funny ways: Examining satirical tone as a key determinant in political humor message processing. Mass Communication and Society 17(3). 400–423.Web of ScienceCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Lee, Hoon & Nojin Kwak. 2014. The affect effect of political satire: Sarcastic humor, negative emotions, and political participation. Mass Communication and Society 17(3). 307–328.Web of ScienceCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Louw, Bill. 1993. Irony in the text or insincerity in the writer? The diagnostic potential of semantic prosodies. In Mona Baker, Francis Gill & Elena Tognini-Bonelli (eds.), Text and Technology: In honour of John Sinclair, 157–176. Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins.Google Scholar

  • Nilsen, Alleen & Don Nilsen. 2008. Literature and humor. In Victor Raskin (ed.), The primer of humor research, 243–280. New York, NY: Mouton de Gruyter.Google Scholar

  • Partington, Alan. 2007. Irony and reversal of evaluation. Journal of Pragmatics 39(9). 1547–1569.Web of ScienceCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Partington, Alan. 2009. A linguistic account of wordplay: The lexical grammar of punning. Journal of Pragmatics 41(9). 1794–1809.CrossrefWeb of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • Partington, Alan. 2011a. “Double-speak” at the White House: A corpus-assisted study of bisociation in conversational laughter-talk. Humor 24(4). 371–398.Web of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • Partington, Alan. 2011b. Phrasal irony: Its form, function and exploitation. Journal of Pragmatics 43(6). 1786–1800.Web of ScienceCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Ritchie, Graeme. 2004. The linguistic analysis of jokes. London, UK: Routledge.Google Scholar

  • Ritchie, Graeme. 2009. Variants of Incongruity Resolution. Journal of Literary Theory 3(2). 313–332.Google Scholar

  • Simpson, Paul. 2003. On the discourse of satire: Towards a stylistic model of satirical humour. Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins Publishing.Google Scholar

  • Sinclair, John. 1991. Corpus, concordance, collocation. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

  • Sinclair, John. 2004. Trust the text: Language, corpus, and discourse. New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar

  • Skalicky, Stephen & Scott Crossley. 2015. A statistical analysis of satirical Amazon.com product reviews. The European Journal of Humour Research 2(3). 66–85.Google Scholar

  • Stewart, Craig O. 2013. Strategies of verbal irony in visual satire: Reading The New Yorker’s “Politics of Fear” cover. Humor 26(2). 197–217.Web of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • Stubbs, Michael. 2001. Words and phrases: Corpus studies of lexical semantics. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.Google Scholar

  • Suls, Jerry. 1983. Cognitive processes in humor appreciation. In Paul E McGhee & Jeffrey H Goldstein (eds.), Handbook of humor research, 39–57. New York, NY: Springer.Google Scholar

  • Tsiamita, Fanie. 2009. Polysemy and lexical priming: The case of drive. In Ute Römer & Rainer Schulze (eds.), Exploring the lexis-grammar interface, 247–264. Philadelphia: John Benjamins.Google Scholar

  • Yus, Francisco. 2003. Humor and the search for relevance. Journal of Pragmatics 35(9). 1295–1331.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Yus, Francisco. 2017. Incongruity-resolution cases in jokes. Lingua 197. 103–122.CrossrefWeb of ScienceGoogle Scholar

About the article

Stephen Skalicky

Stephen Skalicky received his PhD from the Department of Applied Linguistics at Georgia State University in 2018. His research focuses on variables that affect the comprehension and production of figurative language using psycholinguistic, corpus, and natural language processing methods. His work has appeared in Language Learning, Discourse Processes, and Journal of Pragmatics.

Published Online: 2018-08-08

Published in Print: 2018-09-25

Citation Information: HUMOR, Volume 31, Issue 4, Pages 583–602, ISSN (Online) 1613-3722, ISSN (Print) 0933-1719, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/humor-2017-0061.

Export Citation

© 2018 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston.Get Permission

Comments (0)

Please log in or register to comment.
Log in