“Taking the piss”: Functions of banter in the IT industry

Barbara A Plester 1 , 1  and Janet Sayers 2 , 2
  • 1 University of Auckland.
  • 2 University of Auckland.


This paper shows how banter helps forge organizational culture by facilitating socialization of work group members and presents original research conducted in three IT companies. Informants identified their style of humor as “taking the piss,” a colloquial term meaning to use jocular abuse to deflate someone else's ego to bring them to the same level as others. The IT organizations studied were young, creative and energetic and the banter was lively and almost always enjoyed. Six main functions of banter were identified: making a point, boredom busting, socialization, celebrating differences, displaying the culture, and highlighting and defining status. Banter occurred more readily when it involved popular and well-liked colleagues that were fully socialized into the organizational culture. Personal characteristics and traits—such as ethnicity, gender, age, height or dress style—were the target of much banter. Much of the literature discussing banter has focused on the negative effects of jocular abuse at work. This paper emphasises how banter helped facilitate functioning cultural systems in the organizations studied. However, for those not socialized through the banter into the in-group, banter was often experienced as painful, exclusionary and even insulting.

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HUMOR, the official publication of the International Society for Humor Studies (ISHS), was established over 25 years ago as an international interdisciplinary forum for the publication of high-quality research papers on humor as an important and universal human faculty. The journal publishes original contributions in areas such as interdisciplinary humor research, humor theory, and humor research methodologies.