Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious

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Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious
Author Sigmund Freud
Original title German: Der Witz und seine Beziehung zum Unbewußten
Translator J. Strachey
Country Germany and Austria (1905)
United States (1960)
Language German (1905)
English (1960)
Subject Psychoanalysis
Publisher F. Deuticke
Publication date
Published in English
Media type Print

Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious (German: Der Witz und seine Beziehung zum Unbewußten)[1] is a book on the psychoanalysis of jokes and humour by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), first published in 1905 (translated into English in 1960).[2] In this work, Freud described the psychological processes and techniques of jokes, which he likened as similar to the processes and techniques of dreamwork and the Unconscious.[3]

The book is referenced by the character Alvy in the opening seconds of Annie Hall, which won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.[4]


In Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, Freud claimed that "our enjoyment of the joke" indicates what is being repressed in more serious talk.[5] Freud argues that the success of the joke depends upon a psychic economy, whereby the joke allows one to overcome inhibitions.[6]

According to Freud, understanding of joke technique is essential for understanding jokes and their relation to the unconscious, however, these techniques are what make a joke a joke.[7] Freud also noted that the listener laughing really heartily at the joke will typically not be in the mood for investigating its technique.[8]


The book is divided into three sections: "analytic," "synthetic" and "theoretical."

Analytic part[edit]

The book's first section includes a discussion on the techniques and tendencies of jokes.

Synthetic part[edit]

The second section includes a discussion on the psychological origins and motives of the joke and the joke as a social process.

Theoretical part[edit]

The book's final section discusses the joke's relation to dreams and the Unconscious.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ In some English editions the work is titled The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious or Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious.
  2. ^ Doane, Mary Anne. "Theorising the female spectator." Hollywood: Cultural dimensions: ideology, identity and cultural industry studies 4, no. 3 (2004): 95.
  3. ^ Laurie, Timothy; Hickey-Moody, Anna (2017), "Masculinity and Ridicule", Gender: Laughter, Farmington Hills, MI: Macmillan Reference: pp. 215–228 
  4. ^ "Annie Hall - Awards - IMDb". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 6 January 2017. 
  5. ^ Billig, Michael. "The dialogic unconscious: Psychoanalysis, discursive psychology and the nature of repression." British Journal of Social Psychology 36, no. 2 (1997): 139-159.
  6. ^ Atluri, Tara. "Lighten up?! Humour, Race, and Da off colour joke of Ali G." Media, Culture & Society 31, no. 2 (2009): 197-214.
  7. ^ Neitz, Mary Jo. "Humor, hierarchy, and the changing status of women." Psychiatry 43, no. 3 (1980): 211-223.
  8. ^ Janks, Hilary. "Critical literacy: Beyond reason." The Australian Educational Researcher 29, no. 1 (2002): 7-26.