People say funny things in a book

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Last week saw the publication of The Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations, edited by broadcaster and comedian Gyles Brandreth.

Over 5,000 of the funniest recorded quotations have been compiled and published by Oxford University Press, bringing together witticisms from figures as diverse as Jane Austen and Frankie Boyle.

Brandreth commented: “These are the people whose lines, written or spoken, have stood the test of time.”

He continued: “They are the all-time greats. Some are notable for their original humour, some for their pertinent wit and wry observation. What makes them eligible for the Dictionary is that what they say raises a smile or a laugh and is memorable – and they manage to do it again and again.”

The revised edition contains over 1,000 new quotations from contemporary figures including Stephen Fry, Jo Brand, Jimmy Carr and Caitlin Moran.

An increase in entries for Boris Johnson sees him rise to become the third most humorous British politician behind Winston Churchill and Benjamin Disraeli. His eccentric attitude to governance has thrown up such gems as: “My policy on cake is still pro having it and pro eating it”.

The book includes several entries from those not normally noted for their humour. Margaret Thatcher is the fifth most featured woman in the collection behind Dorothy Parker, Mae West, Fran Lebowitz and Joan Rivers.

Prince William also features, with his wedding-day quip: “We’re supposed to have just a small family affair.”

Timeless humorists still feature predominantly. The dictionary’s date of publication was chosen to coincide with the birthday of Oscar Wilde, the most-featured entrant with 92 quotations, including The Importance of Being Earnest’s epigram: “To lose one parent, Mr Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”

Topping the editor’s list of funniest quotations is the well-known opening to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

Appraising humour, however, is not an objective process, and Brandreth’s selection has not been approved by all. Liz Bury, writing in the Guardian, described the collection as “notably establishment in flavour”, pointing out that seven of the top ten most quoted figures are male.

Queen’s undergraduate James Colenutt commented: “The most hysterical thing is that a book about humour is being edited by Gyles Brandreth; I saw his show at the Edinburgh Fringe and it made me want to cut my ears off.” He went on to ruefully note that nothing he’d ever said had made it into the collection.

Jane Cahill, also at Queen’s, said: “On Thatcher, I think they’ve got confused – she probably wasn’t joking.”

She added: “If you think this is funny, you’re going to enjoy OUSU elections in sixth week.”

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