My good old Uncle John used to drive three hours to visit us in Pennsylvania, when the wild blueberries were getting ripe on the bushes. He had to have his berries, so he’d just show up at our door, and sometimes we’d go with him into the woods out back. The same Uncle John used to collect junk, to sell again or to strip for the metal. It wasn’t his ordinary job. He liked it as a hobby. He liked baseball as a hobby, too. His Little League teams once won 72 games in a row — think about that for a second. He was always laughing, though he did once say to me, at a funeral, that he laughed at funerals and cried at weddings. Uncle John was what people used to call a humorist.
That didn’t refer to his always telling jokes. Another uncle — a literary one, (from Tristram Shandy) Uncle Toby of happy memory — was never more delighted than when he was turning the grounds of his brother’s land into little fortifications, so as to replicate famous battles. That was his humor! His quirks, the hobby-horse he enjoyed riding so much. The idea was that everybody had “humors,” some people more and some people less, and these provided pleasure for you when you could indulge them, and sometimes a bit of frustration for others who had to put up with it, like Toby’s brother Walter Shandy, who had humors of his own. What a dull world it would be without them!
Where do you get your humors from? Ultimately, you got them from your — humors, that is, from some combination of the four fundamental bodily fluids, namely blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile, and a predominance of one or the other could make you sanguine (blood), phlegmatic and easy-going (phlegm), choleric and quick-tempered (yellow bile), or melancholic (black bile). If you were in your humor, you were acting according to that predominant fluid, and that was usually all right by you, but if you were out of humor, you were like a sailor in a desert or an Eskimo on the Amazon, or a junk dealer at Tiffany’s, out of sorts. From the enjoyment we take at watching other people in their humor, we got the idea that what was humorous was likely to make you laugh, and that’s how we ended up with the word humor as we use it now, except that we still do say that somebody’s in good humor when he’s in a good mood, regardless of whether he’s joking or just lazing about on a hammock in the back yard.
Our Word of the Week, humor, comes from Latin umor, fluid, through the French, but after they’d stopped pronouncing the h at the beginning of a word. When that happens, people sometimes end up sticking a silent letter into a place where it never had been before, supposing that it belonged there, so just as we have honor and the French have honneur, where the h was in the Latin original, we have humor and the French humeur, where it wasn’t. So if you hear somebody pronounce humor like yoo-mer, you can take it for a humorous thing, but that’s the way they’d have said it when the word first came into English.
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I'd have never thought I'd even heard the pronunciation "Yoo-mer", but I can hear it in my head as clear as Day-o! So it must be more common than I might have guessed.
"Yoo-mer, Eye-mer, Wee-allmer for humor!
Whimsies are what make life fun-- especially when being crafted by politicians.