Humour me

Language is interesting. Humour is something we all might recognise in the modern world as describing something amusing, that might make us laugh. But understanding where the word humour comes from gives insight to how language is connected to the ways knowledge is constructed.

Humour comes from Latin and means ‘moisture’ which then passed into English to mean bodily fluids – humours, of which there were 4 and were connected to moods and functions of different organ systems.

For a long time, there was no distinction between the sexes, there was one human template. There were variations on humours and degrees of temperature that defined the spectrum of difference. Male was at the hot end and female at the colder end of the spectrum.

The science and medical profession of the time found ‘evidence’ of the inferiority of women and other cultures and used it to maintain social order. What I find interesting, I suppose, is while modern anatomy and physiology have moved on since the 17th and 18th century, some of the assumptions and ideas live on. I mean, just look at how hard women had to fight just to be able to compete at the Olympics –they weren’t able to run in the marathon until 1984, nearly 100 years after the start of the modern games. You can’t tell me that it was a misprint in the programme.

Scientific knowledge has a level of power to it, to define the truth about something and this is what is interesting to think about and notice. That is, how various branches of science over time have categorised people and other species, given them particular qualities, limits and justified practices of exclusion, exploitation and mistreatment.

I wonder what science will look like in 300 years. What truths and facts will be as laughable to that generation as the idea of blood being turned into semen by body heat. Now that is humorous.

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