Panel: "Only joking": Negotiating offensive humour in interaction

18th International Pragmatics Conference, Brussels, 9-14 July 2023


Panel organisers: 

Chi-Hé Elder, University of East Anglia, UK (

Eleni Kapogianni, University of Kent, UK (

Isabella Reichl, University of Kent, UK (





We are organising a panel at the International Pragmatics Conference to address the topic of ‘offensive humour’.

What's it about?

Offensive humour is a broad category, including but not limited to teasing, sarcasm, put downs and jocular insults. We look forward to a rich discussion of the theoretical and practical challenges that offensive humour presents, such as how to identify speakers’ humorous and/or offensive intentions, the nature of offensive messages, and how recipients can hold speakers accountable for having caused offence.

Framing offensive messages through the lens of humour allows speakers to invoke plausible deniability for having intended any offence: they can always claim to be ‘only joking’. Indeed, it is due to the inherent ambiguity of joking that allows a speaker to distance themself from potentially offensive messages and to disguise any disparaging attitudes that their humour may inadvertently reveal. These ambiguities in turn make it difficult for recipients to flag and register having taken offence. As offensive messages are backgrounded to the humorous effect, it can be difficult to explicitly ‘call out’ the speaker and hold them accountable for having caused offence.

We hope that discussing these issues, and more, will shed new light on how language functions as the critical vehicle for committing offensive humour, as well as how it is perceived, negotiated and/or ignored by participants in interaction.

We welcome submissions on any issues relating to offensive humour, non-serious talk, misunderstandings, communicative intentions, accountability and impoliteness.

Authors are welcome to contact the panel organisers by email for assistance in advance of submitting if they wish.

How to submit an abstract

To contribute to this panel, authors should submit an abstract (250-500 words) as a “Panel contribution” on the IPrA website (, selecting the “‘Only joking’: Negotiating offensive humour in interaction” panel.

The deadline for submissions is 1 November 2022.

Note you must be a member of the International Pragmatics Association to submit an abstract - sign up here: International Pragmatics Association