A Dry Sense of Humor
Bill from Maple City, Michigan, asked about the use of the word dry in the phrase a dry sense of humor. A dry sense of humor involves delivering a joke as if it were a serious matter. There is no prompt to laugh; the humor sneaks up on you because of the emotionless delivery.
Galen—a Greek physician and philosopher—seems to have been responsible for the use of dry in a manner more nuanced than simply the opposite of wet. He subscribed to the theory of humors—bodily fluids that accounted for moods. He took what he considered the four universal elements (wet, dry, hot, and cold) and applied them to personality characteristics. A dry personality was matter-of-fact, impassive, undemonstrative.
Later applications of the word dry emphasized lack of affect, stiffness, coldness, and a general unpleasantness, but a dry sense of humor falls more on the side of irony and slyness. A good example of a comedian who typifies a dry sense of humor is Steven Wright.
Here’s an example of a dry sense of humor:A devoutly Christian cowboy was herding cattle when, unbeknownst to him, his bible fell out of his saddlebag. Later that night, when he went to read his nightly bible passage, he was crushed to learn that it was missing.
The next morning, he was approached by a cow. It walked up to him and dropped a bible at his feet. Amazed, he looked towards the sky and exclaimed, "It's a miracle! It’s a miracle!”
"Not really," replied the cow, "You wrote your name on the inside cover."