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Witzelsucht: Compulsive Joking Disorder

by Adarsh Modi

Witzelsucht: Compulsive Joking Disorder

June 8, 2021

Are you the one friend in your group that keeps on making silly puns and jokes every single second? Are people generally annoyed by your machine gun humour? Do you feel compelled to do so? Do you think you can take Chandler Bing one on one?

The Disorder

Some people in the world are biologically compelled to do so. They suffer from a medical condition known as Witzelsucht. (Leave it to the Germans to name things!). This neurological condition forces its patient to make bad puns, silly jokes and inappropriate comments, which can be sexual in nature, incessantly 24 hours a day. The human brain is as complex a phenomenon as it gets, and our understanding of it is relatively less. As far as weird brain conditions go, Witzelsucht is right up there. 

One of the first documented cases of this condition was witnessed by a German Neurologist named Otfrid Foerster in 1929. He was in the midst of brain surgery, removing a tumour from a male patient’s head. Oftentimes in surgeries like these, the patients are conscious during the procedure. As the surgeon manipulated and touched the cancerous tumour, the patient went into a “manic flight of speech”, as the doctors called it. He started making awful puns after puns and went into a wordplay delirium. Another psychiatrist Abraham Brill also reported such cases of patients compulsively making jokes after jokes to the point where it disrupted everything in their normal lives. 

 
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This neurological condition forces its patient to make bad puns, silly jokes and inappropriate comments, which can be sexual in nature, incessantly 24 hours a day.

Patients Of Witzelsucht

Another patient in LA, California, was diagnosed when his wife was absolutely fed up with his non-stop “witty quips”. The man used to wake his wife up at night just to tell her all the puns that he came up with, frustrated she told him to write them down in a diary. He filled up close to 50 pages very fast. His puns and jokes included: (Courtesy of bbc.com/future) 

“Went to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get my driver’s license. They gave me an eye exam, and here is what they said: ABCDEFG, HIJKMNLOP, QRS, TUV, WXY and Z; now I know my ABC’s, can I have my license please?”

And

“How do you cure hunger? Step away from the buffet table” 

Normally you might chuckle at one of these, but past midnight in a broken sleep!? Nope. We’re going to the psychiatrist.   

 

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This patient in question, pseudo named Derek, suffered two strokes in a gap of five years that led to the development of this condition. Many patients show a pattern of some kind of damage to the frontal lobes. Laughter is a way of diffusing tension or a response to a surprise which is standard in a joke. Many patients were also unable to laugh at jokes by other people, signalling that the nuance required to identify the punchline and the joke, i.e. the surprise was absent, probably due to the damage in the analytical regions of the brain. 

 

Why are they able to joke on their own then? It could be because of a personal association that could trigger a dopamine release and resultant non-stop laughter. The doctors believe these findings could be fruitful in studying the early onset of dementia in patients. 

Patients are now tested using multi-layered comic strips and scans of one’s Grey matter that indicate the potential damage to the humor system of the patient. 

 

If you haven’t suffered any head trauma in the past and you still can’t help yourself from making unrelenting jokes, then it is probably not Witzelsucht; it might just be you!

 

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