Please, Please, Just Tell Me: The Linguistic Features of Humorous Deception




Prior research undertaken for the purpose of identifying deceptive language has focused on deception as it is used for nefarious ends, such as purposeful lying. However, despite the intent to mislead, not all examples of deception are carried out for malevolent ends. In this study, we describe the linguistic features of humorous deception. Specifically, we analyzed the linguistic features of 753 news stories, 1/3 of which were truthful and 2/3 of which we categorized as examples of humorous deception. The news stories we analyzed occurred naturally as part of a segment named Bluff the Listener on the popular American radio quiz show Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!. Using a combination of supervised learning and predictive modeling, we identified 11 linguistic features accounting for approximately 18% of the variance between humorous deception and truthful news stories. These linguistic features suggested the deceptive news stories were more confident and descriptive but also less cohesive when compared to the truthful new stories. We suggest these findings reflect the dual communicative goal of this unique type of discourse to simultaneously deceive and be humorous.