A horse walks into a bar …

By • Published: March 1st, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Since when do horses walk into bars? And, what makes Uncle Uncouth think sweet old grandma would enjoy a tale about a priest and an overly-friendly streetwalker? Next time inappropriate or just plain bad jokes leave you thinking, ‘what’s their damage?’ the answer might be “Witzelsucht”![vit-səl-zuḵt]

Nineteenth century German scientists theorized that bad joke-tellers and pranksters may actually be brain damaged. They coined the term witzelsucht [vit-səl-zuḵt] to describe the tendency to compulsively tell puns and silly jokes and pull pranks, which are usually accompanied by childish behavior. Witzelsucht [vit-səl-zuḵt] became evident in the 1800s following the discovery of brain tumors.

But according to a more recent study U-C-L-A scientists published in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, witzelsucht [vit-səl-zuḵt] may be the sign of a not-so-funny disease. The researchers say it may in fact indicate the onset of dementia. F-T-D, or frontotemporal dementia, is a neuropsychiatric syndrome with progressive degeneration of the brain’s frontal lobes, anterior temporal lobes, or both.

The U-C-L-A study featured a 57-year-old female whose personality suddenly and drastically changed. Her behavior was described as “increased gregariousness, excitement, and a tendency to indiscriminately approach strangers without apprehension.” After examining the woman, researchers learned that she had a family history of dementia and damage to both of her temporal lobes.

So, why the long face? Chances are that socially inappropriate uncle who tells dirty jokes at the dinner table doesn’t have witzelsucht [vit-səl-zuḵt] disease. That’s good news for your gene pool, so maybe lighten up and laugh. After all, that one about the horse was kinda funny.