Inherently funny word
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An inherently funny word is a word which can be found amusing without any given context, for reasons ranging from onomatopoeia to phonosemantics. Such words have been used by a range of influential comedians to enhance the humor of their routines.
It is part of the mythology of actors and writers that the consonant plosives (so called because they start suddenly or "explosively") p, b, t, d, k, and g are the funniest sounds in the English language.
References to the concept
- The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Outrageous Okona" features Joe Piscopo as a comedian who, in attempting to teach the android Data the concept of humor, refers to words ending in a k as funny.
- In a sketch on The O'Franken Factor, Al Franken plays an "outsourced" version of himself with an exaggerated Pakistani accent, who remarks that "All of my material is in my native language, Urdu. And most of it is wordplay that would not translate. Hard k's and p's, though, such as hockeypuck, are always funny; just ask 'Don Rickles, the king of the put-down.'"
- In The Simpsons episode "Homie the Clown", Krusty the Clown tells Homer during a lesson at his clown college: "Memorize these funny place names: Walla Walla, Keokuk, Cucamonga, Seattle." In the episode "Faith Off," Krusty refers to hard k's as well: "Have you gone completely ferkakta? Hey! I got my comedy k's back. King Kong, cold-cock, Kato Kaelin."
- Comedian George Carlin, drawing from W.C. Fields, talked about kumquats, garbanzos, succotash and guacamole in his older routines, claiming that because of their names they are "too funny to eat".
- In the December 21, 1989 Dilbert comic strip, Dilbert uses his computer to determine the funniest words in the world, coming up with chainsaw, weasel, prune, and any reference to Gilligan's Island.
- On the cover of his book How I Escaped My Certain Fate, the comedian Stewart Lee nominates wool as an inherently funny word.
- In the 30 Rock episode "Kidney Now!", Dr. Leo Spaceman states that "kidney is such a funny word", and that "it's the hard K sound that's making [him] giggle".
- The BBC Radio 4 panel game I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue includes an occasional round called "Straight Face", in which the panelists take turns saying a single word. A player is eliminated from the game if anyone in the audience laughs at their word ("even the merest titter"). The winner is the last player standing.
- The 2002 LaughLab study suggested that the word "duck" was the most inherently funny animal name, with Professor Richard Wiseman saying that "If you're going to tell a joke involving an animal, make it a duck."
- A 2008 Grammar Girl podcast was all about words that sound funny, like "bamboozled" and "kidneys".
Funny nonsense words
Words may be invented to sound funny. Instances include many works by Dr. Seuss; Goon Show scripts, which often included funny nonsense words, such as ploogie, plinge, lurgy (lurgi), ying-tong-iddle-i-poh and needle-nardle-noo; and the Knights who say Ni scene from the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
The concept of inherent humor appears to be heavily dependent on culture. Yiddish and German words, for example, are a staple of humor in American English, in particular those that begin with the /ʃ/ ("sh") sound, spelled sch- (or sometimes sh- in Yiddish). Take for example the derisive prefix shm- or schm-, as in "Oedipus schmoedipus!" - the trick known as shm-reduplication.
According to Douglas Adams, the idea that the answer to "the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything" in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is 42 is funny because it is an "ordinary, smallish" number.
In the 1996 video Caesar's Writers, former writers for Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows discuss a skit in which Imogene Coca places a bet on a roulette wheel. The writers tried out several numbers before deciding "thirty-two" was the funniest number Coca could say. Neil Simon, one of the writers, went on to write Laughter on the 23rd Floor, based on his experiences writing for Caesar. He claimed the 23 in the play's title was a transposition of 32. Carl Reiner created the Dick Van Dyke Show based on his experiences as a writer for "Your Show of Shows". In a first season episode, "The Curious Thing About Women", Morey Amsterdam's character, Buddy, explains that a package in a comedy skit they are writing should contain 32 pounds of hair, rather than 15, because "32 has always been a funnier number. I hear 32, I get hysterical!"
Bob Barker frequently used two-digit prime numbers as a running gag in his discussion of the Range Game on The Price Is Right, stating that if the contestant stopped the game too early, they could not start it again for another (23, 37, 43) hours. He also used numbers for humorous effect in the Money Game, referring to any number under 10 in that game as "El Cheapo", as the producers would often hide the winning piece behind the lowest numbers.
On the DVD commentary for the British sitcom I'm Alan Partridge, its writers put forward their own theory of funny numbers, going against the more common view that smaller, specific numbers are funny and instead employing large, round numbers (e.g. "a million pounds"). Steve Coogan, creator and star of the sitcom, said in an interview: "... like the number 37. Everyone uses that as a funny number. It's used quite a lot as a random comedy number, like 'that's the 37th time this has happened.' People should use random numbers more. Like 'fifty.' Alan Partridge's assistant is fifty. That was her age. And it sounded funny; I would say, 'this is my assistant Lynn, fifty.' "
- In an article in the New Yorker published in 1936, H. L. Mencken argues that "k words" are funny. "K, for some occult reason, has always appealed to the oafish risibles of the American plain people, and its presence in the names of many ... places has helped to make them joke towns ... for example, Kankakee, Kalamazoo, Hoboken, Hohokus, Yonkers, Squeedunk, 'Stinktown' and Brooklyn." In Neil Simon's play The Sunshine Boys, a character says, "Words with a k in it are funny. Alka-Seltzer is funny. Chicken is funny. Pickle is funny. All with a k. Ls are not funny. Ms are not funny."
- "World's funniest joke revealed - 03 October 2002". New Scientist. 2002-10-03. Retrieved 2013-03-26.
- "Grammar Girl : Words that Sound Funny :: Quick and Dirty Tips ™". Grammar.quickanddirtytips.com. Retrieved 2013-03-26.
- "Script" subtitles, Monty Python and the Holy Grail DVD.
- 42, BBC, 14 March 2007.
- "NABOKV-L Archives - November 2002 (#161)". Listserv.ucsb.edu. Retrieved 2013-03-26.
- An Illustrated History of 27
- The 27 list.
- Jeffrey M. Anderson (22 August 2008), Interview: Steve Coogan on 'Hamlet 2', cinematical.com