Inherently funny word
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Certain nonsense words may be inherently funny, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Memory and Language. The study's lead author, Chris Westbury from the University of Alberta, suggests that the inherent humor of certain non-words can be explained by the property of entropy. Entropy, in this case, expresses how usual the letters in the word appear to be: the less commonly they are used, the lower the total entropy and the more funny they are likely to be found. According to Westbury, "Some non-words are funny, and they’re weird when they are [...] But there’s actually a consistent relationship between how funny they are and how weird they are".
The idea that humor can be predicted by a word's entropy corresponds to the incongruity theory of 19th-century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, who posited that humor is a product of one's expectations being violated. According to Westbury, "One reason puns are funny is that they violate our expectation that a word has one meaning".
The vaudeville lore that words with the letter k are funny is recorded by the playwright Neil Simon in his work The Sunshine Boys. In the play, which is about a pair of aging vaudeville comedians, the character Willie lectures his nephew about funny words:
Fifty-seven years in this business, you learn a few things. You know what words are funny and which words are not funny. Alka Seltzer is funny. You say 'Alka Seltzer' you get a laugh ... Words with 'k' in them are funny. Casey Stengel, that's a funny name. Robert Taylor is not funny. Cupcake is funny. Tomato is not funny. Cookie is funny. Cucumber is funny. Car keys. Cleveland ... Cleveland is funny. Maryland is not funny. Then, there's chicken. Chicken is funny. Pickle is funny. Cab is funny. Cockroach is funny – not if you get 'em, only if you say 'em.
- Lewis, Danny (7 December 2015). "Finally There's a Scientific Theory for Why Some Words are Funny". Smithsonian. Washington, D.C.
- University of Alberta (30 November 2015). "How funny is this word? The 'snunkoople' effect". ScienceDaily.
- Shariatmadari, David (26 November 2015). "From whong to quingel: the science of funny words". The Guardian. London, UK.
- Chaffee, Judith; Crick, Oliver, eds. (2015). The Routledge Companion to Commedia Dell'Arte. London, UK; New York, N.Y.: Routledge. p. 181. ISBN 978-0-415-74506-2.
- Helitzer, Melvin (1984). Comedy techniques for writers and performers : the hearts theory of humor writing. Athens, OH: Lawhead Press. p. 118. ISBN 0-91619-900-2.
- Franzini, Louis R. (2012). Just Kidding: Using Humor Effectively. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 138. ISBN 978-144221-336-4.
- Barry, Dave (1991), Dave Barry Talks Back, 1st edn., New York: Crown. ISBN 0-517-58546-4.
- Shibles, Warren, "Humor Reference Guide: A Comprehensive Classification and Analysis" (Hardcover) 1998 ISBN 0-8093-2097-5
- Westbury, C.; Shaoul, C.; Moroschan, G.; Ramscar, M. (January 2016). "Telling the world's least funny jokes: On the quantification of humor as entropy". Journal of Memory and Language. 86: 141–156. doi:10.1016/j.jml.2015.09.001.
- Grammar Girl: "Words that sound funny", Quick and Dirty Tips.