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.[1]

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, with k often cited.[2][unreliable source?]

What makes a word funny?[edit]

Some research suggests that certain words can be inherently funny.[3][4]

Chris Westbury at the University of Alberta writes that there is a strong inverse correlation between funniness and the property of entropy.[5] 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.[6]

The concept that some words, especially those with a k sound, are inherently funny is a common trope stated in many fictional works. In the Neil Simon play The Sunshine Boys, for example, 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. L's are not funny. M's are not funny". Similarly, 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.

Funny numbers[edit]

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.[7]

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.[8] 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!"

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.'"[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The 10 commandments of comedy"
  2. ^ Grammar Girl: "Words that sound funny"
  3. ^ Lewis, Danny (7 December 2015). "Finally There's a Scientific Theory for Why Some Words are Funny". Smithsonian. Washington, D.C. 
  4. ^ University of Alberta (30 November 2015). "How funny is this word? The 'snunkoople' effect". ScienceDaily. 
  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. 
  6. ^ Shariatmadari, David (26 November 2015). "From whong to quingel: the science of funny words". The Guardian. London, UK. 
  7. ^ "42", BBC, 14 March 2007, archived from the original on 20 December 2007 [user-generated source]
  8. ^ Johnson, D. Barton (25 November 2002). "Fw: Funny Numbers". Vladimir Nabokov Forum - Listserv 14.4 L-Soft. Archived from the original on 18 February 2008. Retrieved 2013-03-26. [user-generated source]
  9. ^ Jeffrey M. Anderson (22 August 2008), Interview: Steve Coogan on 'Hamlet 2',, archived from the original on 13 August 2011 [user-generated source]

Further reading[edit]