Inherently funny word
Some influential comedians have long regarded certain words
in the English language
as being inherently funny
, and have used them to enhance the humour
of their comic routines. Not all people agree, and some people believe that this is an invalid concept.
Examples of references to the concept:
- In Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys, a character says: "Words with a 'k' in it are funny. Alkaseltzer is funny. Chicken is funny. Pickle is funny. All with a 'k'. 'L's are not funny. 'M's are not funny."
- Monty Python's "Woody and Tinny words" sketch features extensive play on the sounds of English words for their inherent humour.
- Dave Barry's "Dave Barry Talks Back" has a column on linguistic humour. He contrasts the phrase "Richard Nixon wearing a neck-tie" with "Richard Nixon wearing a neck-weasel", and concludes that "weasel" is a very funny word.
- In The Simpsons episode "Homer the Clown", written by John Swartzwelder, the fictional Krusty the Klown tells Homer during a lesson at his clown college: "Memorize these funny place names. Walla Walla. Keokuk. Cucamonga. Seattle."
- George Carlin talks about kumquats and succotash in his older routines.
- In the Dilbert comic strip dated from December 21 1989, 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.
- Many have conjectured that the word "Duck" is the funniest word in the English language. This was popularized by the Marx Brothers comedy Duck Soup, considered by some to be the funniest movie ever made.
These comedy routines, by propagating the meme
that the words used are funny, increased the comedy potential of the words by adding another level of association to comedy.
In the English language, these tend to include words with the letters 'c' and 'k' in and words with the vowel sounds 'oo', 'o' and 'aa'.
Note also that the words aardvark
, and bassoon
refer to unusual items for some people, which adds to their surprise/strangeness/humour potential.
Yiddish and German words often seem funny to English speakers, in particular those that begin with the /∫/ ("sh") sound, spelled as sch-. Texts in the Dutch language often seem comical to English-speaking readers, in part because much written Dutch is partially intelligible, but curiously spelled from an English language point of view.
Another category of words considered funny are those that resemble taboo words or invite taboo mispronunciations, such as fuchsia.
Unresolved questions about inherently funny words include:
- Are there any known physiological or linguistic reasons for why these words are funny?
- Are the funny sounds the same in other languages?