The meaning of a word and the form a word takes are key to getting a giggle
Science has determined through rigorous statistical analysis of 45,000 total words what the funniest words in the English language are, and some insights into why they make us giggle.
In fact, the word giggle, along with wriggly, squiffy and boobs are among the funniest words we know according to a new study by Chris Westbury, a psychologist at the University of Alberta. And there’s a big goofy list below of the funniest 200 words in English. Some will make you slaphappy, others will make you upchuck, and one we can’t mention because you may get your knickers in a knot.
Slobbering, puking, blockhead
No, not you. We just wanted to get your attention so we could talk about the purpose of this study.
Westbury, who has an interest in the psychology of humour, wants to understand what it is about certain words that makes us laugh. The capacity to laugh is unique to us and higher primates, but only we have words.
The study is based on three theories of humour. One, called superiority humour, suggests we find humour from making fun of people. “You blockhead Charlie Brown” is an example.
A second theory of humour is incongruity theory, which suggests that less likely things are funnier than likely things. You are not expected to slobber, but when you do, people laugh.
The third theory is juxtaposition theory, and it suggests that people’s actions sometimes make us laugh. Who doesn’t find puking funny?
All three of these theories are reflected in a master list of 200 individual words that make us laugh the most. Don’t worry, we’re getting to them.
Semantic predictors of funny words
One of the conclusions of the study is that there are two ways to predict whether a word will be funny or not: its meaning and its form.
Semantic predictors depend on the meaning of a word and the emotions evoked by that word. This measures how closely a word is — either in meaning or emotion — to the particular category is represents. The study found there were six categories of words that typically make us laugh: sex, bodily functions, insults, swear words, partying and animals.
From the sex category, boob and penis are classics. Bodily functions includes burp and snot; insults are words like ninny and buffoon; swear words are bullocks and jackass (among those we care to list); funny partying related words are booze and shindig; and humour in the animal list comes from pooch and critter.
Did we mention there are more in the list of the 200 funniest words at the end of this article? Keep scrolling …
Information predictors of funny words
Dr. Westbury’s second predictor of funny words he calls “information predictors.” These have do do with the structure of a word or its form.
Words with fewer letters that occur less frequently in English were found to be funnier than words with more common letters. Similarly, less common words are funnier than common ones.
Also a few specific letters or sounds sometimes occur more frequently in funny words. For example the letter ‘k’ appears quite often in funny words: puke, fink, oink; as does the ‘oo’ sound, as in boob and poop. The letters ‘le’ at the end of a word is also often worth a giggle — or a wriggle or even a nibble.
The top 200 funny words (yes, finally!)
(Warning: some of these words could be considered mildly offensive)
CBC Quirks & Quarks