Word entertainment

Today’s One Big Happy:

Inherently funny words: beanies, tweezers, snood. Or from the point of view of the audience: word entertainment.

Word entertainment. There’s been a long series of postings, on Language Log and this blog, on (strong) subjective responses to words, especially word aversion (strong negative responses to moist, in particular) and word attraction or appreciation (on attraction, see especially Mark Liberman on LLog on 5/13/09). These postings — on “language rage, language peeving, word aversion, and word attraction” are inventoried in a 11/26/11 posting on this blog. (Below I’ll add some items to this inventory.)

Note that all of these responses are subjective; different people will have different responses (as for me, I’m not much moved by beanies or tweezers, but I find snood hilarious). The responses that get coverage on linguablogs are those that are shared by a substantial number of people.

Mark’s 5/13/09 posting has a comment from Jean-Sébastien Girard noting the existence of another category of words eliciting subjective reactions: inherently funny words, the objects of word entertainment.

Inherently funny words.There is, in fact, a Wikipedia page:

An inherently funny word is a word which can be found amusing without any given context [as in the cartoon], 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.

The Wikipedia article’s examples, culled from a number of sources, include:

turtle, hockeypuck, chainsaw, weasel, prune, kidney(s), guacamole, wool, bamboozled, kumquat, succotash; Walla Walla, Keokuk, Cucamonga, Seattle

From various other sources I can add:

aardvark, weenie/wienie, spork, vagina, robot, bollocks, carbuncle, scuppernong, newt, nostril, spelunking, umlaut, hornswoggle, rutabaga

(to which I’d add, on my own hook, twerk) and, from Zippy cartoons, the proper names Grundy Gulch and Zortman (in Montana) (link); and Vaseline and Lithuanian (link).

There’s also a website, managed by Tyler M. Cole, of “inherently funny” things in many categories, including words.

Additions to the 2011 inventory. On this blog:

6/1/12: Generalized word rage:

Generalized word rage

word rage

12/12/12: Convention event:

Convention event?

word aversion

2/2/13: bb:


word appreciation/attraction

4/12/13: Body language and Lithuanians:

Body language and Lithuanians

word attraction

4 Responses to “Word entertainment”

  1. Bob Richmond Says:

    I think this response is very individual. About forty years ago it was revealed to me, while I was mightily stoned, that the funniest word in the English language is “tuna”.

    Have you ever noticed that most polysyllabic words ending in -oon have some element of the absurd about them? Baboon, dragoon, balloon, pontoon, poltroon, and Li’l Grundoon? There are at least twenty of these. – I think most of these words are loans from southern Italian, with the majorative suffix common to Italian and Spanish.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      On the -oon words. Back in 1975 I published a whimsical note on these words in the journal Verbatim, on the occasion of the marriage of an Olive Cahoon to a man named Cahoon, making her Olive Cahoon Cahoon. Alas, there’s no version of the note currently available on the web.

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    I can eventually get a copy on the web, but it will take a fair amount of time.

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