Ever wonder what it is about certain words that make them funny? A recent study has determined that there are two main kinds of predictors of funniness in words: those related to the form of the word and those related to its meaning.
Upchuck, bubby, boff, wriggly, yaps, giggle, cooch, guffaw, puffball, and jiggly, are the top 10 funniest words in the English language, according to a new study by University of Alberta psychology experts.
“Humour is, of course, still personal. Here, we get at the elements of humour that aren’t personal; things that are universally funny.” said Chris Westbury, lead researcher of the study.
As part of the study, researchers began their work based on a study from the University of Warwick, which had participants rate the humorousness of nearly 5,000 English words. “Our model was good at predicting which words participants would judge as funny, and to what extent,” explained Westbury.
The findings of the Top 10 funniest words show there are two types of funniness predictors: form predictors and semantic predictors.
Form predictors have nothing to do with the meaning of the word, but rather measure elements such as length, letter and sound probabilities, and how similar the word is to other words in sound and writing. For example, the study found that the letter k and the sound ‘oo’ (as in ‘boot’) are significantly more likely to occur in funny words than in words that are not funny.
Semantic predictors were taken from a computational model of language and measure, how related each word is to two different emotions, as well as to six categories of funny words: sex, bodily functions, insults, swear words, partying, and animals.
“We started out by identifying these six categories,” said Westbury. “It turns out that the best predictor of funniness is not the distance from one of those six categories, but rather the average distance from all six categories. This makes sense because a lot of words that people find funny, fall into more than one category, like sex and bodily functions–like boobs.”