Everyone wants to be funny, but not everyone can be funny. We can all agree that the easiest way to not be funny is to try and explain the joke. But nobody said this post was going to be funny. It is going to go out of its way to explain what the funniest word is–which totally just misses the point of being funny. Also, part of the point of being funny is that it’s subjective–so can there really be a single “funniest” word? There’s a pretty good chance you’ll go through this post and just go “nah that word wasn’t very funny.” Let’s pretend you won’t, though. What is the funniest word?
You might know entropy as that thing that will eventually cause the heat death of the universe when it can no longer increase.
But entropy is also a concept in information theory. It is a component to a random variable representing information, surprise, or uncertainty. Entropy in the context of information theory is often referred to as Shannon entropy–after Claude Shannon’s “A Mathematical Theory of Communication” was published in 1948. It’s calculated in a pretty similar way to entropy in thermodynamics.
Now entropy is very broadly a function of randomness. In thermodynamics that can be how quickly and often molecules bounce around. Shannon entropy is similar. When it comes to communication, part of it is a function of how unexpected whatever the information you received was.
On the topic of randomness, we know that things are often considered funnier the less expected they are. A 2016 study conducted by Chris Westbury and Geoff Hollis from the University of Alberta had students rating the “funniness” of random non-words created by a computer. The ones that were consistently rated the funniest were the words that looked kinda like words at a glance–but looked the least like English words. Non-words that looked like expletives or otherwise crude words also consistently rated highly. That tells us there’s more to funny words than just being a random collection of letters.
A different study from the University of Warwick collected a bunch of common words and had them scored on a scale of “funniness.” Words with strong connotations like “murder” or “torture” typically ranked very low–while words that sounded like profanities still ranked very high. One of the top ones was “tinkle.” Broadly, words associated with sex, bodily functions, animals, or insults consistently were rated as the funniest.
Armed with this knowledge, Westbury and Hollis did a lot of math to predict the funniest words. Among them were “boff,” “slobbering,” “cooch,” and “fuzz.”
What also emerged (also pulled from the study rated the funniness of random non-words) was that specific sounds were funnier than others. Typically they were uncommon combinations of consonants, or just uncommon letters in general–like “j” or “k.” The funniest vowel was found to be “u.” That probably holds, since it’s the least common vowel.
Anyway what was the single funniest word? Well the University of Warwick study tells us it’s “booty.” So there you go. Butts are still the funniest thing.
Speaking of funny words, what about funny headlines? Look at some here.