The blue-footed booby is a bird native to subtropical and tropical regions of the Pacific Ocean. Now, hold it right there. Did you crack a smile at “booby”? Be honest. Getting a kick out of that word doesn’t make you immature — it means you’re, well, normal. A 2017 study found that “booby” ranked among the funniest words in the English language. (Our apologies if we got you excited to read an article about a species of bird.)
(Warning: Some of the words in this list are a little racy.)
Booty, Booty, Booty, Booty, Laughin’ Everywhere
Famous comedians have always had their go-to words. Woody Allen favors “feathers,” “herring,” “butter,” and “dwarf.” Mel Brooks enjoys the sound of “nectarine” and “Saran Wrap.” But how do we know that a word is truly, empirically funny?
Thanks to a 2017 study we didn’t know we needed, no one has to feel embarrassed for laughing at benign, goofy-sounding words again. This peer-reviewed research, published in Behavior Research Methods by University of Warwick researchers, identified the funniest words in the English language. To do this, the researchers presented 821 study participants with 4,997 common words. Each participant rated 211 words on a scale from 0 to 5 (most humorous), and the words with the highest mean humor rating rose to the top. Drumroll, please… here is the list, in order:
In the study, there were some discrepancies in what different demographics found especially funny. Men tended to get giddy over the words bondage, chauffeur, raccoon, birthmark, and orgy. Women were tickled by the words jiggle, humbug, beast, circus, and juju. Age-wise, the younger participants like the words goatee and joint, while older people got a kick out of burlesque and pong. Hey, to each his own.
The Math Of LOL
Now for the obvious followup question: Why? According to Tomas Engelthaler, lead author of the study, “The research initially came about as a result of our curiosity. We were wondering if certain words are perceived as funnier, even when read on their own. It turns out that indeed is the case. Humour is an everyday aspects of our lives and we hope this publicly available dataset allows future researchers to better understand its foundations.” Good enough for us.
This isn’t the first time researchers have looked into humorous words. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Memory and Language established the world’s first mathematical theory of humor. In it, the University of Alberta researcher uses their formulas to construct the funniest possible nonsense words. How does snunkoople sound to you?
The Math of Mirth
University of Alberta