The 12 funniest words in the English language, according to science

Posted by
Moya Crockett
backgroundLayer 1
Add this article to your list of favourites

Despite being grown adults with jobs, responsibilities and Nutribullets, we all have certain words that we can’t say without sniggering. And more often than not, these words will be found at the lewder, more juvenile end of the English language spectrum. Remember how hilarious you found it when someone said ‘willy’ at primary school? Still find it kind of funny now? Exactly.

In a new scientific paper published in the journal Behaviour Research, psychologists set out to identify the funniest words in the English language – and their findings make us feel much better about giggling about toilet humour.

Researchers Tomas Engelthaler and Thomas Hill of the University of Warwick recruited over 800 volunteers for the study. Participants had an average age of 35, and 58% were female.

They asked them to rate words on a scale from one (not funny at all) to five (funny), and to follow their gut instinct rather than taking time to think about their answers.

In total, the volunteers ranked around 5,000 words, ranging from the obviously hilarious (turd) to the rather more sombre (drought).

The words attracting the highest funniness rating were all body part-related. In the number one spot was booty, closely followed by tit, booby and hooter.

Also making it into the top 10 were nitwit, twit, waddle, tinkle, bebop and egghead, with ass and twerp coming in at numbers 11 and 12.

Gender differences also emerged in the words that men and women found the most amusing. Giggle, beast, sod, juju and humbug were rated as funnier by women than men, while men were more tickled by words such as bondage, orgy, birthmark, weld and raccoon (?).

Researchers were also able to highlight the least funny words in the English language using the same experiment. These, unsurprisingly, tended to be associated with morbid events and negative emotions, with rape, torture and torment deemed the most humourless English words.

Other words to attract low amusement ratings were gunshot, death, nightmare, war, trauma, rapist, distrust, deathbed and pain.

What does all this tell us? On a basic level, it seems that the more of a novelty a word is, the more likely we are to find it funny. Christian Jarrett at BPS Research Digest observes that the words that attracted the highest funniness ratings tended to be less frequently used, and took people longer to recognise as words.

The study authors say that they hope their research will help others studying the psychology of humour. “If single words have reliable humour ratings, they provide humour in miniature, allowing us to investigate humour in relation to the many existing lexical norms,” they write.

Now if you’ll excuse us - we’re off to shake our booty to bebop with an egghead.

Images: iStock; Rex Features