These Are the Funniest Words in the English Language, According to Science
You'd be a twit not to click.
Q: Why did the pirate buy a cellphone?
A: To make some booty calls.
Science says you should be laughing now. Forgive the terrible pun for a moment (even though if you find puns funny it could mean you’re a genius), and take another long, hard look at this word: Booty.
Booty booty booty booty booty.
Anything yet? Regardless. According to a new study of nearly 5,000 English words, “booty” is, apparently, the most consistently funny word in our common language. To achieve this finding, researchers writing for the the journal Behavior Research Methods recruited 821 participants (average age 35, 58 percent female) to take a sort of Rorschach test of funny and unfunny words. After each participant took a common survey of 11 “calibrator words” borrowed from other studies (the funniest here? Turd.) each was given a series of 200 words selected from a pool of 4,997, and asked to answer one question as quickly as possible: is this word funny or not funny?
Each participant gave each word a rating of 1-5 (five being funniest) and moved on to the next one. The words with the highest average scores across all 821 participants—and therefore the top 10 funniest words in English, according to science—are as follows:
Tatiana Ayazo /Rd.com
It’s OK to laugh. But when you’re done, put on your Thoughtful Beard of Science and ask with us, what’s so funny about this group, really? While any 8th grade boy could sing you the praises of “hooter,” this is a scientific study, and the authors have a more scientific explanation for consideration.
Each word in the top 10, the authors note, is relatively uncommon—we don’t read them, write them, or speak them very often—and therefore take longer to recognize as real words. A classic theory of comedy states that humor comes from the unexpected, that we get tickled most when our expectations are subverted (this might also help explain why you literally can’t tickle yourself—you can see it coming). Likewise, nobody expects to see the word “tinkle” flash upon their computer screen; in fact, even the combination of letters—k being one of the least common in English—is unexpected. The juvenile association with a bodily function is just icing on the cake.
Other studies have shown that the same theory of surprise holds even when a word has no meaning. In one study out of Toronto, researchers showed students a series of nonsense words like Wumbus, Jumemo, Hablump, and Snunkoople, then asked them to rate their comedic value on a similar scale. Verdict: Yes, they’re funny.
The least-funny words, on the other hand are all much more common, and much darker—some potentially triggering. For those who’d like to know, they include: Rape, Torture, Torment, Gunshot, Death, and Nightmare.
But let’s end on a happier note. The researchers’ main goal was to collect a corpus of words that could be reliably used in future humor studies—meaning other scientists could be reaping the booty of “booty” for years to come.