Stuff You Should Know

Stuff You Should Know

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July 1, 2020 15 min
Why are some words funnier than others? Well, one man has sought to figure that out. We'll tell you all about him and his project in today's episode. Learn more about your ad-choices at
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Episode Transcription

The text below is machine transcribed.

Hey you'm welcome to the short stuff, I'm Josh and there's Shuck, and we have one word for you: Buddy Wiggle Ha hahere's, another one chuck poop, that's a gentuine laugh it was it yeah TSA always gets me. Poop is just funny.

It is funny, it's literally a funny word, and this episode were talking about a guy named Chris Westbury, who is a researcher out of the University of Alberta, a psychologist actually, and he wanted to figure out what makes things funny and specifically what makes some words funnier than others.

And apparently he was a bit of math genius as a child really got into the statistical analysis kind of stuff and he's applied that as an adult in a study that has one of the better names of any study ever published.

He setting me up, I am yeah, it was called rigly, squify, lummox and boobs colon. What makes some words funny - and this is just super interesting to mee - to because, like we were talking about with the nouns of assemblage words and Etomology, really interest me and comedy interest me and even though I've never done standup. I know the COMEDIANS. Take a lot of great care with not only the bits in the flow and the tone, but specific words are funnier than others and can really punch up a joke agreed - and it says here in this housetolf works article a word like skinectidy or Rancho, Cukamanga or Calamazoo. That's right, ere, just kind of funny.

Words in this guy went out to figure out. Why Yeah?

He said why people said who cares its just funny? Don't look too deeply into it and he said no, I'm going to do the opposite of than you will sit there and listen when I explain it to you through Josh and Chuck, that's right. So what he did was he started off with, and this is going to get really kind of not fun at all and in a minute ue.

But he started off with the list of five thousand English words that were rated funniest by people. I guess he did a poll or something, and then he constructed a mathematical model for predicting which ones what what would be funny for every single word like a ranking, I guess yeah for every single word. In the dictionary yeah this model, he came up with it's kind of complex, its multi layard it's kind of like an onion and he basically now ae UN any any word through it. It's okay, he can run the the onion is hilarious, yes, but he can run any word through it and basically spit out, like a, I guess, a ranking yeah like a laug hous ant. How funny, I guess, yeah how funny that that word will probably be received right, and this is all English words specifically, but he came up with based on this mathematical model.

The ten funniest words one of win, we probably shouldn't even say yeah. I guess so, but hey man.

First Amendment all right up, Chuck, yeah, funny, Bubby, Bol, okay, Rigley M, Yeps, sure, giggle, HMM, chuck, no N, no Coch, okay, gaffal yeah, puff ball M and jigly right. So those are the ten funniest. The runners up were squiffy flappy and Bucko and lukos a great one, poop, Puke and boobs got to just now.

It's just got you just I mean it's funny.

Poop is funny the same reason. Farting is funny yeah.

The Word Yard is funny far. The word Fart is funny, but it's also like shame and ducing. You know like it really makes. You feel really bad about yourself when you use it right yeah I mean it might just be me, but basically no one feels bad for saying the word poop and it is just a genuinely funny word yeah and I'll also mention that farting is the one thing that allows me to hold onto the fact that there may be a God.

There are farts yeah and that that God has a sense of humor, because the fact that a smelly flammable gas comes out of your butthole and makes a sound, yeah and believe us, everybody we verified, it is flammable it's one of the greatest things about human beings.

It's pretty great, you know yeah, especially it's like food goes in.

We say poot in our house now, poots good one for obvious reasons.

You know what I say of course, or just shoot a duck.

That's right or just pretend it didn't happen. One of those two right. So another thing we should mention here is the INCOM incongruity theory, and that is the idea that, in this is sort of a trit and true comedy virtue, which is something unexpected will make you laugh most times it's when you have an expectation of something and something else happens, a lot of good comedy can come from that, and I mean that's absolutely the basis of comedy at least as far as, like all anecdotal evidence, all like sensible, common sense, which is the most sensible kind for the most common kind.

When, like you, really stop and think about incongrudy theity, it really really makes a lot of sense right, but yeah Chris Westbury was like that's all well and good way to go to this ro for coming up with incongrudy theory, but I like to quantify things so I'm going to do that and we'll be right back to explain exactly how he did that after this I got a question. Okay is Westbury the most interesting guy at the dinner party, or does he make you want to Gaug your eyeballs out?

I he might be listening. So I'm not going to answer that question he's one of the other right, there's no in between Youre either like Oh, my God. I meat this guy and you wouldn't believe, like he's, got these theories and mathematical things yeah we're following like we're selling off all of our stuff and we're going to start falling around or he's like. Oh God give me away from this dude. I just tried to make a Fart joke and he tried to explain it to me right. Let me go find somebody who's been on the Kito Diet for three years and talk to them. Instead, man, that's good, so whatit was funny what quick it is. You know why, because the letter Kas in there and we'll get to that in a minute totally, but what Chris Wasburry did, but he basically took all of these words. I think he took several hundred of them to start like a subset of th, those five ousand funniest words and he just kind of took a random subset of him and he started analyzing them with a Google tool that basically shows cooccurrence right. So, basically, you run these words through this little google machine learning algorithm and it spits out other words that people have used instead of or in conjunction with it right and what he figured out was that out of like this couple hundred sample set, you could basically boil it down to six general categories and all of the words had something to do with either an expletive being an expletive sex.

The body partying, I guess which one just s kind of struck me is out of the Blue Yeah.

I was not expecting that one.

What else Chuck Animals or insults? Okay, and so those are the six clusters of categories of funny words?

Okay, so he said oal right great, but the thing is: There's a lot of words that, like kind of straddle these categories, how can you? How can you say, like you know what makes one funnier than the other? What's the deal here and I'm not sure how he did this, I'm not even sure that he knows how he did this, maybe, but he basically assigned a statistical number to a word and in so far as it related to its category right. So, like birthday, cake wit, probably pretty close to the party category like it's, it's probably pretty close or fet or fiesta, or something like that. Yes, very close to it's synonymous to award in this category, but even that didn't quite describe what made a word funny and what Ha Gessie figured out and I'm not sure how he did. This was that the funniest words were related equally roughly to a number of different categories, and it seems like the more that a word was related to one or a number of these six categories, the funniear it was, and a good example he gave was poop right.

It's it can be an explertive.

It can be part of the body, it can be a party there's, it has to do with multiple categories, and so it's funnier than say Tiesta is you know that made sense to me for the first time after reading this, like seven times, yes, yeah Y, a seven seven, eight ten times, maybe yeah it just the way he was putting. It never made sense, but you brought it around for me. So thank you. Thank you, Chuck Man. That means a lot to me, so he got to that point. But then he said you know what the meaning of these words. That's only one kind of vesurement everyone else was saying: stop is ple, that's good! That's good! You're! Fine! You did it, you did it, but he said no! No, no, that's not enough meeting is only one type of measurement, and so he said let's look at and this is actually kind of the good part to me. He said we need to look at the form of these words, how long they are the individual sounds that make up these words and that's where incongruity theory of humor kind of comes back, because the fewer times that these phone ams, the individual sounds appear like the more rare they are, the funnier that people think they are yeah like. Basically, I guess K is much. The K sound in particular is much less used in English than say, like B yeah.

So that's, why, like words with K, sounds or are funnier than words with say t sounds so pickle is funnier than tomato, which is we just inherently know, and so what Chris Westparer is basically on to was that B by analyzing the arrangement of letters and how frequently they occur in words in the English language that he tidit into that incongruity theory, and he basically said our brains are constantly analyzing. The information that's coming in from watching TV or talking to people or reading, or something like that, and we have a certain expectation and with that expectation, isn't met like something that statistically is improbable like the word Walla Wall of Washington comes up out of nowhere.

You don't see that every day you weren't really expecting it and it kind of makes things funny to you, because it triggers that incongruity response yeah and your brain. Is You don't know it? But it's constantly doing this in the background, and you just hear it is funny right, you just you just go Walee Wal e wachingt, so yeah, if you're, just starting out in comedy, really pay attention to the words and especially the words in the punch line, because swapping out individual words can make a big difference for sure.

Can we close with this quote from the Sunshine Boys Yeah? I think so.

The great have you ever seen this movie.

I have not man, but I know it's George Burns and Walter Matha. Yes, it is the best. It is a great great movie about this comedy team who hate each other's guts and their old men now and they're trying to get them together for a reunion show Nice. So Walter Mathow says this.

Fifty seven years in the business, you learn a few things.

You know what words AFE funny and which words are not funny.

Alcacelsa is funny, you say: Alcacelsir, you get a laugh, Casey stingle, that's a funny name.

Robert Taylor is not funny, cupcake is funny, tomato is not funny. Cleveland is funny, Maryland is not funny and then there's chicken chicken is funny. Pickle is funny and he's kind of right.

Oh he's beyond kind of right, he's fully right for sure, good stuff, but just one question that was your Walter Math though it was it great.

Well, everybody go watch the sunshine boys and see what Chuck was talking about, and you can compare his Walter math out to the real Waltermatho. How about that and in the meantime you can go check out this arrigoon house. Tep Works Right, chuck, that's right and in the meantime meantime short stuff is out.

Stuff you should know. Is a production of iHeartRadios? HOUSESTUFF works for more podcast to my heart radio, because it the iHeartRadio, AP, apple, podcasts or wherever you listen to your favorite, shows

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