Do men and women really find different words funny? Here’s what the research says

Is the word “booty” really funnier than “ass”? And does the word “bondage” raise a laugh more than “giggle”? A new behaviour research study looks at the perceived funniness of individual English words, and finds that women and men consider different words amusing. But is this really the case?

Women and men do often laugh at some of the same words according to the study. There is the common view that slang words associated with sex and the bodily functions are hilarious. The words “booty”, “tit”, “booby” and “hooter” were rated as funnier than children’s abuse words such as “nitwit”, “twit” and “twerp”.

But men found lightly pornographic words, such as “bondage” and “orgy”, funnier than women – whereas women nominated words such as “giggle” and “humbug”. Giggle is a word stereotypically associated with girls and women, but not in a complimentary way: it conjures up the childlike image of girls in huddles laughing nastily about others, according to the Urban Dictionary (UD).

But “giggle” also has wider connotations. The UD says it can mean many things, including when a girl laughs mockingly at a man’s small penis and a slang term for cannabis. “Humbug” may have been picked because it has a nice old-fashioned sound or because it is used by older people, rather than for its current slang usage. The slang site Slang Define suggests that the phrase “Bah, humbug” has the more abusive meaning of, broadly: “Who gives a fuck!”

Read more: The Conversation

The “entropy” of nonsense words is linked to their funniness, research finds

George W. Bush was not known for his cunning intellect, but he did have a good sense of humor. In a commencement address at Southern Methodist University, he famously told the graduates, “For those of you graduating with high honors and distinctions, I say well done. And as I like to tell the “C” students, you too can be president.” Like Bush, many of us use humor to diffuse difficult situations, mask nervousness, soften criticism, and cope with failure. Humor also serves the role of locksmith in both platonic and romantic social interactions, as it helps us break the ice, gain social acceptance, and initiate romantic overtures. Both men and women tend to seek mates who have a good sense of humor, and we perceive funny people as smarter, more attractive, and more personable.

Given that humor is such a powerful tool for social success, it’s not surprising that scientists have sought to determine the perfect formula for funny. Although there are many competing theories (and no definitive answers) about how humor functions, new research by Chris Westbury, Cyrus Shaoul, Gail Moroschan, and Michael Ranscar suggests that at least one key ingredient can be found in a 200 year-old theory proposed by philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer.

Read more: Scientific American

From whong to quingel: the science of funny words

Without scrolling down, have a think about which word in these pairs you find funnier.

Quingel v Heashes
Prousup v Mestins
Finglam v Cortsio
Witypro v Octeste
Rembrob v Sectori
Pranomp v Anotain
Fityrud v Tessina

If you’re like most people, it will be the first in each pair. Researchers led by Chris Westbury at the University of Alberta found that 56 English-speaking subjects rated those on the left as being more funny than those on the right. What’s amazing is that these nonsense words (NWs) were not designed by a human being with their potential for comedy in mind. They were produced by a computer program using a simple algorithm.

It looks like Westbury et al, whose paper appears in the January 2016 edition of Memory and Language, have developed a reliable method of machine-generating humour. How on earth did they do it?

Well, what they’ve found is a strong inverse correlation between funniness and a property called entropy. This is a way of expressing how usual the letters in the NW are – so the less commonly they’re used in English, the lower the total entropy of the NW. To put it another way, the less “wordy” these NWs are, the more they strike us as humorous.

Read more: The Guardian