Scientists Have Figured Out the Funniest Word in the English Language
Booty. Tinkle. Deathbed. Tit.
Is it safe to assume which of these words are funnier? For whatever reason, whether they sound funny out loud or have goofy connotations, some words just tickle us the right way. Others, not so much.
Humor is a huge part of life, with ties to evolutionary theories of mate selection, modern psychology, and even philosophical discussions on what it means to be human. And while many of these big questions remain unanswered, research published in Behavior Research Methods in July has determined which, among about 5,000 words, are the funniest and which ones people find devoid of humor.
The study asked people on Amazon Mechanical Turk, a job board where people can sign up for small crowdsourcing tasks, to rate thousands of words. They had to assign each word a value from one to five, where five is funny, three is neutral, and one is particularly humorless. Think “turd,” “walnut,” and “torture,” respectively.
The study wasn’t perfect — everyone had to rate the same 11 calibrating words to start off, but the 5,000 remaining words had to be divided up among the 821 participants. Each person rated about 200 words, so each word only received about 15 ratings. Therefore, the statistical analysis used to rank words wasn’t particularly strong, but the researchers found some neat trends.
The funniest words? Booty took first place with a ranking of 4.32, closely followed by tit at 4.25, and booby at 4.13. The least favorite, thankfully, was rape at 1.18, followed by torture at 1.26 and torment at 1.3. Among the calibrating words that were ranked by all 821 participants, turd took the lead at 3.78, and drought finished last at 1.13.
In general, people agreed with which words were funnier than others, but there were some differences across gender and age. For example, men rated the word bondage 1.55 points higher than women did, and women rated the word giggle 1.92 points higher than men did. Meanwhile, men and women completely agreed on some words, like chug, which was rated a solid 3.73, and scrotum, following at 3.68.
The contrast across age reflected the changing times, as younger people thought the word goatee was a full 1.49 points funnier than older participants, whereas the older cohort ranked pong 1.25 points funnier than younger participants did.