Translation fun: the 10 most amusing English words

December 12, 2018
Translation fun: the 10 most amusing English words

There are many reasons why professional translation makes for such a great career. Whether you translate literary fiction, video content or complex financial paperwork, translation can provide a wonderfully varied workload. One of the reasons for this is the treasure trove of words that each language provides.

Now, a new study from the University of Alberta has looked at what it is that makes some words particularly. The researchers have also listed the ten funniest words in the English language, based on their findings.  

What makes a word funny? 

The psychology experts behind the study determined that words were funny for two reasons: the way they sound and what they mean. They worked with a previous study of 5,000 words by the University of Warwick, where participants had rated words on how funny they were. The University of Alberta took the idea to the next level, using computer modelling and statistical analysis to predict which words people would find amusing. 

The process identified several sounds that were more likely to occur in words that people find funny. The letter ‘k’ was one. The ‘oo’ sound in words like ‘roof’ was another. 

Words were then categorised based on their meaning, with six categories in total: : sex, bodily functions, insults, swear words, partying, and animals.

The 10 funniest English words

Taking both sound and meaning into account, the study was able to find the ten funniest words in the English language. It defined them as: upchuck, bubby, boff, wriggly, yaps, giggle, cooch, guffaw, puffball and jiggly.

Chris Westbury, a professor in the Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Science at the University of Alberta, explained: 

“Humour is, of course, still personal. Here, we get at the elements of humour that aren’t personal; things that are universally funny.”

Commenting on where the funny words fell, he stated:

“We started out by identifying these six categories. It turns out that the best predictor of funniness is not distance from one of those six categories, but rather average distance from all six categories. This makes sense, because lots of words that people find funny fall into more than one category, like sex and bodily functions — like boobs.”

The gender divide

The earlier, University of Warwick study also considered the differences between male and female sense of humour when it came to funny words. That study concluded that the funniest words in the English language were: booty, tit, booby, hooter, nitwit, twit, waddle, tinkle, bebop, egghead, ass and twerp. 

However, there were notable differences between the words that men found funniest and the words that women found funniest. For men, bondage, birthmark and orgy were the words that had them giggling the hardest. For women, giggle, beast, circus and Juju were the funniest. 

Age was also a factor. Young people (those aged 32 and under) laughed hardest at goatee and joint, while old people were more amused by burlesque and pong. 

Lead author Tomas Engelthaler commented at the time of the 2017 study:

“The research initially came about as a result of our curiosity. We were wondering if certain words are perceived as funnier, even when read on their own. It turns out that indeed is the case. Humour is an everyday aspects of our lives and we hope this publicly available dataset allows future researchers to better understand its foundations.”

This is indeed what has happened, with the University of Alberta progressing the work further. 

Final thoughts

For those of us who work with language on a daily basis, providing professional translation services affords double the opportunity for entertainment, covering not just funny words in the source language, but also those of the target language. 

What are the funniest words that you’ve had to translate recently? And were they funny in both languages, or just one? Leave a comment to let us know!