That's Just Ducky!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

We're usually a bit skeptical when someone says words have inherent characteristics--such as funniness.

We're especially skeptical when someone's research team makes the bold claim that certain words can be ranked in terms of their inherent funniness. We can appreciate the myriad qualities of the duck, but we're very unwilling to concede that it's the "funniest" animal. We find "weasel" to be much funnier. "Platypus" and "titmouse," too.

Nevertheless, reading this led us to the entry on inherently funny words, which has some interesting observations -- most interestingest to us being the allegation that the Simpsons writers intentionally replace every mention of "underwear" with "underpants," because the latter is apparently funnier due to its "consonant plosives" "p" and "t." And while we laughed at "underpants" when we read that (but not at "underwear"), the radical subjectivist in us itched with contention once more at the value statement that certain words are inherently funny.

For us at least, a counterexample would be the phrase "Holy Underwear!" (heh heh) -- especially the way Mel Brooks yelped it in Blazing Saddles. In this case the plosive would detract from the pun, making the phrase less funny. In fact, we don't laugh at all at "Holy Underpants!"

Perhaps "inherently" funny words aren't funny when they complement a phrase--humorous or otherwise--perhaps they're meant to stand alone. And to test this, we've spent the last half hour wandering around our office uttering "underpants" and "duck"; so far, we've elicited no laughs and more than a few concerned stares. Maybe we need to be louder.

Bottom Line: Duck!