Jiggly Puffball and More: Scientists Identify Why Some Words Make Us Laugh

Certain words are just funny and University of Alberta researchers have found out there is actually some science behind it!
Donovan Alexander

You ever wonder why some words just make you and your friends laugh? You are at home watching your favorite film, TV show, animated series etc., and then it happens.

One of the characters blurts out a word that has you literally rolling on the floor with laughter. So, why does this happen? What triggers that response?

Science is here to help. Researchers are on a mission to crack the science of humor and answer the age-old question: what makes some words so funny?


Now, humor is something rather abstract. As you and your friends will probably agree it is hard to measure something that is humorous because comedy, in general, is very subjective. However, to the University of Alberta Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Science and the research team from the University of Warwick, there are some universal words that are just... funny.

In short, the teams want to understand just what makes certain words so funny. To tackle this task the teams put together a study in which participants rated the humorousness of approximately 5,000 English words. With the data collected, the team created a statistical model of ratings.

Impressively, Chris Westbury, professor in the Department of Psychology, was able to create a model that was able to predict which words participants could judge as funny and the degree to which the word is funny.

The “comedy-team” of researchers have identified that there are two kinds of predictors of “funnies” in words. These indicators include how a word looks or sounds and the meaning behind a word.  

Funny Funny Words.

Form predictors and semantic predictors are what determine how a word will be perceived on the funnies scale. Starting with form predictors, these don’t center around the meaning of the word. Rather, they focus on how a word may sound or even the way it looks on paper: factors like length, letter and sound probabilities.


Moving on to semantic predictors, these focus on how someone may interpret a word or any other references that may be connected to them. Funny words may trigger different emotions as well as be related to other categories like sex, bodily functions, insults, swear words, partying, and animals.

"We started out by identifying these six categories," says Westbury. "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."

It is good to know that the world is a little more immature than you may believe and no matter how old you may be, there are some things that are just universally funny. What are the top 10 funniest words in the English language?

Upchuck. Bubby. Boff. Wriggly. Yaps. Giggle. Cooch. Guffaw. Puffball. Jiggly. Hope one of those made you laugh or at least smirk.

Do you have a word that makes you laugh? Share it in the comments below.