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Snippet of Stuff You Should Know: Short Stuff: The Science of Funny Words

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Last Played: October 19, 2021
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Josh and Chuck discuss the work of Professor Chris Westbury, who analyzed hundreds of words to determine what makes a word funny. Professor Westbury used Google analytics software to determine which words were the funniest and even went so far as to sort them into distinct categories, including expletives, body-related, and party-related.
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believe like he's got these theories and mathematical things were following. Like we're selling off all of our stuff and we're going to start following around or he's like, Oh, God, give me away from this dude. I just tried to make a fart joke and he tried to explain it to me, Right. Let me go find somebody who's been on the Keto diet for three years and talk to them instead. Oh, man, that's good. So, um what what it is, You know why? Because the letter K's in there and we'll get to that in a minute. But what Chris Westbury did was he basically took all of these words. I think he took, um, several 100 of them to start like a subset of those 5000 funniest words, and he just kind of took a random subset of them, and he started analyzing them with a Google tool that basically shows co occurrence. Right. So basically, you run these words through this little Google machine learning algorithm, and it spits out other words that people have used instead of or in conjunction with it, right. And what he figured out was that out of like this couple 100 sample set, you could basically boil it down to six general categories. Um, and all of the words had something to do with either an expletive being an expletive. Um, sex, the body partying, I guess which one just kind of struck me is out of the blue. Um, I was not expecting that one. What else? Chuck? The animals are insults, okay? And so those are the six clusters of categories of funny words. Okay, so he said, All right, great. But the thing is, there's a lot of words that, like, kind of straddle these categories. How can you How can you say, like, you know, what makes one funnier than the other? What's the deal here? And I'm not sure how he did this. I'm not even sure that he knows how he did this. Maybe, but he basically assigned a statistical, um, number to ah, word. And in so far, is it related to its category? Right. So, like, um, uh, birthday cake were probably pretty close to the party category. Like it zits, Probably pretty close or fete or fiesta or something like that. It's very close to its synonymous to award in this category. But even that didn't quite describe what made a word funny. And what I guess he figured out. I'm not sure how he did this was that the funniest words were related, Um, equally roughly to a number of different categories. And it seems like the mawr that a word was related to one or a number of these six categories. The funnier it waas and a good example he gave was poop, right? It's, uh it could be an expletive. It can be, um, part of the body. It could be a party. Um, there's it has to do with multiple categories. And so it's funnier than, say, Fiesta is. You know, that made sense to me for the first time after reading this, like, seven times. Yes. Yeah, yeah. 778 10 times. Maybe. Yeah, it just the way he was putting it never made sense. But you brought it around for me. So thank you. Thank you, Chuck. Man, that means a lot to me. So he got to that point. But then he said, You know what the meaning of these words? That's only one kind of measurement everyone else was saying stop police. That's good. That's good. You're fine. You did it. You did it. But he said, No, no, no, that's not enough. Meeting is only one type of measurement. And so he said, Let's look at and this is actually kind of the good part to me, he said. We need to look at the form of these words, how long they are, the individual sounds that make up these words. And that's where incongruity theory of humor kind of comes back, because the fewer times that these phone EMS, the individual sounds appear like the more rare they are, the funnier that people think they are. Yeah, like basically, um, I guess K is much. The K sound, in particular is much less, um, used in English, then say, like B. So that's why I like words with K sounds or are funnier than words with satay sounds. So pickle is funnier than tomato, Which is we just inherently no. And so what Chris Westbury was basically onto is that by analyzing the arrangement of letters and how frequently they occur in words in the English language, that he tied it into that incongruity theory and he basically said. Our brains air constantly analyzing the information that's coming in from watching TV or talking to people or reading or something like that. And we have a certain expectation. And when that expectation isn't met, um, like something that statistically is improbable, like the word Walla Walla Washington.
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