Ever wondered why some words can make you snuggle milk through your nose or why little kids love to run around to scream some others?
A couple of University of Alberta researchers say they have analyzed what it makes to make some words really fun.
"Nobody really did a good job of predicting humor in advance," says psychologist University of Alberta Chris Westbury. "One of the reasons is that they have not been willing to go low enough."
Westbury co-authored a recently published paper entitled "Wriggly, Squiffy, Lummox, and Boobs: What Makes Some Words Funny" in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. His research may be the first to break down what makes us break down.
Like all the great science, it is based on previous research.
During the former federal government, Westbury said that a drought in science funding left him free to do anything in a hurry.
"I thought people would think I wasted their money if I did this in their time."
He had noticed that people often laughed at dumb loud words, so he searched for patterns. Garble as "snunkoople", for example, was more likely to draw a smile than something like "x-attack".
"We could do surprisingly well to predict what words people like are fun," said Westbury.
Because of that research, he was sent to a British paper to review the statistical analysis used to rank the fun of almost 5000 words. Pointy things, thought Westbury, but why were the words fun?
Some of Western civilization's finest senses have asked the same question.
Platon and Aristotle, Westbury writes, argued that humor is the denigration and that all joke has a butt. Roman statesman Cicero said that laughter lies in inconvenience – such as the gag gift.
"We are studying the things that are important to us."
Westerburk's 27-sided paper presents a 2500-year-old literature review of philosophical attempts to get jokes. It may be the only academic paper that quotes both Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, author of the book Fear and Shaky, and Broadway dramatist Neil Simon, who gave us The odd couple.
But no one has really succeeded, Westbury holds.
"None of these theories are true theories. They are explanations."
He would be able to predict what people would find fun. To do that he and colleague Geoff Hollis decided to focus on the most basic type of humor.
"Simple words? It's not that funny, but although it's not so funny it's very complex."
Sing the Lord? It's not so funny, but it's not very fun, it's very complex-Chris Westbury, Researcher
What makes a word fun, he found, is a combination of two factors – sound and meaning.
Using sophisticated statistical analysis of three billion words prose hosted on Google, the words that were likely to be laughed found to be associated with sex, body functions, good times, animals and insults.
But it's not enough. They have to make fun as well.
If they have the "oo" sound, found in 17.4 percent of the words judged most fun, then that's fine. So is a tough "kay" or an end to "laugh." Double letters are also fun.
Westbury confirmed his findings by using them to predict how fun people would find a particular word.
"I was amazed at how well we were able to predict judgments."
Interesting, age and gender made almost no difference in what people found. Culture did, though.
"I have an Iranian graduate student who did not find the words we found fun to be fun.
"She said," I think these are a bit rude. "I said," Unfortunately, that's the culture you're in now. ""
Westbury knows that his analysis says a bit about irony, satire or more sophisticated tablecloths. But he said that a little shot on laughter blames what it means to be human.
Humor can even have evolutionary value. Westbury said that some researchers theorize that the endorphin brum that comes from a good laugh is a reward for thinking out of the box and being creative.
"We are studying things that are important to us."
The 10 funniest words in English from a selection of almost 45,000?
Upchuck, Bubby, Boff, Wriggly, Yaps, Sparkle, Cooch, Guffaw, Puffball and Jiggly.