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The Humor Norm Society

January 16th, 2018 Leave a comment Go to comments

Study: humor norms for 4997 English words.

 “Humor ratings are provided for 4,997 English words collected from 821 participants using an online crowd-sourcing platform. Each participant rated 211 words on a scale from 1 (humorless) to 5 (humorous).”

Some examples:

Table 6

Words with the largest differences between male and female ratings

Words rated more humorous by males

Words rated more humorous by females

Bondage (1.55)

Giggle (-1.92)

Birthmark (1.47)

Beast (-1.61)

Orgy (1.47)

Circus (-1.6)

Brand (1.46)

Grand (-1.5)

Chauffeur (1.35)

Juju (-1.45)

Doze (1.34)

Humbug (-1.38)

Buzzard (1.34)

Slicker (-1.38)

Czar (1.30)

Sweat (-1.38)

Weld (1.29)

Ennui (-1.36)

Prod (1.27)

Holder (-1.35)

Corn (1.27)

Momma (-1.35)

Raccoon (1.26)

Sod (-1.35)

Note. Numbers in brackets are the difference in ratings between genders. They are computed as MHRM – MHRF: a positive value means the word is rated as more humorous by males, a negative value means it was rated as more humorous by females


Table 8

Words with the largest rating differences between younger and older participants

Words rated more humorous by younger

Words rated more humorous by older

Goatee (1.49)

Caddie (-1.56)

Reform (1.46)

Birthright (-1.45)

Joint (1.43)

Squint (-1.31)

Germ (1.39)

Jingle (-1.28)

Hunchback (1.34)

Burlesque (-1.28)

Frock (1.32)

Bulkhead (-1.27)

Rating (1.29)

Limey (-1.26)

Squaw (1.29)

Pixie (-1.26)

Filth (1.25)

Pong (-1.25)

Collie (1.23)

Willow (-1.23)

Squabble (1.19)

Housewife (-1.23)

Gangster (1.15)

Bathing (-1.23)

Note. Numbers in brackets are the difference in ratings between age groups. They are computed as MHRY – MHRO: a positive value means the word is rated as more humorous by younger participants, a negative value means it was rated as more humorous by older participants

We find ourselves in a luxurious Italian restaurant on a cool autumn night. We are the Humor Norm Society, here to better determine when exactly something becomes funny and when it doesn’t by eavesdropping on dining patrons. Our intentions are to take copious notes on what words make people react with amusement at any point while conversing and to nurse the bread bowl as long as possible without ordering anything.

Seated at table six are Henry and Cecelia, a pair of young people who were supposed to be on a double date, but the other couple fell through unexpectedly at the last moment, we’ve learned. They’ve apparently been out together with friends before, but never alone, so this technically constitutes their first date. They both react with gaiety at this mention, but their faces suggest their minds are reeling trying to decide if that’s what this event actually is, a date.

At table eight, we have Arnold and Sonia, who are loudly celebrating their fortieth wedding anniversary and are joined by their daughter Molly, her husband James and their son Timothy. Sonia is monopolizing James’ time criticizing something about a recent kitchen remodeling, while Arnold is discussing a recent golf game of his to Molly, who isn’t even pretending to look interested. Timothy is staring at his shoes.

A waiter approaches Henry and Cecelia to take their dessert order. Something has caught Henry’s eye. “This one with the Juju beans? I’ve gotta try that,” he says. Cecelia snickers. “What?” asks Henry, “Why did you giggle?” She repeats her chuckle more audibly. “Excuse me,” she says. “I’ll have the corn orgy, please.” Henry smirks sharply and lets out a cough.

Meanwhile, Arnold has captured the attention of his table with his tale of sinking a hole-in-one. Everyone appears to be enjoying the story. He continues, “So anyway, he says ‘There’s no way it went in! We can’t even see the hole from the tee box!’ But I bet him anyway. So we crest the hill, get up on the green, and yessiree, there’s my Titleist number four sitting in the cup.” Molly notes with sincerity, “wow, Dad.” Arnold smiles at her. “That guy’s been my caddie for twenty years, the Limey knucklehead. He should know I can hit it over a willow and into the hole! But here he’s squinting down into that thing like it’s a burlesque show!” Sonia reacts by throwing her head back in laughter as James and Molly look at each other quizzically and Timothy frowns. Noticing his grandson, Arnold says, “You should see this guy, Tim. He’s a gangster hunchback with a goatee who always wears a frock when he walks his collie, who only eats squaw bread! What a nut!” Timothy roars with laughter. Molly and James still look puzzled. Sonia has now joined them in this sentiment.

Henry and Cecelia’s evening has devolved into borderline hostility. They seem to mistrust one another now that both don’t know why the other is laughing. “The name of the dish is a corn orgy. I get that it’s unusual, but I was just repeating it as I would a brand or anything else,” says Cecelia. Henry chuckles too loudly and replies, “I’m sorry, really. I don’t mean to be some grand humbug circus beast, sweating under his slicker while his ennui-laden momma is at home with a holder full of sod.” Cecelia collapses into a heap of laughter on the floor and Henry grows angry and reaches for his phone, which he doesn’t find because it’s been stolen by the Humor Norm Society for research purposes. He curses and signals for a waiter.

Timothy has started telling Arnold, and by extension the table, about his golf instructor at his parents’ country club. “Yeah, he’s like a pixie but with a bulkhead,” he says. James chimes in, “You mean bald head, and that isn’t nice.” Sonia chirps, “Ha! Bulkhead!” Arnold laughs too. Timothy, encouraged, says, “And he wrote a jingle about a bathing housewife and says his brother’s ping pong table is his birthright!” Arnold and Sonia howl. Molly and James are perplexed again. Timothy grins in triumph.

Henry has given up signaling for a waiter and approaches table eight. “Excuse me,” he interrupts. “I need to borrow a phone for my…er, date. To call her a cab.” The table grows silent. “Well, where’s your phone?” asks Sonia. Henry takes a breath and replies, “I seem to have misplaced it. My…uh, date and I were trying a joint effort of creating a rating system for hilarity, but it turned into a squabble and needs a lot of reform.” Timothy squeals. “And what’s that filth on your plate?” Henry continues, gesturing in front of Molly. “Littered with germs, that is.” Timothy rolls from his chair. Molly and James exchange glances with Arnold and Sonia. Henry shakes his head.

The waiter finally rushes over, but frantic and shouting, “Does anyone know CPR? The welding czar‘s chauffeur with the weird birthmark who’s into bondage was catching a doze outside but then someone spooked a raccoon, who attacked a buzzard, and the fright of it all made him drop dead! You can prod him but it’s no use! He’s a corpse!” Arnold, James, Timothy and Henry grab their spasming sides and buckle in two with mirth. Even the waiter crumples. Sonia scratches her head as Cecelia still struggles to regain her breath on the floor twenty feet away. Molly stares vacantly ahead, bewildered.

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