Thursday, June 17, 2021

Language Of Confusion: Feeling Funny

I haven’t done humor related words before, so here we go.
Fun is relatively new, having shown up in the late seventeenth century meaning to cheat or hoax, and not meaning amusement until 1727—though it did mean foolish or silly as early as the fifteenth century. Its origin is uncertain, though it might be from the Middle English fonnen, befool, which is the origin word for fond. Fun actually wasn’t used much because it was judged to be a lower class word. Basically, if you hear someone complain about vernacular used by a minority, that’s what they used to do with fun. As for funny, it didn’t show up until 1756, where it meant humorous, and then meaning odd by 1806.
Joke showed up in the mid seventeenth century, where it was spelled joque. It comes from the classical Latin iocus, which just means joke, which is from the Proto Italic joko- and Proto Indo European iok-o-, word or utterance. So fun, weirdly recent, joke, weirdly old.
Amuse showed up in the late fifteenth century from the Old French amuser. That’s a mix of the prefix a-, at or to, and muse, to ponder or think. Muse is actually a bit weirder than you might think. It showed up in the mid fourteenth century from the Old French muser, but the origin of that is unknown. You’re probably going, well isn’t from the Greek word Muse? I don’t know, maybe? I mean, there are some people who think that muse is from the Gallo Roman musa, which means snout, and muse means something like scenting the air. While muse might not be from the Greek Muse, honestly, it really would make sense that it was, because Muse is from the Proto Indo European men-, to think. But this whole word is crazy, so who knows?
Now, we all know that humor has some varying definitions. It can mean amusement, or it can mean a mood, or it can mean the “fluid or juice of an animal or plant.” Which… kind of not like the other two. Those can’t be related, can they? Ha ha, you fool, you absolute naïve fool. Humor showed up in the mid fourteenth century as the fluid/juice one, coming from the Old North French humour, from the classical Latin umor, moisture. And guess what, that’s the origin word for humid, not making that up. See, what happened is, humors was also a medical term for body fluids (blood, phlegm, et al.), and people used to believe that a person’s mood was affected by those fluids, so a humor became a state of mind. From there, it came to mean an amusing state of mind. And that’s why humor went from moist to that.
Wow. That was certainly a trip. Who would have guessed humor words were so crazy?
Online Etymology Dictionary
Google Translate
University of Texas at Austin Linguistic Research Center
University of Texas at San Antonio’s page on Proto Indo European language
University of Texas at Arlington


  1. Ah yes, I'm familiar with the "humors" of the body. I read too many historical things, I think. As for fun, that's one of my favorite ASL signs. It's really fun to do.

  2. I was also familiar with humor in the medical context.

  3. I believe "medical" people did some pretty hideous things to try and balance the humors back then. Things that were not fun or amusing... No joke!

  4. I didn't realise the multiple meanings of humor.


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