ENGLISCH/784: Questions to Mrs. Gobbledygook (134) funny or fun (SB)


134. "Funny" used to express wonder or critique

Dear Mrs Gobbledygook

Some speakers of English use the word "funny" in a way I don't understand at all. I always thought "a funny person" is some kind of clown, a person that makes you laugh or an easy-going-lucky sort of person that is always teasing, joking and smiling. But now I found, that the word funny is either used for a rather depressing and strange character or situation or for an odour that nobody can identify. Both, smell and situation, are nothing to laugh about. Can you possibly explain?

Yours sincerely

Bata Humba (from Kenia)


Dear Mr Humba

As you wrote in your letter you have already come across the word "funny" in the sense of amusing, making people laugh, as in

I dont't think his jokes are funny at all.


The new science fiction comedy was so funny, I couldn't stop laughing.

In the sense that your native speakers of English use the word "funny", however, it means something completely different and much more critical: "strange, unusual".

"What's that funny smell?", for example, means that there is a very strange and usually unpleasant odour. Or "There is a funny green thing in my cup.", indicates that you expect the t-h-i-n-g to turn out as something, which is neither eatable nor acceptable in a teacup. The next example

First speaker: I saw her in town.

Second speaker: Funny, she said she was sick today.

shows that the second speaker is puzzled and suspicious - not amused - about this person's behaviour. In this sense funny can be used for nearly anything that cannot be explained or described precisely.

There is a related word that often causes problems: "fun". This is usually a noun meaning "a good time", as in "Are you having fun?" or "I had a ride on the carousel and it was fun."

Often, however, "fun" is used informally, chiefly in spoken language, as an adjective meaning "entertaining". "That was a fun movie", for example, means that a film was a pleasant diversion. It does not necessarily mean that the film was a comedy, or that it made people laugh. "She's a fun person" means "she likes to have a good time".

Hoping I didn't use too many funny words for you to understand, I wish you lots of fun with the English language


Mrs Gobbledygook

20 May 2008