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Wordy Weekly 11/04/2022: A Dash of Humour

There’s nothing like a good joke! And lots of words related to humour and comedy come from Latin or Greek. So, we have a funny flavour this week and shall look at the words: comedy, joke, humour, and the last one is one of Dr. George’s old-fashioned fancies.

Before we begin properly, I was delighted to read, although the theory is speculative, that my beloved PUN might come from Latin. The fascinating entry on

( notes the word was first attested in Dryden in the 1660s, and posits a possible link with the Italian puntiglio ‘a trivial objection’, which derives from the Latin diminutive punctillum ‘little, trivial point’. So, here’s one:

HERMES: Father Zeus, you’ve really got to stop all this philandering.

ZEUS: Oh please, you think I don’t HERA-nough of that from my wife?

(No? Okay, it was NOTHING like a good joke.

Right, HUMOUR is up next.

HUMOUR: this bizarrely comes from the Latin umor, meaning ‘fluid or moisture’. How on earth, therefore, does it come to mean our ‘humour’? Well, ‘sense of humour’ means to have the capacity to be witty, but ‘humour’ by itself can also refer to one’s mood or disposition, e.g., ‘he is a good-humoured chap’. This meaning comes from ancient medicine. One theory stipulated that the body had four ‘humours’, fluids, which were linked not just to our physical well-being, but also to our mood, good, bad, cheerful or low. The comic association emerged in the 1680s.

JOKE: from the Latin iocus meaning ‘jest, joke’ and the related verb iocare ‘to jest, play (compare the Italian giocare). The ‘i’ is pronounced like a ‘y’. This ‘i' in Latin became the English ‘j’, hence how iocus became JOKE.

COMEDY: the term comes from Greek, most likely as follows:

κῶμος - revel, merrymaking

ἀοιδος - singer OR ᾠδη - song

So, it is either ‘the merrymaking song’ or the ‘singer of the revel’. It is a piece connected with a cheerful and, in the case of a Greek revel or party, often raucous occasion. Comedy was written in poetic metre in Greece and Rome and the chorus may well have been sung.

Now, to the last word.

Dr George’s Old-Fashioned Fancy

MALAPROPISM: a humorous linguistic error, perhaps a slip of the tongue in which someone uses the wrong word in a phrase, but one which sounds similar to the correct word. Mike Tyson once famously said, ‘I might just fade into Bolivian’. He obviously meant ‘oblivian’. Mrs Malaprop, where the word came from, was a character in a play The Rivals from 1775 by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. (

One of her most famous lines has her refer to the another character as the very ‘pineapple of politeness’, rather than pinnacle. Now, technically the term is from the French mal à propos ‘in appropriate’. But as these all come from Latin, I thought I would use this link as an excuse to include this marvellous word. MAL comes from malus ‘bad or wicked’ and PROPOS from propono ‘to place or set forth’. So a MALAPROPISM is a badly or inappropriately placed word.

That’s all folks.

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