Are “K” sounds funny?




Comedians often believe that words with a “k” sounds makes things funnier. Just google “K sound comedy,” and you will see lots of posts about it.

Grammar Girl even dedicated a post to it:

The humor potential of the letter ‘k’ has been part of comic lore for years. In the Neil Sim

on play The Sunshine Boys, the character Willy explains it to his nephew: “Fifty-seven years in this business, you learn a few things. You know what words are funny and which words are not funny. Alka Seltzer is funny. You say “Alka Seltzer,”you get a laugh . . . Words with “k” in them are funny. Casey Stengel, that’s a funny name. Robert Taylor is not funny.”

So, are K words funnier than non-K words? I don’t know, but here is why they could be:

  1. K sounds are more arousing than non-k sounds. And comedy plays on arousal.
  2. K sounds are more likely  to be associated with taboo words than non-k sounds. And comedy plays on the taboo. (See the benign violation theory for my views.

If you were a plucky researcher who wanted to explore this question, you could start by measuring whether words with k-sounds really are funnier. A good place to start, for example, would be to see if the frequency of k-sounds are higher than the norm in the recently published list of “funny” words. See articles here and here and here.

If the correlation is positive, then the researcher could run a series of experiments that provide causal tests and explores the two mechanisms (arousal vs. taboo).

Until then, I would be cautious about repeating the k-sound claim.  Okay?