One of the most charades-prone and elaborate hand gesture-filled explanations of my early ESL/EFL teaching life was the difference between fun and funny.
Fun, I would explain, is when you have a good time, like going on a roller coaster (roller coaster haters aside). Funny was something that makes you laugh, like ferrets in little costumes. Except I may have used another animal other than ferret in this example, since, like the time I talked about eating snakes and a Muslim student chopped at the air with her hands saying “haram, haram, haram,” this was likely to cause some students more disgust than understanding. So okay, dogs in costumes.
And then they would ask, but what if you laugh while you’re on a roller coaster? Fun or funny? Okay, I would agree, you might laugh when you’re having a good time, but the primary thing is that you’re having a good time, not that you’re laughing. This is where the hand gestures came in, because that explanation is not terribly clear, and didn’t see to help my students. For what it’s worth, neither did the charades.
I came to understand that in my (Spanish-speaking) students’ mind, fun and funny described a venn diagram of emotion, a large figure-8ish item of two overlapping circles. In my world they were separate, fun is here, and funny is there. But not to them, and to my ear, they often chose the wrong word to describe the experience.
This makes more sense to me now that I speak more Spanish, since in Chile we describe fun as divertido and funny as chistoso, but a funny situation or story can easily be described as “que divertido!” And then, just the other day, my mother asked me to drive around the fun, fun suburbs (to Trader Joe’s and Home Depot), and the ridiculousness of me driving my mother around, plus the nerves of the fact that I pretty much never drive and the fact that it was so easy kind of made me laugh.
And when I got home and went to the bathroom and was washing my hands, looking at myself in the mirror, I thought to myself “That was funny. Or fun. Or both.”
And my circles moved closer and I realized that I wasn’t sure any more where funny stopped and where fun ended. Except for the ferrets. That’s just hilarious. Oh, and at least I’m having a good time.
When I teach the difference in “fun” and “funny,” I usually fake a big belly laugh for “funny.” They seem to understand the difference then, even if they don’t always remember to use them correctly. Trying to explain the difference in “exciting” and “excited,” I find an even bigger challenge!
I’m glad that you’re having fun, Eileen.
I think some of these linguistic confusions come from English’s often irregular grammar. “Funny” just sounds like something that would cause you to have fun. Sort of like “funish” That was a really “funnish” day… that was a really funny day, or fun-filled day.
As for the roller coaster, remember what the Cat in the Hat said:
“We can have lots of good fun that is funny.”
Good one Eileen! Fun & funny is certainly one of those tough ones to sort out, although it’s so absolutely clear in our English-thinking minds. Got any thought on to do and to make?
Michelle’s Dr Seuss reference was perfect, and I think she has something about the grammar source, although to me “funish” would be just kind of fun, not really fun, which is what I think I would think that funny meant if I was using the suffix y theory. So I tried to come up with another example and thought of party, which might make me want to part, but um… not really. So I realized that I need an adjective, such as happy, even if it doesn’t make me want to hap)…
So thanks, you’ve done it again, sent me happily (though not partly) whizzing around on your linguistic roller coaster, having fun and somehow kind of sure that you’ll find this funny, although anyone else would just put me down for nuts!
BTW- I wrote about language today too! Linguistic Friday!
Then a sunny day is not the same as a day with a lot of sun? I´m confused right now. I thought the “y” sufix meant “with the quality/property of…”
I guess it is usually, but funny is not full of fun, it´s something laugh-worthy, which is, I suppose, what trips people up. If something is full of fun, it’s fun. Or really, really fun.