Background

"Funny" is a funny word. The origin seems to be fon, which originally meant to lose flavour, to become insipid, so something fonned was insipid; then it came to mean foolish; then foolish devotedly, to be fonned of something, and as the verb fon was lost the adjective was respelt as fond and it lost its negative sense. Around 1700 a dialectal verb fun came in, meaning to be foolish or trivial or sportive about something. That gave rise to the noun fun, then about 1750 an adjective funny meaning full of fun, sportive, gay, light-hearted; then around 1800 another sense of the adjective: strange, odd, queer. Thank you the OED for all this. But look at Webster's 1913 notion of fun and you'll see this colloquial sense hasn't even percolated in.

Nevertheless the two senses of "funny" were sufficiently well established that a saying arose. One person would say something was funny, and as it was often ambiguous what they meant, another person would ask "Funny ha ha or funny peculiar?" The second kind of funny is most commonly indicated by "peculiar", though a web search shows lots of variation: strange, weird, etc. These days we also get punning on gay and queer.

Enter Gobfrey Shrdlu

Denys Parsons in 1965 adopted the title Funny Ha Ha and Funny Peculiar for a paperback collection of misprints, howlers, and oddities from newspapers and magazines. He issued many such books, both before and since, but this one was the first of the paperback series in Pan Books, often reprinted, and may be taken as the overall title of the series. His previous books had been of amusing misprints and misarrangements, but the Funny series added bizarre stories. The funny ha ha were on the left hand page and the funny peculiar on the right.

He began with (I think) It Must Be True in 1952, full title It Must Be True, it was in all the papers. This was followed by similar titles such as Can It Be True? (1953), All Too True (1954), Many A True Word (1958), and Never More True (1960). The first paperback parallel edition was followed up by numerous similar titles such as Funny Ho Ho and Funny Fantastic (1967), Funny Amusing and Funny Amazing (1969), and Funny Convulsing and Funny Confusing (1971). The second series also reprinted some of the items from his It Must Be True series.

Parsons explains in his introductions that a creature called Gobfrey Shrdlu is responsible for all these strange goings on.

Funny Ha Ha

Something New Which No Motorist Should Be Without. We offer you the SELF-GRIP WENCH.

I bought a few of your indigestion tablets last week. Now I feel a new man. (Original may be seen on request.)

The vessel left the ways at noon, and safely took the water before her scheduled time. Before leaving the ways Lady W-- was able to perform the launching ceremony. There was no danger that she would collapse sideways.

It was not disclosed where the honeymoon would be spent. For travelling Mrs Johnson wore the lovely 5-tier wedding cake.

Mr --- was elected and accepted the office of People's Churchwarden. We could not get a better man!

A very enjoyable affair was the Children's Hallowe'en Party. Added to the beauty of it all was the fact that few of the children could be recognized as they all wore masks.

For a moment he stood there looking into her eyes. Between them was a bowl of hyacinths.

Funny Peculiar

When Mrs Janet Trent opened her diary yesterday the entry for the day was already filled in by someone else and read: 'House burgled 5 a.m.' A burglar had stolen £25 as she slept in her Hallfield Estate, Paddington, home.

No, I'm sorry, I comb through the book looking for examples that are worth repeating, and the above is the only one I can find I like. Most of them are from tabloids and therefore presumably made up by some hack; they're tales of cows falling through roofs and magpies dropping golf balls and men eating bicycles and widows leaving annuities to lizards...

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.