Tuesday, October 11, 2011

a little look at language: not so funny

Last night, I knocked my knee on something in the kitchen and experienced a moment of numbness and then tingling. Although I bumped my knee and not my elbow, I immediately thought of the term "funny bone." I have never understood why people ask, "Oh, did you hit your funny bone?" when one is reeling in pain after smacking her elbow.

Well, a little later, I was reading through some New York Times archives (of course) and was enlightened. In July 1980, William Safire wrote, in the "On Language" column dedicated to discussion of puns, "Once in a while, puns become part of the language: the 'funny bone' is a play on 'humerus,' the bone that extends from shoulder to elbow."

Tell me I'm not the only person who didn't know that.