This terrible, misused word is meant to describe things that are funny, but most often refers to the category of “vaguely amusing”. It doesn’t sound like a word that names a thing that could result in any sort of laughter. “Humor” also makes me think of phlegm, bile, and feces. (Perhaps these humors were carried by our recently deceased houseguest Bob.)
Shakespeare first used the word in this sense in 1588, in “Love’s Labours Lost”, in the sense of giving in to the whims of a person in an odd humor. We don’t see it used in the sense that “math puns are humorous” until the nineteenth century, but this shift in the word’s definition from describing snot and liver fluids to bad standup comedy is slow and gradual.
I love the way this word sounds when you say it. Slowly.
“Hullabaloo” may well simply be a corruption of people yelling hello, hello. Originally spelled hollowballoo or perhaps hallaballoo, Sir L. Greaves wrote: “I would that there was a blister on this plaguy (sic.) tongue of mine for making such a hollo-ballo.”
These posts are really just an excuse for me to page through reference books. I used these for today’s post:
- The Oxford English Dictionary, second edition (Clarendon Press, 1989)
- The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology, (The H.W. Wilson Company, 1988)
- Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, (Harper & Row, 1988)