Connotations of 35 Words for Funny People

By Mark Nichol

Fun and folly are endemic elements of human nature, and the English language abounds with words to label people who inspire laughter, whether light-hearted or lacerating and whether intentional or otherwise. Here are terms describing funny and/or foolish individuals or characters.

1. Antic: now mostly confined to refer in plural noun form to humorous or playful behavior, traditionally described a comic entertainer whose performance is ridiculously comic; also a rare adjective meaning “absurd” or “playful”
2. Buffo: an opera singer who performs comic roles; a little-known synonym for clown as well
3. Buffoon: derived from buffo; is also a synonym for clown, though used as well to refer to an ignorant, stupid person
4. Card: an amusing person; possibly derives from the playing card designating a joker
5. Clown: a venerable term derived from a word for a clumsy person; refers to the traditional gaudily attired and made-up circus performer, or more loosely to a humorous performer or a person who jokes or acts foolishly; also connotes a boorish or simple-minded person, or someone who unintentionally invites derision
6-7. Comedian/comedienne: generally refers to a professional teller of jokes; comedienne is the traditional feminine form, though the original form usually applies to people of both sexes, making the feminine form superfluous
8. Comic: a synonym for comedian; as an adjective, it refers to something humorous
9. Cutup: a boisterously amusing person
10. Droll: usually employed as an adjective to describe odd or whimsical behavior; also applies to a comedian or jester
11. Farceur: a witty person, or one who writes stories or scripts that involve plots with ridiculous and often satirical elements
12. Fool: a traditional entertainer for the nobility with a costume and props that inspired modern-day clowns; by extension, it also refers to one who exercises poor judgment or is the victim of a prank, or to a mentally ill person whose behavior is suggestive of a fool; it also applies to people enthusiastic about or obsessed with something (“She’s a dancing fool”); the verb form means “to joke or trick,” and fool can also be an adjective meaning “foolish” (“He went around shouting his fool head off”)
13. Funnyman: synonymous with comedian or humorist
14-15. Gagman/gagster: variants referring to someone paid to write jokes or humorous sketches or to comedians; gagster can also mean “a practical joker”
16. Gracioso: a buffoon in traditional Spanish comedy
17. Harlequin: the name of a stock character in traditional comic performance, distinguished by a mask and patchwork tights; the latter feature prompted the extended meanings of textiles or animal markings resembling a patchwork; harlequin is also a synonym for clown
18. Humorist: a professional writer (or teller) of jokes or humorous stories or essays
19. Jester: in addition to being a synonym for fool, simply a term for one who jokes
20-21. Joker/jokester: someone who tells jokes or acts comically, but joker is also a synonym for fellow or guy, though it’s rarely neutral and is often at least mildly insulting; also the name of a wild card in card decks, as well as a term for a word, phrase, or clause that complicates a document or a legislative bill, or a similarly obstructive element, or a reference to a figurative wild card
22. Madcap: although best known as an adjective referring to capricious, foolish, or reckless behavior, can also be applied as a noun denoting a person who exhibits one or more of these characteristics
23. Merry-andrew: a clownish personality
24. Mime: a specific variety of clown who uses gestures and mimicry to entertain and does not speak; it also refers to traditional entertainments that are not necessarily comic in tone
25. Mimic: synonymous with mime but also refers to someone with skillful at imitation, impersonation, or impression; it’s also a verb that refers to imitation or simulation
26. Motley: a synonym for jester that derives from that particular type of performer’s characteristically patched-together-looking costume; the word also refers to the patchwork costume or to a random mixture or a ragtag ensemble; in adjectival form, it applies to the last two senses
27. Mummer: an actor in a pantomime, which isn’t necessarily humorous; also has a humorous connotation of someone who wears a costume or a disguise in a festival or public event and may act comically
28. Pantaloon (or pantalone): a stock character in traditional comedy distinguished by his namesake attire; the word also refers to various types of trousers (pants is a truncated form)
29. Scaramouch(e): a boastful but cowardly clown or a stock character with that personality in traditional comedy; also describes a mischievous or unprincipled person
30. Second banana: a comic entertainer who supports a featured performer; in general usage, a subordinate
31. Stand-up: a comedian who performs in front of a live audience; also, an adjective describing such a performance (or referring in general to an upright position or person)
32. Top banana: a featured comic performer; in general informal usage, a leader
33. Wag: a clever person, especially someone who introduces a punning or otherwise playful expression
34. Wit: synonymous with wag, but also applies to people who easily come up with amusing comments
35. Zany: best known as an adjective synonymous with wacky, but also a noun denoting a person who acts foolishly to entertain others; in addition, was specific jargon for a acrobat or clown who spoofed the antics of the principal performer; also, in general usage, describes someone who is sycophantic or crazy

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1 Response to “Connotations of 35 Words for Funny People”

  • thebluebird11

    I must say that your word lists have really taken my Scrabble and WWF games to new heights! I have not been able to use “bufo” (as in the toad), but I am sure “buffo” would work LOL. Now to get a B, a U and 2 Fs at the same time…

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