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I noticed that in English the word funny is sometimes used in the meaning of strange or weird. What's the exact difference?

What is interesting for me is that you have a single word meaning at the same time causing laughter and odd or strange (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/funny). The examples given at Merriam-Webster can then have a funny connotation, such as:

What are you laughing at? There's nothing funny about it.

Could you please give examples where using funny in the meaning of strange is better than strange itself?

N.B.: I am aware of the question What is the difference between "that's odd", "that' s weird", and "that's strange"?

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Good question. Often you need to ask someone do yo mean funny, ha ha? or do you mean funny„ weird? – Frank May 5 '14 at 12:17
That the same word means "causing laughter" and "odd or strange" is actually not really that interesting. Many (most?) words have more than one meaning. And not just in English. Actually it'd be much more interesting to try and find a word that has exactly one. – RegDwigнt May 5 '14 at 12:42
@Frank: exactly. Native speakers have the same problem that language learners do. Just like "Is that hot hot or hot spicy?" – Mitch May 5 '14 at 13:14
@RegDwigнt: I agree the bare fact of words having the same meaning is not so interesting, every language has a lot of such words. However, for a non-native speaker it is interesting to compare with their own language. And it always shows something about way of thinking of the people who have given the words their meaning. E.g. in the case of the word funny I consider as kind of childish to laugh at something I do not fully understand (I see as strange). – Honza Zidek May 5 '14 at 14:34
"Funny ha-ha or funny strange?" "Funny ha-ha. Like when a clown dies." - The Simpsons – Code Whisperer May 5 '14 at 19:29
up vote 6 down vote accepted

Funny is often used as a code word. A nice way of saying something before you know something is "off".

So yes funny can mean strange or weird. It can also mean other things too.


  • Dad might say, "I don't want any funny business while we are away." Funny meaning simply bad.
  • "That guy gave me a funny look." Funny meaning weird (usually).
  • "Do you think this bread smells funny." Funny meaning bad or strange.
  • "I think Jeff might be a little funny if you know what I mean." Funny meaning gay. [ To add to this. This can be said in a serious way and can be offensive, however in the usage that is common to me it is said to mock people that say funny to mean gay - if this makes sense. ]
  • "That guy had me rolling. He is one funny dude." Funny meaning humorous.
  • Dad saying to a guy picking up his daughter for a date, "I don't want anything funny going on tonight." Funny meaning sex.

Funny is a funny word. There are probably 10 more variations of ways to use funny but it would be funny for me to keep going on with different definitions... unless I am a little funny.

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Add one for "that's not funny". +1 already though. – Frank May 5 '14 at 13:09
Using 'funny' for 'gay' in that context is both archaic and insulting, for what it's worth. – thumbtackthief May 5 '14 at 15:21
Just like with pretty much any other question about a word and it's multiple meanings, context is king. – Doc May 5 '14 at 15:32
Well, I'm gay, and I'm letting you know it's insulting to me. – thumbtackthief May 5 '14 at 15:40
In example 4, I wouldn't know what you meant. The use of "funny" to mean "gay" is, at least where I'm from (northeastern US), sufficiently archaic (and, yes, very offensive¹) that I've never even heard it. I'd presume you just meant "odd", or something contextually – or I'd just ask. But most meanings for that usage would be offensive.² (¹ Why? Actually, it's relevant to this question: "funny" can also mean "strange in a negative way", but never "… in a positive way", so it's a way of saying "this person is strange and bad," which is plain offensive. ² And the same reasoning applies here.) – Antal Spector-Zabusky May 5 '14 at 18:46

As Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary says, in the UK the idiomatic standard for distinguishing the humorous and strange senses is...

funny ha-ha, or funny peculiar?

OED's first citation for funny = humorous is 1756, 50 years before funny = curious, strange. But it's worth noting that their first entry for fun is a few decades earlier in 1685 - for the verb form...

to fun - to cheat, hoax; also, to cajole.

That exact sense is now obsolete, but "I'm just funning you" = "I'm only joking" is still current, and the also-current usage fool somebody straddles both the cheat/trick and tease/make fun of senses. In which context it's also worth noting that OED trace the origin of fun to C14 fon = foolish, silly - a sense which still exists as fond (of a hope or belief) foolishly optimistic.

It's perfectly normal for the meaning of English words to shift over time, and for a single word to take on multiple senses which increasingly diverge. Sometimes, as with terrible/terrific or awful/awesome, we end up using different forms of the root word for the different senses. With other words (such as cry = call out/weep) only context indicates the intended meaning.

This is purely my own opinion, but I suspect words associated with feelings, value judgements, etc. are more likely to change or acquire additional meanings, because they relate to real-world referents that may actually differ between individuals (one person may cry tears of laughter on seeing a man slip on a banana skin; another may cry tears of sorrow as he thinks of the pain and possibly permanent injury that may result).

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Very interesting etymology, thanks. – Honza Zidek May 5 '14 at 15:58

You are correct. There is a colloquial use of "funny" as a synonym for "odd". Also "funny" may mean "difficult to explain." See Oxford Dictionaries

I have also seen "funny" used as a synonym for "ironic" .......... Funny thing is, the class was cancelled anyway. I don't know if this usage is common enough to have made any dictionaries.

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I added a more specific question - could you please give examples where using funny in the meaning of strange is better than strange itself? – Honza Zidek May 5 '14 at 12:18
@HonzaZidek I would need to see a specific context.....my imagination is limited.......I would almost always use "that's odd." – Gary's Student May 5 '14 at 12:27
I am most curious what the specific context may be! That's what I search for. – Honza Zidek May 5 '14 at 13:36
@HonzaZidek Someone asks you a question. You answer quickly with a simple, obvious solution which the questioner should have known. The questioner responds: Funny, I didn't think of that. – Gary's Student May 5 '14 at 13:48
I like this example... – Honza Zidek May 5 '14 at 14:37

When being polite you would say He's a bit funny to mean he's a bit strange or he's a bit retarded. He's quite funny is more likely to mean humorous.

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In this context, a synonym for "funny" is "crooked." Or perhaps a better way of putting it is, "not straight." Among a pair of comedians, there might be a "funny man" and a "straight man."

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When you are speaking directly to someone or in a situation where you can hear their voice, you can usually distinguish the meaning they intended. Body language or the tone of their voice will like clue you in when they mean "funny/humorous" vs "funny/odd"

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While I may agree with that intonation expresses meaning as much as words, you have ignored the main request of the OP; mainly the differences between funny, weird and strange. – Mari-Lou A May 5 '14 at 22:20

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