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What is the meaning of the idiom to grow a funny bone? What does funny bone refer to? Googling shows only places where it was mentioned.

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3 Answers 3

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I've never heard the whole expression as such, but it can be broken down in to two common idioms:

funny bone: a sense of humor.

"Grow [something]" : You lack [a personality trait represented by that thing]. In particular, it's used as a sarcastic criticism of the person, suggesting the person would benefit by having more of it.

A fairly common usage is the phrase "Grow some balls", with balls meaning testicles, and thus courage or fortitude.

So "Grow a funny bone" means "You don't have a sense of humor". You might say it if you make a joke and someone gets unreasonably offended by it.

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I would add that "grow a…" is almost exclusively used in an imperative: "Oh, grow a funny bone!" or as a suggestion: "Dave really needs to grow a funny bone." Obviously you're not going to say "Sarah grew a funny bone." or "He's growing a funny bone." as it's not something that really could happen. –  Paul Richter Jan 24 '12 at 9:08
    
Also, in "funny bone" the accent is on funny, which is taken as the name of the bone, not an adjective describing it. –  Paul Richter Jan 24 '12 at 9:17
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I can imagine someone saying, e.g. "Alan was good company last night; he seems to have grown a funny bone since we last met." –  slim Jan 24 '12 at 11:36

The "funny bone" is the nickname for "a long bone in the arm or forelimb that runs from the shoulder to the elbow", whose technical name is the humerus. I think it is fair to say that the nickname is based on a play on words (i.e. Humerus/Humerous), although my mother always maintained it was "funny" because it sends tingles up your arm in a funny way if you knock it.

According to Google N-Grams, this nickname has been in popular use since the early 19th century.

enter image description here

The phrase "Grow a funny bone" is not one I've come across before, but I think it is safe to say that it must mean:

"Get a sense of humour"

A quick look again at Google N-Grams suggests that it is certainly not a common expression(!)

enter image description here

I wonder where you heard it, and whether the person who told you it had made it up themselves.

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The expression "grow a funny bone" has been in use in England for at least 30 years, which is when I first heard it. Obviously someone made it up at some point, but I doubt it was this person. –  Lunivore Jan 24 '12 at 9:55
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Fair enough. Just not showing up on N-Grams then. –  Urbycoz Jan 24 '12 at 10:37
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@Lunivore "tickled my funny bone" has a long history in England. I'm not so sure about "grow a..." –  slim Jan 24 '12 at 11:37

It means "to obtain a sense of humour" - implying of course that the subject of the remark doesn't have one.

The "funny bone" is a nickname for the humerus, a bone in the arm. The actual bone doesn't have anything to do with having a sense of humour, of course.

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The bone is spelled humerus. And the end of the bone (at the elbow) does have a nerve which, when hit, can cause a "funny" tingling sensation. –  Paul Richter Jan 24 '12 at 8:43
    
@PaulRichter Thanks, I've corrected that typo –  Waggers Jan 24 '12 at 8:47

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