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I've recently read this joke:

You may be right, Pythagoras, but everyone’s going to laugh if you call it a “hypotenuse”.

Does "hypotenuse" have a second meaning? What's funny about the word? Is it something about a wrong pronunciation?

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I suspect it's just that the writer thought the word sounded funny. I don't know of any other meaning in English. My dictionary says the Greek means "to stretch under", which doesn't sound particularly funny either. –  Jay Sep 7 '12 at 13:57
    
@Jay: I suspect if you asked a large number of native speakers to identify the "funniest" word out of motorcycle, entertainment, superstitious, constellation, hypotenuse, opposition, predatory, mandatory, etc., forced to make a choice, the vast majority would pick hypotenuse. Those are useful links, btw. –  FumbleFingers Sep 7 '12 at 19:57
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"I’m very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical, I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical, About binomial theorem I’m teeming with a lot o’ news – With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse." - W. S. Gilbert, Pirates of Penzance. In the version of the play that I saw, after singing "lot o' news" the actor paused and said, "Hmm, what rhymes with lot o' news ... oh ..." –  Jay Sep 8 '12 at 4:13
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1 Answer

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I'd have to see the context on the joke, but when I was a teenager in math class we'd laugh about it being "High Pot in Use".

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Context: "Frank and Ernest" Oct 15, 2006 and May 13, 1984... frankandernest.com –  GEdgar Sep 7 '12 at 16:59
    
That was doubtless a peculiarity of your math class or some other highly regional interpretation. I don't think there's any reason to postulate alliterative words to make hypotenuse "funny". –  FumbleFingers Sep 7 '12 at 20:03
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