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My mother says this phrase all of the time, to mean "That is hilarious".

Supposedly "killing" is short for "killingly-funny"(!) but I must admit I have never ever heard anyone else say it.

Is it a genuine expression? And if so, what are its origins?

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I found that the expression "killingly funny" (from which "How killing" comes from) is used to describe something that is farcical or screamingly funny and this term is related to or characteristic of the burlesque theater. The adverb "killingly" in fact, stands for "in a very humorous manner".

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It’s first recorded (OED) as being used in this sense in 1844. It’s similar to the hyperbolic idea of dying with laughter. My own impression is that, at least in British English, it’s associated with middle and upper class speech.

  • You're probably right that How killing is at the very least a bit affected / lah-di-dah / middle class, but I don't think that's anything to do with the "kill" root. This typical usage of That's a killer (that's very funny) is neither British nor "up-market". – FumbleFingers Nov 10 '11 at 13:09
  • Stop it already, ya killin' me! – mplungjan Oct 13 '12 at 5:47

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