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.

  • "Funny bone" refers to a spot on the back of the elbow which, if bumped, produces a sort of vibrating sensation in the arm. This sensation is probably strongest in young people (I recall it many times as a child) and is rarely experienced in us old farts. It's likely called your "funny bone" because it "feels funny" when you bump it. There may be some association with the anatomic term "humerus", but it's not specifically that bone that is involved in the sensation. But "funny bone" is a long-standing term for "sense off humor". – Hot Licks Aug 22 '17 at 3:12

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

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

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.

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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

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