I've recently saw this comic strip:

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?

  • 6
    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, 2012 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. Sep 7, 2012 at 19:57
  • 1
    "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, 2012 at 4:13
  • It all has to do with the old joke about the squaw on the hippopotamus.
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 23, 2017 at 23:33

1 Answer 1


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".

  • Context: "Frank and Ernest" Oct 15, 2006 and May 13, 1984... frankandernest.com
    – GEdgar
    Sep 7, 2012 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". Sep 7, 2012 at 20:03

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.