Why does whopper sound humorous

Daffodil100

Senior Member
Chinese
Could someone please explain why 'whopper' is defined as HUMOROUSE in the Cambridge Dictionary as below? Thanks!


whopper noun [C]
1 HUMOROUS INFORMAL something that is surprising because it is so much bigger than the usual size:
I mean, my nose is quite big but my Dad's got a whopper.
2 HUMOROUS a big lie:
Amanda's told some whoppers in her time.
 
  • Brioche

    Senior Member
    Australia English
    Could someone please explain why 'whopper' is defined as HUMOROUSE in the Cambridge Dictionary as below? Thanks!


    whopper noun [C]
    1 HUMOROUS INFORMAL something that is surprising because it is so much bigger than the usual size:
    I mean, my nose is quite big but my Dad's got a whopper.
    2 HUMOROUS a big lie:
    Amanda's told some whoppers in her time.
    I take it to mean that the words are used in light-hearted contexts, and not in serious contexts.
     

    Aardvark01

    Senior Member
    British English (Midlands)
    1. This dialogue occurs in the comedy film 'Monty Python's Life of Brian':

    Brian:Have I got a big nose, Mum?
    Mandy: Stop thinking about sex!
    Brian: I wasn't!
    Mandy: You're always on about it. "Will the girls like this? Will the girls like that? Is it too big? Is it too small? "

    This is using 'big nose' to allude to ...another part of the male anatomy. The same principle applies to 'whopper'. This is called a double_entendre, a phrase which can be understood in either of two ways.

    2. Whopper in the other sense is a big lie or tall-story, which may be intended to deceive or may be openly bogus and merely intended to amuse.
     

    abenr

    Senior Member
    English, USA
    1. This dialogue occurs in the comedy film 'Monty Python's Life of Brian':

    Brian:Have I got a big nose, Mum?
    Mandy: Stop thinking about sex!
    Brian: I wasn't!
    Mandy: You're always on about it. "Will the girls like this? Will the girls like that? Is it too big? Is it too small? "

    This is using 'big nose' to allude to ...another part of the male anatomy. The same principle applies to 'whopper'. This is called a double_entendre, a phrase which can be understood in either of two ways.

    2. Whopper in the other sense is a big lie or tall-story, which may be intended to deceive or may be openly bogus and merely intended to amuse.
    I'm afraid you've lost me, Aardvark01. When you write "Whopper in the other sense ..." I don't know what the first sense is. I may be dense this Christmas Eve or perhaps have had too much of the famous Christmas cheer, but I don't understand why "whopper" is a double entendre.

    Thanks for elucidating.

    Abenr
     

    Aardvark01

    Senior Member
    British English (Midlands)
    Daffodil100 asked why 'whopper' is funny and gave two definitions:
    whopper noun
    1 HUMOROUS INFORMAL something that is surprising because it is so much bigger than the usual size:
    I mean, my nose is quite big but my Dad's got a whopper.

    This is humerous because it exagerates something physical (a nose) in a surreal way. Thus I could paraphrase:
    My nose is huge, but my dad is an elephant! (funny)
    My nose is big, his nose is absurdly big.

    In the example I gave in post #4 the humour lies in a double meaning (double entendre) being attributed to 'whopper'. Sexual organs being a taboo subject in polite society, it is humour based on the tension between the polite and the vulgar interpretations.


    2 HUMOROUS a big lie:
    Amanda's told some whoppers in her time.

    Here a whopper is not a physical object but an absurd idea.


    I think the word derives from fishermen boasting about the (physical) size of fish they have caught:

    I caught a fish <------this------> big <spreading arms this wide>
    I caught a fish <--------------this--------------> big. A real whopper!

    In the absence of evidence of this catch we can respond by saying: You're telling a whopper (whopper being the lie rather than the fish)
     

    Daffodil100

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Hello all,

    Thank you very much for your replies.

    Aardvark01, I think I am clearer after your illustrations. :)
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I was once in a fishing pub where everyone was standing around with his arms this wide
    <--------------------------------------------------------------------------------->
    They were talking about whoppers and telling whoppers (lies). There was a little man in a corner with his arms this wide
    <.......................>
    I caught his eye. "That was the distance between its eyes", he said.
    He was talking about a whopper and telling whoppers too.​

    It's quite useful to have a comic word for lies, because it means you can tell people off for doing it, without coming all heavy. Some people - David Jason as Inspector Frost, for instance - also talk about 'porkies'.​

    Daffodil's question could be asking why is the word marked humorous informal, to which the answer is that people need warning about the register of a word. Or it could be asking what is funny or informal about the word whopper, which is a much harder question. The etymology is quite ancient. I wonder if is derived from the old Scottish word to wapp, which is what wild geese do with their wings in flight. I remember Robert Graves suggesting that the nursery rhyme​

    Grey goose and gander,
    Waft your wings together,
    And carry the good king's daughter
    Over the one strand river.

    was an English corruption of a Scottish lament for the defeat of the Scottish army of James IV at Flodden Field in September 1513. The waft coming from wapp, the daughter being a corruption of an old Scottish word for a corpse, and the one-strand river being death. The grey goose is called the grey-lag goose because it lags behind the other geese and would have been the only wild goose in Northumberland in September. The King was killed in the battle.
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    With no dispute intended towards the interpretations of the cited dictionary sample sentence—it is both amusing and informal—I still disagree that the word is humorous in general. Do we have an AE-BE disagreement here?

    I've just looked at three AE dictionaries, and none classifies the word whopper as humorous. Certainly some uses of the word may be humorous, but that's a function of context and intent, rather than an inherent characteristic of the word in all usages.

    The Compact OED gives this:

    whopper

    noun informal 1 a thing that is extremely large. 2 a gross or blatant lie.
    Oxford's Advanced Learners's Dictionary also omits the humorous tag:

    1 something that is very big for its type: Pete has caught a whopper (= a large fish).
    2 a lie: She’s told some whoppers about her past.

    Could it be that the Cambridge lexicographer first selected the example, and then generalized excessively?
     

    Matching Mole

    Senior Member
    England, English
    I find it intrinsically humorous. It's a mimetic word (it attempts to reproduce a sound) from "whop" the sound of something large striking something else, and such words can often be funny, like the "sound effects" in cartoons, in the general way that someone miming something, either with words or actions, is the basis of some forms of comedy.

    The comic element may be lost (assuming one accepts that it existed in the first place) if the word falls into prosaic use, in the way that some idioms, which were once witty jokes, lose their flavour through overuse.
     
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    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    Thanks MM. I remain unconvinced. Here's a BE example that seems lacking in humorous intent or effect.

    Just think of all the people who can be sued. Bank directors for failing to manage risks properly, auditors for not valuing the toxic assets at anything like toxic sums, insurers unable or unwilling to pay on policies that were meant to cover lenders against default.
    And then there’s all the intermediaries. So the legal bill for the credit crunch is going to be a whopper.
    http://www.ldpbusiness.co.uk/busine...runch-is-goingto-be-a-whopper-96026-22036378/
     

    El escoces

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    Could it be that the Cambridge lexicographer first selected the example, and then generalized excessively?
    This is possible, I suppose.

    I don't think I agree with Aardvark's suggestion (if I understand him correctly) that the first Cambridge entry is referring exclusively to the use of "whopper" as a double entendre.

    Describing something, in BrE, as a "whopper", is certainly informal; whether it is always humorous, in addition, is difficult to tell. I'm inclined to say not, in line with the OED entry.

    "Whopper", in the sense of "a lie", is certainly informal and, I think, would normally be used humorously. (Porkie, as used by Inspector Frost, is of course Cockney rhyming slang (pork pie = lie) and is therefore also extremely informal.)

    EDIT: I agree with MM that it is possible that the original humorous use of "whopper" in BrE may have widened over time; the excerpt quoted by cuchu tends to suggest as much, although the writing in it - at least as far as the use of "whopper" is concerned - is informal (/contemporary?) and is perhaps not the best guide of overall contempoary usage.
     
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    abenr

    Senior Member
    English, USA
    With no dispute intended towards the interpretations of the cited dictionary sample sentence—it is both amusing and informal—I still disagree that the word is humorous in general. Do we have an AE-BE disagreement here?

    I've just looked at three AE dictionaries, and none classifies the word whopper as humorous. Certainly some uses of the word may be humorous, but that's a function of context and intent, rather than an inherent characteristic of the word in all usages.
    We stand as one, Cuchuflete. As a speaker of American English, I find nothing inherently humorous about the word, certainly no inherent double entendre.

    Merry Christmas, one and all,

    Abenr
     
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    Matching Mole

    Senior Member
    England, English

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    Feeling a bit devilish, and perhaps trying to load the deck in favor of my hypothesis, I googled "Blair +whopper". I added domain=.uk. I found lots of funny stuff, and the usual collection of tabloid exaggeration, without humorous intent or effect, unless one laughs at such sources calling themselves newspapers. Bush +whopper is bound to yield mostly objective associations, so it doesn't push the argument one way or another.

    Merry Christmas!
     

    Redshade

    Banned
    UK
    English.
    With no dispute intended towards the interpretations of the cited dictionary sample sentence—it is both amusing and informal—I still disagree that the word is humorous in general. Do we have an AE-BE disagreement here?

    I've just looked at three AE dictionaries, and none classifies the word whopper as humorous. Certainly some uses of the word may be humorous, but that's a function of context and intent, rather than an inherent characteristic of the word in all usages.

    The Compact OED gives this:

    Oxford's Advanced Learners's Dictionary also omits the humorous tag:




    Could it be that the Cambridge lexicographer first selected the example, and then generalized excessively?
    I think that the dictionary compilers are being
    a little too enthusiastic with the "humorous" tag.
    "Informal" would be better.The word "whopper"
    certainly does not provoke untrammelled mirth
    in this Brit.It is often used in a jocular manner but not exclusively so.
     

    Aardvark01

    Senior Member
    British English (Midlands)
    Like MM I find 'whopper' an inherantly humourous word.

    Quote-cuchuflete: ...So the legal bill for the credit crunch is going to be a whopper.

    The seriousness of the situation does not make this use of 'whopper' less humourous; rather the register of the final word adds an ironic twist, what we call 'wry' humour.

    Just because it does not make us laugh-out-loud does not mean it is not humour. There seems to be some confusion on here between humour and 'mirth'. There are other forms of humour.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    You are lucky if you are not suffering in the credit crisis, Aardvark. I'm not going to tell you what's what, but, for me, the example is suggesting that the writer is going to find some fellow sufferers among his readership.
     

    Aardvark01

    Senior Member
    British English (Midlands)
    You are lucky if you are not suffering in the credit crisis, Aardvark. I'm not going to tell you what's what, but, for me, the example is suggesting that the writer is going to find some fellow sufferers among his readership.
    I agree, from the perspective of the readership this is gallows humour: Look on the bright side, those of us who are struggling to make ends meet can console ourselves that the lawyers will benefit from it.

    If the author had chosen to say the legal bill would be 'huge', it would still have been humourous but would not have been cited in this thread as a non-humorous example of 'whopper'. Irony upon irony.
     
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