Getting fussy about fun

Talking on the phone with my Dad once in my early twenties, I used the word “funner” as an adjective and, stickler that he was, he busted me. 

“That’s not a word,” he intoned. 

Oh. I sat there chastened, my cheeks pink.

I was a burgeoning word freak but Dad was the authority, the maestro, a journalist and wordsmith for decades who loved dissecting language, adored puns (he was the worst!), and collected clichés with a far-flung dream of making a board game out of all the hoary, hackneyed maxims, platitudes and banalities he scribbled down on everything from receipts to cocktail napkins. 

Say something nakedly trite and he would call you out — ha! — scramble for a pencil and jot down the howling cliché you dared utter. Can you imagine what kind of game that would be? Either brilliant. Or inordinately annoying. Anyway, it never came to be.

Back to “funner.” Apparently that isn’t a real word. At least according to my father. And that has stuck ever since. I never say “funner.” Yesterday my brother used the word “funnest” and I pulled a Dad and said that’s not a word. My brother gave me the stink-eye and started making a voodoo doll of me.

But I was wrong. Sort of.

Here’s what the New Oxford American Dictionary says: “The comparative and superlative forms funner and funnest should only be used in very informal contexts, typically speech.”

That’s good news — informal contexts, typically speech. Just how I used funner.

However, an online teacher says this: “The next time students ask why they can’t say ‘funner,’ I say it’s because ‘fun’ was originally only a noun and the -er and -est forms are not commonly accepted. Stick to ‘more fun’ and ‘the most fun.’ ”

And another site avers: “There’s something funny about the word funner. It has the sound of a word twisted for the sake of a game of Scrabble, and any mention of it is liable to draw the response of, ‘Do you mean more fun?”

No! I mean funner! There, I said it, so many years later. Funner.

So, Dad, on this count you might have been off. I’m using funner as an adjective — better late than never. And with that phrase I’ve given you a moldy cliché for your board game, which would have surely been the funnest game of clichés ever.

Language is always evolving, especially between the formal and the colloquial. Take “over” vs. “more than,” for example. Both are now used to mean more than if used before a number or quantity, as in “This cost over four dollars.” That once was a stylistic no-no, but increasingly “over” is an acceptable substitute. 

I’m a word nerd. Love the language, love quips, innuendos, alliteration, even puns, which come tragically easy to me. I like big hairy words that have tentacles and teeth.

I do indeed find words fun. I find writing funner. I find finishing writing funnest of all.