Understanding the Idiom: "funny bone" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: English
Etymology: (This etymology is missing or incomplete. Please add to it, or discuss it at the Etymology scriptorium. Particularly: “often said to be a pun on humorous/humerus, but other sources deny this”)

The idiom “funny bone” is a commonly used expression in English that refers to a specific part of the body. This phrase is often used in casual conversation, but its meaning may not be immediately clear to non-native speakers or those unfamiliar with the idiom.

What is the Funny Bone?

The funny bone is actually not a bone at all, but rather a nerve called the ulnar nerve. It runs from the neck down through the arm and into the hand, where it can be easily felt near the elbow. When this nerve is hit or compressed, it can cause a tingling sensation or numbness in the arm and hand.

Origins of the Idiom

The origin of this idiom is unclear, but it has been used for many years to describe an uncomfortable feeling caused by hitting one’s elbow on a hard surface. The term “funny” in this context does not refer to humor or laughter, but rather to an odd or unusual feeling experienced when hitting this particular nerve.

Idiom: Funny Bone
Type: Body Part Idiom
Meaning: An uncomfortable sensation caused by hitting or compressing the ulnar nerve near the elbow.

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “funny bone”

The idiom “funny bone” is a phrase that is commonly used in English to describe the sensation of hitting one’s elbow on a hard surface. While this phrase may seem like a modern invention, it actually has its roots in ancient medical practices.

The Origins of the Term

The term “funny bone” comes from the Latin word “ulna,” which refers to the long bone in the forearm that extends from the elbow to the wrist. In ancient times, doctors believed that this bone was responsible for producing laughter when struck. This belief led to the development of various medical treatments involving hitting or tapping on this area.

The Historical Context

Over time, these medical practices evolved into more sophisticated techniques, such as acupuncture and acupressure. However, even today, many people still use these methods to relieve pain and promote healing.

In popular culture, the term “funny bone” has become synonymous with humor and laughter. This association likely stems from the fact that hitting one’s ulna can cause a sudden jolt of pain followed by a tingling sensation – much like how certain jokes or situations can elicit an unexpected burst of laughter.

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “funny bone”

The idiom “funny bone” is a commonly used phrase in English that refers to a specific part of the body. This phrase is often used in casual conversation or humorously to describe a feeling of discomfort or pain. However, there are many different ways that this idiom can be used, and it has several variations depending on the context.

One common usage of the idiom “funny bone” is to describe a sudden jolt or shock that causes an unexpected reaction. For example, someone might say “that joke really hit my funny bone” to express how much they laughed at something humorous. Similarly, this phrase can also be used to describe an emotional response, such as when someone feels touched by something sentimental.

Another variation of this idiom is to use it as a metaphor for vulnerability or sensitivity. In this context, saying that someone’s “funny bone” has been touched means that they have been emotionally affected by something. This could refer to anything from a heartwarming story to a personal tragedy.

Finally, the term “funny bone” can also be used more literally to refer specifically to the ulnar nerve in the elbow joint. When this nerve is struck or compressed, it can cause a tingling sensation or even temporary paralysis in the arm and hand. Although not actually related to humor or comedy, this physical sensation has become associated with the idiom due its name.

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Idiom “funny bone”


  • Comical
  • Hilarious
  • Amusing
  • Jocular
  • Witty
  • Droll
  • Farcical
  • Mirthful
  • Whimsical

Each of these words has a slightly different connotation and can be used in specific situations where “funny bone” may not fit quite as well.


On the other hand, there are also antonyms of “funny bone” that describe situations or people that are not humorous:

  • Serious

These words can be useful when trying to convey a more serious tone or message.

Cultural Insights

The use of idioms varies from culture to culture. In some cultures, using an idiom like “funny bone” may be considered inappropriate or offensive. It’s important to understand the cultural context in which an idiom is being used before incorporating it into your own language use.

Practical Exercises for the Idiom “funny bone”

Exercise 1: Identify the Context

In this exercise, read a short paragraph or dialogue that includes the idiom “funny bone”. Identify the context in which it is used and explain what it means. This exercise will help you recognize how the idiom is commonly used in English.


“I hit my funny bone on the edge of the table and it hurt so much!” – In this context, “funny bone” refers to a nerve located near your elbow that can cause a tingling or painful sensation when hit.

Exercise 2: Use It in a Sentence

In this exercise, practice using the idiom “funny bone” by incorporating it into your own sentences. This exercise will help you become more comfortable with using idiomatic expressions in conversation.


“I always make sure to protect my funny bone when playing sports.”

  • “I accidentally bumped my friend’s funny bone while giving him a high-five.”
  • “She has such a great sense of humor that she tickles my funny bone every time we talk.”
  • “The comedian’s jokes didn’t quite hit my funny bone like they did for everyone else.”

With these practical exercises, you’ll be able to confidently use and understand the idiom “funny bone” in any situation!

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Idiom “funny bone”

When using idioms, it is important to understand their meaning and usage in context. The idiom “funny bone” is often used to describe a feeling of tingling or numbness in the arm caused by hitting the ulnar nerve. However, this idiom can also be used figuratively to describe something that is amusing or humorous.

One common mistake when using this idiom is confusing its literal and figurative meanings. For example, saying “I hit my funny bone and couldn’t stop laughing” would not make sense as hitting the ulnar nerve does not typically cause laughter. Another mistake is overusing the idiom in conversation, which can make it lose its impact and come across as cliché.

To avoid these mistakes, it is important to use the idiom appropriately and sparingly. It should only be used when referring specifically to the physical sensation caused by hitting the ulnar nerve or when describing something genuinely amusing or humorous. Additionally, it may be helpful to vary your language and use other idioms or expressions instead of relying solely on “funny bone.”

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