In a word: risible

March 23, 2013|By John E. McIntyre | The Baltimore Sun

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a relatively obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar, another brick to add to the wall of your working vocabulary. This week's word:


Perhaps, like Uncle Albert in Mary Poppins, you love to laugh. If so, you would be marked by risibility, an inclination to laughter, or possessed of risibility, a sense of the amusing. The adjective risible (pronounced RIZ-uh-buhl) can mean inclined to laugh or causing laughter. The latter sense is the newer, and perhaps increasingly the common sense. 

Funny would be the most common word, laughable somewhat more elevated, and risible the most sophisticated. 

The word rises from the Latin ridere, to laugh, passes into the French risible in the fourteenth century, and shortly after is clasped to the bosom of English.

Example: From the patter song in Anna Russell's "How to Write Your Own Gilbert and Sullivan Opera" (Russellites in the audience may need to correct my recollection; somehow I do not have the recording at the office):

"His sniveling and driveling are altogether risible; / he's absolutely miserable, / the rich tycoon." 

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