09 June 2007 by Ivan Berger, Fawood, New Jersey, US
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Richard Wiseman's theory that "Quack" is funnier than "Moo" holds true for English speakers (12 May, p 46). But is it true for those whose languages assign the "k" sound to other animals' cries and not to ducks? Or are there no such languages? The only foreign duck sound I know is the French "quank", in which the "k" would probably have less effect, overshadowed by the preceding nasal sound.
From Kevin Whitesides
You suggest that the spoken hard "k" sound is likely to be funnier because of "facial feedback", for the reason that saying the "k" sound can supposedly make one mimic smiling. This is easily refuted. Try it yourself and you will very quickly recognize that your smiling face is the result of the vowel that precedes or follows the "k".
For example, contrast the facial expression of the word "quack" (as in the article) with the word "cook", which clearly does not create a smile when said. It is the hard "a" sound in "quack" that makes the smiling face. If there is indeed some reason that "k" is funnier than other sounds, it's not because it makes you look like you're smiling.
Also the people in the article were reading a joke, not being told the joke orally. So the facial aspect would not have come into play, unless the person was reading the joke aloud or at least mouthing it.
Arcata, California, US
The editor writes:
• Further personal experimentation suggests that it is the combination of "k" with certain vowel sounds that produces the strongest "forced smile". For example, "key" does so more than "be", "dee" or "fee", although "k" with some other vowels lacks the effect.