Woody Words.

I don’t know if this is “Monty Python’s best sketch ever,” but it’s certainly their most linguistically focused, and it’s hilarious throughout. Gorn! (Or is that “gone”?)

Update (Nov. 2020). The video clip at the Log link no longer functions — apparently all separate clips of that scene have been removed at the insistence of the copyright holders — but you can watch the sketch at this official video of the episode (skip to 21:09; you have to unclick the mute symbol).


  1. Honestly, I’ve always thought this was probably the least funny of the really famous Monty Python sketches.

  2. Really? Boy, senses of humor sure differ.

  3. Does it count as really famous? I wouldn’t have thought it was in the top 10, or even top 25, in well-knownness.

  4. Language Hat… Language Hat… Very woody sort of name for a blog.

  5. Does it count as really famous? I wouldn’t have thought it was in the top 10, or even top 25, in well-knownness.

    I agree; in fact, when Dave linked it at Wordorigins I’d forgotten its existence.

  6. And yes, gorn is (non-rhotically) an almost defunct and very upper class pronunciation of gone that even Her Majesty no longer uses, I think. As in, Matilda has gorn orff to Cheltenham with that frightful bounder Featherstonehaugh.

  7. @Keith Ivey: I just did a Google search for the most famous Monty Python sketches. The first search result was a top-ten list that it didn’t make it onto. The second was a top-twenty-five, and that sketch was at number eleven. I certainly encounter references to it much more commonly that to many other sketches that are much funnier. (Obviously, of course, these lists shouldn’t be taken too seriously. The Spanish Inquisition didn’t even make the list of twenty-five, and it must be one of the most referenced of all, perhaps second only to the SPAM sketch.)

  8. The Spanish Inquisition didn’t even make the list of twenty-five

    Then I put it to you that that list is an absurdity.

  9. Caribou gorn …
    Marvellous, because you don’t notice the shotgun at his feet initially.

  10. I’m pretty sure it’s gone, the vowel of which is often idiosyncratic (it’s the only word in AusE with /ɒː/). What I don’t understand is the “song” near the end: I played it several times, but it’s just syllables to me.

    For much more on tinny words, see Language Log, which has done dozens of articles on word aversion. Seemingly just one on woody words, however, including (in the comments) “smock smock smock …” from our own Hat.

    T.S. Eliot’s “Mister Mistoffelees” is full of rhymes that puzzled me as a child, starting with “Mistoffelees” rhyming with “scoff. / All his”. But the truly confusing bit was the couplet

    You have seen it one moment, and then it is gawn!
    But you’ll find it next week lying out on the lawn.

    Since for me gone/lawn is a straightforward and perfect rhyme, I couldn’t understand the point of the misspelling.

  11. Trond Engen says

    Brett: The Spanish Inquisition didn’t even make the list of twenty-five

    Hat: Then I put it to you that that list is an absurdity.

    It’s certainly unexpected.

  12. marie-lucie says

    I have not seen too many Monte Python episodes but I did not find this one funny. Perhaps it is my lack of humour or imagination! What is the point of the girl screaming and leaving on hearing “tinny”?

  13. David Marjanović says

    Yay, sound symbolism.

  14. m-l: It’s an extreme case of word aversion, as many people have to moist and some other words. Most people just feel funny or disgusted by the sound/meaning combination, though; they don’t find it necessary to shriek and leave the room!

  15. marie-lucie says

    Thanks JC. So it was supposed to be her own phobia. I thought maybe it had more general connotations.

  16. OED, s.v. go, v. 7. Past participle.

    1974 G. Chapman et al. Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1989) II. xlii. 290 Yes, she’s gorn off because Mansfield said tin to her.

  17. Ah, the lorst par of the British Empar…

  18. OED, s.v. go, v. 7. Past participle.

    It makes me unreasonably happy to know that line has been immortalized in the OED. Someone had fun creating that citation.

  19. Hat, I like how you take it for granted that the OED is more likely to be immortal than Monty Python.

  20. Some of the best Python sketches may be remembered more or less forever. The Cheese Shop sketch, the Dead Parrot Sketch, or How to Defend Yourself Against Fresh Fruit (Marie-Lucie, watch that one if you’ve never seen it; if you don’t find it funny, you just don’t like Monty Python) are pretty much timeless.

    On the other hand, many of their funniest bits are extremely dated. They did a number of sketches related to the decline of the once-fabled British mining industry (which was such an important topic in 1970s British discourse that there are also several Doctor Who episodes parodying the situation), some of which are very funny, but for viewers not acquainted with the subject matter, they are probably losing a lot of their punch. When I first saw the show in the 1980s, it was already notably dated; my mother complained that Flying Circus had gone off the air too soon to make fun of Margaret Thatcher. (It turns out that Thatcher actually did get more ribbing than any other contemporary politician on the show, but that amounted to about three references over five years.)

  21. if you don’t find it funny, you just don’t like Monty Python

    I… I didn’t think it was very funny, sir…

  22. Not unfunny, sir! It did give me a chuckle or two! I swear it did!

  23. OK, if we’re tossing out Python favorites: Johann Gambolputty.

  24. So the <small> tag works!

    edit: It doesn’t for us common commenters.

  25. Huh. Well, anyone who wants to make use of it can send me the text of your comment and I’ll post it for you.

  26. There’s a thing: I found out that it will allow <font color=”red”> tags, for instance, but since they’re deprecated in HTML5, my browser doesn’t show the color. The modern equivalent is <span style=”color:red”>, but that isn’t allowed.

    EDIT: I’m confused, or something changed. I thought I’d seen it work recently.

  27. Narmitaj says

    For language people, The Argument Clinic sketch must be a top one. If you don’t find that one funny, then you probably won’t like Monty P.

  28. marie-lucie says

    I didn’t like the gorn and even less the fresh fruits episodes, but the Argument Clinic and the Job Interview were better. Of course the Dead Parrot is great.

  29. J.W. Brewer says

    Surely the Hungarian phrasebook sketch should rank at or near the top of any list oriented toward linguistics-related subject matter?

  30. Very true!

  31. marie-lucie says

    JWB, Yes, I thought of that one but could not quite remember the title except “Hungarian”.

  32. I don’t think the fresh-fruit sketch is funny exactly; it certainly doesn’t make me laugh, even though it does make the world’s warmongers look silly. It’s too painfully true to be funny.

  33. I just learned of the Pythons’ sketch “Teach Yourself Heath”, making fun of PM Edward Heath’s peculiar accent. I haven’t heard it yet.

    Wikipedia says, “In later years, Heath’s peculiar accent – with its “strangulated” vowel sounds, combined with his non-Standard pronunciation of “l” as “w” and “out” as “eout”… Campbell speculates that his speech, unlike that of his father and younger brother, who both spoke with Kent accents, must have undergone “drastic alteration on encountering Oxford”, although retaining elements of Kent speech.”

  34. Most people just feel funny or disgusted by the sound/meaning combination…

    I’m surprised https://xkcd.com/853/ hasn’t been mentioned yet 🙂

  35. It turns out that the song in this sketch is “For he’s going to marry Yum-Yum”, from Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado, per WP. I have known both words and tune since childhood, but I swear I still don’t recognize it here.

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