In "Passing Of The Third Floor Back" a short story by Jerome K. Jerome (available on Project Gutenberg) we have the following dialogue, without further explanation:

Mrs. Pennycherry pondered. “He’s not the funny sort, is he?”

Not that sort at all. Mary Jane was sure of it.

What are we meant to understand by "funny sort"?

I feel that this must be some euphemism for some undesirable and unmentionable characteristic that was clearly understood by the characters, and would have made sense to British readers in 1904.

When we meet Mrs. Pennycherry's other lodgers, it would appear she was not over particular, provided they could pay, so who might she have been reluctant to accommodate?

  • Maybe the rest of the context of the poem will give us some clues. Two lines isn't much to go on. – Mozibur Ullah Sep 4 at 0:27
  • Odd and peculiar rather than suspect since the short story is about the travails of a group of characters in a boarding house and not a novel about espionage, counter-espionage and the like. – Mozibur Ullah Sep 4 at 12:04
  • @MoziburUllah It's not a poem. Also "suspect" in British usage doesn't necessarily mean linked to spy or police activity. – Matt Thrower Sep 4 at 13:42
  • @Matt Thrower: I corrected poem to short story in my next comment. The way it extract was lineated made it look like a poem. What suspect means depends upon context, given the context of the story it's unlikely to mean a 'suspicious character' and more likely odd, peculiar or eccentric. – Mozibur Ullah Sep 4 at 13:50
  • @MoziburUllah 'suspicious' can mean odd, peculiar or eccentric in British English. This is my point. – Matt Thrower Sep 4 at 13:57

In general, I would take "funny sort" to be a common euphemism for being of eccentric behaviour, suggesting some mild mental derangement. It could have different connotations, but from the story it seems eccentricity was what was meant.

"funny" has two basic meanings, as per OED:

1 Causing laughter or amusement; humorous.

‘a funny story’

‘the play is hilariously funny’

2 Difficult to explain or understand; strange or odd.

‘I had a funny feeling you'd be around’

‘it's a funny old world’

‘I do get some funny looks’

‘the funny thing is I can't remember much about it’

‘that's funny!—that vase of flowers has been moved’

Now, the phrase "a funny sort" in turn, as far as I know, only refers to the second meaning of "funny". I only found one place where this was discussed, and nowhere where it was defined.

However, if you Google it as a phrase, you only find it with the meaning "strange" (at least that's what my results showed):

A funny sort of welcome. Complex new visa and immigration regulations are in danger of sending out the wrong message to foreign students and academics, reports Melanie Newman

A funny sort of democracy. Around the world, Washington endorses then deposes rulers

I have never ever hear or read anything where "a funny sort" would denote something humorous. Even if the context would suggest it (as I believe, it doesn't, in the JKJ story), if we were speaking about, let's say, a play:

-- What was the play like?

-- It was a funny sort of play.

I would presume the speaker means it was a strange one.

  • Is it definitely "funny" as in eccentric, rather than witty? I found it hard to judge from the immediate context (haven't read the whole story, but checked a few paragraphs on each side). Could you edit to expand a bit on why this interpretation is better? – Rand al'Thor Sep 8 at 16:22
  • I have just edited my question. I don't really buy the eccentric explanation. – mikado Sep 8 at 18:47
  • @Randal'Thor "funny sort" in my experience is an idiom. I read it occasionally in some stories and phrases like "he is the funny sort" have always meant "he is a strange guy". – Gnudiff Sep 8 at 18:47
  • @mikado It's hard to say about a story >100 years old. It is possible, of course, that it was meant to refer to gays, or some other well defined characteristic that was undesireable at that time, as you say, but "funny sort", as far as I recall, is used as an idiom denoting eccentricity, at least nowadays. – Gnudiff Sep 8 at 18:49
  • 1
    Hmm, I'm still not convinced. I agree that "a funny sort of X" usually means funny as in strange, but "he's the funny sort" could have different connotations, at least to my (British English) ear. Maybe try searching for "the funny sort" instead of just "funny sort"? – Rand al'Thor Sep 9 at 11:05

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