There’s nothing obscene about wenis

There’s an episode of Friends in which Chandler is thoroughly mocked by all who know him, he is working on wenis.

Published: 14th February 2011 12:27 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th May 2012 07:58 PM   |  A+A-

There’s an episode of Friends in which Chandler is thoroughly mocked by all who know him because he is working on something called a “wenis”. This turns out to be a lot less exciting than it sounds – merely an acronym for “Weekly Estimated Net Income Statistics”, one of those business-y phrases whose meaning I cannot fathom, though by the looks of it, sounds very serious.

Why is the word “wenis” so funny? Presumably because it sounds like a name for a male genital organ — as well as sounding like another, funnier name for the same organ (at a very basic level we humans all seem to think jokes about our genitals or our excreta are hilarious). Say the word “wenis” and everyone around you will immediately assume something obscene.

It’s a bit hard on the word, since there’s not anything particularly obscene about it. Wenis (or Unas) was a Pharaoh in ancient Egypt who seems to have had a reasonably blameless (and comedy-free) life. More recently it has entered popular culture by means of the MTV show, The Jersey Shore. In the show (or, at least, in the book written by its star, Snooki Polizzi), the “wenis” is the term given to the wrinkly patch of skin on the elbow, that is  smoothed out when the elbow is bent. We are given no logical etymology for the word, and it’s likely that the use of the term is more widespread and predates the show.

It’s fitting, in a way, that something associated with the elbow should get a funny name. That bone is often referred to as the “funny bone”, which is probably a reference to the fact that the long bone of the upper arm (between the shoulder and the elbow) is called the humerus. “Humerus”, of course, sounds a lot like “humorous”.

Unsurprisingly (there’s nothing particularly funny about the upper arm) the two words are unrelated, and the similarity is just a coincidence. “Humerus” comes from the Latin umerus, meaning shoulder. “Humour” is from the Latin umor, meaning “body fluid”. For a long time, the body was believed to contain traces of four body fluids (blood, phlegm, choler and black bile) and their proportions were thought to affect human temperaments. We still use these words to describe people today: a phlegmatic person is not someone with bronchitis, but a person who is placid and self-content. Melancholy (black bile) is responsible for a sensitive and often depressive nature. And so on.  

In any case, the point which the wenis covers isn’t really the humerus at all. The pointy bit of bone that juts out there is actually the olecranon (possibly derived from the Greek kranion (skull or head) and olene (elbow). But then, surely accuracy is less important than humour.



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