Ismo helps Merriam-Webster decipher the English language

Finnish stand-up comedian ISMO performed on Conan a year ago, and his bit about the complicated nature of the word “ass” racked up more than 3 million YouTube views.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary people hope Ismo can help enliven even more of the English language, so they asked him to break down a few words and phrases for fun.

The word “tip,” for example, can mean a piece of advice, the gratuity left for a restaurant server, the end of a pointy object or, as a verb, to knock something over. While the different meanings may be kept straight in daily use, ISMO’s art consists of deliberately and mischievously conflating them, with enormously entertaining results.  

 “I have been fascinated by languages, mainly English and Finnish, my whole life, and they have been a big and important inspiration for my comedy, too,” Ismo said. “Merriam-Webster seeing my observations as something officially relevant and educational is truly a big honor.” 

“There’s no avoiding the fact that English is illogical in many ways,” says Lisa Schneider, the company’s Chief Digital Officer and Publisher. “You can let it drive you crazy, or you can revel in its eccentricities. We prefer the latter, and consider it part of our mission to propagate our irrational love of and appreciation for the language—idiosyncrasies and all. ISMO’s humor cuts right to the heart of our mission, highlighting the complex nature of English and the flexibility and creativity that complexity makes possible. We are so pleased to be partnering with him to open yet another window onto the beauty of English.”

Here are a few more of Ismo’s “Words Matter” videos for Merriam-Webster:

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

View all posts by Sean L. McCarthy →