The idea for the study stemmed from an earlier one in which test subjects with language disorders were asked to review letter strings and determine if they were real words or not. Westbury began to notice a trend where participants would laugh when they heard some of the made-up non-words -- like snunkoople.
Westbury then hypothesized that a word's entropy, a mathematical measure of how ordered or predictable it is, determines if it is inherently funny. Non-words like flingam, with uncommon letter combinations, are lower in entropy and therefore funny.
"It essentially comes down to the probability of the individual letters. So if you look at a Dr. Seuss word like razzmatazz and calculate its entropy, you would find it is a low-entropy word because it has improbable letters like Z."