ENG 143 Linguistics Paper Final – Miya Mesa

ENG 143 Linguistics Paper Final

by Miya Mesa

How I Met Your Mother Barney Stinson 


How I Met Your Mother is an American sitcom that follows a group of friends through their New York City, Manhattan lives. From watching one episode or all nine seasons, every character has demonstrated the range of linguistic features and how their native language uses form their identity. The way a person or character choses to speaks in any given situation is what the foundation of their identity is built upon. Barney Stinson is one of the friends in the How I Met Your Mother group. Barney is a Manhattan businessman by day and serial womanizer at night. Barney follows the trend of using the productivity feature to display his humor. Barney typically uses different forms of compounding to make new words fit in the context he desires. Through his many self-made terms, Barney is a prime example of how productivity through word formation portray humor in an identity.  

Literary Review 

Word-formation processes that were used in a sitcom genre to delineate the character of Barney, who was depicted as a character that plays with language to convey some sort of humor to the audience. Gregory Cala’s article in 2018, claims that Barney’s humor is the reason the sitcom survived (Cala, 2018). Although all viewers may not like him, they can easily recognize the features of Barney’s language mold him into the humorous character. Word- formation has many different categories. However, with humor it is typically found in forms of compounding and productivity. Magel’s research, in 2015, referred to comedies and sitcoms typically using blends as a feature in their script to enforce humor (Magel, 2015). The Study of Language textbook explained the features used in language to better determine how these features make up someone’s identity. George Yule wrote the sixth edition in 2017 and defined productivity as: a property of language that allows users to create new expressions (Yule, 2017). Yule also referenced this feature as “creativity” and “open-endedness”. Yule’s 2017 sixth edition defines compounding as the joining of two separate words to produce one new, single word (Yule 2017). Yule defines blending as a form of compounding where a person takes two words and uses the first syllable of the first word and the second syllable of the other word to make one new word (Yule. 2017). Yule defines coinage as the invention of new terms in English typically technology based (Yule, 2017). The last compounding form Yule defines is backformation as a word of one type is reduced to form a word of another type like a noun is made into a verb (Yule, 2017). All the sources demonstrate that Barney used the word-formation features to create his humor.  


The audience remembers Barney Stinson’s humor through his most comical scenes and made up sayings. To try and understand the traits Barney demonstrates humor through, I researched all the “fan favorites” of his episode appearances. I conducted this research to find evident examples of his language use throughout the sitcom. In each of these scenes, all the fan comments repeated that he is best known for the “funny words he says”. This showed me that his identity portrayed humor. To analyze the features of Barney’s humorous terms, I needed to focus on their word-formation. The results of that analysis would confirm that Barney Stinson’s productivity in language was the facilitator of his humorous identity.  

Analysis & Discussion 


Barney typically forms his productivity feature using compounding of two words. In situations when he stumbles to find a word in English to best suit his expression, he makes his own. For example, he wanted to high five his friend when they were having a conversation through the phone, so he created “phone five”. During his adolescent phase, Barney followed the hippie lifestyle. He could not find a fun way to send peace to others, so he created the “high twos”. This is when you model the peace sign of holding two fingers up (index and middle) and send the peace sign out as high fives. Barney also created the “self-five” where he is alone and cannot high five someone for the joke he said, so he high fives himself. Barney consistently uses these compounded words to portray his humorous expressions.  


To express his humor, for Barney’s unique feelings of specific situations, he blends two feelings into one new feeling. When Barney feels that something is slightly possible but mostly impossible to accomplish, he considers that event to be “possimpible”. When something is insanely ridiculous, Barney calls this occurrence to be “insanulous”. When something is awesomely awful, he calls the event “awsful”. During a “slap war” with his friends, Barney created a term that combines slap and appointment to make “slappointment”. All these words cannot be found in the English dictionary but to Barney they are perfectly acceptable to the situation they describe. When he uses these words, the audience finds them hilarious because they are not part of our normal English vocabulary.  


Barney makes up terms that could be considered technical to How I Met Your Mother’s storyline. Barney is a womanizing player who comes up with hundreds of ways to pick up girls. He writes all these methods down into a book he calls “The Bro Code”. Barney’s life follows this Bro Code and dictates his future of refusing to commit to a relationship. Instead of calling himself the master of playing, he created the term “Broda”. Barney explains this term as: “Think of me as Yoda, only instead of being little and green, I wear a suit and am awesome. I’m Broda…”. Although these terms are not technology based, in the context of How I Met Your Mother, these terms are Barney’s foundation. To the sitcom, they are essential to understanding the context of the storyline. Barney’s use of coinage is another way of expressing the humor of his identity because the terms are funded on people’s fantasies.  


Barney follows the pattern of taking a noun and forming it into a verb. The first term he does this too is the noun suit. The noun suit is a formal clothing a man can wear. Barney only wears suits in this sitcom. This is because to Barney a suit symbolizes more to him. Barney changed the noun to have a behavioral meaning (verb). A “Suit” is a man who only wears a suit for all occasions, considers himself to be a serial womanizer who refuses to commit to a monogamous relationship, and values the concept of successfully having causal hookups. The audience finds this humorous because it jokes about the stereotype on audiences of mid-twenties who only seek casual, sexual relationships. Another example of Barney’s language using backformation, is when he describes his friend Marshall. Marshall is lawyer who tries to make fun of his friend’s embarrassing experiences. Whenever Marshall makes a joke, Barney says: “Kaboom you have been lawyered!”.  Even though the term lawyer started as a noun, Barney transformed the noun into a verb of a lawyer making fun of someone. The audience may think that it as Marshall displaying the humor, but the humor was actually displayed through Barney’s word formation feature.  


Productivity through word-formation is typically found when the character/person is portraying humor in their identity. These elements can be used in any situation regardless of audience. Barney Stinson’s character uses these features in all contexts he finds himself in. Between all the characters of How I Met Your Motherviewers find Barney Stinson to be the most comical. Uniquely, he is the only one that follows these linguistic patterns. Therefore, his language traits of productivity and word-formation through compounding forms are a feature of humor in identity.  

Work Cited 

Cala, G. (2018, September 10). Character Arc Analysis: How I Met Your Mother. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@gregorytcala/character-arc-analysis-how-i-met-your-mother-9da37bf88777 

Magel, I. (2015). GRIN – Linguistic Features in “How I Met Your Mother”. A Linguistic Analysis. Retrieved from https://www.grin.com/document/354383 

Yule, George (2017). Study of Language. S.I.: Cambridge University Press.