The adjectives funny-ha-ha and funny-peculiar are used in collocation to seek or provide clarification between the two main meanings of funny:
– funny-ha-ha means funny in the sense amusing or comical;
– funny-peculiar means funny in the sense strange or peculiar.
This collocation is first recorded in Raising the Standards of College Recreation, by Winifred J. Robinson (Women’s College of Delaware – Newark, Delaware), published by the sisterhood of Alpha Phi in The Alpha Phi Quarterly (Menasha, Wisconsin) of June 1916:
Many students who are bored by group plays take delight in personifications and plays among ideas. […] These forms of recreation illustrate Matthew Arnold’s thought when he speaks of the ability to occupy the imagination fruitfully as a sign of culture. The Mount Holyoke girls inquire as to an experience. “Was it funny, peculiar, or funny, ha! ha!?” Professor Dewey says, “Much if not all the love of truth for truth’s sake in scientific inquiry represents the attitude of play carried over into enjoyment of inquiry for its own sake.”
The second-earliest instance that I have found is from the Marshfield Daily News (Marshfield, Wisconsin) of Thursday 11th January 1923:
“In a republic, democratically operated, there are two matters of the highest importance which directly affect the people most,” said Governor John J. Blaine in his message to the legislature two years ago. By that statement he referred to the right use of the ballot by a sovereign people and the question of taxation.
In the new session of the legislature, convened today, these two problems will still be important issues, particularly the latter. How taxes will fare at the hands of this legislature is a matter of more than casual interest to those sovereign people of whom the governor spoke. Among them are farmers and agricultural men who hope for better things at the hands of their representatives at Madison.
Were it not a matter of such vital concern to producer and consumer alike, this almost eternal, and certainly infernal, question of where does the money go that the farmer doesn’t get for his crops and the consumer has to pay for his goods, would begin to become funny. As it is we only see that it is “funny peculiar,” instead of being “funny, ha! ha!”
The adjective funny-queer has been used instead of funny-peculiar in collocation with funny-ha-ha; for example, this is the beginning of a story titled Andrew and Imogene, published in The Richmond Palladium (Richmond, Indiana) of Friday 19th December 1924:
“This is funny,” Imogene announced.
“Funny ‘ha ha’ or funny ‘queer’?” asked Andrew.
“Don’t be silly,” answered Imogene.
The following image is from the comic strip Dixie Dugan, by the American author Joseph Patrick McEvoy (1897-1958) and the American illustrator and comic-strip artist John H. Striebel (1891-1962), published in The Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts) of Monday 6th November 1944:
“What’s so funny about my being a lighthouse keeper’s daughter, Mr Drew?”
“Gosh, Dixie! Don’t get me wrong! I meant funny-peculiar, not funny, ha ha!”