It shouldn’t be surprising that most words for laughter are imitative of the sound of laughter. Still, I find them intriguing, & occasionally worthy of… a laugh.
Cackle came to English in the 1200s, meaning a loud laugh. It’s considered imitative. Its source is the Latin word cacchination, which is also considered imitative, though to be honest, I’ve never heard a laugh that sounded much like cacchination.
Giggle appeared in the 1500s with no source. A giggle is a short, spasmodic laugh. Giggle is assumed to be imitative.
About a century later, titter appeared, also imitative, defined as a suppressed or nervous giggle.
Another century later, in the 1720s, the Scottish term guffaw caught on among English speakers. A guffaw is defined as a loud or noisy laugh, & not surprisingly, is imitative.
One term for a laugh that isn’t directly imitative is chortle. Formed through a marriage of chuckle & snort, chortle was coined by Lewis Carrol in 1872 in his brilliant poem, Jabberwocky. And yes, chuckle & snort are both imitative.
A snicker is a smothered laugh & came to English in the 1690s. Its sister word snigger appeared in 1706, meaning the same thing. Both are imitative.
The word laugh comes to English through Proto-Germanic from Proto-Indo-European. English speakers started using laugh in the late 1300s. And like its funny friends, laugh is imitative. I’m hoping some of the forms of this word may give you a laugh.
Old Norse - hlæja
Anglian - hlæhhan
Old Saxon - hlahhian
Old Frisian - hlakkia
Dutch & German - lachen
Sanskrit - kakhati
Lithuanian - klageti
Greek - kakhazein
Old Church Slavonic - chochotati
Boy, those Old Church Slavonic folks must have been a laugh a minute, eh?
And on a not-so-laughable note, if you've found yourselves struggling with Latinx/Latine and its variations, click this link, scroll down to "Get Educated" and see what the good folks at Anti Racism Daily have to say about it.
Comments? You know where to leave them.
Thanks to this week’s sources, Etymonline.com, the OED, Merriam-Webster, Collins English Dictionary, & Wordnik.com.
Bunches of English words are imitative, or onomatopoeic. Some have even been put to music…
Splish-splash I was taking a bath
This post considers some not-quite top-40s, yet equally enjoyable examples.
Didgeridoo, an aboriginal Australian word, was first written down in English in 1924. Presumably, the name imitates a didgeridoo’s sounds just as it is filled with air.
Another great music-related onomatopoeic word is oom-pah, born in 1877 (when John Phillips Souza was only twenty-three years old). This word is imitative of the sounds made by the tuba and sousaphone.
Starting out meaning mindless babbling, & morphing into a word meaning crazy or silly, we have gaga, which appeared in English in 1920.
We call a petty quarrel a spat, because spat sounds like a slap or smack, often an element in a petty quarrel. Spat first showed up in English in 1804.
Squabble most likely has imitative roots, also. It seems some Scandinavian speakers had an onomatopoeic word referring to a babbling quarrel. This word made its way into English somewhere around 1600 in the form of squabble.
Squabbles or spats might also include any number of words imitative of a hit or strike. Slap, whack, thump, bonk & bash are examples.
Heaps of imitative words refer to the noises we sometimes make:
he-he, imitative of laughter, showed up sometime before Middle English
yodel showed up in English in 1827
hiss showed up as early as the 1300s
sneeze showed up in the late 1500s. Its pre-Germanic root
(fneu-s) was imitative.
howl came to English during the 1200s from an unspecified Germanic
guffaw showed up in English from Scottish in 1720
gag appeared in the 1400s & may have Old Norse onomatopoeic roots
blather has either Scottish or Old Norse roots, both of which are imitative.
Keep your ears open this week for words that just might be imitative. And in all your spare time (ha!) feel free to leave a comment.
My thanks go out to this week’s sources: OED, Didgeridoo Origins & Use, Merriam Webster, Wordnik, & Etymonline
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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