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.
Mary Penney Hershey
6/2/2022 10:54:52 am
Charlie, this post is fascinating! Thanks for all you do to honor our language and it’s origins!
6/2/2022 12:27:55 pm
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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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