Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Hee-Hees, Giggles, and Titters, Oh My! English Lexical Laughter Grades, Associations, and Histories

Hee-Hees, Giggles, and Titters, Oh My! English Lexical Laughter Grades, Associations, and Histories

Allison M. Hebel

English contains a variety of laughter words and phrases that have changed and grown since Old English to the present day by their emergence or disappearance in the language. This paper identifies a list of thirty-five laughter words and thirteen laughter phrases. Each laughter word is part of a new classification, building upon the grades of laughter defined by Roger Woodville, D.G. Kehl and the types of laughter noted by Jürgen Trouvain. These words have been reclassified into ten main categories which are based upon reduplication and onomatopoeia (hehe and haha), perceived sound (quiet, subdued, and loud), animal-noise origin (howl), phrase (bust a gut) and grammatical structure. This study adds to the histories noted from the Oxford English Dictionary and Kehl by finding earlier text dates from the Google Ngram Viewer and Google Books databases. Certain associations have been discovered between laughter words such as gender in giggle and cackle by using data from the three English language corpuses. Continued work on English laughter words, phrases and their associations can benefit our understandings of the use, growth and change of those words.

Keywords: English, laughter, grades, lexical history, gender associations.

April 11, 2016 - Posted by | abstract


  1. I wonder if LOL made the cut for the analysis.

    Comment by D Castagna | April 20, 2016 | Reply

  2. This is such a fun topic! I have never thought about the origins of laughter words or phrases, but there have been many instances that have brought me to think about whether there was an association with particular laughter words and the time in which they were most widely used. For example, I always use “haha” when referring to laughter when I text. I remember the first time I heard the usage of “hehe” was by my aunt who is middle aged and I was slightly taken aback, not that I had never heard it before, but no one had ever texted me with that particular form.

    Comment by Crystal Mitchell | April 25, 2016 | Reply

  3. I would love to see which thirty-five laughter words and thirteen laughter phrases were chosen for the paper.

    Comment by Natasha Modi | April 25, 2016 | Reply

  4. Wow, I would have never even looked at this topic.I wonder how the internet terms for laughter play into this topic.

    Comment by A. Golembiewski | April 27, 2016 | Reply

  5. Very cool topic. I also never realized that there are so many variety of laughter words and phrases that have changed through the years. I am very interested in seeing the list of laughter words and the thirteen laughter phrases. I wonder if there are gender differences with the words or phrases used. I am also interested in seeing if the words on the list are also common when texting.

    Comment by Kristy Estabalaya | May 3, 2016 | Reply

  6. Interesting subject! I would be curious to see when exactly those 35 words and 13 phrases grew in popularity and whether or not many of them came into existence with the invention of texting and instant messaging. I would also be interesting in seeing the use of “LOL” versus “haha” in texting or other forms of writing and seeing which one is more popular at different points in history.

    Comment by Mallory Moore | May 4, 2016 | Reply

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