Grammar with Terms of Laughter—Ho, Ho, Ho!

write & punctuate terms of laughterHo, ho, ho!

How can you not think of Santa Claus when you read or hear that eruption of laughter?!

A recent post by Mark Nichol at Daily Writing Tips suggests that a trio of ho’s represents “full-bodied mirth.”

Santa’s “Ho, ho, ho!” gives rise to thoughts of other ways we express laughter, in both speaking and writing. The amusement that prompts laughter presents a grammatical challenge: When we write about laughter, how do we spell and punctuate it?

LOL out of date

We’re all familiar with LOL — Laugh Out Loud — one of the first abbreviations/initialisms to hit emails and then texts. (By the way, LOL has been considered out of date for nearly two years.)

You’ve probably seen these expressions of laughter as well:

Ha!
Ha, ha, ha!
Hah!

An exclamation point helps show the energy and enthusiasm you want to convey with your ha, ha, ha’s.

For those of you who think your expressions of laughter are at least somewhat original or uniquely yours, consider this history:

Textual representations of laughter go back at least to Chaucer, who fancied the onomatopoeic “haha” to convey merriment in his writing. (Shakespeare preferred a more staccato “ha, ha, he.”) But neither Chaucer nor Shakespeare could have predicted the universe of meaning that now exists in the subtle nuance between those two expressions. These days, a HAHAHA versus a ha in a text can indicate the difference between “I’m dying laughing” and “I literally never want to see you again.”

A couple of my favorite forms of laughter are tee-hee and hee-hee. They’re understated — more a giggle or a suggestion of mischief than a robust, hearty ha, ha ha!

Punctuation with laughter

When considering how to punctuate your laughter, you have choices:

commas (or not): ha, ha, ha | ha ha ha | hahaha

hyphens: ha-ha-ha

exclamation points: ha! ha! ha!   |  Hah!

capital letters: HaHaHa! | HAH!

You generally wouldn’t include an exclamation point with tee-hee or hee-hee, as they are higher pitched and convey less impact than a full-blown, robust laugh.

Less common forms of laughter

Meanwhile, heh or heh-heh can suggest mild amusement or an utterance likened to a snicker. Heh also could suggest sarcasm or conceit.

Bwah-hah-hah and yuk-yuk-yuk are considered laughter, but their meanings can be more sinister:

Bwah-hah-hah, or mwah-hah-hah is imitative of a comic book villain’s triumphant eruption of malicious laughter when overcoming the hero and is generally used facetiously to imply that one’s evil machinations have borne fruit.

Yuk-yuk-yuk (or, imitative of Curly of the Three Stooges, nyuk-nyuk-nyuk) suggests impish delight, though using the word yuks to refer to laughter suggests sarcasm or at best a comment on how something is not really that amusing.

The website Daily Writing Tips has multiple contributors, and there are times that its posts inspire me to read on to explore the depths of meaning of words or punctuation use. Other times, the level of detail goes beyond what I find useful.

When I saw this post, I thought, “How could a post about laughter not be fun — and worth sharing?”

May your holidays be filled with every form of laughter, from Ho! Ho! Ho! to hahaha! and an occasional tee-hee.

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)