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?
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