Monday, May 12, 2008
Anyone for a Chortle?
As a writer (however amateur), I place high importance on words. Thanks to writers such as J.R.R. Tolkien, I have developed a love for words that are beautiful – beautiful in their shapes, their sounds, and in the way they combine with other words to express unparalleled beauty and truth.
As I have studied and used words, I have discovered a shocking failure in the English language: we have absolutely no good synonyms for the verb “to laugh.” Unless, of course, you choose to make use of some of the thesaurus’s suggestions:
Some of these words would work perfectly for a despicable villain with a strong resemblance to a toad. For instance, “The despicable toad-like creature cackled malevolently.”
Others would work well for jolly, comical characters. For instance, “The jolly old man held his hands to his sides as he guffawed loudly, his cheeks growing rosy from the exertion.”
But which of the above words would suit any sensible, self-respecting heroine? Can you imagine Sir Walter Scott writing the following: “Rowena sniggered at the jester’s antics.” Or worse, having Jane Austen record that "Elizabeth Bennett gurgled at Mr. Collins's absurdities.” Impossible!
Now, take the verb “to say." A very nice word, and one that writers are urged not to shy away from in their search for variety. But there are options for different occasions – to say softly is to whisper; to say loudly is to yell. Such words give the sense of the dialogue in a moment. Not so with “to laugh.” To laugh softly is to laugh softly; to laugh loudly is to laugh loudly.
It simply won’t do. For the first time, I feel that the English language has let me down. Not only let me down, but dropped me with a resounding thud (now there’s a word with some good synonyms!). With hundreds of thousands of words in our vocabulary, you would think there would be one nice synonym for “laugh.” Variety is the spice of life, surely, but in this case writers are doomed to plodding, humdrum regularity. My search for an elegant substitute to laughter has proved utterly vain. Perhaps I should try writing a tragedy, instead.