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:

~double up

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.


  1. Shannon,

    I have to say that your post made me "laugh"!

    My husband has just completed his Masters in Linguistics, so words are important in our house, too.

    Hmmm... maybe you could create a nice synonym for "laugh" and save us all from writing tragedies! :D

  2. Wow. You're right, Shannon. I can't think of one nice, elegant synonym for "laugh", either. What a letdown.

    You could always just describe the physical details of laughing... Rosy cheeks, sparkling eyes, breathlessness...

    Have you ever made a list of your favorite words? It would be a fun blog post! I'd love to hear your list. :D

  3. No good synonyms for the word 'laugh'? How horrific! (though I have to say that your post almost made me 'laugh'!) There should be better alternatives than the ones listed.

    Snort? Who'd want to use that word instead of 'laugh'? It makes me think of pigs!

    (Sorry, I could resist adding that!)

  4. That is sad! I thought...she can't be right! But, you are:-p

    I guess the only way you can make laugh sound pretty is to describe the laugh. Such as.."She laughed gently. The sound was like the tinkling of bells."

    My, you make me want to write something whimsical and full of fairy...just so I can fill it with all sorts of beautiful laughter and singing!

    Lots of love,

  5. Natasha, I can't deny that the thought of coining a new word has crossed my mind ;)

    Janna, I'm afraid I do have to rely on other words to describe laughter. At any rate, I'd rather do that than write a tragedy ;) You know, I haven't ever made a list of my favorite words -- it's a good idea! When I get some put together I'll post it.

    Jersuha, you're right! "Snort" does sound like a pig! LOL! None of the synonyms are pretty words -- they don't even sound nice!

    Sommer, I didn't think I could be right, either! ;)

    Yours in Christ,

  6. And if you say the heroine "giggles", she sounds too childish and immature....

  7. Oh yes!! If only there were such a word! Perhaps something like describing the laugh as it spread over her face in bright lines, turning up the edges of her mouth.:)


    (crimsonbanner from S&S)


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