Lol, jaja, xaxa, and all the ways people laugh in the world
“[Man] alone suffers so deeply that he had to invent laughter,” according to Nietzsche. Recent research contradicts the so-called philosopher with a hammer. In its May 2021 issue, the journal Bioacoustics published a study from UCLA that lists 65 different animals that also laugh — but not necessarily the same jokes at all.
“Vocalize while playing”
And it’s not necessarily something that we humans would recognize as laughter. Loosely defined as “vocalizing while playing”, animal laughter can sound like a click, gasp, or chuckle, among other things. Tickle a rat and it emits ultrasonic squeaks. Only other primates, and chimpanzees in particular, produce laughter that looks a bit like ours.
Like them, we were born with the ability and the desire to laugh. Babies as young as three months do. And as with other animals, human laughter also serves a social function. Laughter is 30 times more common in social situations than in solitary situations.
In fact, laughter serves as a conversational lubricant. That’s why it’s contagious – even though, according to the research cited above, only 10-15% of comments are actually funny. (Although one might wonder how the researchers determined that – it’s all in the delivery, you know.)
Laughter is universal – up to a point
Humans have different ways of laughing. Sometimes we sniff; on other occasions, we laugh or laugh. But the gold standard in cachination (to use the humorless term for laughs) is the classic belly laugh. No matter what this card tells you, these sound exactly the same all over the world. In other words, eliminating the physical differences, personal mannerisms and social expectations that “personalize” our laughs, and a hahaha in Milan is indistinguishable from that of Moscow.
So, laughter is universal, but it ends when we try to put that sound into words. Then, as this card shows, the Tower of Babel effect triggers. The map was made by Preply, an online language learning platform. They looked at how 26 of the world’s major languages transcribe laughter online.
The results fall into two broad categories: onomatopoeia and description. The first term is a word that names a thing after the sound it makes (eg, “hello” or “whisper”). Ironically, the second term speaks for itself. Some descriptions are acronyms (for example, “LOL”, which is also used in other languages).
Onomatopoeia and laughing like you’re an emoji #233
Many languages use onomatopoeia, obviously using their own phonetic rules, which may sound strange to non-native speakers. Take for example jajaja in Spanish, Ho-ho-ho in Norwegian or kkkkk in Portuguese. (The letter k is pronounced “kah” in Portuguese, and a series of these sound like a harsh laugh.) Interestingly, Korean also uses kkkkkbecause the Korean letter keu (크) is used to express laughter.
Greek and Ukrainian laughs look like a weird twist on the game of tic tac toe, but that’s just them saying haha (Where Ha ha) using their non-Latin alphabet. We don’t know exactly what the Belarusian does. Looks like they’re freezing instead of laughing. (In fact, it transliterates as bggggwhich is meant to sound like a particularly sardonic laugh.)
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Mandarin (Chinese) has various accepted modes of expression of laughter in written form online. There are onomatopoeias, with the choice between haha (哈哈), eh eh (呵呵), and hehe (嘻嘻). The mode represented here is a string of numbers: 23333. This refers to #233 in an old line of emojis, this one laughing madly. Thai also uses numbers – a group of five – but onomatopoeically: the number five is pronounced “ha”.
Japanese uses wwwwhich transliterates, abbreviates and repeats the word warai, i.e. “laugh”. Funnier jokes get more w – a principle often repeated by other languages that also use abbreviations. In Bahasa Indonesia, wkwk recently replaced haha as the coolest way to laugh online – weirdly, not as an abbreviation of anything else, but as a different representation of the same sound.
In French, onomatopoeia (hahaha, hehehe, hihihiWhere Ho-ho-ho) seem to have gone out of fashion in favor of initials like LOL (short for laughingwhich is literally “died laughing”) and xptdra contraction of xpldr (bursts out laughing) and ptdr (rolling on the floor laughing), both meaning “burst out laughing”. Senegal, also in the French-speaking camp, opts for muhahawhich is more like an evil genius laugh.
English LOL is also very popular in other languages. Russian uses it (but in Cyrillic script, ЛОЛ). Other Anglo uses include haha and LMAO (“laugh my ass”). Nigerians often use LWKMD, which is short for the Pidgin English phrase “laugh wan kill me die”, which is equivalent to “laugh to death”. In Jamaica, a popular acronym is DWL, short for local slang “dead wid laugh”. Liberians, on the other hand, prefer ROFL (“rolling on the ground laughing”). Swedish asg is the abbreviation of asgarva (“laugh intensely”). Similarly, German uses let go and smiles.
“I’m rating this joke number one”
On the Indian Internet, laughter is transcribed into haha or like EC number – “ek” is Hindi for number one, and the phrase loosely translates to “I rate this number one”, a common Indian response to a good joke.
Ha3 means three times “ha”, which makes the expression popular in Malay (Ha3 Ha3 Ha3) either overly enthusiastic or somewhat redundant.
There is no clear explanation why Turkish uses dkdkd, but other evidence suggests that you can also type a random sequence of characters, expressing the feeling: “I laughed so hard I fell on the keyboard”. Oh, and that fishbone symbol in Egypt, Syria, and a few other places? It’s not a mistake. It’s the Arabic letter “h”, repeated a lot of times.
Finally, the map has a nice touch: it includes New Zealand, which is left to so many others, that the phenomenon has its own subreddit. Looks like this time they will have the last word. Out loud.
Strange Cards #1156
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