Editors | August 2009 issue
Belly laugh: Involuntary and intoxicating paroxysm that bypasses the laughter centers of the brain to go directly to the funny bone, in the vicinity of the solar plexus.
Cackle: Especially pronounced in cartoon witches and villains, this rapid-fire vocalization builds to a crescendo of malevolent delight.
Chuckle: Brief aspirated trisyllables (“he-he-he” or “ha-ha-ha”) with connotations of assent, grandfatherly approval or, more often, total incomprehension.
Contemptuous laugh: A specialty of the bully, the mocking “ha-ha” (“harrumph” among the upper classes) communicates the worthlessness of an idea or person. May be acoustically identical to other laughs but is perceived differently by the apparent object of scorn.
Existential laugh: Typically, a subdued laugh that occurs in moments that may seem inappropriate on the surface, such as discussions of death, taxes, general decrepitude or receding hairlines.
Giggle: Trilling, high-pitched vocalization produced by constriction of the larynx. Traditionally pathologized in males (see Herbert, George, c. 1620: “The giggler is a milkmaid”) but potentially desirable in females (see Lewis, Jerry Lee, c. 1958: “A wiggle in her walk and a giggle in her talk makes the world go ’round”).
Guffaw: Explosive outburst often accompanied by extreme bodily contortion (head thrown back, body doubled over) that may end in a chortle or snort.
Nervous laugh: Brief, staccato bursts that accompany embarrassing situations (“Was that your cat I just ran over?”) or awkward inquiries (“Do I look fat in this?”).
Revolutionary laugh: The vocal equivalent of extending your middle finger to those in power.
Satirical laugh: Wry, knowing, critical laugh that seems to say, “If I weren’t laughing right now, I’d be weeping.”
Social laugh: An invitation to socialize. In females, typically song-like; in males, typically ape-like.