It’s a universal truth that laughter is contagious. There are few things funnier than watching someone go to pieces in a fit of hysterical laughing, utterly helpless in the face of the primal reaction that has taken over their body whether they like it or not. Laughter is also a great connector that surpasses language – it can be shared between people who have no other way to communicate with each other, which makes it an indispensable aid when in a foreign country.
The humorist Paul B Lowney once said “Laughter has no foreign accent”. While the sentiment behind this poetic statement is undeniable, in the modern world where visual communication through social networks and media is as commonplace as a face to face conversation, how we express laughter has taken on a whole new meaning – accent and all.
The actual sound of laughter doesn’t really change hugely from country to country, language to language – but how that sound is written does. This led the language learning platform Preply to map how we laugh online around the world, not just in different languages but through the idiosyncrasies that develop geographically.
Turning our attention logically to English first, the classic written representation is haha, although subtle differences can imply different meanings – hehe for more ironic laughter, hihi for a more mischievous tone. But today there are other more direct terms that have become just as (if not more) commonplace – LOL for laughing out loud, LMAO for the pure hilarity of laughing my ass off, LMFAO to add even more emphasis with the ‘F for freaking’ (or a stronger cuss if so inclined), or the more family-friendly ROFL should you find yourself rolling on the floor laughing in hilarity.
But did you know in Nigeria you’re likely to encounter LWKM or LWKMD, which means ‘laugh wan kill me’ or ‘laugh wan kill me die’, or should you find yourself making a Jamaican chuckle you may make them DWL or ‘dead wild laugh’.
Acronyms are by no means restricted to the English language and dialects therein. An amused French speaker may find themselves MDR (‘mort de rire’) meaning ‘dead from laughing’, or for a slightly lower tone, PTDR (‘pété de rire’) meaning ‘farted from laughing’! In Portuguese you may be greeted with the slightly more impenetrable and not really translated kkkk or perhaps rsrsrs, an abbreviation of the word riso meaning ‘laughter’. The Italians meanwhile laugh backwards with ahahah or eheheh, as their language doesn’t have the strongly aspirated ‘ha’ sound of English.
Heading further afield, Thailand is a country that knows how to laugh – it’s known as ‘the land of smiles’ – but its common written representation is particularly curious: 55555. This is simply because the number five is pronounced ‘ha’. A particularly practical way to show extreme laughter is to add a plus symbol, so crack a great joke and you may be treated to a 5555555+! The Malay language also employs numbers to save time by shortening hahaha to a very functional ha3. Efficient yes, expressive somehow less so.
Hindi has another odd linguistic quirk around laughter – it’s split by gender with men using a simple haha and women hehe. Even more interesting is another way to show your enjoyment of a joke with the reply EK number, where EK means ‘one’ creating an interpretive translation as ‘for me, this joke is number one’.
Our last language of laughter is one of the most widespread in the world: Arabic. But as it has so many dialects across different countries from Egypt to Algeria, Morocco to the UAE, there are no native Arabic speakers as such. But once again, laughter is the universal language and that means any Arabic speaker can convey their mirth to any other, no matter their dialects, with هههههههههه – the Arabic representation for ‘hahaha’.
You can see many more examples of how to laugh online in different languages at Preply.