Online laughter

Not long ago, I was chatting online with a friend, and something made me laugh, and I realized I wasn't sure how to type that.

I often use heh or hah! or hee! these days (in ascending order of hilarity) to indicate brief and/or relatively mild amusement, but this was real laughing-out-loud. Which suggests an obvious answer, but I tend to associate LOL (and ROFL, and variations on those) with people new to online interaction. (I realize that's an unfair connotation; I have various friends who happily use those terms and who've been online for years, and it doesn't bother me when they use them. But it feels weird to me to use those terms myself.)

I sometimes see people write hehehe, but that doesn't work for laughter for me. It reads to me somewhere between heh heh heh and hee hee hee, both of which have connotations for me of particular kinds of laughter (respectively: a sort of sniggering chuckle, and a kind of titter) that aren't what I was looking for; and somehow the spelling hehehe, however it's meant to be pronounced, bugs me anyway.

Various of my friends sometimes write ahahaha; I like that, and it clearly conveys a particular tone to me, so I tried typing it, and immediately regretted it. It looks perfectly natural when my friends write it, but perfectly weird when I do. Possibly that's just a matter of practice, but partly it's that I don't feel like I laugh like that.

I suppose there's always mwa-ha-ha and its sibling bwa-ha-ha, but those are really only useful for a specific kind of laughter.

Most of the time, I just go with smileys. One smiley might indicate brief amusement or a smile; two is more amusement or a brief laugh; three or more generally means I was laughing out loud.

But that's not entirely satisfying either—and the friend I was chatting with in this particular instance doesn't like emoticons.

Probably my best bet would've been something like *laughs* (or ::laughs:: or /me laughs or *laugh* or various other variations). Which I somehow didn't think of, but will probably use next time.

But now I'm curious. What do y'all type in online contexts to indicate laughter? What connotations do various forms have for you?

7 Responses to “Online laughter”


    I also have the same trouble with smileys.

    Are we being iconoclasts? (get it – hehe – icon – haha)

    I like to use parenthesis (parenthetically speaking) to indicate laughter and such (he says, chortling to himself), or sometimes brackets [so lower case, so accessible, so overlooked]. I think that using descriptions like this, stage directions, as it were, are more, shall we say, descriptive [intentional redundance].

  2. Will

    Most often, “hee!”, *grin*, or 🙂 (in descending order of hilarity).

    Sometimes, whichever of *laughs*, *chuckle*, *guffaw*, *chortle*, *snort* was my actual reaction.

    I never use LOL or ROTF or any such variations.

    On one particular message board whose interface has many, many graphical-conversion emoticons and where using such is the norm, 😀 or 😆 each of which is converted to a different laughing face. To denote greater perceived or intended hilarity, use anywhere from three to five of these. But only on that message board.

    To denote ironic solemnity or piety, I used to use the pope: +-

  3. Will

    Whoops. Unfortunately, the pope doesn’t work here, because parts of it were perceived as HTML.

    +-<:-) perhaps?

  4. Lane

    I mull this over often, too. I laugh less often and less heartily than most, so for me I tend to stick with, “Ha!” or “Too funny” or, rarely, “[snort]”

    The best I’ve received was, “Had to stop and clean snot off my keyboard.”

    When we want to write that we are laughing, what we are trying to convey is our amusement, and by extension our gratitude toward the person amusing us. So it needn’t try to reflect the sound of in-person laughter. It could just as well be, “Holy crap!” or “Stop it or I’ll pee,” or, “Dang, you make me happy down to my toes.”

  5. Shmuel

    It varies. There’s a scale of amusement that goes roughly like this…

    [laughing hysterically]
    [still laughing]

    …but it depends on the context, and some of those can swap places.

  6. Thomas

    I love the heirarchy. If each person has a unique heirarchy, I wonder how I am actually perceived when laughing online. I have never before told anyone what the different laughs mean in my heirarchy. How do my laughs map to theirs?
    Anyway, here’s mine:

    • “heh” = “not actually funny but you meant it to be,” or, “I have nothing else to say.” I use this as I would a noncommittal grunt in speech.
    • “ha” or “ha!” = used just as in my speech, to demonstrate a moment of clarity or to express amusement at an ironic outcome.
    • “hehehe” = a conspiratorial snicker.
    • “heeheehee” or “teeheehee” = amusement at silliness or extreme cuteness(proshness?), often out loud.
    • “lol” = “barely amusing, and now that I have acknowledged your previous comment, let’s move on.” This has completely lost its original meaning for me.
    • “haha” or “haha!” = I’m actually laughing. They can be extended depending on length and strength of laughter.

    Attention everybody: stop misinterpreting now. You have no excuse!

  7. Andrea

    I find “hahaha” to be insincere and rude, as it can be interpreted sarcastically. Sometimes, it makes you wonder “what is so funny about it” especially when there is nothing to laugh about. Sometimes it is used as a conversation ender “hahaha” which comes across as pretty rude. Was that person really genuine during the conversation then? Nevertheless, I do have some friends who use “hahaha” when they are really laughing, and I quite enjoy that because it brings their personality out. Like you, I don’t like the feel of it.


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