The way we chat, email, and SMS has changed since the inception of digital communication. Oftentimes, the language changes faster than I can keep up with it, making me thankful for sites like Urban Dictionary to keep me up to date on the latest addition to the Internet’s lexicon. Someone could spend an entire series of books analyzing the evolution of the digital age’s expanding lingo, but Sarah Larson writes for The New Yorker on just one small piece: laughter.
How we textualize our laughs has changed. In her piece, Larson moves through the differences between how we “hear” the differences between “ha” (a “hat tip” to a joke), “haha” (amusement), and “hahaha” (very funny). Larson continues with her analysis, writing:
“There are other terms in the lexicon. ‘Heh’ is for a sort of satisfyingly good point, a nice moment shared, with a possible hint of down-home vulgarity. ‘Ho ho’ indicates that someone needs a mild scolding after a bad joke…”
Then there’s the cute, girlish laughter, on which she writes:
“’Hee hee’ is cute and conspiratorial. Hee hee, we’re gossiping in the corner! Hee hee, he texted me! Hee hee, isn’t life grand! It’s similar to ‘tee hee,’ which is extremely cute. Possibly too cute. If you’re saying ‘tee hee,’ you’re in love, beautifully giddy, or up to no good. You might need to take it down a notch.”
But then there’s a mystery that’s cropped up in recently, substituting “heehee” for “hehe.” Mashing two “he”s together seems like an “odd but common enough misspelling of a common term of social communication.” So, Larson took a survey among youngsters, 40-somethings, and everyone in between to figure out what the misspelling sounded like to them. There was a bit of difference among their interpretations.
Some older folks described it as more of a “Scooby-Doo” laugh. Others thought of it more as an “evil giggle,” while one of her more savvy friends pronounced it as more like “heh heh.”
The evolution of texting laughter isn’t restricted to the English language. In a Reddit thread, someone wrote that in Thai “the number 5 is pronounced ‘ha’ — so instead of saying ‘LOL’ or ‘haha’, people just write ‘55555.’” However, typing out 5s in China means something completely different, as another Redditor wrote:
“In Chinese, 5 is wu’, and so it’s sometimes used exactly opposite to you — 55555 would be ‘wuwuwuwuwu,’ meaning ‘boohoohoohoohoo,’ crying.”
Read the full breakdown at The New Yorker.
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