How the World Laughs in the Web

Wherever you’re from and whatever you do, there is a universal language that makes everyone the same. The expression of happiness and satisfaction is often punctuated with laughter. After all, we all think that ‘laughter is the best medicine.’ It should be the same regardless of language and cultural background, right?

I remembered growing up using a lot of SMS smiley faces :-) or ;-} in my old Nokia 5110 mobile phone and fast forward to 2022, I prefer to use these emojis 😆😁😅😆🤣 instead.

Although the Internet has made the world much smaller as more people from different parts of the world communicate, the way we all laugh on social media has all but changed. It’s no longer the vanilla versions of ‘hehehe,’ ‘hahaha,’ or ‘hihihi’ that we’re all familiar with. Nowadays, younger people tend to use emojis instead of the written word.

Contrary to popular belief, only 33% of people have preferred to use emojis and 1.9% reverted to acronyms. There is a significant number of people still ‘haha’-ing on social media.

I realized as much as we all laugh differently in real life — some would have a whispering laugh, others have a boisterously loud laugh and a certain few may laugh like bloody Count Dracula — we also laugh differently on instant messaging as well.

The Basics

Across time and culture, the sound of “ha” is the basic building block of laughter and it is where the variations of laughter begin. When you hear the sound of it, you already know it elaborates something hilarious. The gold standard of chat laughter is the simple yet classic “haha.” It’s the respectable laugh when you’re genuinely amused and not the one from the Simpson’s character Nelson Muntz.

Once you add more, there is the intensity building up and the uncontrollable machine-gun of ‘hahaha’s’ around you is already beyond a kick in your teeth.

It is interesting to note that even the word ‘haha’ didn’t refer to laughter back in time. The word is French in origin and during the 1680s, it was referred to as the recessed landscape design element of the garden estate of the Château de Meudon.

The expression is thought to have been uttered by the son of King Louis XIV when the governess prevented him from approaching the drop for fear of injury. He said, “Ha Ha, this is what I’m supposed to be afraid of?” Although most people referred to the landscape as such, it could be probably an expression of surprise when he was approaching it.

Online language has certainly evolved and expressing laughter is one part of it. According to independent research, writing laughter is all about understanding the onomatopoeic expressions, initialisms, and the emergency of pictograms (i.e. emojis). Depending on the culture, the onomatopoeia determines how the written word of laughter is expressed thru the imitation of its natural sound and the variations in linguistic context.

GIFs are freely being shared with the hilarious “Oh no no no” and the rib-tickling El Risitas laugh of the late Juan Joya Borja. The cultural context of laughter has deviated from the feeling of amusement and happiness to the feeling of shame and despair.

So how do you laugh on the Internet? Well, it depends on where you come from.

Around the World

Based on statistics, the sound of ‘haha’ remains the standard laugh all over the world but is written differently in a variety of languages. Ranking the ten largest population of Internet users show that China, India, the United States, and Brazil still use the standard to a certain degree. The equivalent variants in different languages like the Russian “xaxa”, Spanish “jaja”, and Bengali “হা হা” are hugely popular as well.

1. China (772 million users): 哈哈 呵呵

2. India (462 million users): haha, lol, hehe

3. US (312 million users): haha, hehe, lol, lmao

4. Brazil (149 million users): haha, kkk, rsrs, huehue

5. Indonesia (143 million users): wkwk, xixi

6. Japan (118 million users): 笑, (笑), www

7. Russia (109 million users): xaxa, xoxo, гггггг, ололо

8. Nigeria (98 million users): LWKM, LWKMD

9. Mexico (85 million users): jaja

10. Bangladesh (80 million users): হা হা, মজাই মজা

Here are the world’s most common laughs:

Mandarin (哈 / 呵 / xiào / shēng)

Unlike other languages, the Chinese express laughter online using their characters “哈” (‘ha’) and “呵” (‘he’). Other variants include: “xiào,” “shēng,” “xixi,” and “hei hei.” Their version for LOL is “233” and adding more ‘3’ will intensify the laughter.

When referring to the “hahaha” sound, “哈哈哈” is used while “呵呵” is used to refer “hehe” to describe a mix between a sardonic snort and playful chuckle. If you want to have a hint of sarcasm in your laugh then you can do that with the latter using two symbols, not three or more.

Hindi (ek number)

It’s fascinating to know that Indians prefer to use “ek number” to refer to laughter as the term loosely translates to “I rate this number one” as “ek” means one in Hindi. It is an affirmative response to a joke.

Bengali (হা হা / মজাই মজা)

Bengali speakers still follow the same onomatopoeic sound of “haha” written in their own script “হা হা.” They also have their version of the LOL with “মজাই মজা.”

Pashto (ههههه / هاهاها)

Afghans and Pakistanis write this type of laughter similar to those in Iran with “ههههههه” (‘hahaha’), “ها ها ها ها ها” (‘ha ha ha ha ha’), and “خخخخخخ” (‘khkhkhkh’).

Urdu (ہاہا)

As Pakistan’s official language, “ha” is written as “ہا” so if you laugh longer then you just add more of it to become “ہاہاہاہا” (‘hahahaha’).

Portuguese (kkk / rsrs / huehue / rá-rá-rá)

It is noteworthy to mention that they seldom use phrases such as “huehue” and “huahua” as these terms are perceived to be more childish commonly used among people of lower socioeconomic classes. Meanwhile, the use of “rsrs” refers to the abbreviation of the word “risos,” which means “laughs” in Portuguese. It is also considered as the more gender-neutral laugh as compared to the “kkk” and ‘hihi.”

“Rá” is the Portuguese equivalent for “hah.” When expressed three times, it becomes “rá-rá-rá” with a pause in between and the ‘r’ pronounced as it is in Spanish for a burst of ironic, pretentious laughter.

Bahasa Indonesia (wkwkwk)

Another version of its origin story is attributed to Donald Duck’s signature laugh. During the 1990s when it was the boom time of computer use in Indonesia, a lot of university students have mocked their friends with that laughing style in daily conversation. Once more people ventured more into online games and chatrooms, they brought that style too. The letter ‘w’ pronounces as ‘we’ (w-eh) so ‘wk’ becomes the sound of ‘wek.’

Bahasa Melayu (Ha3)

Malaysians choose “ha3” because ha x 3 times is “hahaha.” There are also those that prefer to type “Ha3Ha3Ha3” as well.

Japanese (www / 笑)

It’s weird to see “www” when you’re chatting with a Japanese and it doesn’t stand for ‘worldwide web.’ It’s actually their version of LOL so the more w’s you add, the more it signifies greater intensity. On the other hand, the Kanji character 笑 is the base for the words 笑う (‘warau’ — laughing) and 笑い (‘warai’ — smiling). Since the social recluses “hikikomori” tend to use “www” as their go-to expression, many younger people tend to use the kanji character as conveys genuine, rather than derisive, laughter.

What is interesting to note is that the Japanese are not mimicking a laughing sound but simply indicating that repeated laughter is taking place.

Russian (xaxa / хихи / xoxo / xexe)

The letter ‘x’ in the Cyrillic alphabet refers to ‘h’ or ‘kh,’ therefore “xaxa” means “khakha” and “xaxaxaxaxa” is “hahahahaha.” They also use phrases such as “хихи” (‘hihi’), “xoxo” (‘hoho’) and “xexe” (‘héhé’). Just like the Brazilian “kkk,” the Russians also use “гггг” (‘gggg’) or “бгггг” (‘bgggg’) as simulations of laughter. The former is considered a giggle while the latter is considered as a sardonic or devilish laugh.

Greek (xaxa)

Just like the Russians, Greeks also used “xaxa” to laugh because ‘x’ sounds like ‘h’ in their language.

Nigerian (LWKMD)

LWKMD is the LOL of Nigeria as they used it in online conversations to signify laughter. It is the acronym for ‘laugh wan kill me die’ or ‘to laugh out loud.’ It seems, it takes a lot more effort to type in extra letters than the vanilla versions.

Spanish (jajaja)

When you hear ‘ja’ you probably think ‘yes’ in German but for Spanish speaking people, especially from Latin America, it is the building block of their own laughter as “jajaja” is “hahaha” to them. Another shortened variation is the “jjj” without the ‘a.’ Be careful when you say “jaja” to an Indian as it means ‘go away.’

Thai (555)

Unlike other languages, the Thais used the number five to refer to the sound ‘ha’ in their language so that means “555” would mean “hahaha.” If used to communicate with the Chinese, it would have a different meaning as the number five is pronounced as ‘wu’ in Mandarin so that “555” would become “wuwuwu,” the Chinese equivalent of crying.

Korean (ㅋㅋㅋ / ㅎㅎㅎ)

The common types of Korean laughter are the ㅋㅋㅋ (“kkk”) and ㅎㅎㅎ (“hhh”). The Jamo consonant ‘ㅋ’ has a ‘k’ sound while the ‘ㅎ’ has an ‘h’ sound. Both “ㅋㅋㅋ” and “ㅎㅎㅎ” represent laughter that is not very loud. When a vowel symbol is added, “하하 “ (“haha”) and “호호” (“hoho”) would both mean LOL.

Arabic (هع هع هع / ههههه / هاهاها)

In the Middle East, Arabic speakers would either use “ههههههه” for “hahaha” or “ها ها ها ها” for “ha ha ha ha.” It is interesting to point out that they pronounce some vowels with their throats so some speakers would laugh like “هع هع هع” (“hae hae hae”) in such a way that even their pharynx go up and down uring their real laughter.

Farsi (خخخخخ / ههههه / هاهاهاها)

Farsi speakers from Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan write their laughter in Persian / Arabic script so that their “hahaha” would look like “هههههه” and “ha ha ha ha” would look like “ها ها ها ها ها.” Similar to the Spanish “jajaja,” they write “خخخخخخ” (“khkhkhkh”) as ‘kh’ sounds like the ‘j’ in Jose.

Turkish (kdkdkdkdkd / sjsjsjsjsjsh / asdfasdfadf)

It feels like they write laughter as if they accidentally pressed random buttons on the keyboard. The truth of the matter is that these three common terms for laughter “kdkdkdkdkd,” “sjsjsjsh,” “asdfdasdfadsf” signify “I laughed so hard, I fell on keyboard.”

Hebrew (חָה חָה / חחחחח)

In Hebrew, “haha” is pronounced as “cha-cha” similar to the “ch” sound from Hanukkah. They used the script “חָה חָה” for it. Another common online text for laughter is the “chhhhh” sound as seen on this script “חחחחח.” Sometimes they would type laughter as “xàxà” or “kh-kh-kh,” which is similar to the Spanish “jajaja.”

Jamaican (dwl)

Although “haha” still reigns supreme, Jamaicans love using “dwl” when they want to type laughter online. It means ‘dead wild laugh.’

French (mdr / ptdr)

Can’t help picturing out Pepe Le Pew’s amorous laugh? Well, the French tend to use “mdr” or ‘mort de rire’ (‘died of laughing’) as their version of the LOL. Other versions are also used such as the ‘ptdr’ or ‘pété de rire’ (‘broken with laughter’) and the usual “hahaha,” “hihihi,” and “hêhêhê.”

Italian (ah ah ah)

Italians do things differently by reversing the “ha ha ha” into “ah ah ah.” Looks weird but that’s the way they write it.

Dutch (ghahagha / ha-ha)

Just like the Italians, the Dutch also mix things up by adding an extra letter with the “hahaha” transformed into “ghahagha” with a letter ‘g’ (sounds similar to the Spanish ‘j’ and the Arabic ‘kh’) added. They also write laughter as “ha-ha,” “ghaha,” and “whaha.”

Norwegian (Høhøhø)

If Santa Claus is Norwegian then he would laugh with a “Høhøhø.” Not sure how to do it? Long press the letter ‘o’ on your smartphone keyboard and you will find the ‘ø’ symbol.

Swedish (asg / asgarv)

Swedes are not calling Loki from Asgard with “asgarv.” This is what they type when referring to roars of laughter while other variations include “asg,” “asgasgasg,” and “asg asg asg asg.”

Danish (hæhæ / ha ha / hi hi)

Although people still laugh with “ha ha” and “hi hi,” others would prefer the appropriately Danish “hæhæ.”

Finnish (ha-ha-ha)

It seems Finnish speakers finish the ‘ha’ with a dash. In Finland, its native speakers type laughter like this: ‘ha-ha-ha-ha,’ but they use other forms such as ‘heh,’ ‘hah,’ and even ‘hah ha,’ too.

Icelandic (híhí)

Icelandic people love to laugh with “híhí.” If you want to type it, long-press ‘i’ to find the ‘í’ symbol so you can type laughter in Icelandic as “híhíhí.”

Lithuanian (Cha cha cha)

Not the popular Cuban dance, “cha cha cha” is the way Lithuanians write laughter online. It differs from most languages but sounds similar to the traditional “ha ha ha.”

There you have it, these are some of the ways people from around the world express laughter in chatrooms, online games, and on social media. What about you? How do you laugh online?

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Historian, blogger, genealogist, copywriter & video game geek. Check out my bio at bio.link/jpcanonigo.

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J.P. Canonigo

Historian, blogger, genealogist, copywriter & video game geek. Check out my bio at bio.link/jpcanonigo.