La jungle

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I’m a big real-life laugher, & in recent years, in e-mails, chats, and texts, I’ve sầu become a big “haha”-er. You say something hilarious, I’ll write a few “ha”s. That’s how I e-laugh. I realize that this isn’t especially dignified. My “haha”s make me look the way I bởi vì in party photos: open-mouthed, loud, a little vulgar. Writing “hahaha” makes you look deranged, but, then again, so does laughing. I’ve sầu accepted this state of affairs, and my friends have sầu, too, for the most part. I like a good-faith representation of how much laughing we’re doing and how hard we’re doing it. Some of my friends are above sầu it—they don’t “ha” much or at all, which makes me self-conscious. They accept an amusing back-and-forth as a normal course of events and press on hilariously, without a lot of ha-ha goofery. I can’t vì that. Even aước ao those regal beagles, I have to laugh away.

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The terms of e-laughter—“ha ha,” “ho ho,” “hee hee,” “heh”—are implicitly understood by just about everybody. But, in recent years, there’s been an increasingly popular newcomer: “hehe.” Not surprisingly, it’s being foisted upon us by youth. What does it mean?

Let’s start with the fundamentals. The basic unit of written laughter, which we’ve sầu long known from books và comics, is “ha.” The “ha” is lượt thích a Lego, a building blochồng, with which we can construct more elaborate hilarity. It sounds like a real laugh. Ha! The “ha” is transparent, lượt thích “said.” If you’re chatting or texting, a single “ha” means that a joke has occurred, and you’re respectfully tipping your hat to it, but that’s all it deserves. If I say something hilarious & I get one “ha,” it’s a real kiông chồng in the teeth. If I make a mild observation, a “ha” is just great.


The feel-good standard in chat laughter is the simple, classic “haha”: a respectful laugh. “Haha” means you’re genuinely amused, và that maybe you laughed a little in real life. (The singtuy nhiên Nelson Muntz-style “ha ha,” of course, is completely different—we don’t vì chưng this lớn our friends. There’s also the sarcastic “ha ha,” a British colleague reminded me: he’s used to reading “ha ha” as “Oh, ha ha,” as in, Aren’t you a wag. “But I’m learning to read it as good,” he said. Poor guy.) “Hahaha” means that you’re really amused: now you’re cooking. More than three “ha”s are where joy takes flight. When you’re doing this, you’re laughing at your desk và your co-workers can hear you, or you’re texting with both hands, clacking và laughing away. Somebody has been naughty và fun: a scandalous remark, a zinger, a gut laugh, the high-grade stuff. If things get totally bananas, you might throw a few “j”s in there, because you’re too incapacitated by joy khổng lồ type properly.

I tkết thúc lớn put spaces between my “ha”s, but, if I’m laughing & typing lượt thích a house afire, I leave sầu them out. If I’m about lớn thua my marbles, I’ll use all caps, maybe an exclamation point, but at that point exclamation points are mostly superfluous. My phone has a “haha” autocorrect that turns a reasonably good laugh inlớn a deranged mess—an incoherent hahhhahaahahhh or a crazy HAHAHAHAHA—& if I hit skết thúc before catching it, I skết thúc a retraction. You need to be judicious with your all-caps—honest about how violently you’re laughing & how sane you are.

There are other terms in the lexibé. “Heh” is for a sort of satisfyingly good point, a nice moment shared, with a possible hint of down-trang chính vulgarity. “Ho ho” indicates that someone needs a mild scolding after a bad joke, as when a friover mentioned “the Genesis stuff” and I, knowing that he meant Noah’s ark, typed something about Phil Collins & Peter Gabriel. That was beneath me, and I deserved “ho ho,” or worse. (My friover who often uses a single “ha,” a “heh,” or a “ho ho” is also my frikết thúc who is most reluctant lớn high five sầu. If you get a high five or a “ha ha” out of hlặng, it’s a red-letter day. If he ever wrote “hahaha,” I’d take hyên ổn khổng lồ the emergency room.) “Hee hee” is dễ thương và conspiratorial. Hee hee, we’re gossiping in the corner! Hee hee, he texted me! Hee hee, isn’t life grand! It’s similar lớn “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.

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Then there’s the mysterious “hehe.” “Hehe” is a younger person’s e-laugh. My stepsister has used it, & she’s a person who also says “hiiii”—but, reassuringly to lớn me, she’s also one of the best hahahahaha-ers in the business. A frikết thúc who’s in his thirties và savvy, with friends of all ages, uses “hehe.” I find it charming—he’s a perfect speller, and he’s a lively, tidy writer, & his “hehe”s are a strange mystery. I know what they mean: friendly, somewhat sneaky giggling at a shared joke. But why the single “e”?


I consider “hehe” lớn be the “woah” of laughter—an odd but comtháng enough misspelling of a common term of social communication. I think it’s “hee hee,” our conspiratorial buddy, sweetly shortened to “haha” length in a slightly bizarre way. Is it more a masculine “hee hee”—literally a bunch of “he”s? Is it a squished-up “heh,” with some filigree? Is it a cross between “haha,” “hee hee,” and “heh”? I asked around.


First, I asked people my age and older. (I’m forty-two.) A TV writer said, “ ‘Hehehe’ reminds me of Scooby-Doo. Unless it’s ‘heh’ as in ‘hepatitis’?” Good point: Scooby’s laugh is a sneaky, musical series of “hee-hee”s. And he’s no speller. (I don’t think it’s heh as in “hepatitis.”) A writer and professor visiting the office said that his students use it, perplexing hyên ổn. He imagines it sounding like a lofty “Hee-hee-hee!,” which, as he pronounced it, was an airy la-di-da sound that evoked brandy snifters & drollery. He, too, has lớn remind himself to lớn read it as standard giggling.

Then, the nitty-gritty: the hehe-ers themselves. One user said that she thought of “hehe” as “more of an evil giggle và less of a straightforward crack-up.” That’s definitely a hee-hee. Her friend thinks of it as “a more covert laugh” and pronounces it “heh heh,” and said that it can be “evil or private and shared.” Was it lượt thích “hee hee” and “heh heh” smashed together? I asked. Yes, it was, she said. An adventurous writer in his mid-thirties agreed that it was a mischievous laugh, pronounced “heh heh,” và said that he uses it lớn indicate that he’s being “super-casual,” và as a “sort of knot khổng lồ tie off a back-and-forth exchange.” If he senses that there’s a “small amount of awkwardness” in the exchange, he uses “hehehe” lớn dissolve it or to lớn inoculate both parties against it. He waved his hands around while describing this, and I imagined a baker using frosting khổng lồ cover imperfections in a cake.

My savvy friover whose use of “hehe” provoked all these questions said that “hehe” is one of his favorite words. He pronounces it “heh heh,” lớn indicate mild amusement “without having to resort to lớn emoticons, LOLs, or ROTFLs.” He said that “haha” indicates “more serious amusement,” và adds extra “ha”s for “more serious mirth.” He wrote, “There is no such thing as “hehehe” in my vocab, though.” Noted.

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Another young “hehe”-er thinks that it’s “hee-hee,” doesn’t know where he picked it up, & enjoys that it helps hyên avoid older terms like “hahaha” & “LOL.” “Have sầu to keep things updated,” he wrote me in a chat.

That’s just what I’d suspected và feared: while I’m ha-ha-ing my way into middle age, younger people have coined a new laugh. Good for them. They’re “heh-heh”ing lớn professors who hear “hee-hee”ing; they’re being conspiratorial with fortysomethings confused by the terms of the conspiracy. I’m just glad we’re all having a good time. If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch “Hee Haw.”