55555, or, How to Laugh Online in Other Languages

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Haaaaaaaaaaaahahahahaha. Or www. Or jajaja. Or MDR.

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Imagine you and I are chatting somewhere and sometime on the Internet. Imagine that, in the course of our conversation, I -- and this may require some extra imagination -- say something utterly, awesomely hilarious. Something like this. Or like this. Or this. Or this. How would you respond?

You could say the obvious thing: "Megan, that is utterly, awesomely hilarious." Most likely, though, you would say something else, something that better reflects a more natural response to my hilarity. Something like "LOL." Or ":-)" Or "ha." Or, if my hilarity is a little more hilarious than usual, "haha." Or, if my hilarity is a little less hilarious than usual, "heh." Or, if I my hilarity is slightly ironic, "hehe." Or, if my hilarity is slightly impish, "teehee." Or, if my hilarity is excessively hilarious in a way that requires some excessive laughter: "hahahaha." Or "haaaaaaaaaaaahaha." Or "hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha." 

But, so many hahas, you get the idea: You'd find a way, basically, to convey through textual means the uncontrollable laughter I have provoked.

But: what if we weren't speaking English? What if we were chatting in Spanish, or Mandarin, or Japanese? In an amazing reddit thread this morning, redditors from non-English-speaking countries have been weighing in on a very good question: "what is internet culture like in your first language?"

And the most-upvoted answers, awesomely and tellingly, have focused on laughter. Laughter rendered in letters and numbers and characters -- laughter that transcends language but also, online, utterly relies on it.

So, how do you laugh, on the Internet, in other languages? Here -- haaaaaaaaaahahaha -- is a starting guide:

Thai: 55555
In Thai, the number 5 is pronounced "ha" -- so instead of saying "hahahahaha," Thai speakers will sometimes write "55555."

Japanese: www
This abbreviation, not to be confused (which is to say, often to be confused) with the one for the World Wide Web, likely originates with the Kanji character for "laugh," 笑, which is pronounced as "warai" in Japanese. "Warai," in message boards and chat rooms, quickly became shortened to "w" as an indication of laughter. And then, much the same way "ha" begat "haha" begat "hahaha," the sentiment became extended -- to "ww" and then "www" (and also, if you're so inclined, to "wwwwwww").

Chinese (Mandarin): 哈哈 or 呵呵
Though laughter is written 笑声 and pronounced xiào shēng, Mandarin also relies on onomatopoeia for laughter: 哈哈, pronounced hā hā, and 呵呵, pronounced he he. Similarly, xixi, 嘻嘻, suggests giggling.

Interestingly, the number 5, in Mandarin, is pronounced as "wu" -- meaning that Thai's "55555" would, in Chinese, be prounounced "wuwuwuwuwu." This is the sound equivalent, a Chinese-speaking redditor points out, of "boohoo" -- meaning that laughter in one language is crying in another. Similarly, since the number 8 is pronounced "ba," Chinese speakers sometimes use "88" to sign off, or say "ba ba" ("bye bye"). Along those lines, should you want to reward someone you're chatting with not just with laughter, but with actual praise ... 8888888888 in Japanese represents applause, since 八 (eight) is pronounced "hachi," which sounds like "pachi pachi," which is onomatopoeia for clapping.

Korean: kkkkk or kekekekeke
This comes from ㅋㅋㅋ, short for 크크크, or keu keu keu -- the Korean equivalent of the English "hahaha."

Spanish: jajaja
In spanish, j is pronounced like the English h, so "jajaja" is the direct analog of the English "hahaha."

Greek: xaxaxa
Same deal.

Hebrew: xà xà xà or חָה־חָה־חָה
Same.

Brazilian Portuguese: huehuehue, rsrsrsrs
Same, with the vowels varying rather than the consonants.

Danish: ha ha, hi hi, hæ hæ, ho ho, ti hi
Same deal.

Icelandic: haha, hehe, híhí
Same.

Russian: haha хаха, hihi хихи, hèhè хехе
Same.

French: hahaha, héhéhé, hihihi, hohoho; also MDR
French uses onomatopoeic laughter variations much like those in English. It also, like many non-English languages, uses the universalized "LOL" to indicate laugher. But French also has a more delightful acronym: The French equivalent of LOL is MDR, which means "mort de rire," or "dying of laughter."


Hat tip and 55555 to Chris Heller.

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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