how to laugh

Creative Commons license courtesy kaptainkobold

Creative Commons license courtesy kaptainkobold

How many ways can you laugh?

Have you tried them all?

Can you tell how someone else is laughing, and what’s tied with their laugh?

I’ve enjoyed laughter yoga and laugh pretty often – usually at myself. Still, I can’t say I have a nuanced sense of types of laughter.

I was inspired this morning by an old podcast with an interview of an American poet born in Viet Nam.

On the Poetry Foundation site, the poet and author Linh Dinh published his poem or list of Vietnamese words and phrases describing types of laughter. It’s sort of a parody of dictionaries. I laughed a lot hearing it, wistfully wondering what part of a joyful world I may be missing.

As a list-lover and laughter-lover, it occurred to me there’s a richness in laughter that I haven’t explored.

Which have you noticed? Which have you tried? Do you think the Vietnamese people are the only ones with nuanced laughter, or is this part of all cultures? What do you think?

Here are some selections from the original posting on the Poetry Foundation website ( of May 28, 2008.


cười (v) to laugh, smile or chuckle.
cười bò (v) to laugh while crawling on the ground, usually said of children or drunkards.
cười bối rối (v) to laugh nervously while confused.
cười buồn (v) to smile wanly or in grief.
cười cầu tài (v) to grin while kissing ass.
cười chảy nước mắt (v) to laugh oneself into tears, usually from some absurd situation.
cười chúm chím (v) to smile or laugh modestly or coquettishly, without showing teeth, said of young women.
cười cợt (v) to laugh while goofing around.
cười cười nói nói (fig of sp) laugh laugh talk talk, i.e., to be loquacious.
cười dở mếu dở (fig of sp) to half laugh, half wear a twisted face, i.e., to be in an awkward if not impossible situation.
cười đến chết (v) to laugh oneself to death, i.e., uncontrollably.
cười gằn (v) to laugh with curt, half-swallowed sounds as one’s eyes flash hatred, contempt or anger.
cười góp (v) to laugh because others are laughing, without knowing why.
cười hềnh hệch (v) to laugh contentedly or smugly, with mouth wide open.
cười hì hì (v) to laugh with moderate mirth and slitty eyes, making hee hee sounds.
cười híp mắt (v) to laugh with eyes nearly shut.

cười khà (v) to guffaw hoarsely, usually said of men, especially old or drunken.
cười khanh khách (v) to laugh boisterously, in rapid bursts.
cười khì (v) to chortle.
cười khúc khích (v) to giggle.
cười lạt (v) to grin uncomfortably, politely or from resignation.
cười lăn (v) to laugh while rolling on the ground.
cười lăn lộn (v) to laugh spasmatically while writhing or rolling on the ground.
cười lẳng (v) to smile with erotic desire, intent, suggestion or imperative.
cười mát (v) to smile cooly, ironically.
cười màu mè (v) to smile theatrically or grotesquely, to simper, to parody smiling.
cười mếm chi (v) to barely smile, more with the eyes than with the mouth.
cười móm mém (v) to smile earnestly yet pathetically, without teeth, forcing unpropped lips to gargle nostalgically a mouthful of exhausted air, said of old people.
cười múm mím (v) to smile with lips nearly closed, from mild amusement, a lame joke or out of modesty.
cười mũi (v) to laugh without opening mouth, with just the nose snorting serially, to convey disgust.

cười ngặt nghẽo (v) to laugh convulsively.
cười ngất (v) to laugh until one’s out of breath.
cười ngây ngô (v) to laugh with a vapid face.
cười ngượng (v) to laugh from embarassment, against one’s will.
cười nhạt (v) to laugh wearily, palely, in defeat perhaps.
cười nhếch mép (v) to snicker or snort sarcastically, with barely a facial muscle disturbed.
cười như đười ươi (fig of sp) to laugh like an orangutan.
cười như hoa nở (fig of sp) to smile like a flower blooming.
cười như pháo ran (fig of sp) to laugh like firecrackers exploding.
cười nịnh (v) to smile obsequiously, likely while currying favors.
cười nôn ruột (v) to laugh in paroxysms from deep inside the belly.
cười nụ (v) to feign a smile, approximate a flower bud with one’s mouth.
cười nửa miệng (v) to smile with half the mouth, i.e., with ambivalence.
cười ồ (v) to laugh uproariously, sometimes in mockery.
cười phát ho (v) to laugh oneself into coughing.
cười ra nước mắt (fig of sp) to laugh when one should be crying, i.e., to laugh bitterly.
cười rộ (v) to laugh while roaring, howling or hooting, usually said of crowds.
cười rũ rượi (v) to laugh oneself into exhaustion.
cười rúc rích (v) to giggle.
cười ruồi (v) to laugh at some hidden amusement or joke, or for no reason at all.
cười sặc sụa (v) to laugh oneself hoarse.
cười sằng sặc (v) to laugh hysterically.
cười té đái (v) to piss one’s pants laughing.
cười thầm (v) to laugh or smile inwardly or surreptitiously.
cười tếch toác (v) to laugh heartily.
cười tình (v) to smile affectionately, said of couples.
cười toe toét (v) to laugh gleefully with a wide mouth.
cười trừ (v) to laugh evasively to avoid saying something incriminating or unpleasant.
cười tủm tỉm (v) to smile discreetly, often over a private joke or understanding with another.
cười vào mặt ai (v) to laugh in someone’s face.
cười xòa (v) to laugh off an unpleasant fact or incident.

Linh Dinh is the author of the book All Around What Empties Out and has a new book coming out soon entitled Love Like Hate: A Novel.

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