How does one spell the sound of an eruption of laughter? It depends on the species of mirth, and the list below offers suggestions based on such subtleties. Whether one seeks to indicate a character’s laughter in the manuscript of a novel or short story or to indicate actual or conjectural laughter in nonfiction, consider these guidelines.
The basic expression of laughter is ha, though this onomatopoeic word can also express derision, especially when followed by an exclamation point, so writers should take care to provide context to clarify whether the word indicates amusement or ridicule. The former is more likely to be expressed with ha-ha (also styled “ha ha” or haha, though, as with many reduplicative terms, hyphenation is recommended). Greater dedication to expressing amusement is demonstrated by ha-ha-ha and so forth, though eventually, with enough reduplication, derangement is implied.
Meanwhile, heh, or heh-heh, suggests pointedly mild amusement, or a suggestion of mischievous or smirking, sniggering, or lascivious amusement, so, again, context is helpful. He-he-he, or tee-hee (or tee-hee-hee) also imply mischief, though the implication is that the laughter is high pitched, and the humor is juvenile. Bwah-hah-hah, or mwah-hah-hah, is imitative of a comic book villain’s triumphant eruption of malicious laughter when overcoming the hero and is generally used facetiously to imply that one’s evil machinations have borne fruit.
Ho-ho-ho, the form of expression employed by Santa Claus to express Christmas cheer in popular culture, suggests a full-bodied mirth, while hoo-hoo is indicative of obnoxious delight at, for example, being found to be right about something or having caught someone in a lie or transgression.
Yuk-yuk-yuk (or, imitative of Curly of the Three Stooges, nyuk-nyuk-nyuk) suggests impish delight, though using the word yuks to refer to laughter suggests sarcasm or at best a comment on how something is not really that amusing.
Derived from the Internet-speak acronym for “laugh out loud,” lol (or LOL) is rarely used as an expression in dialogue or within a quotation, though it may be uttered in conjunction with derisive eye-rolling. (The variations lolz and lulz may express scorn as well.)
Many of these terms are ambiguous, so, as stated above, aid the reader with contextual clues to, for example, clarify whether the expression of humor is sincere or sarcastic.