Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Chortle - A Gleeful (Snortful) Chuckle

A laughing baby
Babies are the Masters of Chortle
(photo by Petra Gagilas)


Verb & noun. Late 19th century.
[Invented by Lewis Carroll: apparently blend of CHUCKLE verb and SNORT verb.]

A verb intrans. & trans. Utter (with) a loud gleeful chuckle; express pleasure or satisfaction in this way. L19

B noun. A chuckle of pleasure or satisfaction; an act of chortling. E20

I asked to write this post for chortle because it is yet another of those great phonosemantic words that I love so much - in the vast experiential range from a titter to a guffaw, a chortle has to be one of my favorites. It has a delightfully undignified ring to it, like something hilariously out of control. The whole sound and construction of the word is astonishingly apt to describe that particular and specific range of laughter. It’s not sinister, but resonant, frog-like and throaty. I just imagine a heavyset man with a red face chortling over a cut of meat ... chortle, chortle, chortle ...

Imagine my delight, therefore, when I discovered that the word was an invention, and a recent one at that. Lewis Carroll apparently blended snort and chuckle to create a delightfully formulated word to blend those two actions. I love the idea of a writer reaching for a word … only to find that the perfect descriptor doesn't exist, and therefore creating his own. I think these modern additions to the popular lexicon are absolutely fascinating and inspiring.

A man chortling, covering his mouth
I'm pretty sure there's a plate of meat just off-camera
(photo by Nina J. Grant)
And so, loyal Lexicolatrists, are there forms of laughter the English language has yet to categorize?

And if so, perhaps we could honor the esteemed Mr. Carroll by contributing one of our own.

The OED awaits ... as does the comments section below.


  1. "Oh frabjous day! Calooh! Callay!" is what is chortled in Jabberwocky. I've never thought about it before, but how can anyone say, well, anything, while in the middle of a chuckle/snort? Anyway, a chortle is surely a rather smug and restrained though joyful repeated hooting used exclusively by members of gentlemen's clubs.
    Hmmm...if that's true then we could plainly do with rather a lot of new words for laugh.
    Teenage boy whose friend has just belched? Scrark - cross between a screech and a bark.
    Beautiful Japanese girls laughing behind hands? Shigger - a shy snigger.

    1. Scrark! I love it! I feel like there could be a whole genre of laughter vocabulary dedicated to teenaged boys and their various uncontrolled noise making capacities.

    2. I discovered one - 'smirkle' - a mixture of smile, smirk and giggle. Jingles covered it on her blog, and I really like it.

    3. Thanks for the link Eddie!
      I like smirkle too. I use it whenever I can!