What is the etymology of sidesplitting? In particular, is there a physical interpretation of sides splitting?

1 Answer 1


The Online Etymology Dictionary notes:

side (n.)
Old English side “flanks of a person, the long part or aspect of anything”. . . . Side-splitting “affecting with compulsive laughter” is attested by 1825.

The simple physical interpretation is that “side-splitting” laughter forces convulsions so powerful that they could split your sides wide open. It’s clearly hyperbole, but the feeling is easily imagined by anyone who has experienced a real side-splitter.

  • It only hurts when I laugh …
    – David M
    Mar 14, 2014 at 2:23
  • And in the days when things were carried on cloth/burlap sacks that could burst their seams when jostled the analogy makes perfect sense.
    – Jim
    Mar 14, 2014 at 2:26
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    But is it to laugh so hard you split the sides of yourself, or split the sides of your clothing?
    – Neil W
    Mar 14, 2014 at 2:42
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    Oddly, laughter is more dangerous then I thought. Mar 14, 2014 at 2:55
  • When one laughs heartily, one doesn't seem to move side to side, but rather back and forth. And when I've laughed very hard, my center abdominal region hurts, not the sides. So are you telling me you actually feel your sides?
    – Michael
    Mar 27, 2014 at 4:07

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