I have the following sentence:

[She'd been laughing, then had a sudden panic attack]... Then all at once she hadn’t been able to breathe.

The room had plenty of air — she could feel it sucking in and out of her lungs, thin and stale — but it had been no good. She’d been terrified. Smothering and terrified and still strangling on the tail-end of her breathless laughter in sharp lung-flattening...

This obviously needs some editing, but I'd really like to end it with a word that means "the short, sharp, exhalations of breath from the lungs caused by uncontrollable laughter."

You know, the kind of laughter where you fall out of your chair and start wheezing, "I can't breath!"

There must be such a word, but for the life of me, I can't think of it or coax it out of Google or Thesaurus.com.


A couple good suggestions, but I'm thinking more of the act of involuntary exhale. If you watch people laugh uncontrollably, they eventually they run out of breath, because he heaving of their belly and lungs will press air out with laughter even as they're trying to inhale. I'm trying to capture that sort of involuntary exhalation. I suppose I could go with sharp, lung-flattening exhalations. I just figured there must be a more accurate word =o) Thanks!

  • She seems "to be suffering from a mild form of hysteria." -Siggy
    – Mazura
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 23:47
  • Related: 'hungry' for breath
    – Mazura
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 23:50
  • Is there a word similar to guffaw, or sounds like?
    – 7caifyi
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 0:41
  • What about gasp or gasping? To breathe loudly and with difficulty, trying to get more air
    – JLG
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 3:22

4 Answers 4


I would suggest "spasmodic cackling" or perhaps "spasmodic laughter".


Consider chortle. It is a blend of chuckle and snort.

A joyful, somewhat muffled laugh, rather like a snorting chuckle. [Wiktionary]

Similarly, snort can be used, as in snorts of laughter.


What about something along the lines of diaphragmatic spasms? As in, spasms of the diaphragm.

  • Hi Artelius, and welcome to ELU. I like the anatomical reference... do you have any source that the diaphragm is what causes that effect?
    – Erich
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 5:46

Although none of the pure synonyms for the verb “exhale” seem to be limited to laughter, two of them, “puff” and “gust,” are found here as nouns on a list also containing “exhalation” (#8), and since “gust” already has an idiomatic connection with “laughter” (gust(s) of laughter), I think “gust/s” would work well enough in your particular example:

Smothering and terrified and still strangling on the tail-end of her breathless laughter in sharp lung-flattening gusts.

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