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On the children's television show Sesame Street, Bert and Ernie are iconic characters. Ernie has a distinctive laugh.

I would not call it a "deep belly laugh." That laugh I would write as "Ha ha ha!"

I would not call it a "giggle." That laugh I would write as "hee hee hee!"

Is there a term that captures the kind of laugh that Ernie has?

I'm looking for the right word to use in a sentence like this:

Earnest gave his distinctive laugh, a ________________. "Heh heh heh heh heh."

For those not familiar with Ernie's laugh, I have included a link to a Youtube compilation of scenes where he laughs, eighteen seconds long.

Note: This doesn't have to be a single word. A phrase comparable to "belly laugh" would fit.


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I would call that a "fricative laugh." In phonology and linguistics, "fricative" describes any sound generated by voicelessly pushing air through a narrow space.

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I would call Ernie's laugh a "cackle." While a cackle has associations with evil characters, Ernie is more mischievous than evil.

That laugh I would write as "Heh heh heh."

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  • That sounds like a cackle to me. At the same time, I probably wouldn't write it "Heh heh heh". "Heh" doesn't suggest to me the stridency in that type of sound. It's like a creaky or grinding sound, I don't know. – Zebrafish Aug 23 '18 at 19:15
  • Hmm, I know you often hear of evil witches cackling, but the dictionaries don't say it has evil associations and I don't think it's necessary. I think this is a good answer. Apart from your transcription of "Heh". – Zebrafish Aug 23 '18 at 19:22
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    Perhaps even "mischievous cackle". Additionally, I think I'd spell it "K'h'h'h'h'h", or "Kh'h'h'h'h", or something like that; the sound is almost entirely percussive, and it isn't represented by any English letter or combination of letters. The closest thing I can think of is the sound that the Hebrew letter Het/Heth makes (think the beginning of the word "Hannukah") or the Scottish pronunciation of "loch" (Loch Ness, Loch Lomond), but even those aren't quite the same. – John Doe Aug 24 '18 at 17:46
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Consider calling the fricative laughter a "snicker". It can be contrasted with the overt gaffaw.

snicker noun 1 A half-suppressed, typically scornful laugh; a snigger. ‘he could not evoke a snicker with his jokes’ - ODO

Although the term can carry derisory overtones as noted in the definition, in conversational usage it is appropriate for Ernie's mischievous laughter.

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How about chortle? From the Oxford Living Dictionaries:

chortle

VERB

[NO OBJECT]

Laugh in a noisy, gleeful way.

‘he chortled at his own execrable pun’

NOUN

A noisy, gleeful laugh.

‘Thomas gave a chortle’

Origin
1871: coined by Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking Glass; probably a blend of chuckle and snort.

I've definitely always seen Ernie as rather gleeful and, much to Bert's dismay, he is definitely noisy. I also think that Lewis Carroll and Ernie would definitely get along, so the origin is appropriate.

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    Please don't just nominate words and then link to copied text. You still have to write your own answer, in your own words, with an explanation of why you think this is a suitable answer to the request. We're trying to build up a library of expert answers for future visitors, and that requires original content not just dictionary text without any supporting explanation. – tchrist Aug 24 '18 at 0:57

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