I'm trying to find a word or phrase for a particular type of reaction similar to a laugh. The reaction is hard for me to describe, but an example of it can be found in this video. The reaction is actually before the list begins, around the 0:08 second mark.

The reaction I'm after is sharper and quicker than the one in the video: a short, semi-sharp breath out through the nose, usually accompanied by a very slight nod of the head. It's not a true laugh, but does show amusement/appreciation.

"They're not that bad. Once you get over their endless search for assassination plots, they're a good group to hang out with."

Dave grinned. "You have my condolences," he said, ____-ing. (meant to show light sarcasm)

Most of the synonyms for laughter suggest loud or prolonged sounds, neither of which fits the reaction I want. One word which comes close is snort, but that suggests something a lot louder and less controlled than I want. The closest I have come to a description is:

He suppressed a laugh.

Still not quite what I want, since the character isn't really suppressing anything.

What is a good word/phrase for this reaction? I'm after a word to describe the reaction to something which is only mildly funny or perhaps sarcastic, and does not induce full laughter.

  • 2
    I'd be willing to classify the reaction in that video as a snicker, or perhaps a chuckle. Also you could get around your writing issue by using grin as Dave's speaking action and giving him a different reaction: "Dave raised an eyebrow. 'You have my condolences,' he grinned." (or 'he said, grinning', or 'he said, with a grin.')
    – Hellion
    Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 16:31
  • Immediately the word "snort" came to mind, as @wendyG said below. Also, the word "sniff" as in "he sniffed in disdain at the joke's weak punchline". Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 19:35
  • @Hellion Snicker has unique connotations, usually implying snickering at someone (usually behind their back). Chuckle implies something much longer than I want. This is a short reaction. The grin advice is a good patch for the problem though, if there's no other way to describe the reaction. Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 19:59
  • 'Smirk' is the closest I can think of, though it doesn't necessarily include exhaling through the nose.
    – S Conroy
    Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 23:48

3 Answers 3


I first thought of snorting



1 An explosive sound made by the sudden forcing of breath through one's nose, used to express indignation, derision, or incredulity.

‘he gave a snort of disgust’ https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/snort

I know this doesn't look good on paper but you can also snort with laughter

to make an explosive sound by forcing air quickly up or down the nose:

He did an impression of a horse snorting.

Camille snorts when she laughs.

informal By this time I was snorting with laughter (= laughing a lot and loudly).


  • But I specifically said that snort would not work in the question. Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 19:56
  • Fair point, well made
    – WendyG
    Commented Sep 16, 2018 at 22:08

A chuckle or smirk might be what you are after.


a chortle TFD

A snorting, joyful laugh or chuckle.

As in:

You have my condolences," he said, chortling.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.