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Word of the Day: lachen (to laugh)

Lachen (/lαχən/).

‘To make that noise which sudden merriment excites’, writes Samuel Johnson in his 18th century dictionary. However, LACHEN, laughter is so much more than mere noises ranging from calm giggles to loud guffaws. LACHEN is a visual expression of cheerfulness as well. LACHEN is the contraction of fifteen facial muscles and the major muscle of the upper lip. But enough gelotology as the science of laughter, and its psychological and physiological effects on the human body, is called. Greek ‘gelos’ means laughter.


LACH is clearly related to LAUGH. The Scots pronounce it the guttural way so that it sounds very much like Dutch: /lαχ/. English, Dutch, Frisian and German share the same origin. In Old English the verb is ‘hlæhhan’. Echoeing the sounds it is an onomatopoeic word. You can almost hear old Beowulf guffaw after having slain Grendel: ‘hlæhhlæhhlæhhlæhhlæhhlæhhlæh (pronounce the /h/ as a deep-throat gurgle).

Even though the Dutch have the reputation to be austere, there are many words for laughter: glimlach (smile), schaterlach (roar), grijnslach (smirk), spotlach (sneer), hoonlach (jeer), proestlach (horselaugh), zenuwlach (nervous laugh), etc. In later posts I’ll come back to them.

Frans Hals
The portrait of a laughing boy was painted by Frans Hals (1582-1666). It is probably one of his many children. Hals was the most famous painter of the Golden Age to work in Haarlem. He painted people in action and often showed them smiling even in formal portraits. In Haarlem a marvellous exhibition opened a couple of days ago: ‘Frans Hals: Eye to Eye with Rembrandt, Rubens and Titian’. Key works are shown between paintings by Titian, Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck and Jordaens. Wonderful exhibition, don’t miss it.