While I was watching one of the endless re-runs of Murder She Wrote, I thought how formulaic this murder series is. Jessica Fletcher invariably discovers some clue overlooked by detectives. Then, 15 minutes before the program ends, she “thinks she knows” who the murderer is. In the next five to 10 minutes, she exposes the culprit. And in nine out of 10 episodes, the show ends with Jessica throwing back her head in hearty laughter.
Most of the time, there’s no good reason for this laughter, so I imagine Angela Lansbury, the actress, has been told she photographs well while laughing.
That could explain why so many pictures of Mayor Sam Katz show him laughing.
Still, Katz is the exception to the rule. It’s almost impossible to name any other laughing politician. I haven’t kept track of such VIP behaviour, but I do believe the sole prime minister caught laughing on camera is Brian Mulroney. I can’t even picture a laughing Mackenzie King, or John Diefenbaker, or Joe Clark, or Lester Pearson and, when I think of Pierre Trudeau, I see only a mocking smile.
Certainly, the current prime minister has never been pictured laughing for the cameras. In fact, he clearly finds it difficult even to smile. I’ve even wondered if he actually knows how to laugh.
Nevertheless, he’s in exemplary company. Is it possible to imagine Winston Churchill having a belly laugh? Or Sir John A. Macdonald? Or Abraham Lincoln? Or Gandhi?
No doubt there’s precious little to laugh about when you’re in charge of an entire country. As well, no one in his right mind would expect to see Stephen Harper laughing these days. We’re more likely to find him weeping.
Still, contrary to what I said above, Harper does know how to laugh. Laughter is an inherent trait in such primates as humans, gorillas, orangutans, and chimpanzees.
Laughter is good for the soul, they say — the best medicine there is. That’s probably why English has so many words and phrases to designate laughter. Roget’s Thesaurus offers these synonyms for the verb “to laugh:” titter, giggle, chuckle, chortle, cackle, crow, snort, snicker, snigger, haw-haw, ho-ho, hee-hee, tee-hee, guffaw.
Nouns and noun phrases include: horselaugh, hearty laugh, belly laugh, cachinnation, shout or shriek of laughter, peal or roar of laughter, gales of laughter, fits of laughter.
We know that words come and go, so laugh has spawned a few expressions we never hear today: laughee (1735) — a person who is laughed at; laughsome (1626) — addicted to laughing; laughy (1837) — inclined to laugh.
Several other expressions are still around, for example, to laugh up one’s sleeve; to laugh something away; no laughing matter; to have the last laugh; he who laughs last, laughs best; laughing stock.
The verb to laugh, entered Old English about 1570 as hlehhan, from the Teutonic klak/klok (to cluck). The definition of to laugh is: “To express emotion, typically mirth, by a series of inarticulate sounds, characteristically with the mouth open in a wide smile.”