20

What do you call the small burst of laugh that people let out when they want to refrain from laughing, but can't? You know the "pfft" sound? I am not sure if it only happens when you refrain from laughing, but yeah some people I guess laugh like that.

27

You might call it a stifled laugh, as in, “Mary tried to contain herself, but couldn’t help letting out a stifled laugh.” You could also use the word snicker (either as a verb or noun) or possibly titter - though the latter might sound a little dated and silly.

  • 5
    People might snicker or titter at the word "titter". – Monty Harder May 30 at 22:14
  • 3
    ('snigger' would be the normal spelling in British English) 'Snorted' is commonly used for this, particularly when the noise is 'explosive' rather than stifled. – Mike Brockington May 31 at 16:23
  • This sounds very strange to me; in my experience, to stifle a laugh is to completely prevent it (which aligns with the definition at collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/stifle ); so "letting out a stifled laugh" sounds like a contradiction in terms. – ruakh May 31 at 20:55
  • @ruakh I hear you, but I think "to stifle" can also mean "to attempt to hold back" or "to partially hold back" - that's what I had in mind here. A small sound might still come out despite one's best efforts not to laugh. – Mixolydian May 31 at 21:47
  • @MikeBrockington As an AmE speaker, that particular spelling is a bit too close to a slur to be comfortable, so be careful. – Hearth Jun 1 at 22:48
16

This "pfft" could be called a "snicker".

Also, sometimes the stifled laugh comes out not as a "pfft" but more of a "snort" if you try to keep the laugh inside by shutting your mouth.

At deviantart.com, you can see the entirety of a cartoon titled

What are you laughing at? "What are you Laughing at?"

It may be hard to read because the lettering is so small, but the characters are trying not to laugh, and are emitting the words "snicker" & "snort" (highlighted in yellow) instead.

  • 8
    British English would use snigger rather than snicker (presumably its a different onomatopoeia for the same sound.) Its worth noting that while this is indeed completely unrelated to certain well known N words, it may be better to avoid it as there is a common thread of people assuming that anyone who use a word that sounds like that is merely trying to bowdlerise/veil the insult (see also niggardly) – Wenlocke May 30 at 9:20
  • 1
    @Wenlocke Snigger is interchangeable with snicker in American English though less common. There is also little danger of a racist misinterpretation. While "niggardly" could potentially be incorrectly deduced by someone unfamiliar with the term to be an adverb form of the slur, the context in which "snigger" is likely to be used is not conducive to such misunderstanding. (E.g. it would be a far stretch for someone to think "Upon hearing John's joke, Sarah let out a snigger," meant that Sarah freed a black person from confinement.) – jmbpiano May 30 at 18:26
  • snigger and snicker can be mean. You are not stifling a laugh when you do that . – Lambie May 31 at 19:25
9

How about the word snort. It could be used in a sentence like:

When Nick told his wife about the narrow escape from a traffic ticket Betty tried to withhold a chuckle that came out as a snort.

8

How about Titter? I came across it a while ago doing a crossword on a plane.

titter

/ˈtɪtə/

verb

verb: titter; 3rd person present: titters; past tense: tittered; past participle: tittered; gerund or present participle: tittering

  1. give a short, half-suppressed laugh; giggle. "her stutter caused the children to titter"

synonyms: giggle, snigger, snicker, tee-hee, give a half-suppressed laugh, chuckle;

noun

noun: titter; plural noun: titters

  1. a short, half-suppressed laugh. "there were titters from the gallery"

synonyms: giggle, snigger, snicker, tee-hee, half-suppressed laugh, chuckle;

  • 1
    I might use this as an author to an English audience with a large vocabulary, but in 30 years I've never heard or read it in conversation or literature. I'd steer clear of this one – automaton May 31 at 13:47
  • 1
    @automaton Tittering is the kind of word one sees in novels and is associated with delicate laughing by women. – Lambie May 31 at 19:24
2

According to wordhippo, a suppressed laugh is:

A half-suppressed, typically scornful laugh

The site also offers these synonyms:

snigger, snicker, giggle, chortle, sneer, cackle, chuckle, guffaw, simper

  • 1
    I see no reason for downvoting those synonyms. My goodness, people are so unfair. I would say that guffaw is the only one that does not fit. :) – Lambie May 31 at 19:26
  • 1
    Possibly simper. – Brandon_J May 31 at 20:06
  • 2
    @Lambie - Most of the downvotes on this answer came before it was edited and improved. (The original version is here.) – J.R. May 31 at 20:34
1

I tend to think of guffaw, although Merriam-Webster says this is "loud laughter," how about a stifled guffaw?

1

I think at this point pfft is an onomatopoeia.

It's a part of my vocabulary at least, but it's more like a stand in for the word pashaw. Which is an exclamation about the hilarity of an incredulous situation. It's a way to 'call bullshit' without swearing, or to preserve the lightheartedness of a conversation.

He let out a pfft but I wasn't sure if he was actually annoyed, or just trying to not hurt my feelings by laughing it off.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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