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When intending to express that somebody laughed very loudly and for a long time, what is the proper expression to use? Are they both correct?

She laughed her heart out!

or

She laughed her head off!

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When using the adage heart out you imply that the action is very intentional and the person doing the action is putting all their effort into it.

When using the adage *head off you imply that the action was done excessively, but not necessarily purposefully.

  • To laugh your head off makes sense. Genuine laughter is uncontrollable, and during certain moments it may come excessively.

  • To laugh your heart out does not really make much sense, unless the circumstances are that the person is attempting to laugh purposefully and is doing it with great effort.

Take the word sing for a reversal.

  • To sing your head off does not really makes sense, unless the context is an occasion where excessive singing is what your were trying to do.

  • To sing your heart out makes sense. Wanting to impress your audience, you would likely put great effort into any singing performance.

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    and with a word like bawl either works: He was bawling his head off / He was bawling his heart out – Jim May 29 '14 at 0:31
  • +1 because I think you have the right distinction. But your "sing your head off" example contradicts the rest of your post. You say that "--- your head off" means that the action was "excessive but not necessarily purposeful" (my emphasis) and then that "sing your head off" would only make sense where excessive singing was purposeful. That comes under "excessive but not necessarily purposeful". I think "sing your head off" is fine: the singing is deliberate, obviously, but the excess is accidental, perhaps because of getting carried away. – David Richerby May 29 '14 at 8:37
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You can eat your heart out with jealousy but not laugh your heart out.

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    I agree but a single pair of examples isn't very useful. You should explain your answer so that the OP can figure out the pattern and not need to ask again every other time they have a choice between these two phrases. – David Richerby May 29 '14 at 8:33

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