Books; December 2000; Scientific American Magazine; by Frans B.M. De Waal, Staff Editors; 3 Page(s)
One morning the principal's voice sounded over the intercom of my high school with the shocking announcement that a popular French teacher had just died in front of his class. Everyone fell silent. While the principal went on to explain that it had been a heart attack, I couldn't keep myself from a laughing fit. To this day, I feel embarrassed.
What is it about laughter that makes it unstoppable even if triggered by circumstances that aren't amusing? Extreme bouts of laughter are positively worrisome, marked by loss of motor control, shedding of tears, gasping for air, even the wetting of pants while rolling on the floor! What a weird trick has been played on our linguistic species to express itself with such stupid "ha ha ha" sounds. Why don't we leave it at a cool "that was funny"?