The world cries out for new expressions

“Ha, ha.”
Shouldn’t this be enough to tell you how I felt? But it’s not. Let me try again: “Ha, ha, ha, ha.” Nope. Not even close. To understand how I felt would take a whole sentence, something like, “I laughed so hard that my stomach cramped; for a second, I forgot my surroundings and why I came here and what I was doing, all because of what I just heard. It was wonderful …” That gets at the feeling I had, but it still leaves you short. I’d need even more description to really capture it.
Of course, though, no one would ever think that much to describe it. Instead, they remember it as, “Ha, ha, ha.” Only they don’t really say that, either, because it sounds so stupid.
I’ve laughed before, and I’ve cried — both recently — and they truly were the most awe-inspiring things I’ve ever done. They were the most human things and the most real gestures I’ve ever made. I didn’t have to think, “Yes. Yes. This is quite amusing; therefore, maybe I should laugh,” or remind myself, “Boy, I sure do feel miserable. Crying seems like the rational thing to do.” No one told me when to experience these or how long or hard to hold onto them. They rose up from an incredibly deep place and spilled over: unfiltered me.
But I can’t even begin to tell you about them. What should I say? “Ha, ha, ha”? No way. That sounds like either a breathing exercise or nasty sarcasm. “Ho, ho, ho”? Who has ever laughed using “Ho, ho, ho” who wasn’t drunk on Christmas? “Whah, hah, hah, hah”? Now I can’t tell if I’m laughing or crying. Besides, you can’t say “Whah, hah, hah,” without sounding obnoxiously loud, even on a printed page. It’s the same thing with crying. Who’s ever thought to themselves, “It was the worst moment of my life. I couldn’t even think. I just collapsed in bed and went, “Boo, hoo, hoo?” It sounds more like a manipulative kindergartener than anything I’ve ever felt.
So what am I supposed to say to you across the page, or even face to face? Simply that I laughed or I cried? That could mean anything. Was I laughing without knowing why or crying superficially or even laughing to avoid crying? You don’t know. And the more precisely I try to tell you, the more I start to sound like the sentence in the third paragraph and the more your eyes glaze over or the uncomfortable twinges in your stomach flare up, and rightly so. But I can’t go back to the “Ha! Ha’s!” or “Boo, hoo, hoo’s,” and especially not the “Whah, hah, hah’s.”
I’m 21 years old, and I have no idea how to express the only things in my life I am totally sure about. The English language has words like convexo-concave — you can look them up — littering our thoughts and often disabling them from flowing freely. Words like this fool us into thinking we’re really saying something important, like, “My, how the lighting in this room would improve with a convexo-concave mirror right there.” But take the two most important things, laughing and crying, and I have no way to tell you about them.
Am I just worrying about something no one else cares about? Part of me says, “Yes, get on with your life.” But another part of me wants to make sure you know how I felt at those moments — and this happens to be the part of me that writes, the part that purposely places himself under a microscope each day to find out what his life means. And this part of me cannot escape the futility of expressing laughter in language. Not even a fraction of the real feeling comes off in “Ha, ha, ha.”
So, what I’m telling you is that fiction, essays, poetry, speeches, articles like this one — all of it should be abandoned and right away. All of these forms are useless until we solve this problem. I admit that it’s far too big for me to handle alone, so I’m asking for all of you to help. Help me find out how to express laughter or crying in language.
I do have an intuitive feel for what it has to be. The new sound for laughter (or crying, this description works for either) should be an animal utterance, a base, unthinking sound. It should be an explosion like a car accident, and whoever’s eyes glance over it, whoever even breathes the ink fumes off the page should collapse into a spat of pure joy (or dissolve into pure sorrow) because these new words are so empathetic and transcendent that they transplant my experience directly into your mind. You will not be able to control yourself when it happens. Yes, we will have to be wise in our use of such words.
It might take the efforts of every human being alive to root out these l-bombs and c-bombs, but they must exist. They must, because I’ve felt them solidly inside me over and over. And we must try. Never before has something so important or meaningful arisen; never before have we had a chance to pass on something so valuable to future generations. What can mere work possibly mean to you in the face of something like this? Thus, I say, “Rally! Unite! Conquer!”
Good. Now that you’ve all started and I’ve gotten this off my chest, I’m going outside for awhile. Probably to goof around. I’ve spent long enough on this. I need to find something real, something to make me laugh or cry.

Sam Kean is an English and physics major. He welcomes comments to [email protected]. Send letters to the editor to [email protected].