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You notice nobody ever says “laugh” or “sneeze”

Peanuts, 10/28/04

The Boondocks, 10/28/04

When I was a kid, I learned a lot from the comics. For instance, I had a bunch of Peanuts anthologies that I read obsessively, and they taught me about how to be melancholy. Take sighing: from strips like the one above, I learned the precise emotional and conversational situations in which a sigh would be appropriate. Unfortunately, I had no idea what a sigh actually was, which meant that, when the mood struck, I would actually say the word “sigh.” This went on for years with no one older and wiser correcting me, presumably because it’s pretty hilarious to see a little kid going around saying “sigh.” Come to think of it, that probably accounts for a lot of Peanuts’ appeal. I add the Boondocks strip here as evidence that this trend is still going strong.

20 responses to “You notice nobody ever says “laugh” or “sneeze””

  1. Rebecca
    October 29th, 2004 at 4:04 pm [Reply]

    I had the same confusion as a child, and I think it’s a generational thing. Real commonplace sighing was outdated by the end of the 1950s, I’m sure. Sadly, no media rely on outdated expressions like crossword puzzles and comics. As a side note, my partner Phill (perhaps with your help, Josh) has devoted considerable time and energy to matching the perfect non-verbal sound to a dash over someone’s head in the comics, the dash that shows confusion. It sounds like a gulp mixed with a chirp mixed with a burp.

  2. Joe
    October 29th, 2004 at 7:19 pm [Reply]

    You’re right, nobody ever says “laugh” or “sneeze”. But people say “ha-ha” or “achoo” in the comics all the time. Its just a peculiarity of the English language that the same word is used for the act of sighing and the sound of a sigh.

  3. Marissa Brown
    November 2nd, 2004 at 6:25 pm [Reply]


  4. Jym
    November 5th, 2004 at 8:39 pm [Reply]

    =v= When I was learning to read by reading Peanuts books, I saw the word “though” and misread it as “thought.” I figured that made the word balloon a thought balloon, though that made the strip confusing.

  5. kw
    December 30th, 2004 at 12:13 am [Reply]

    This is a common speech pattern in certain subcultures, and not just “sigh”: see for instance

  6. Mike
    January 13th, 2005 at 11:03 am [Reply]

    ‘Tsk Tsk’ was mine. In fact, I still literally say “tisk tisk” as an admonishment, with lame humor intended.

  7. Emily
    March 30th, 2005 at 4:58 pm [Reply]

    I’m with kw. How do you spell the sound of a true sigh? You could spell it “Ahhhh…”…or, when there’s no vocalization (just a puff of air), “hhhhhh.” But, “Ahhhh…” can indicate other things, like “Aha,” and “hhhh” just sounds weird, like a hiss.

    We also have to give Schultz some credit for trying to lexically express Woodstock’s speech as a series of exclamation points without the dots.

  8. LMK
    November 4th, 2005 at 8:06 pm [Reply]

    What? I still say “sigh”!

  9. Case Max
    June 5th, 2006 at 9:28 am [Reply]

    (sigh) People like Thomas Dubois exist everywhere you turn in our western world “the land of the free…. masons..” If only people had more of a revolutionary approach.. (sigh)

    -Case “Stand Alone Complex”

  10. justin benedict
    August 8th, 2006 at 10:09 pm [Reply]

    I loved the Peanuts treasuries from years gone by…actually, it only got funny after about 1960…but if you think about it, the Peanuts kids were like little adults, whereas the Boondocks kids after the first very good six months, were just bitter short people. I really miss “Luther” that was one helluva good black comic strip

  11. Mike
    October 17th, 2006 at 8:36 am [Reply]

    Wow! Someone remembers Luther besides me!

  12. Peter
    January 20th, 2008 at 6:02 pm [Reply]

    I used to do the same thing, except that I wasn’t exactly an advanced reader so I pronounced it “Sig-hhh”. I was corrected pretty quickly; I guess it’s not as cute when a little kid goes around saying “sig-hhh”.

  13. Air Balloon Without
    February 4th, 2008 at 12:55 pm [Reply]

    Hot Air Balloons – Still flying high after hundreds of years.

    Invented in France in 1783, hot air balloons are the oldest successful flight machines made by mankind. They range from very basic balloons to their advanced cousins, the airship or zeppelin.

  14. Hoyce
    March 16th, 2008 at 10:12 am [Reply]

    Hell I Still wander around muttering “sigh” when something annoys me!

  15. Eldaglass
    August 23rd, 2008 at 9:20 pm [Reply]

    I did the “sigh” thing when I was a kid too–I wish I still could. I was disappointed when I found out that a “sigh” was just an audible release of breath.

    And I say “achoo!” when I sneeze. Not because I’m trying to–I’m just one of the six people in the world whose sneezes actually sound like cartoon sound effects.

  16. Brandon Burt
    August 29th, 2008 at 11:33 pm [Reply]

    Yep, as a kid, I also learned from those Peanuts anthologies to use the word “sigh” as a literal expression of exasperation or defeat.

    Of course, Charles Schulz is also known for coining the holophrastic “Aaugh!”–which seems unrecognizable, phonetically, in the lexicon of human expression. But, early on, I recognized it as a transliteration of a very familiar, very common cry of alarm–the prolonged, stressed, short-A vowel sound.

    I had it all figured out: Initially, Schulz would have been tempted to render that sound as something like “Aaaah!” But that would make it indistinguishable from an interjection with an entirely different meaning: the broad-A “Aaaah!” of relief or contentment, as when sinking into a hot bathtub–or of approbation, as when viewing fireworks.

    So, as a kid, I was convinced that Schulz intended the “gh” in “Aaugh” to be silent.

    When I watched the animated Peanuts holiday TV specials, I was never bothered by the voice actors’ strangely stilted speech (“Where’s-the-turkey? Where’s-the-pumpkin-PIE?!”)–but when Charlie Brown pronounced “Aaaugh!” to rhyme with “dog,” I had very strong opinions on the matter.

  17. Hogenmogen
    October 30th, 2008 at 10:44 am [Reply]

  18. The Archive Binge: Six Years Later
    January 20th, 2010 at 11:08 am [Reply]

    “haaaaaaaa” or “ahhhhhh” would be the appropriate replacement for *sigh*, it’s commonplace in manga, from what I’ve seen.

  19. Bob
    April 14th, 2011 at 5:09 pm [Reply]

    *Ahem* puzzled me for a long time. It appeared in Peanuts quite frequently. I eventually discovered that this is supposed to be the sound of someone clearing his throat to get attention (which never worked for me in real life).

  20. Bob
    April 14th, 2011 at 5:16 pm [Reply]

    I’d interpret “haaaaaaaa” as a sarcastic laugh, and “ahhhhhh” as either a scream of pain or a moan of pleasure. “Sigh” still says it best for me.

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