It was on a flight out of Little Rock that I first noticed humans sometimes sound like happy chimpanzees when they laugh. There was a group of people behind me on that flight on their way to a connection that would take them to Hawaii. Their ecstasy manifested in magnificent monkey sounds all the way to Dallas. So, every time I get truly, that is uncontrollably, tickled, I listen to myself laugh and sure enough, there is a little mountain gorilla grunt tucked away somewhere in the mirthful emanation.
The same God that made me, made the monkey, so it should be no surprise that we utter our joy in a similar fashion. As a person who believes in intelligent design, I certainly reject any evolutionary connection between our expressions of mirth. Even so, children on a playground having fun shriek and shout in a very simian fashion. In fact, the game of chase, that starts with one being “it,” is a game enjoyed not only by humans, but also by apes, dogs and cats. I have even seen young donkeys playing that game until their concentration gives out (in about 10 seconds).
Also, I have found that relief-valve laughter, the uncontrollable kind that overtakes us when we are bone weary, sounds more zoo-like than any other. There was a man named Fisher who used to work for Pop. Inevitably, at the end of a long day of labor, he would get tickled about one thing or another. Things got funnier towards 5 p.m. and they were hilarious on Friday afternoon. He laughed on the inhale, like a jack. You didn’t even know he was laughing until he started audibly sucking air. In other words, he would wheeze out the first string of laughter and then become very vocal in short bursts on the inhale. Fisher sounded like a shorting out vacuum cleaner with a rubber glove caught in the tube.
My brother Curtis had a unique laugh as well. He would place his tongue behind his two front teeth, which had a little gap between them, and blow short bursts of laughter until his face got red and the tears flowed. Once we were playing with a tape recorder. Curtis was doing some “Man on the Street” type interviews and I was playing multiple men on the street. The dialog that struck him funny went this way:
“Sir, what is your name?”
“Where are you from.”
“What do you do for a living?”
“I raise dogs.”
“What kind of dogs do you raise?”
That last response is what set Curtis to blowing uncontrollable laughter. I still don’t know why it was funny, but I laughed to see him laugh. He actually fell to the floor hissing through his gap. When he finally regained control, he said, “That hurts,” and wiped his eyes.
He didn’t sound like a monkey. He didn’t sound like a vacuum cleaner. No, he sounded like pure joy. Ever since that fun we had with the tape recorder, when I hear the word, Lassie, I grin.
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.