By Anna Matteo
03 November, 2018

Now, the VOA Learning English program Words and Their Stories.

Each week, we tell about terms and expressions we use in American English. We often explore their meanings and explain how to use them in different situations.

Today we talk about something common to everyone around the world.

Laughing is one of life's most simple pleasures. It is free. You can do it anywhere. And it makes you feel good!

There is another thing you should know about laughter: Laughter is contagious.

Like the flu, laughter can spread easily among people. Often when we hear someone laughing in a crowded room or a packed train, for example, we start laughing too – even if we have no idea why.

But unlike the flu, even a good handwashing will not protect you against breaking into a fit of laughter. Your eyes water, your heart rate goes up and your face gets that beautiful laughter glow.

In fact, many doctors say that mental health can affect physical health. You might even say, "Laughter is the best medicine."

However, "laughter is the best medicine" does not mean that you should not take medicine when you are sick. It simply means that having a positive outlook might help ease your troubles.

People who use this expression are probably pretty happy people. Then there are those other types – you know, people who are always grumpy. We could call someone who does not like to laugh a curmudgeon. A curmudgeon is bad-tempered, ill-natured and just generally not fun to be around.

Well, unless you yourself are a curmudgeon. If that is the case, you two could hang out and not laugh and not have fun together! You know what we say -- misery loves company. This means that some people who are miserable and unhappy like to make others miserable and unhappy, too.

On the other hand, making others laugh with you is an act of joy and kindness. However, the opposite is true when people laugh at you. That experience is lonely and no fun at all.

But at least those two phrases really show the importance of choosing the right preposition.

For example, if Anna is in a funny play and people laugh with her -- that is a good thing. However, if she messes up her lines and falls on stage, people may laugh at her. And that is not so good.

People might even call her a laughingstock. No one, not even a professional comedian, wants to be a laughingstock.

That is a really great example, Bryan. Thanks. I think.

But you're right. Nobody wants to be a laughingstock.

If you wanna go crazy and act like a clown

Be the laughing stock all over town

That's your red wagon, that's your red wagon ...

(Ella Fitzgerald, "Red Wagon")

For example, let's say a teacher falls on hard times and loses his apartment. So, for a couple of days he sleeps in his car outside of the school. As it happens, at night he sleeps in bright pink, full-body pajamas with a hood and bunny ears. And he holds a teddy bear.

Teddy bears have long been popular toys.
Teddy bears have long been popular toys.

Well, some cruel students record him sleeping in his car and share the video with their classmates. The teacher becomes the laughingstock of the whole school.

That was a mean thing to do.

Well, yes. Yes, it was. But our story does not end there.

The students post the video online, and it goes viral! More than 10 million people watch it on YouTube! So, the teacher gets dozens of offers to make commercials for pajamas and teddy bears. He makes a lot of money. Then he writes a best-selling book on how to fall asleep anywhere, anytime.

Good for him!

But wait, Bryan. It gets even better! He stars in a movie based on his life: "The Teacher Who Slept in His Car."

So, in the end, you could say the teacher definitely had the last laugh. When you have the last laugh, you end up winning when at first you were losing.

Another way to have the last laugh, is to simply laugh off a tough situation. It shows you just do not care. For example, if the teacher is a friend of yours, you could always tell him to just laugh it off.

It may be difficult. But if you have the choice to laugh or cry, chose laughter. For one thing, you may inspire others to laugh, too.

That's right. As we also like to say: Laugh and the world laughs with you; cry and you cry alone. This means that people prefer to be around those who are happy and cheerful.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox, a poet of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, penned this famous expression. In her poem "Solitude," she writes ."Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone."

However, these days, we do not usually say "weep." So, the expression now uses the word "cry." Whatever you call it -- weeping or crying, it is always better to laugh!

And that's Words and Their Stories.

I'm Bryan Lynn. And I'm Anna Matteo.

The more I laugh,

The more I fill with glee.

And the more the glee,

The more I'm a merrier me ... (It's embarrassing!)

The more I'm a merrier me!

Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor. The song at the end is the song "I Love to Laugh" from the film Mary Poppins.

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Words in This Story

contagious – ­adj. exciting similar emotions or conduct in others contagious enthusiasm contagious laughter

fit – ­n. a sudden burst or flurry (as of activity)

glow – ­n. to have a warm, reddish color from exercise, emotion, etc.

grumpy – ­adj. easily annoyed or angered : having a bad temper or complaining often

curmudgeon – ­n. ill-tempered, and usually old man

misery – ­n. a circumstance, thing, or place that causes suffering or discomfort the joys and miseries of life : a state of great unhappiness and emotional distress

laughingstock – ­n. a person or thing that is regarded as very foolish or ridiculous : a person or thing that is made fun of

hood – ­n. a covering for the head and neck and sometimes the face

viral – ­adj. quickly and widely spread or popularized especially by means of social media

solitude – ­n. the quality or state of being alone or remote from society

glee – ­n. a strong feeling of happiness : great pleasure or satisfaction

merry – ­adj. very happy and cheerful : feeling or showing joy and happiness

embarrassed – ­v. feeling or showing a state of self-conscious confusion and distress