the children burst into spontaneous laughter

philanguy

Senior Member
MotherEarth;Chinese
Hi,

Does "the children burst into spontaneous laughter" sound good in the following sample? Many thanks.


--The movie was so funny that the children burst into spontaneous laughter. They just couldn't help it.
 
  • sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    It's OK, but note that "burst into" and "spontaneous" mean essentially the same thing and therefore are redundant.

    For tight writing, I'd eliminate "spontaneous."
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    It's OK, but note that "burst into" and "spontaneous" mean essentially the same thing and therefore are redundant.

    For tight writing, I'd eliminate "spontaneous."
    I can see your point, sdg, but I don't quite agree. You could burst into laughter which had been contrived. I remember playing cricket as a child and we agreed to appeal loudly the next time a batsman missed the ball. Very soon after we hatched our plot he missed the ball and we burst into a loud appeal which was anything but spontaneous. I regret to say that the batsman was incorrectly adjudged to have hit the ball and given out. It was a disgraceful incident which I look back on with no pride.
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    The sentence does not make sense. To call something "spontaneous" suggests that it occurred entirely on its own, without any sort of external force, influence, or provocation. The laughter of the children in the sentence is not "spontaneous", but is a direct reaction to the funny movie.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    The sentence does not make sense. To call something "spontaneous" suggests that it occurred entirely on its own, without any sort of external force, influence, or provocation. The laughter of the children in the sentence is not "spontaneous", but is a direct reaction to the funny movie.
    Hello GreenWhiteBlue,

    Here's the WR dictionary entry:

    Aadjective1 wild, spontaneous
    produced without being planted or without human labor; "wild strawberries"
    2 ad-lib, spontaneous, unwritten
    said or done without having been planned or written in advance; "he made a few ad-lib remarks"
    3 spontaneous, self-generated
    happening or arising without apparent external cause; "spontaneous laughter"; "spontaneous combustion"; "a spontaneous abortion"

    What you say seems to suggest you are limiting the meaning to meaning 3; but unplanned (meaning 2) laughter might well be a reaction to a funny film. In BE that meaning would be perfectly normal, to my ear.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Here's the www.m-w.com definition:

    1 : proceeding from natural feeling or native tendency without external constraint 2 : arising from a momentary impulse
    3 : controlled and directed internally : self-acting <spontaneous movement characteristic of living things>
    4 : produced without being planted or without human labor : indigenous

    Forum rules limit quoted text to four lines. There is a fifth definition that is similar to definition 3 on WR.

    I think definition 1 in the Merriam-Webster definition applies to spontaneous laughter.
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    But the point is that there is "external constraint" here, and the cause of the laughter has been "planted": The children are not sitting and laughing together all of a sudden as sometimes happens in a class or a group, but are instead responding to the stimulus of a film which is specifically designed to provoke laughter. I would not say that if one turned on a light switch that the lights "spontaneously" lit up, or if a cooked heated butter in a pot on a stove that the butter "spontaneously" melted. In each case, the object was subjected to some external cause or stimulus -- and so it is with the laughing children.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    An external cause and an external constraint are two different things, GWB.

    Again from www.m-w.com:

    1 a: the act of constraining
    b: the state of being checked, restricted, or compelled to avoid or perform some action <the constraint and monotony of a monastic life — Matthew Arnold>
    c: a constraining condition, agency, or force : check <put legal constraints on the board's activities>


    No one is forcing these children to laugh, nor are they requiring them to.
     

    Blues Piano Man

    Senior Member
    USA English
    I can see your point, sdg, but I don't quite agree. You could burst into laughter which had been contrived. I remember playing cricket as a child and we agreed to appeal loudly the next time a batsman missed the ball. Very soon after we hatched our plot he missed the ball and we burst into a loud appeal which was anything but spontaneous. I regret to say that the batsman was incorrectly adjudged to have hit the ball and given out. It was a disgraceful incident which I look back on with no pride.
    Hi Thomas,
    You are right. You could burst into contrived laughter. However, that is not the case here. The reason for the laughter is given: "the movie was so funny."

    I like SD's suggestion to use "burst out," and to omit spontaneous.

    There is another problem with the first sentence: to "burst into laughter" is something you do at a moment in time. You can't continue "bursting" throughout the length of a movie. So unless the movie was only that funny at one point, I would suggest something like the following:

    "The movie was so funny, that several times the children couldn't help but burst into laughter."

    You'll notice that there is no longer a second sentence. I think the idea presented in this sentence does not need to be stretched out over two sentences.

    Hope that helps,
    Blues :)
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    You are right. You could burst into contrived laughter. However, that is not the case here. The reason for the laughter is given: "the movie was so funny."

    [...]
    Hi Blues,

    I've not explained myself clearly.

    sdg was saying that to burst into spontaneous laughter was a pleonasm - if you burst into laughter it had to be spontaneous. By pointing out that laughter didn't have to be spontaneous I was trying to show that the adjective had a function.

    You still seem to me to be insisting of WR dictionary's meaning 3 of spontaneous. Of course if you say that laughter which has an external cause cannot be spontaneous, that would make the adjective inapplicable, because the external cause is explained, the film.

    If, however, as I do, you hold that spontaneous might well have meaning 2 in this context - said or done without having been planned or written in advance - then the adjective contributes meaning to the sentence; it is applicable. After all the laughter into which they burst might have been contrived, as I hoped to show with the cricket example.

    I agree with you and sdg that the sentence might be better without the spontaneous. I am simply arguing that the adjective is neither pleonastic nor inapplicable.

    You also say You can't continue "bursting" throughout the length of a movie, but certainly, in BE, that's what we would say of children laughing at a funny film, that they kept bursting into laughter, or that they burst into laughter throughout the film.
     

    Blues Piano Man

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Hi Thomas,
    Thanks for the thoughtful reply. (By the way, I had to look up pleonasm. Good word! :)).

    sdg was saying that to burst into spontaneous laughter was a pleonasm - if you burst into laughter it had to be spontaneous. By pointing out that laughter didn't have to be spontaneous I was trying to show that the adjective had a function.
    Your example of contrived laughter showed your point very clearly. But apparently I understood it, then immediately forgot your point and refuted it where it wasn't meant to be applied. Sorry about that.

    You still seem to me to be insisting of WR dictionary's meaning 3 of spontaneous. Of course if you say that laughter which has an external cause cannot be spontaneous, that would make the adjective inapplicable, because the external cause is explained, the film.

    If, however, as I do, you hold that spontaneous might well have meaning 2 in this context - said or done without having been planned or written in advance - then the adjective contributes meaning to the sentence; it is applicable.
    Thomas, I don't insist on that meaning. But even though the laughter probably was spontaneous, in the sense of definition #2, it seems redundant to say that here. If they are laughing because the movie is funny, how could it be anything but spontaneous?

    After all, the laughter into which they burst might have been contrived, as I hoped to show with the cricket example.
    As I said in my original post, I don't think anyone would take their laughter to be contrived in this situation, regardless of whether "spontaneous" is used or not. I'd think we must assume it is spontaneous unless specifically told otherwise.

    You also say You can't continue "bursting" throughout the length of a movie, but certainly, in BE, that's what we would say of children laughing at a funny film, that they kept bursting into laughter, or that they burst into laughter throughout the film.
    I did say "bursting" but I was referring to the phrase "help but burst." I see those differently. You can very legitimately say "they kept bursting into laughter," or "they burst into laughter throughout the film." I think that, "... children burst into laughter..." means they did it once.

    Nice talking with you, Thomas!

    Take care,
    Blues :)
     
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