Discuss word origins and meanings.
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Post by Ken Greenwald » Mon Apr 07, 2014 7:14 pm

<2014 “The engine note is thrilling, the brake system ‘stellar,’ and the steering so beautifully tuned that it ‘feels as if it were plugged directly into your lizard brain.’ Lithe, alert, and entirely cackle-worthy.” . . . Each P1 from McLaren sells for $1.2 million, only 375 are being made, and all have been spoken for.”—from Car and Driver and The Wall Street Journal in The Week, 4 April, page 31>
Cackle-worthy? In the above quote, the expression is clearly used to indicate something positive. But my impression had always been that cackling had negative connotations. So, I’ll start by taking a looking at how some dictionaries define it:



Intransitive verb:

1) To make a noise as a hen, especially after laying an egg.

2) figurative: Said of persons.

a) To be full of noisy and inconsequent talk; to talk glibly, be loquacious, prate, chatter.

b) To talk loudly or fussily about a petty achievement, like a hen after laying an egg.

c) To chuckle, ‘to laugh, to giggle’ (Johnson) [[This is a positive view, but not one seen in the several other dictionaries I checked]]

Transitive verb: To utter with or express by cackling. [[cackled a sarcastic reply]].


1) Cackling as of a hen or goose.

2) figurative: a) Stupid loquacity, silly chatter. b) A short spasmodic laugh, a chuckle.



CACKLE intransitive verb: Of chickens, geese, etc. : to make loud, unpleasant sounds
: to laugh noisily.

1) To make the sharp broken noise or cry characteristic of a hen especially after laying.

2) To laugh especially in a harsh or sharp manner.

3) Chatter



Intransitive verb

1) To make the shrill cry characteristic of a hen after laying an egg.

2) To laugh or talk in a shrill manner.

Transitive verb: To utter in cackles: cackled a sarcastic reply.


1) The act or sound of cackling.

2) Shrill laughter.

3) Foolish chatter.

Etymology: [Middle English cakelen, probably from Middle Low German kākeln, of imitative origin.]

So, although it does seem that ‘cackle’ has mostly a negative edge to it (e.g. the OED’s 2b, and shrill (laughter), foolish/silly (chatter), prate, stupid loquacity, . . .), it does appear that, it can mean to just chuckle, laugh, or giggle. But still, none of the above definitions seem to jibe with the above McLaren usage. So, back to the drawing board.

It seems to me that if one goes back to the literal meaning of cackle (OED #1), “To make a noise as a hen, especially after laying an egg’ it might be assumed that this is the hen’s self-congratulatory cry of satisfaction, a cheer, for a job well done. One might then view a ‘cackle’ in a positive way - something that is ‘cackle-worthy’ would be: Something to ‘crow’ or ‘cheer’ about. And that seems to me to be how it is being used in the above McLaren quote.

Since no source that I could find actually defined the expression cackle-worthy, the only way for me to try to verify my proposed definition would be to match it against how it is used on the web and in the press.

A Google search produced about 19,000 ‘cackle-worthy’ hits (at my space-time coordinates), not exactly a barnburner, and one would have to subtract out the unhyphenated ‘cackle worthy of the Wicked Witch of the West,’ . . .). I also looked at examples from news archives. What I found was that almost all the uses of cackle-worthy seemed to have a meaning that was somewhat different from that in the McLaren example in that they were all humor-related. The best fit for a definition in these instances seemed to me to be: Something worthy of a hearty laugh (possibly think LOL). However, in some cases either or both definitions might fit.

The above two proposed definitions I came up with are just my surmise and any ideas others may have to change or sharpen them up are welcomed.

The following quotes are from Google hits and archived sources:
<1999 “This way, he could take cackle-worthy digs at the whole MTV culture and its mediocre leading lights whose greatest qualities are frequently their hairstyles, facial features or public liaisons with Brad Pitt.”—Washington Post (D.C.), 26 March>

<2005 “Later, in ‘Arthur the Unfunny,’ the notorious punchline deflator surprises everybody, including himself, when he pulls off a cackle-worthy performance at a town carnival.”—, 5 February>

<2006 “Not only are Hoffman's patients absorbed in their constant struggles to break bad habits . . . , but the good doctor's own faux benevolence and overreaching approach is surely cackle-worthy. Danson's Hoffman seems like his Cheers character Sam Malone's older suburban first cousin. Help Me Help You [[TV show]] is frank, debonair and congratulatory with stunning results.”—Philadelphia Weekly (Pennsylvania), 13 September>

<2007 “But even if you don't buy the idea that future generations could turn into brain-dead boors unless we start championing intelligence over insipience, ‘Idiocracy’ is still a crass, crude and downright cackle-worthy flick.”—McClatchy - Tribune Business News (Washington, D.C.), 2 February>

<2010 “The party kicks off with a cackle-worthy parody of Bob Dylan doing ‘Old McDonald,’ . . .”—>

<2012 “Merritt’s cackle-worthy couplets are usually such gems they’ve made the accompanying musical dabblings on the last few Magnetic Fields’ records (and Merritt’s numerous side projects) almost irrelevant.”—Chicago Sun-Times (Illinois), 8 April> [[see here]]

<2013 “Panels are loaded with cackle-worthy comments, such as when a Dingburg Beatnik discovers that William S. Burroughs [[Beat Generation author]] is dead: ‘I knew th' cat was gone... but I didn't know he was that gone!’”—Comic Reviews in Publishers Weekly, 22 July>

<2014 “A song about Facebook provides relatable and cackle-worthy relief amongst more high drama turns concerning cold boyfriends and deserting fathers.”—, 24 March>

Ken G – April 7, 2014

Re: cackle-worthy

Post by Phil White » Wed Apr 09, 2014 2:35 pm

Brits don't go "yeehah" when they stab their foot on the throttle and hear the bellow of a twin-turbo V8 and their testicles snap back into place after being temporarily dislocated by the sheer brute acceleration of the thing. They cackle and gibber with helpless, unbridled glee.
Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

Re: cackle-worthy

Post by Erik_Kowal » Wed Apr 09, 2014 4:30 pm

When I stabbed my foot on a nail one time, the sound I made was less of a cackle and more of a yowl. Or maybe it was an "Aargh!" Or did I simply exclaim "Oh, bother!"?

Re: cackle-worthy

Post by Phil White » Wed Apr 09, 2014 6:16 pm

To hear the abominable Jeremy Clarkson cackling at the wheel of a P1, have a listen to this clip on YouTube if you can get it in your neck of the woods. Start at around 6:20 if you want to be spared his inane attempts to appear witty.
Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

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