In Abuelito Who by Sandra Cisneros, the symbolic meaning of one line is quite confusing. The narrator is referring to her grandfather (abuelo), and she says he:

who used to laugh like the letter k

I'm not exactly sure what this means; does this mean his laugh was common and good-natured, or rather cold and rare?


It means his laugh was a hearty, good-natured laugh. There are really two ways you could've pieced this together: one, realize that the letter "k" is a common part of inherently funny words, which are simply words that can make people laugh without any other context. According to Wikipedia, (emphasis mine)

the concept that some words, especially those with a k sound, are inherently funny is a common trope stated in many fictional works. In the Neil Simon play The Sunshine Boys, for example, a character says, "Words with a k in it are funny. Alka-Seltzer is funny. Chicken is funny. Pickle is funny. All with a k. L's are not funny. M's are not funny". Similarly, the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Outrageous Okona" features Joe Piscopo as a comedian who, in attempting to teach the android Data the concept of humor, refers to words ending in a k as funny.

The second clue that gave it away was the context of the poem. In it, the narrator talks about how her grandfather used to spend time with her and have a deep, personal relationship with her. This is when the author brings the laugh sounding like the letter "k". Now, however, he is distant and so tired all the time, so much so that it feels as if he's not even there.

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I always felt that it was visually symbolic, that someone who

laugh[s] like the letter k

was simply someone who throws their head back and opens their mouth extremely wide when laughing, so that their head and mouth seems to form a letter "K".

A side view of a face with a superimposed k

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  • 2
    Do you have any evidence to support this answer? – user111 Jan 22 '17 at 14:41
  • @Hamlet - Nope. Just the picture in my head (which I've tried to show with the picture above). It makes a lot more sense, to me at least, than someone laughing "keh-keh-keh" – Valorum Jan 22 '17 at 14:42
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    @Valorum Works for me! – Matrim Cauthon Feb 17 '17 at 20:47
  • I also agree with @Valorum.Laugh like letter "k" is that to laugh heartily without being distracted by any social norm and convention.Our true feelings should be mingled with our smile.Otherwise it will be fake. When a person laughs like letter "k" ,it is obvious that person is laughing without pretending. Further it may suggest to laugh loudly. – I_am_feminist May 1 '17 at 6:51

Another possibility is that it's simply the onomatopoeia being used for the sound of his laugh. While the usual Spanish onomatopoeia for laughter is a "j" sound, "jajaja, jejeje, jijiji, jojojo, jujuju", there are some languages such as Korean that use a "k" sound to depict it, with "kekeke" becoming a fairly well-known one from Korean StarCraft players. Outside of its normal cultural context of standard onomatopoeia, it's more likely descriptive of the actual sound of her grandfather's laughter, a breathless chuckle that one might associate with someone so amused they can barely draw breath to actually put voice to the laughter. Now, sick and old, he no longer has that voiceless mirth.

I personally feel it's the least satisfying of the answers so far, since it's more descriptive than symbolic, but it's what came to mind with the phrase.

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