Those Forced Ha Ha’s

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As the U.S. Republican presidential race heats up, the media has been
taking notice of the sincerity — or lack of it – of the candidate’s laughs.  A
report by CNN’s Jeanne Moos has singled out the forced nature of the ha ha’s
particularly those of ex-Massachusetts governor and corporate CEO Mitt
Romney and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich of Georgia.  See
She noted it most when the candidates are under attack or feel uncomfortable, and
particularly that Mitt Romney’s ha ha was “almost like a nervous tick.”
Of course, in the Jack the Ripper case, the “Dear Boss” letter received by
the Central News Agency and dated 25 September 1888 is famous for the
ha ha’s seen both in the body of the letter and in the pencil postscript.

“. . . I saved some of the proper red stuff in a ginger beer bottle over the
last job to write with but it went thick like glue and I cant use it. Red ink
is fit enough I hope ha. ha.  …  They say I’m a doctor now.  ha ha

In both instances, the ha ha is underlined for emphasis:

Dear Boss ha ha

To me, despite it being the most well known and notorious Ripper letter,
“Dear Boss” is perhaps the most stagy and artificial of the lot, written
as it is in that petty criminal language with its smirking attitude but
composed in precise and careful script.  It somehow doesn’t look
right as having been written by the same man who was ruthlesslessly
slaughtering prostitutes on the streets of Whitechapel, despatching
them with a swift cut to the throat and then, in most cases, ripping
open their abdomens and doing other disfigurements.  Dear Boss is
calculated like the crimes, but in quite another way.  So I think a good
case can be made that Dear Boss and the Saucy Jacky postcard, which
followed, clearly written in the same hand and with a similar joshing
and cheeky attitude, are both journalistic hoaxes meant to hype up the
public’s interest in the Whitechapel murders.  Good for business, as it

But getting back to those ha ha’s and the Republican race here in the
United States, crime novelist Patricia Cornwell is probably the writer
on the case who has made the most of the question of the ha ha’s.  She
pointed out that suspect expressionist artist Walter Sickert’s mentor
James McNeill Whistler was fond of using ha ha, as if that might have
put Sickert in the frame for being the Ripper. 

Cornwell believes ha ha to be a “peculiarly American laugh”. She suggests that
Sickert, if he was the killer and the writer of Dear Boss, was mimicking his
role model Whistler’s annoying laugh.  As with so much about the Jack the
Ripper case, we can believe what we want to believe.  Start your own theory.

Further Reading

Patricia Cornwell, Jack the Ripper: Portrait of a Killer – Case Closed.
New York: Penguin Putnam, 2002. 

Stewart P. Evans and Keith Skinner, Jack the Ripper: Letters from Hell.
Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing, 2001.

“Points To Ponder - Opinion On Authenticity Of The Ripper As Author Of Dear
Boss” at JtR Forums at 

 “Ripper Letters” at 

3 Responses to “Those Forced Ha Ha’s”

  1. Tula Charves Says:

    haha great ! I really love this blog :)

  2. The Grave Maurice Says:

    An interesting and timely observation, Chris. Thanks.

  3. Gawain Says:

    John Steinbeck puts a couple of “HA HAs” in a letter in East of Eden. It’s a post civil war letter so it’s the right time and the book does deal with an early American serial killer.

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