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Word of the Week: Gargalethesia

Word of the Week: Gargalethesia

The Tickle Book by Ian Whybrow & Axel SchefflerThere can’t be many people out there who haven’t experienced gargalethesia, the Writeable ‘Word Of The Week’, meaning the sensation caused by being tickled.

This week we bring you the term gargalethesia, as a result of reading The Tickle Book by Ian Whybrow and Axel Scheffler. My 4-year-old simply couldn’t bear the thought of being tickled when the Tickle Monster appeared and pre-empting gargalethesia, kept telling me, “I’m allergic, allergic I tell you.” Which prompted me to inform him of the correct word for the sensation… and allowed me to enjoy hearing his cute mispronunciations.


The actual pronunciation is ‘gar-gal-es-the-sia.’ And the word itself comes from a combination of:

  • The Greek word ‘gargalos’ meaning ‘itching’.
  • And the scientific term ‘esthesia’ for the sensation caused by tickling.

Psychologist G.Stanley Hall and Arthur Allan, used two other related words to describe the varying levels of tickling:

  • Knismesis – feather-light tickling, that does not typically cause laughter but can cause an itching sensation.
  • Gargalesis – harder, laughter-inducing tickling following repeated high-pressure tickling to those ticklish areas.

And for those of us trying to lose weight while the gyms remain closed, it’s worth knowing that experiencing gargalethesia can help you burn calories. With 10-15 minutes of laughing apparently capable of burning up to 40 calories a day.

Personally, I experience gargalethesia when my feet are targeted. But my children, they can barely even stand the anticipation of being tickled. How about you? Can you tolerate the sensation long enough to burn those calories? Or are you a squealing wreck as soon as anyone comes close to tickling you?

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