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  • This is an onomatopoeia for laughter. Its origin is the Korean onomatopoeia ㅋㅋㅋ, in which the jamo ㅋ stands for an aspirated "k" sound, like in raspy, half-stifled laughter. (I'm not sure why it wound up transliterated as "kekeke" rather than just "kkk", though.)

    The story generally told is that it was introduced into the English language through the language contact between South Koreans and Americans over the real-time strategy computer game Starcraft. Speaking as someone who played the game around 1999-2001, it was used as a marker for lightly-mocking laughter as one overpowered one's opponent. The classic case would be its usage during a "zergling rush," which is one player very quickly building up a small army of extremely weak units called Zerglings and using that small army to destroy the opponent's fledgling base- a lightning-fast and humiliating defeat.

    Due to the ephemeral nature of in-game chatting and the likely delay before the in-game catchphrase became more widely adopted in other spheres, however, it's anyone's guess as to who first coined the transliteration "kekeke," or when it first began to gain traction in the speech of gamers.

    Incidentally, the same onomatopoeia- with the same meaning- also exists in Japanese, written as けけけ.

    May 24, 2010