This is another instance where we should not be misled by the kanji used to spell a Japanese word. The kanji 微笑 on their own would translate to “faint laugh.” The meaning would fit, this might have been where this verb came from, but alas, the kanji 微 and its meaning “faint” have nothing to do with the word “hoho.”

But there’s an alternative spelling of “hohoemu,” that happens to coincide with the real etymology: 頬笑む. The kanji here signify “cheek smile,” a meaning this would also fit. This time, 頬 is the kanji for the word “hoo”(cheek), whose old kana spelling happens to be “hoho.”

Now a weak smile starts to decorate our cheeks, as we see everything finally fitting together…