Tuesday, August 08, 2017

What do We Mean by LOL?

I think we can agree that people around the world use LOL a lot in text speech and that we do not basically ever mean that we are laughing out loud.  So what do we mean?

It started to dawn on me about a month ago when I read a cute piece in the "failing New York Times" as "that awful Trout in the White House"* calls it, about how we laugh in text.  (Laugh and the World Laughs With you ).  I liked the piece and agreed with all of it except her analysis of why LOL is used so much.  

The author posits that LOL long ago ceased to have anything to do with laughter and that it is "basically the equivalent of 'K'" (which I have to confess I use a lot).  And then she closes the article with a throw away, "
And no, Mom, once and for all it does not mean 'lots of love.'"

But is she right?  I think we can all agree that text speak is a particularly un-nuanced environment for communication (contrast texts with tweets which are obviously the perfect way to announce major public policy initiatives--but I digress into an over-discussed matter...).  There is much potential for hurt feelings, misunderstandings, a sense that people, in communicating so quickly and with so few letters, are being rude or mean.

Enter "lol" which does not mean laugh out loud and is not a stand in for "k" (which really means, "roger, I have received your message, over").  So what purpose does lol really serve?  I think that that lol is there to soften the hard edges of the text universe.  It is there to tell us that what we just said was not mean, was not terse, was not a sling or arrow, was just information.   And sometimes it is a question.  Many times I’ll text a little tidbit to someone only to have them text back, “LOL?” This question is asking, “how do I mean this to land?”  If I text back, “LOL” then I have confirmed that it is meant sweetly.  If I don’t, it means something in else.

In other words, Mom, it means “lots of love.”

BTW, "That awful Trout" is what my mother calls the President.  LOL


1 comment:

Harry Mersmann said...

Or we could just stop texting (it is inefficient, imprecise and impersonal) and just use the fucking phone.