The evolution of LOL

By Joy Carrico | Published Saturday, September 5, 2015

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I first encountered the abbreviation LOL (which I eventually discovered stands for “laughing out loud”) while chatting with friends on the Internet in the late ’90s. To my understanding, it was a phrase people used while type-chatting to indicate to their chat-recipient that they were laughing out loud, since the chat-recipient would not otherwise be privy to this information.

Joy Carrico

These days we aren’t chatting, we’re texting, and LOL has continued to thrive. Eventually, I began to notice a lot of LOLs showing up in my friends’ text messages. LOL was showing up so much I thought I must be hilarious. Everyone seemed to be laughing out loud to what I was saying. Maybe they were smoking something.

I realized LOL had morphed in meaning when someone thought I was mad at him because I had texted “Going to bed. Talk to you tomorrow.”

I wasn’t mad. Just sleepy.

When I questioned how to better communicate, so he would know I was merely transmitting neutral information, he suggested I end with “LOL.”

I was perplexed. I’m not likely to laugh out loud when saying, “I’m going to bed.” Ha, ha, ha, ha. Nope. Just doesn’t feel right. I simply don’t find that funny.

Then I listened to a podcast that discussed this issue and was informed that LOL no longer indicates that the sender was actually laughing out loud.

LOL has become shorthand to communicate a light, jovial mood in texts. This brought my confusion over my perceived wit and my friend’s proclivities back into focus.

They aren’t actually laughing out loud. They’re just conveying a light-hearted tone.

Although I know this, I’ve been slow to transition in my use of LOL. I’m an old school user of the phrase and reserve it for instances where I actually LOL.

If I want to convey a light-hearted tone, 🙂 will suffice.

The next transformation of LOL seems to be in the works. I recently had the benefit of working with people who range in age from 18 to 25. I’ve learned a lot about what’s popular among young adults (and just how truly out of touch I am).

One thing I’ve noticed is that they are now responding to each other by saying “LOL” when they talk about things they think are ironic or funny. At first I thought they were saying, “lull,” which made no sense to me.

Lull means to put to sleep by restful or soothing means. Why would they say this as a response during a conversation? Are they bored? Feeling sleepy?

Then, my brain kicked in and put it together. They are saying “LOL.” Spoken aloud, it is pronounced, apparently, in a way that resembles the word lull. I probably would have committed a faux pas had I tried to use it by pronouncing it “el oh el,” which is what I say in my head when I read it.

I have not investigated what they mean when they say “LOL.” It comes up most often when they are talking about something that doesn’t warrant the energy of an acutal emotional response.

Instead, they rely on a verbal LOL to convey mild amusement and sometimes sardonic amusement. It varies.

I am happy to report, however, that when something is very funny, they actually laugh out loud. Some things don’t change. :).

Joy Carrico is a graphic artist at the Messenger.

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