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LOL, an abbreviation for laughing out loud or laugh out loud, is a common element of Internet slang. It was used historically on Usenet but is now widespread in other forms of computer-mediated communication, and even face-to-face communication. It is one of many initialisms for expressing bodily reactions, in particular laughter, as text, including initialisms for more emphatic expressions of laughter such as LMAO ("laughing my ass off"), ROTFL or ROFL ("roll(ing) on the floor laughing"), and BWL ("bursting with laughter"), above which there is "no greater compliment" according to technology columnist Larry Magid. Other unrelated expansions include the now mostly historical "lots of luck" or "lots of love" used in letter-writing.

These initialisms of this term are controversial, and several authors recommend against their use, either in general or in specific contexts such as business communications.


Laccetti (professor of humanities at Stevens Institute of Technologymarker) and Molsk, in their essay entitled The Lost Art of Writing, are critical of the acronyms, predicting reduced chances of employment for students who use such acronyms, stating that, "Unfortunately for these students, their bosses will not be 'lol' when they read a report that lacks proper punctuation and grammar, has numerous misspellings, various made-up words, and silly acronyms." Fondiller and Nerone in their style manual assert that "professional or business communication should never be careless or poorly constructed" whether one is writing an electronic mail message or an article for publication, and warn against the use of smileys and these abbreviations, stating that they are "no more than e-mail slang and have no place in business communication".

Yunker and Barry in a study of online courses and how they can be improved through podcasting have found that these acronyms, and emoticons as well, are "often misunderstood" by students and are "difficult to decipher" unless their meanings are explained in advance. They single out the example of "ROFL" as not obviously being the abbreviation of "rolling on the floor laughing" (emphasis added). Haig singles out LOL as one of the three most popular initialisms in Internet slang, alongside BFN ("bye for now") and IMHO ("in my humble opinion"). He describes these acronyms, and the various initialisms of Internet slang in general, as convenient, but warns that "as ever more obscure acronyms emerge they can also be rather confusing". Bidgoli likewise states that these initialisms "save keystrokes for the sender but [...] might make comprehension of the message more difficult for the receiver" and that "[s]lang may hold different meanings and lead to misunderstandings especially in international settings"; he advises that they be used "only when you are sure that the other person knows the meaning".

Shortis observes that ROTFL is a means of "annotating text with stage directions". Hueng, in discussing these acronyms in the context of performative utterances, points out the difference between telling someone that one is laughing out loud and actually laughing out loud: "The latter response is a straightforward action. The former is a self-reflexive representation of an action: I not only do something but also show you that I am doing it. Or indeed, I may not actually laugh out loud but may use the locution 'LOL' to communicate my appreciation of your attempt at humor."

David Crystal notes that use of LOL is not necessarily genuine, just as the use of smiley faces or grins is not necessarily genuine, posing the rhetorical question "How many people are actually 'laughing out loud' when they send LOL?". Franzini concurs, stating that there is as yet no research that has determined the percentage of people who are actually laughing out loud when they write "LOL".

Victoria Clarke, in her analysis of telnet talkers, states that capitalization is important when people write "LOL", and that "a user who types LOL may well be laughing louder than one who types lol", and opines that "these standard expressions of laughter are losing force through overuse". Egan describes LOL, ROTFL, and other initialisms as helpful as long as they are not overused. He recommends against their use in business correspondence because the recipient may not be aware of their meanings, and because in general neither they nor emoticons are (in his view) appropriate in such correspondence. June Hines Moore shares that view. So, too, does Lindsell-Roberts, who gives the same advice of not using them in business correspondence, "or you won't be LOL".

Spread from written to spoken communication

LOL, ROFL, and other initialisms have crossed from computer-mediated communication to face-to-face communication. Teenagers now sometimes use them in spoken communication as well as in written, with ROFL ( or ) and LOL (pronounced , , or ), for example. David Crystal—likening the introduction of LOL, ROFL, and others into spoken language in magnitude to the revolution of Johannes Gutenberg's invention of movable type in the 15th century—states that this is "a brand new variety of language evolving", invented by young people within five years, that "extend[s] the range of the language, the expressiveness [and] the richness of the language". Commentators disagree, saying that these new words, being abbreviations for existing, long-used, phrases, don't "enrich" anything; they just shorten it.

Geoffrey K. Pullum points out that even if interjections such as LOL and ROTFL were to become very common in spoken English, their "total effect on language" would be "utterly trivial".

Conversely, a 2003 study of college students by Naomi Baron found that the use of these initialisms in computer-mediated communication (CMC), specifically in instant messaging, was actually lower than she had expected. The students "used few abbreviations, acronyms, and emoticons". The spelling was "reasonably good" and contractions were "not ubiquitous". Out of 2,185 transmissions, there were 90 initialisms in total, only 31 CMC-style abbreviations, and 49 emoticons. Out of the 90 initialisms, 76 were occurrences of LOL.

Variations on the theme

Despite it being an English acronym, it is often used by non-English speakers as-is, even in other scripts (e.g. Hebrew: לול, Cyrillic: лол, Arabic: لول).

Variants of "LOL"

  • Lawl or Lal: can refer to either a pseudo-pronunciation of LOL. Saying "lawl" is sometimes meant in mockery of those who use the term LOL, and not meant as serious usage.

  • lolz: occasionally used in place of LOL.

  • lulz: Often used to denote laughter at someone who is the victim of a prank, or a reason for performing an action. Can be used as a noun — e.g. "do it for the lulz." This variation is often used on 4chan image boards. According to a New York Times article about Internet trolling, "lulz means the joy of disrupting another's emotional equilibrium."

  • lolwut: lol + wut, used to indicate bemused laughter, confusion.

Translations in widespread use

Most of these variants are usually found in lowercase.
  • mdr: French version of the expression LOL, from the initials of "mort de rire" that roughly translated means "dying of laughter", although many French people now use LOL in lieu of this as it is the most widely used on the internet.
  • חחח‎/ההה: Hebrew version of LOL. The letter ח is pronounced 'kh' and ה is pronounced 'h'. Putting them together (usually three or more in a row) makes the word khakhakha or hahaha (since vowels in Hebrew are generally not written), which is in many languages regarded as the sound of laughter. The word LOL is sometimes transliterated (לול), but its usage is not very common.
  • 555: The Thai variation of LOL. "5" in Thai is pronounced "ha", three of them being "hahaha".
  • asg: Swedish abbreviation of the term Asgarv, meaning intense laughter.
  • g: Danish abbreviation of the word griner, which means "laughing" in Danish.
  • rs: in Brazilmarker "rs" (being an abbreviation of "risos", the plural of "laugh") is often used in text based communications in situations where in English lol would be used, repeating it ("rsrsrsrsrs") is often done to express longer laughter or laughing harder.
  • mkm: in Afghanistanmarker "mkm" (being an abbreviation of the phrase "ma khanda mikonom"). This is a Dari phrase that means "I am laughing".
  • In Chinese, although 大笑 (da xiao; "big laugh") is used, a more widespread usage is "哈哈哈" (ha ha ha) on internet forums.
  • هاها: The Arabic هـــا makes the sound "ha," and is strung together to create the sound "haha".
  • In some languages with a non-Latin script, the abbreviation "LOL" itself is also often transliterated. See for example Arabic لــول and Russian лол.
  • In Japanese, traditionally the kanji for laugh in parenthesis was used in the same way as lol; (笑). It can be read as wara and so just w has taken over as the abbreviation. It is often strung together in long strings denoting the strength of the laugh (as in ちょwww), and then interspersed between the characters in a word to denote laughing while trying to speak (as in みwなwぎwっwてwきwたwww).

Other languages

Lol is a Dutch word (not an acronym) which, coincidentally, means "fun" ("lollig" means "funny").

In Welsh, lol means "nonsense" – e.g., if a person wanted to say "utter nonsense" in Welsh, they would say "rwtsh lol".

See also


  1. LMAO – entry at netlingo.
  2. "Credibility and Authority on Internet Message Boards", a Master's thesis by Ryan Goudelocke, 2004

Further reading

  • —an early Usenet posting of a folk dictionary of abbreviations and emoticons, listing LOL and ROTFL

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