It’s the world’s most famous lie.
And now it’s in the dictionary.
Not “That dress in no way makes you resemble a rabid Christmas tree.” Not “Of course I am not videotaping this.” Not “I have read the service agreement.” Not “I’m entirely confident that this will be an effective method of contraception as long as we pray together afterwards.”
No: “LOL.” Based on the number of times I have typed this phrase, you would think that I spent my life constantly convulsed with helpless laughter. But in fact, nothing could be farther from the truth. I make Whistler’s Mother look like she was having a good time. I have all the effervescent charm and delight of a tray of baked goods in the rain. Sometimes I laugh, but only in a brusque chortle when I have been forced to acknowledge my own mortality.
So never, when I typed this initialism, have I in fact been laughing out loud. They say that people who refer to themselves as intellectuals are automatically committing a social crime – and, usually, an error. The same is true of LOL. If I were scrupulously honest about this, I would have to type things like “IANALATWDTOPITRAATTTFTIARHAMMDSTIAATTDALAYDBI” (I Am Not Actually Laughing As That Would Disturb The Other People In The Restroom And Alert Them To The Fact That I Am Reading Here Although Miss Manners Does Say That Is An Acceptable Thing To Do As Long As You Don’t Broadcast It” or “IWLBTIFBIWJATTACKEDBYABEAR” I Would Laugh Because That Is Funny But I Was Just ATTACKED BY A BEAR” or, as the site Unprovoked Digression suggests, “‘iptychtsoemostwitbfaiwbabsaiidsitiwfsijsiwftayamt-wsiabsamwcftwiahputpamoabbabbpabwalltrtsmbeinluthftssoDcbffun’ — ‘I perceive that your communication has the structural or expressive markers of something that was intended to be funny and it would be a bit socially awkward if I don’t say I think it was funny so I’ll just say it was funny to appease you and make the whole social interaction a bit smoother and maybe we can forget the whole incident and hopefully pick up the pieces and move on, a bit battered and bruised but perhaps a bit wiser and less likely to repeat the same mistake but even if not let us take heart for the sweet salve of Death cannot be far from us now.”
But after the Oxford English Dictionary decided to add “LOL” to its arsenal, I decided it was time to take a stand. The movement for Honest Abbreviations, Honest Acronyms starts here – or, as I like to call it, “HA, HA.” Swing on over to my Facebook page and join us!
This is not a new idea or a novel objection. Many of us had already awakened to the innate mendacity of LOL and attempted to mend our ways by jumping onto the “Ha” bandwagon. Text or type something funny to us, and we’ll respond with some elaborately calibrated assortment of “ha’s.” “Three or more ha’s if I really laughed,” we’ll explain. “One sounds sarcastic. Two sounds like you didn’t really laugh. Sometimes I shake it up by prefacing with “BAHA or “HOHOHA” to add a random, real-world element.”
But this takes far too much effort! I used to read. Now I have to spend all that time calibrating my ha’s. That was why LOL – or its less demure cousins, LMAO and ROFL – was coined in the first place. It was great when we actually were laughing. But then it grew into a form of courtesy. Now, in response to anything anyone types that seems remotely droll, we politely type “LOL” or “ROFL” into the keyboard to indicate that we are experiencing the mirth expected. It’s worse than merely the online equivalent of the mirthless giggle, the polite laugh, the Professional Smile. The omnipresence of those leaves intact our ability to recognize a real titter or a genuine grin. But our watered-down online ha’s and LOL’s and ROFLMAO’s are making it literally impossible to tell the true laugh from its phony counterpart. And that’s an awful shame. We lose so much by communicating online – for instance, the ability to pick up on rich non-verbal cues that is the only thing separating us from the chat-bots who like to congratulate us on our weight loss. Must laughter be one of them?
So it’s time for HA, HA. Please, I beg you, do not type LOL unless you are literally splitting a gut with actual mirth. Otherwise, pick an acronym that more accurately reflects the truth, like ISWYDT (I See What You Did There) or IATHOT (I Acknowledge The Humor Of That), or TRFA (That’s Rather Funny Actually).
Maybe it’ll wind up in the OED!