Friday, December 20, 2019

The many meanings of lol

The youth explained that you could technically say “good morning lol” as a way of ribbing someone if it was actually the afternoon (where it’s alluding to undisclosed information rather than simple small talk), but you really shouldn’t say “i love you lol”—you’d be making fun of someone in quite a mean way.

McSweeney reasoned that “lol” must be conveying a message about the phrase as a whole, a meaning that’s compatible with flirting, softening, and empathy but not with love, directness, and checking in.

The difference between flirting and saying “I love you” is plausible deniability. Likewise, using “lol” can soften what might otherwise be interpreted as a confrontation (“ what are you doing out so late lol”), but would undermine a serious direct statement (“ you hurt me so much in our relationship”).

“Lol” can subtly request empathy (“Lol I’m writing an essay :’(”) but isn’t necessary when asking a direct question (“Can you tell me your schedule so I know when to text you”). Some statements are direct; others wrap their meaning in layers.

Including “lol” indicates there’s a second layer of meaning to be found, telling the recipient to look beyond the literal words you’re saying. The exact nature of that second layer depends on the meaning of the first: it’s reassuring when your statement might otherwise be perceived as rude, sarcastic, or confrontational, but “I love you” is already maximally warm and fuzzy, so if you add a second layer of meaning to it, things can only get worse.

In some ways, “lol” hasn’t changed its meaning so very far from its roots in laughter. Sure, sometimes we laugh at a direct joke, something we can point at and say, “That’s funny.” But there’s also nervous laughter, social laughter, and polite smiles. We laugh more at a comedy performance if we have other people to laugh with: even a studio audience or a laugh track helps.

One study of natural conversations found that only 10 to 20 percent of laughter was actually in response to humor. Flirting often involves laughing at nothing in particular, but when someone says “I love you” for the first time, you probably want it to be delivered with a straight face.

On the internet, real laughter calls for a representation that hasn’t become trite through overuse. In my survey of 2017, people favored the ever-increasing repetition in “hahahaha” or expanded, ad hoc phrases such as “I actually just spat water on my keyboard from laughing.” But, by necessity, the way we express genuine laughter keeps changing.
Source: Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulloch

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