To LOL, or Not LOL? That Is the Question

LOLThere was a time when LOL -- "laughing out loud" -- was so simple.

If you thought something in a casual online conversation was funny, you just typed that. Same thing if you wanted to let someone know you were kidding in an e-mail or an instant message.

You might've even felt a little cool, using inside lingo that, at one time, was exclusive to the online world.

Today, though, there seems to be a shift in people's thoughts about LOL. Certainly, it's as ubiquitous as ever -- which might be exactly why, at least in some circles, LOL has lost its cachet.

It "epitomizes lazy, and makes people a liar" says Seth Ginsburg, a 29-year-old New Yorker. "Are they really laughing out loud?"

Comic Demetri Martin jokes that he uses "LTMQ -- laughing to myself quietly." Says Mar­tin: "It's more honest."

The exact origins of this three-letter acronym, in its current form, aren't easy to pin down. Most likely, it was a gamer or hacker who first used LOL (or "lol") on an electronic message board, probably in the 1980s. Its use became more common on early Internet services. By the mid-'90s, when even more people joined America Online, the term LOL hit the mainstream in chat rooms and in instant messaging.

It morphed, as well. If you thought something was really funny, you might type ROFL -- "rolling on the floor laughing"; or LMAO -- "laughing my (you know what) off."

By 2004, fatigue was setting in. LOL was added to the "List of Words to Be Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness," updated each year at Lake Superior State University in Michigan.

Regardless, LOL went forth and multiplied and has seeped into spoken language.

When speaking of text conversations, one can't forget the sideways smiley -- :-) -- which you might call LOL's older cousin. The sideways smiley has gotten bashed, too -- it's been called the equivalent of "i's" dotted with hearts.

Ben Huh, the Northwestern University alum who heads the Seattle company that oversees the humor websites "I Can Has Cheezburger?" and "FAIL Blog," says using LOL feels as natural as saying "OK," or "cool."

Huh, 33, couldn't care less if a person who uses LOL isn't really laughing out loud. "It's like the suburban dad who wants to put his hat on backward," Huh says, "vs. the kid who puts a hat on backward because that's just what they do."

It's not necessarily a matter of age, he says, but whether it's really just who you are.

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