The Faux Mitigation of LOL and Emoticons

I play my fair share of online games–these days it’s World of Warcraft–and so I interact casually with a large number of humans via online chat.

These aren’t people I know–they’re just other players in the game with whom I might be temporarily allied. Conversations amount to “sap that dude” and “haha, we’re pwning!” Similarly, I talk with people on Skype (I’ve got a whole other rant on the puzzling, emergant world of IM ettiquette).

In both cases, I’ve noticed a trend in the use of the phrase ‘LOL’ and its graphical cousin, the emoticon. People seem to think they can ‘say’ anything they want, as long as it’s followed by ‘LOL’, as in:

[Sherah – Aerie Peak] OMG, ur such a retarded noob. Your parents are blind dalmatians.

[Sherah – Aerie Peak] LOL.

That’s pretty G-rated, but you get the idea. It’s like the ‘LOL’ or emoticon unquestionably mitigates whatever preceded it. This irks me for two reasons:

  • It apparently gives people a blank cheque to say whatever they like.
  • People won’t do the work of using actual words to convey the sarcasm, irony or tonal quality they’re trying to achieve. ‘LOL’ seems like a crutch for lousy and lazy writers.

I know I sound like a aged curmudgeon (kids these days!) but text-based chat is only going to become a more ubiquitous medium in the next couple of decades. We ought to think about the emerging conventions.

That said, I’m pretty sure that ‘LOL’ is fully entrenched in the world of online chat. Of course, YMMV. 


  1. In another case of parallel development I just posted a video screengrab of an IM chat I had with a friend who assaulted my senses with not one but 4 animated .gifs in a 5 minute chat!

    The worst offence in the kind of behaviour you’re referring to, in my mind, is the fact that they are laughing at themselves. I think I’m hilarious but rarely do I make myself chortle hysterically out loud or allow myself to do it. That’s just plain egoamaniacal.

    It occurs to me that we’re not really engaged in a discussion when someone is responding to their own comments. It’s more performative than conversive.

    In a further development, words may disappear altogether from online chat with the introduction of ZLANGA.

    FYI Your post heading did make me Laugh Out Loud. I’m serious.

  2. What bothers me the most about chat abbreviations, emoticons, animated gifs, and the lack of anything resembling grammar is that when I communicate normally (with proper capitalization, punctuation and my trademark wry wit instead of a LOL!!!one!!!) online I’m considered uncool.

    It’s like the digital equivalent of wearing a wimple in a room full of miniskirts and crop tops.

  3. Oy. Agreed, Darren, and I’m going on 22, so you’re really not an old curmudgeon to feel that way. I started using (A)IM almost 8 years ago and around that time I didn’t have a clue what ‘lol’ meant — I thought it was a word for something else (and apparently nothing like ‘loll’, either) — so I used it badly over and over in some mailing list post. Anyway. Putting ‘LOL’ in the context you’re showing is somewhat like, but worse than, laughing or saying “just kidding” after saying something mean. Fortunately, I don’t talk to random people online anymore so I haven’t had to witness this.

    It’s also really obnoxious to have a conversation with someone on MSN and suddenly see a little box where a word/icon should be, and then about 30 seconds later this sometimes gigantic, sparkling, new-age clip art animation tells me what the word was supposed to be. I asked my friend to stop doing it, but he said his computer “remembers” them. Is it really necessary to use it for “time” and “money”? And this all because MSN forces me to update. Whether there’s any way to prevent them from showing up as animations, I don’t know. It has me a bit worried about current and future generations, however. Will I sound like an old woman when I’m 30 and not using abbreviations for everything?

  4. I have to be honest and say I have actually used “LOL” in exactly the way described, oh and BTW I recently started using emoticons and those other things “winks”. ironically I found this page when looking for emoticons. I realise now how inane they are but its funny how you get sucked into the world of messenger. It is a bit more frightening when conerning the power of a forum. Those places are addictive and time consuming and the standards of language abysmal. I used to punctuate everything and spell properly. now I abbreviate, and dont really care about punctuation if I have to use a shift key.
    But yeah you can get peed off with a “friend ” and say “Oh well maybe if you werent such a ****”

    Its a nervous way to say “you are a ****
    but dont hate me – I dont want a slanging match on here “

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: