What Does That Even Mean? LOL edition

Earlier today, CNN.com published an article called “Three of the web’s most awkward phrases” and counted #, @, and LOL as the top offenders.  The arguments for these being difficult to translate into non-Internet conversational speak are generally persuasive, but the inclusion of LOL reminded me of a problem I’ve been vexed with for ages: Funny Hierarchies.

I’ve been confused for several years now about exactly how one indicates a humorous reaction in the online world–especially in IM conversations.  This is complicated by the fact that a) not all funny things are equally funny, and b) most people use multiple forms of laugh-indicators in online conversations, and I’m never sure as to their relative magnitudes.

Sometimes it’s easy: It’s certainly reasonable to assume that LOL > lol, and that ROTFLMAO > LOL.  However, what about Haha vs. HaHa? Or LOL vs. Hehe? How about a double (Heh Heh) against grammatically improper variants like lolz and Haaahahahhha?  I have come to believe that most of the humor indicators have some hierarchy in our respective minds, but I don’t think that these rankings are consistent across individuals.

Anyway, here is my far-from exhaustive Funny Hierarchy.

  • Haha — The basic laugh indicator for me. I rarely go with extra -ha’s on this phrase, and almost never capitalize it.
  • Hee – This is a phrase I don’t see often (mostly from John C.), but which seems to indicate “mischievous glee” over the shared funny. YMMV.
  • Har — Like “Hee”, this phrase is limited to a few individuals (Supergenius is the main user) and I am completely baffled as to it’s meaning. The problem is that it’s the sort of phrase I would use to indicate sarcasm, or fake laughter (as in “Hardy-Har-Har”), but I’ve seen it used after some truly excellent funnies.
  • Heh/Hehe – The single snort/chuckle. This is an important entry in my Funny Hierarchy, because it holds two important meanings.  First, it can mean something along the lines of “touche” when someone zings me in a humorous way or notes something funny in what I did/said that I had missed; Second, though less common, I will use it as a response when I know I am supposed to laugh, but I don’t actually understand the joke and am trying to downplay this fact (like when someone tells you a joke based on some pop culture reference you should understand, but don’t, and are embarrassed to admit).
  • lol — I use mostly the single, lower-cased version when I’m too busy at work to pay much attention; it’s essentially an acknowledgment of receipt of a funny, but not really a high-five.  Similarly, when I am on the receiving end of a “lol” then I typically interpret it to mean “I’m too busy to care.”
  • LOL — This is something I generally use to indicate shock or surprise funnies.  While it can also be used to indicate strong laughter, the surprise element is really the key element. It also begs for continued dialog, in my experience.
  • lolz/lulz – If you’re ever on the receiving end of this from me, then feel proud–it’s the highest honor in my Funny Hierarchy.  These are used almost exclusively when I am laughing at something I truly should not be laughing at; in other words, if you can elicit a lolz/lulz from me, it means you’ve made laugh against my better judgment.
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14 thoughts on “What Does That Even Mean? LOL edition

  1. I mostly only talk to my boss on IM–I work freelance and he lives in a different state, so we communicate a lot by IM. If I say something funny he’ll respond with “lmao.” And every time I wonder, is he actually laughing?

    I generally only use LOL when I am actually laughing out loud.

  2. I use Har! often. But in most every case I have actually guffawed. Sometimes the guffaw is over something intentionally funny and sometimes it is while I am laughing someone to scorn, but the context usually makes the difference pretty obvious.

  3. My friend, who works across the room from me, used to respond “lol” when I’d send him something funny, but clearly he didn’t laugh out-loud, or I would have heard it. So now he just types “limm” (laugh in my mind).

    Because honestly, how often do people actually lol?

  4. I laugh out loud often. But I work at home so I can laugh as loud as I want. Despite that I rarely use “lol”

  5. I don’t get “lulz.” Why is it a “u”?

    Do we really need to examine this? You’re sucking the funny right out of it.

    I think we should call you The Boz.

  6. Sorry for being a funny-sucker, MCQ. Go ahead and discuss your movies and musiks now, and I’ll retreat to my corner.

  7. Scott – you should put up a top 5 and bottom 5 internet phrase list. I really hate most IM abbreviations and make it a point to add even punctuation to my IMs. 1337 for elite has to be #1 in my worst internet phrase list.

  8. MCQ,
    Nor did I mean my comment “like that” either. See, I tried to show my playfulness by both pluralizing and using a “k” in music. I understand that cool people appreciate that sort of thing, though I may have been mistaken.

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