LOL has stood for many things throughout the years. League of Legends. Little old lady. Lots of love. But the most influential one, of course, is laughing out loud, perhaps one of the best-known internet acronyms out there. The abbreviation was coined on a bulletin board system by Calgary native Wayne Pearson in the early 1980s. A friend's message made him burst out laughing, and rather than typing hahaha he randomly used LOL. The friend asked him what it meant, then started using it himself, and the rest is history. What happened next was analyzed rather well by linguist Gretchen McCulloch in her delightful new book Because Internet: over time, LOL stopped being an acronym and started being a word - lol. Rules were established, if not codified, over its usage. It no longer refers to actually laughing, but can express slight amusement, flirting, validation, correction, empathy, or it serves soften the meaning of a message. It's used only once a sentence, typically at the end or beginning, and nowadays it's almost always lowercase. We're at a point when I regularly hear my friends say the word out loud (as loll, not el oh el) in reaction to a joke. What started as a spur-of-the-moment acronym turned into an actual term, dissociated from all past meaning, with its own social context - and it all happened within thirty years. That's incredibly cool.
Adam Aleksic is a sophomore studying linguistics and government at Harvard University. He also has disturbing interests in politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, and law.