It had been a while since she’d heard people using LOL, Marie thought. She’d used it in the 1940s of course, enjoying the personal touch with George back when he was alive. They’d courted through LOL, and the others too. It had been such a nice surprise to hear Lizzie’s youngest using it. Really brought her back.
Marie looked at the open letter stuck on the fridge. Her neighbours had gone to the effort of typing it up, so she should probably reply. Everyone was dying around her these days, and she almost couldn’t bring herself to write back. Although this letter was just announcing the death of their dog, she still believed in common courtesy. Settling down on the couch, she put aside her Sudoku and wrote quite a nice letter, if she did say so herself.
So sorry to hear about Harry’s passing. He was a bright bundle of joy, and will be sorely missed around the neighbourhood.
Nowadays the jaded noughties kids use LOL as a sarcastic expression of non-laughter, but in the past it was actually taken to mean ‘lots of love’. The repurposing doesn’t end here either, as depending on the context or the people involved, it can mean League of Legends, Little Old Lady, and limitless other lexemes.
The main export back in the 90s seemed to be acronyms. Especially to me as I IM’d my BFFL on MSN. Acronyms are still going strong today, albeit in a slightly more cryptic way. But one important element of the 90s was that everyone was ripping everyone else off, and this hip new lingo, which meant kids didn’t have to waste any more time typing out strenuous letters, had already been used before – for letters.
SWALK was the most common acronym used in letter writing, and it has some surprisingly pretty imagery. There’s a nice romance to it all, receiving a letter with ‘Sealed With A Loving Kiss’ on the back of an envelope.
WWII certainly didn’t ration their acronyms: FRANCE, as one example, meant ‘Friendship Remains And Never Can End’; although I still prefer the bluntness of CHINA, or umm … ENGLAND *cough*.
While initially seeming to provide brevity and ease of communication, acronyms are not always so clear: they spawn from and apply to their own subculture (especially gaming culture), and it’s not enough to simply know their meaning – you have to apply it in the right context of that subculture. If you don’t know your acronyms you’re immediately on the outer, like Tom from Myspace.
However, research by Frank Yunker and Stephen Barry in their article ‘Threaded Podcasting: The Evolution of On-Line Learning’ says that internet acronyms, slang and emoticons are “often misunderstood” by students and “difficult to decipher”. Indeed, things like ROLFcopter are definitely not intuitive.
The acronym all the cool kids of last year have been using is YOLO. This comes from a really nice Zen-sounding idea of only living once, but the sentiment has instead been Shanghaied into phrases like, ‘DRINKIN SIXER O JIMMIES THEN DRIVIN ‘CAUSE #YOLO’.
No one seems to be immune from acronyms. Even the Titanic was guilty of something similar as early as 1912, using the brand new soul-saving acronym ‘SOS’ in a poor attempt at lolspeak.
“What is the matter with u?” texted back one of the ships.
Turns out the companies are DTF as well. Most recently is the eye-gouging evidence that acronyms can be made worse through the combination of gambling company Ladbrokes and that stupid meme of putting a horse mask on things.
LOL, they would like you to think, means Latest Odds Live. BTW: Bet To Win; YOLO: You’re On Ladbroke Odds. It’s enough to make you want to vomit up your swag. They’re not the first to do it though: remember those ‘gone like a Zyrtec’ ads? Trying to make your brand name a verb also worked for W. H. Hoover, whose name is now synonymous with vacuum cleaners and vacuuming. While the Zyrtec ads don’t even seem to exist on YouTube, they do in my memory.
Those who control the language control the market. This is clearly evident in the soda wars and how in the South of the United States ‘Coke’ now means any kind of soft drink. Stories come back of people in restaurants being asked what kind of Coke they want (turns out lemonade is ‘clear Coke’).
There’s some creativity within Acronym World though, albeit in ways that would make an English teacher want to hurl themselves into a lolcano. ‘Swaghetti Yolognaise’ is one such phrase, proving that creativity isn’t dead, it’s just resting. This invention comes despite claims that texting “is no bar to literacy”.
Certain acronyms have also gained a sense of power, though one that seems disproportionate to the rest of their usage. Although technically initialisms, the FBI, the CIA, and even more recently, the TSA and NSA, all have two things in common – the intimidating weight of connotations behind them, and the fact they come from America. Short enough to easily remember (or shout at the top of your lungs when bashing open a doorway), they also have the benefit of quietly understating what it is they actually do. It would be difficult to be scared of something that calls itself a ‘Bureau of Investigations’, which sounds like a crime noir furniture salesman. But the bluntness of the acronym, coupled with the fact that it’s hard for most people, let alone the President, to know exactly what it is they do, is frightening enough.
Returning to LOL (for the last time I promise) comes lulz. For those who are too filled with technological ennui (or acronym laziness), it’s the new cool, especially after being popularised by hackers. Often used as ‘doing x for the lulz’, it shows a kind of YOLO-dismissiveness combined with fun at someone else’s expense.
Not really something that you would name a cyber warfare group, but LulzSec is ostensibly fighting for freedom on the internet and off. This is a hard task considering we can’t even decide on a single meaning for a three-letter acronym, let alone the kinds of freedoms worth defending.
But it might not be a case of having to understand everything, as much as it is being aware that multiple interpretations exist. Without this, there’s a chance you could LOL inappropriately, or even worse, ROFL.
Clearly acronyms don’t always aid communication. But while they can be annoying as hell, they add something to language, both online and off, especially as they are constantly changing. Where we once thought we were sneaky and continental by using the initials of countries as sweet nothings, we have evolved to blunt pickup lines like ‘A/S/L?’. And this evolution is only going to continue.
TL;DR – ITT OC + Lulz. TTYL n00b.
Rafael S. W. is a graduate of creative writing and one of the founding members of Dead Poets’ Fight Club. He has been published in Voiceworks, Going Down Swinging and Dot Dot Dash. He also competes in poetry slams and giant-sized chess games.