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Today, I wish to speak to you about the world 'lol'.
That's Lol with one L, not two.
Well, actually, it does have two.
So, Lol with two Ls not three.
Oh no, now I've said Lol too many times, and it's gone weird on me.
Lol. Lol. Lol. Lol.
Snap out of it, David.
Today I wish to speak to you about the modern habit
of indicating approval of a joke
by writing the word 'LOL',
short for 'Laugh Out Loud'.
Here's a fun little game -
guess whether you think I'm for or against this little innovation.
Are you sure?
Have you adequately explored the possibility
that I actually think it's charming and harmless,
and am about to launch into a staunch defence of it?
Quite sure?
Ha! Then you have walked right into my trap, Mr Bond,
because actually, I do approve of it, and I am about to defend it!
I mean, God knows, I'd never use it myself,
but I do think that, unlike much of text speak,
it fulfils a useful purpose
for which there was previously no word in the English language,
and thus earns its place.
Because the meaning I take from the word LOL is
'I acknowledge that you have made a joke,
and wish to express my enjoyment of it.'
And that's an excellent and compact way to say that thing.
Because, otherwise, what are the options?
'Very funny'?...'Ha ha'?...'Most amusing'?
Written down, they all look sarcastic.
That's the beauty of Lol
- unique amongst expressions of approbation,
it's never meant sarcastically.
So, what non-LOLers tend to do instead to illustrate that they've noticed your joke,
especially on the internet,
is to make the same joke again, using slightly different words.
That's to say, if the joke
- and I say joke, but it's normally just a vaguely light-hearted remark,
which really can't bear the weight it's about to have placed upon it.
If the joke you've just read ends, say:
'...or a monkey butler.'
the temptation is to signal your joke-getting status by replying:
'Yes! Or a pig butler!'
Well, this is all very well,
but it's just a waste of joke-energy.
The first guy did the inappropriate butler thing with 'monkey'.
Maybe he considered pig and rejected it,
but even if not, the pig is not bringing anything new to the table.
Which is probably why he makes such a bad butler.
Plus it creates a new joke...ish,
to which the original joker must now presumably respond:
'Yes! Or a goat butler!'
And there you are: locked into an unstoppable spiral of naming animals
who would make bad butlers to one another.
And since this category includes all animals,
with the possible humorous exception
but not actual exception of penguins,
you'll be there a while.
Much better, surely, to respond with a brief, untiring, 'LOL',
and thus register: 'I realise that when you suggested that a monkey could be a butler
you had your tongue somewhat in your cheek.'
but I accept that may be too specific to fall into general use.
Oh, but don't, by the way, assume
that I'm therefore fine with smileys too.
I am un-fine with smileys.
Because people often make a similar defence of smileys:
that they do something for which there is not
otherwise a clear written linguistic signal,
they express the sentiment:
don't take what I've just said seriously, it was only a joke.
But I say - if you feel you need to make that clear,
go back and rewrite the joke.
It wasn't a good enough joke.
Try harder to write unambiguously.
Besides, if we allow smileys to do that job,
it leaves the field wide open for people to wilfully misuse them,
and then where are we?
'I would ask you to be bridesmaid,
but, of course, you're far too fat. Smiley face.'
That's where we are.