RIP to LOL - the history of laughing out loud

LOL graphic

Is it time to say RIP to LOL?

A Facebook study suggests that people are choosing to use "haha" and emojis over "LOL" to express laughter.

The research claims more than half (51.4%) opt for "haha", while just 1.9% are LOLers, although it didn't look at direct messages.

LOL was added to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) in 2011, but the origin of the phrase can be traced back to the 1980s.

The dictionary points to an electronic newsletter from the International FidoNet Association, dated 8 May 1989.

LOL is listed in a section of online slang called "MO ICONS PLEASE". It appears to be the earliest use of LOL on record.

Internet slang from a 1989 tech network newsletter
Image caption Internet slang from a 1989 tech network newsletter. LMTO or what?

Ever heard of BAK (back at keys) or RE (again/re-hi)? No, neither have we. Our favourite is "----=====" (drink sliding down the bar).

"LOL was a form of early internet slang," Professor of Linguistics, Vyv Evans, from Bangor University told Newsbeat.

"It's what's called an initialism, a form of abbreviation. Using it is obviously more convenient when you're typing or texting."

He says the rise of email and early texting pre-smartphones helped the popularity of LOL.

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of LOL
Image caption The Oxford English Dictionary definition of LOL

A developer from Calgary, Canada, claims he was the first to use LOL in the early to mid-1980s.

Wayne Pearson says he wrote LOL in a chat room after his friend "Sprout" said something that made him laugh so loud it echoed off his kitchen walls.

He writes that he would have saved the original conversation had he known it would spread like it has. He's :# or :( probably.

"LOL or haha?" on a smartphone

Professor Evans says that language changes and English does this all the time.

He gives the example of how "I will" has taken over from "I shall" as the preferred way to talk about the future.

He says the different ways to express e-laughter are competing with each other and that LOL is being replaced by something more intuitive.

"Haha is a form of onomatopoeia - it's words representing the sound they mean, like miaow or woof.

"Haha is in some ways more apt. It more directly stands for what it represents than LOL."

Another reason, Professor Evans says, is that haha is less tied to English.

"LOL is based on English, whereas haha is more universal. It represents something that all humans do."


The Facebook study suggests a third of people use emojis for laughter.

"Emojis provide a greater range of expressing different types of e-laughter, with the different types of smiling faces," Professor Evans explains.

Whether you use LOL or haha is also probably an age thing.

"Older people are staying with LOL, but younger people are innovating with haha."

Talking of age, there's also probably less danger of haha being mistaken for something else.

Prime Minister David Cameron famously sent text messages with LOL thinking it meant "lots of love".

While many of us will have heard a story about an older relative texting sad news, but ending with LOL.

LOL letters

So is LOL dead?

"I don't think LOL is dead," Professor Evans concludes.

"It's simply that it's being competed with for air. And this is what happens with language. It's conceivable it could come back in the future."

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