WLCM to Wordplay – LTNS. Good news, I’m BAK and ODM with :D, keen to share a birthday with U. OIC by your :/ one big H. Enough! Let’s decode this jargon before we go further. Each cluster, each emoticon, reigned the chatrooms of 1989, an eon ago in internet years.
WLCM was shorthand for welcome, cool among users of the BBS (Bulletin Board System) on FidoNet, a computer network of Jurassic times. In many ways, Fido’s subscribers were pioneers, phreaks and proto-geeks fluent in keyboard speech, finessing a dialect as their immersion intensified.
LTNS – Long Time No See – may still occur in text exchanges, along with Back At Keyboard, but don’t expect today’s correspondents to be On De Move. Nor will modern scribes resort to the Lascaux glyphs of 😀 (big grin) or :/ (bewilderment), the symbols the forerunners of this century’s emoji gallery.
OIC (Oh I See), U say. Rather than H (Huh). So what’s that birthday I mentioned? It’s a big one too – 30 years in fact. The feted guest is another Fido relic, a keepsake outlasting LTNT (Long Time No Type) and TMOT (Trust Me On This). You even know the birthday girl – her name is LOL.
Lots Of Love? As if! (Though that interpretation can be found in historic postcards.) Little Old Lady? Seriously, has anybody ever believed that translation? Now that she’s 30, LOL needs no introduction, yet she’s changed plenty since her Fido debut.
Take those capital letters for starters – yuk. Three decades older, you won’t catch lol dead in such grand apparel, that bulbous O in her midriff adding 10 kilos at least, compared to the slimline chic of lower case. Where once she stood akimbo, a bent L on either hip, the elfin lol seems far happier to salute the sun on her yoga mat.
Cosmetic changes, sure, versus the inner tumult of lol herself, a lexeme to undergo such vast upheaval inside 30 years, she’s almost a new person. David Crystal, the noted UK linguist, doubts whether anyone has ever Laughed Out Loud, suspecting the truer admission is NE (or Nose Exhale) when reacting to a witticism.
Besides, lol belongs to an eccentric clan of textonyms, her multiple ancestors flimsy in their claims, from ROTFL to BL (Belly Laugh), from the emphatic LOLOLOL to LTIC (Laughing Till I Cry). Add hahaha and kekeke to the family tree, and you start to wonder whether lol’s lofted arms imply she’s drowning, not waving.
Probably both, as the good-time girl has suffered her share. Starting life as bona-fide laughter, the lass has been enlisted to mean the opposite, where lol equated to the womp-womp of a trombone’s groan, the sardonic eye-roll that non-funny remarks incur. Miley Cyrus even embodied LOL in a film by that name, back in 2012, playing Lola Williams within a messy love triangle marinaded in more sark than joy.
Yet lately lol has shed malice for empathy. Where Fido friends once cackled at bulletin zingers, the adult lol is comfier in a genial setting, a gesture expressing equality, a positive marker of peer status. Scan the latest Twitter scroll for evidence: "Glad you got the reference lol" or "lol at uni till 7" or "Potato I’m sorry lol I’m just really random x3"
New York linguist Michelle McSweeney assessed lol usage across 45,597 text messages, donated by youths between 18 and 21, discovering our birthday girl is more readily aligned with tone-softening, even indirect flirting, compared to her hyena-like origins, or that passive-aggro adolescence she suffered early in the millennium. True that! Gather round the cake yall. Light the candles and lol let’s party.