Laugh out loud, or lots of love?
LOL might not actually mean what you think it does. Anne Curzan is a professor of English at the University of Michigan. She told Michigan Radio’s Rina Miller that students tell her they use LOL as a listening noise.
"A listening noise is what we do in face to face conversation when we show people we're paying attention, and we make little noises like, 'uh huh, uh huh, yeah,'" Curzan said.
"And what's happening when speakers are now texting or doing online chatting, they need to show people that they're there, and LOL has become an online listening noise or a back channel...the other thing it can do is show that you're kidding. So if you send a message, and you want to make sure that you're showing that you are being sarcastic or ironic or just kidding you can put LOL at the end," said Curzan.
Miller said, "Some of us might think that our language is on the skids, and it's all children's fault (LOL)."
Curzan disagrees. "I think what we see happening is that speakers are taking the English language and adapting it to the new needs that they have. And online, the communication is so fast that we need the written language now to do things that the spoken language can do for us, so we're using LOL as a listening noise, or we're doing things like using those winky faces to say, 'I'm kidding,' or 'I'm smiling right now' to help the people who are reading our messages understand."