When LOLs Are Neither Laughing, Nor Loud

Bonnie Ruberg, one of the bloggers over at Terra Nova, has raised an interesting issue in a recent post regarding the use of Internet slang in online conversations, specifically the word “LOL”. Most adults can define the word as “Laughing Out Loud,” and know that, at heart, it’s supposed to be used to indicate amusement. However, the expression takes on a much more nuanced meaning when used by individuals who spend significant amounts of time in online conversations.

Ruberg points to a conversation she had while she was doing linguistic research in the virtual world of Second Life.

I encountered the following utterance: “im naked in a lawn chair, lol.”

The player my research alt was chatting it up with — a self-admitted middle-aged, overweight, married man — was testing the waters turning our virtual flirtations into a real-life proposition. He wanted to draw attention to his actual physical arousal, but didn’t want to scare away the theoretical cutey behind my alt.


So what did he do? He said exactly what he wanted to say, except he added “lol.”

So, has Internet slang evolved to the point where it’s effectively a new language yet? I’ve got to admit that this question seems like it has an obvious answer to me, but that answer raises issues about how marketers can capture all of the subtle nuances and subtext inherent in Internet slang, short of hiring a group of 12-year-olds to do on-the-fly translations (Or instead of using this handy 12-year-old AOL translator).