In a CNN.com opinion column today, linguist John McWhorter makes this observation:
Take LOL. Today, it wouldn’t signify amusement the way it did when it first caught on. Jocelyn texts “where have you been?” and Annabelle texts back “LOL at the library studying for two hours.”
How funny is that, really? Or an exchange such as “LOL theres only one slice left” / “don’t deprive me LOL” — text exchanges often drip with these LOL’s the way normal writing drips with commas. Let’s face it — no mentally composed human being spend his or her entire life immersed in ceaseless hilarity. The LOLs must mean something else.
A little late to the game McWhorter is (Lexicide observed this four years ago, probably a year after everyone else). But the man is no slouch. Here’s his analysis:
[LOLs] signal basic empathy between texters. What began as signifying laughter morphed into easing tension and creating a sense of equality… That is, “LOL” no longer “means” anything. Rather, it “does something” — conveying an attitude — just as the ending “-ed” doesn’t “mean” anything but conveys past tense. LOL is, of all things, grammar.
Well put. He concludes: All indications are that America’s youth are doing it quite well. Texting is not the mangling of language — it’s the birth of a new one.
If anything, then, texting will keep Lexicide going for years to come.