CNN: “LOL isn’t funny anymore.”

John McWhorter laughs out loud. LOL.

In a 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.


Join the Commentariat!

Lexicide is accepting comments once again. We had been receiving an enormity of spam through commenting, so we turned off that feature to encourage a minimalist amount of junk we would have to delete. Alas, we realized Lexicide is not about being politically correct, but about serving you, our stakeholders. So comment away. We look forward to answering your questions and telling you you’re wrong.

— Lex and Otto


Not the Jeremy Bentham you're looking for.

UTILITARIAN: “of or relating to or advocating utilitarianism”

UTILITARIANISM: “a doctrine that the useful is the good and that the determining consideration of right conduct should be the usefulness of its consequences; specifically: a theory that the aim of action should be the largest possible balance of pleasure over pain or the greatest happiness of the greatest number.” –

Corporate Americans love philosophy. We try to make our software agnostic, our designs minimalist and our business plans conform to a schema. Bookshelves and Kindles must be bursting with Russell, Van der Rohe and Kant! Cogito ergo vendo!

Add Jeremy Bentham to that library, because managers love utilitarianism! You know, the philosophy that promotes policies proffering “the greatest good for the greatest number of people.”* What? That’s not what you meant when you demanded the website have a “utilitarian look?” You meant you wanted it to be functional but not florid, easy to use but not necessarily pretty?

Oh, pardonez-moi! And here I thought you were asking for a site that offered navigation and interface that appealed to the greatest number of potential visitors, which is actually a noble goal. (Except that we fired our user experience architect, figuring the sales manager could do her job.) No no. What you meant to say was “I want the site to be minimalistic.” Ha. Just kidding. What you want is to fire your creative director and get your UX expert back. Then you’ll have what you want. Won’t be pretty, though, especially with what you’ll have to pay her.

– Otto E. Mezzo

*What Bentham actually wrote, in his preface to A Fragment on Government, is: “…it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong…”