LOL! The acronym that made the internet turns 25 - here's how we got here

The abbreviation for 'laugh out loud' was first cited in 1989 and is still going strong. Gretchen McCulloch explores how three letters took over the internet

This month marks the 25th anniversary of the first known usage of LOL for "laughing out loud" (the "lots of love" interpretation, incidentally, is quite a bit older).

The linguist Ben Zimmer notes that the earliest citation is from the May 1989 issue of a newsletter called Fidonet and is still available online.

Several terms on the original list, such as BTW, BRB, or even AFK, have stuck around, while others, including LMTO (laughing my tush off) and RAO (rolling all over), have persisted in slightly modified form. But some, LTNT (long time no type) and WLCM (welcome), have long ago faded into obscurity. In any case, the fact that these abbreviations appear as part of a larger list of general online shorthand suggests that they all predate the newsletter. And as for LOL in particular, a man named Wayne Pearson says that he remembers exactly how that one was coined.

Pearson claims that it was he who invented LOL in the early to mid Eighties on a Canadian bulletin board system, or BBS, called Viewline, where it quickly caught on and spread as Viewline users got free accounts on the larger chatroom service GEnie:

"LOL was first coined on a BBS called Viewline in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, in the early to mid-Eighties. A friend of mine who went by [the name] Sprout (and I believe he still does) had said something so funny in the teleconference room that I found myself truly laughing out loud, echoing off the walls of my kitchen. That's when 'LOL' was first used.

"We of course had ways of portraying amusement in chat rooms before that (>grin< >laugh< *smile*) and the gamut of smiley faces, but I felt that none of them really got across the fact that the other person just made you feel foolish by laughing out loud in a room all by yourself (or worse, with other family members in another room, thinking you quite odd!)."

Unfortunately, Pearson didn't keep any records of his purported first use of the term, so we can be sure of only 25 candles on the LOL birthday cake.

"If I had any idea that such a thing would spread, I would have saved the original conversation that led to the acronym's inception. Alas, I don't even recall what was so funny! While I can picture in my mind where I was when it happened, I can't narrow the time down any further."

Whatever you think of Pearson's account, it must have been a pretty good joke that resulted in his laughter "echoing off the walls" of his home. These days, I'd argue that LOL (commonly without caps) barely indicates an internal, silent chuckle, never mind an uproarious, audible guffaw.

In fact, as far back as 2001, the linguist David Crystal asked rhetorically: "How many people are actually 'laughing out loud' when they send LOL?" (If anyone can find older such expressions of scepticism, do let us know!) As the linguist John McWhorter now describes LOL: "What began as signifying laughter morphed into easing tension and creating a sense of equality." In other words, the abbreviation has evolved to relate empathy rather than hilarity.

So, what will happen to LOL in the next 25 years? Will we completely abandon it in favour of younger, hipper abbreviations, or is it part of our language for the long-term? (The LOLcat, after all, has already given way to Doge.) Will it have a midlife crisis, then obsolesce and start relying on its children to fix its tech problems? It should be so lucky. Remember ODM (on de move)? I thought so.

Slate.com

News
Actor Burt Reynolds last year
peopleBurt Reynolds, once among the most bankable actors in Hollywood, is set to auction his memorabilia
News
Gordon and Tana Ramsay arrive at the High Court, London
newsTV chef gives evidence against his father-in-law in court case
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
News
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Arts and Entertainment
One of the installations in the Reiner Ruthenbeck exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery
artCritics defend Reiner Ruthenbeck's 'Overturned Furniture'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Opilio Recruitment: Senior Developer

    £50k - 60k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We have an exciting Seni...

    Opilio Recruitment: Senior Front End Developer

    £50k - 70k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We have an exciting Seni...

    h2 Recruit Ltd: Senior Sales Executive - SaaS/ Cyber Security - £60,000

    £32000 - £34000 per annum + Uncapped OTE £65,000 : h2 Recruit Ltd: Looking for...

    h2 Recruit Ltd: Sales Executive - Software-as-a-Service/ SaaS - £42,000

    £28000 - £31000 per annum + Bonus + Progression: h2 Recruit Ltd: Are you looki...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game