The real deal behind lol and lmao

September 23, 2022 — by Beverly Xu and Divya Vadlakonda
Photo by Annie Liu
Not all words are created equal.
The meaning of everyday slang we use to text can no longer be found in what they supposedly stand for.

“Lol our chemistry test is tomorrow, and I haven’t even started studying yet,” read a text sent by a friend. After reading their text, we definitely weren’t “laughing out loud.”

The abbreviations lol and lmao (“laughing my a– off”) were first popularized in the late 1980s along with some now-archaic slang, including RAO (rolling all over), AFK (away from keyboard) and ODM (on da — yes, it was spelled “da” not “the” — move),  phrases that no one born in the 21st century has ever heard of. 

Lol and lmao have become multi-purposed, remaining prevalent in Gen Z texting. Therefore, it’s about time to examine the use behind lol and lmao and map out the nuances of these seemingly simple buzzwords.

First off, both slang words are equivalent to, at most, a light huff of the nose. No one types lol and actually laughs out loud. The same goes for “lmao” — let’s be real here, no one is losing a body part laughing at your bad jokes. 

What lol is actually used for is to soften difficult messages. For example, the difference between typing “we’re so screwed” and “lol we’re so screwed” is obvious: The former hits a serious, pessimistic note, while the latter is lightheartedly making fun of the writer’s own misery.

That being said, lol in all caps expresses much more of a genuine glee, and when chained together with multiple LOLs, there’s a chance you might actually be laughing out loud.

As for lmao, its connotations and uses are similar to lol. It can be used to give a text a subtle humorous edge, such as conveyed in the sentence, “my toe hurts so much lmao.” 

Just be aware that if you ever receive it alone and in entirely lower case, the sender is most likely at a loss of what to reply. 

But for both abbreviations, even typing in all caps and chaining “LOLs” and LMAO with endless O’s doesn’t guarantee an actual reaction in real life. These variations can be used ironically, where the sender’s face never changes, despite writing that they’re apparently “laughing their a– off.”

In this age of social media, where buzzwords are scattered throughout text conversations, texting language has evolved over the years to acquire very nuanced meanings. 

Hopefully all this isn’t not too confusing, lol.

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