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the Tao of LOL

by Rob Friesel

A friend asked me today:  “On IM, when you type ‘haha’, does that imply that you actually laughed?”

I answered immediately:  no.

The “haha” and “hehe” strings imply that you got the joke, that you’re reading and comprehending the humor, that you believe the preceding statement is funny — but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you laughed.

Leading to the follow-up:  “What about ‘LOL’?”

Which, naturally, means that you did in fact laugh out loud.  “LOL” is a step up from a “hehe” or a “haha”.  It ought to be a rare and coveted event.  If you can eek out an LOL from someone, you’ve done well.

This led to a couple of brief asides about the hierarchy of online laughter:

the Tao of LOL: the hierarchy of online laughter

Observe:  First the “heh” is a modicum of laughter; the online equivalent of the wry smile or the eye-roll at some lame pun.  “Heh” says:  I get it but you’ll need to do better. Then there are the siblings “haha” and “hehe”.  Both are a bit ambiguous since either could be a polite gesture (I like you and that was funny but not LOL-worthy) or an indication of genuine amusement.  Neither should be taken as offensive but neither should be interpreted as full-on actual laughter.  Next are the bastard cousins “muwahaha” and “bwahaha”.  “Muwahaha” is the evil one — that’s reserved for when you’re laughing at someone’s expense.  “Bwahaha” is a more uncontrollable laughter — the online equivalent of shooting milk out your nose.  But nothing can compare to the rate and coveted “LOL”:  laughing-out-loud is when you have arrived and caused someone to physically make an ass out of him or herself by laughing at your disembodied wit.

Everything else is just derivative.

About Rob Friesel

Software engineer by day, science fiction writer by night. Author of The PhantomJS Cookbook and a short story in Please Do Not Remove. View all posts by Rob Friesel →

5 Responses to the Tao of LOL

BobG says:

A couple more observations: Sometimes people are uncomfortable using “LOL” and will instead substitute “hahahaha” or even “HAHAHAHA.” To me, these imply actual laughter as well. Others will express amusement with “ha ha ha” or a similar variant. I’ve always been thrown by the spaces, but I think that’s just a stylistic decision.

found_drama says:

Hmm… The discomfort re: “LOL” I can definitely see. The addition of a 3rd (or 4th!) “ha” implying that it’s taken up a notch or two. The capitalization unnerves me a bit. Spaces? Yeah, that’s a style thing. Capitalization comes across more as a belly-laugh.

Ben says:

I thought I had some free time at work… but i’ve never had the time to put together a Flowchart of Online Chuckles… kudos, and I’ll be referencing this to people!

john says:

I’m not sure I’d agree that ROTFL is “just derivative” of LOL. While it may not have the same literalness, it certainly communicates a greater degree of amusement, a more visceral, uncontrolled reaction than LOL.

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