in praise of LOL

I admitted previously to being torn, tormented, and generally tortured about using LOL. That’s now shifted to quibbling, wobbling, and humming and hawing. 

Back in August:

[...] Do excuse the smiley–I’m starting to think this might be understandable, or understood, as an Americanism and a sign of cultural difference.


That thing they call “British humour” on this continent –especially south of the border–is distinct, and representative of a cultural distinctness: for one, it doesn’t need LOLs or smileys to signal “joke.”

Well, at levels above lowest chavvery anyway. Inhabitants of the Western Atlantic Archipelago would of course distinguish various forms of mainstream and indie humour, styles popularized by Footlights and the BBC and music-hall and working men’s clubs, plus a cornucopia of national, regional, class, ethnic, and special-interest varieties. But the point is, that even back in the 18th century, when there were such things as American and British (and Scottish) high intellectual cultures–without the range of verbalized-and-recorded culture we have today–there’s already noticeable differences in humour. Take any satirical pamphlet (or more recent equivalent) written in English and you can tell if it’s American or not. Unless it’s more recent, of a hipster persuasion, and/or has otherwise has suffered the indignity of BBC radio & TV comedy influence.

As with so much across the border, for good or for ill, I’d side with Tocqueville and blame the Puritans. Oh, OK, and the rich array of descendants, of the flesh and in the spirit: inbred rednecks, survivalists, fundamentalists, nutjobs and godbags, high financiers, crass capitalists, consumer(ist)s, [insert your American stereotypes here], etc.

LOL. Not.*

As it were.

I should apologize: you see, not being an American, this sort of thing doesn’t come to me naturally. But a first step in learning a thing is to practice it, modelling one’s copies on the masters. Practice makes perfect–then once one’s achieved mastery of a technique, one can progress to actually doing shizz with it. And you’ll recall anyway, boys and girls, that imitation is the highest form of flattery.

It’s polite to try to speak someone else’s language, and try to bridge communicative and cross-cultural gaps. It’s a great way to enrich your own vocabulary, too. So: yes, I will LOL from time to time, when circumstances dictate, context suggests, or indeed if I am actually, you know, laughing out loud. Ditto for falling off chairs onto floor, etc. LOLing is also a great defusing and calming device. Good for moving discussion in a different, more positive direction; or just to change tack and divert attention.

(and then there was a change of direction)

Since then, I’ve been very happy to LOL around from time to time, as befitted the occasion. I’ve even FOCLed and ROFLed. I’m fairly happy with them. But I’m less happy about emoticons: I’m still figuring out exactly why they annoy me, besides being lazy. See, I think part of it is that while I like the idea of language changing, changing and expanding and doing amazing innovative things every time language meets a new technology; while I’m super keen as mustard on all that: I’m not convinced that emoticons are genuinely creative. And not just plain old lazy.

I do like the idea that they’re part of internationalizing English (for example: and other languages in similarly-based scripts too). Introducing ideograms / ideographs, and integrating that different kind of linguistic representation–indeed, whole different system of language and thinking and being–into English. To my mind, that’s great and exciting and, yes, creative and innovative.

Not just adding some imported loan-words that go from “borrowings” to being part of the language, assimilated into it. Not just colonizing words, appropriating them, making them into English: in other words, starting with the injury of theft and adding the insult of its legitimation: your foreign word was just nonsense noise till it became part of English; it had no value when it was foreign, it only acquired value when it became English.

Nope: actually changing English and the way it works, by making English more foreign: in this case, changing the way that language thinks and is, making it more like, say, Chinese or Korean or Japanese. Long live international English, Creolization, and the joys of text-speak.

So long as it’s that kind of constructive and creative use.

Just being lazy? Bog off.

My favourite spinster aunt has a delightful take on this, in her guidelines for commenters. Here are some excerpts, on a more language-y note:

These simple rules will improve your prose and make you rich, famous and lovable.

• Commenters should strive for excellence. Everyone dislikes reading un-excellent comments.

• Be brief. One or two short paragraphs should about cover it. Got more to say? Get your own blog.

• Avoid beginning your remarks with

– the word “I”
– the word “i”
– any lowercase letter, for that matter
– the phrase “I think that ___.”
– the phrase “I personally choose to ____ because choice empowers me.”
– the phrase “I haven’t read the post you’re all talking about, but ____”
– either “um” or “er,” particularly in an effort to convey sarcasm. You are not an edgy young character in a sitcom.
– the phrase “Off-topic, but ___.”

• Your comments appear on my blog at my pleasure. I have not solicited your participation. I don’t care if you disagree with my ideas. I don’t care if you approve of my ideas. I am not obligated to publish opposing viewpoints. You don’t have a “right” to be heard on this or any other blog. Neither do I “owe” you the slightest respect, courtesy or explanation. I may delete any of your comments I choose, for whatever reason I choose. I generally delete comments that

– do not exhibit sufficient patriarchy-blaming chops
– do not exhibit philosophic value
– are off-topic
– are unintelligible
– are spam
– are antifeminist
– are godbaggy
– are creepy
– are “what about the men?”
– annoy me in some way that I can’t quite put my finger on
– mansplain
– suck

• Commenters should avoid being annoying in a way that I can put my finger on. Some examples of annoying commentarianism are

– ignoring the Guidelines for Commenters
– blaming women for their own oppression
– posting “Hey check out this totally unrelated link!” as a comment
– using the old “how dare you discuss [this frivolous topic] when people are dying in Transylvania?” gambit
– self-righteousism (see above)
– shameonyouism (see above)
– commenter feuds
– dudes paraphrasing their girlfriends’ supposed opinions
– baby talk (e.g. “teh widdle menz”)
– a single long, poorly punctuated paragraph
– many long, poorly punctuated paragraphs
– many long paragraphs, period
– any number of paragraphs describing your personal heterosexual sex life
– re-stating the thesis of the post without adding to the discussion or at least making a joke
– stating “I second what Picklenose said” without adding to the discussion or at least making a joke
– using an ellipsis
– using an ellipsis in the middle
– using an ellipsis at the end
– using an ellipsis in the middle and another at the end
– using two or four or eight dots instead of an ellipsis
– using two dots here, four dots there instead of two ellipses

• If you find yourself commenting more than 2 or 3 times on a given post, please consider shutting the old piehole.

• Once in a while I actually put a little work into these posts. Kindly do me the favor of refraining from derailing the discussion with off-topicality. This is my personal blog, not a message board.

• In the interest of intelligibility, try to use words. Random typing is no substitute. Here are a few examples of random typing:


• Kindly employ decent grammar, syntax, punctuation, and spelling, both when commenting, and during the course of your daily life.

• While you’re at it, you might as well avoid clichés, too.

• Ain’t got no dictionary handy? Download CleverKeys, an application for Mac and Windows that lets you right-click your way to precision and profundity in the English language. It’s no OED, but it’s better than nothing.

• Emoticons: is anything sadder? :(

(Source: I Blame the Patriarchy; content licence: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence)

And my favourite bachelor uncle has a lovely spin on LOL and :)

(further comments here: The Guardian, Comment is Free: Soapbox: LOL)

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