How I Learned to Stop Hating Acronyms and LOL

Don’t be misled by the title of this post: I’ve been laughing out loud for most of my life. In fact, I do it at least five times a day, sometimes in public, for no apparent reason.

But LOL? I’m afraid that’s a relatively new phenomenon for me. I probably would have started doing it much earlier, if I’d known WTH it was. The first time I stumbled upon it was about 15 years ago, at the dawn of the email era, back when “You’ve got mail” still meant that the postman was at the door. (In this era of Facebook and text messages, how quaint do movies like You’ve Got Mail and The Postman Always Rings Twice now seem?)

My friend Jason and I had been spending a large part of the work day exchanging emails, thoroughly excited about this novel form of conversation. It was the first time we’d ever communicated with each other when we weren’t face to face or talking on the phone, and apparently, Jason had discovered a new side of me, the me that comes out in writing but not necessarily in oral conversation. “Until today, I never had any idea that you were so dry and sarcastic,” he wrote shortly before quitting time. “LOL!”

LOL? What is that supposed to mean? I thought. Over the next week, it must have popped up about three times per email. I figured it must involve “love.” Back in high school, I remembered all the girls used to write “LYLAS” (for “Love you like a sister”) in each other’s yearbooks. With Jason, he obviously approved of the “new” me, so it must have been love: Lots of Love? I was confused, though: What’s “love” got to do with it? Jason and I were only friends.

It would be more than a decade before I realized that he wasn’t expressing love; he was laughing out loud — with me, not at me, of course. I think I must have been on Facebook when I had my epiphany — or maybe one of my FB friends explained it to me. I can’t remember, and I suppose it doesn’t really matter now. All I knew (at the time) was that everyone on Facebook was doing it, which gave me the perfect reason not to.

For a while, I studiously avoided LOL, in much the same way that I refused to stoop to using “:)” and “;).” Those people weren’t fooling me. I saw through the way they’d say something kind of bitchy and follow it with “LOL” and/or a smiley face. It was like they were saying, “I’m not trying to be an asshole…smile!”

Eventually, though, I finally gave in, not only because I, too, wanted to be free to be as passive aggressive as I wanted to be. I realized that it was also an excellent time saver and the next best thing to turning on the webcam. Now my friends could read my words and imagine my facial expressions, without having to see what a mess I was looking, and without my having to explain that I was only joking (though I sometimes wasn’t). The smiley faces and winks were most useful when I was chatting with my Argentine friends in Buenos Aires. Sarcasm doesn’t translate so well in Spanish. People were always misunderstanding me, and a well-placed smiley face was the best way to avoid a fight.

So fucking what?: How did S.F.W. never catch on?

Now I LOL nearly as often as I laugh out loud. I also regularly use GF, BF, BFF, WTH, WTF, BTW, OMG, and TPTB (the latter usually when I’m on the soap boards, where everyone is always referring to “the powers that be”). And although I still have no idea what “SOS” actually stands for, I love the song by ABBA, which, BTW, is one of the most clever acronyms ever. I use smiley faces and winks more sparingly. Yes, in graphic-icon form, they look pretty, and they reveal the spirit in which my words were written, but to overuse them is to risk coming across as trivial.

One has to draw the line somewhere, though, and I draw mine at ROTFL and LMFAO. (I also never use TTYL, BRB and IDK, but not because I have anything against them. I just never get around to them.) It’s bad enough that one of the worst pop acts in the history of music has adopted the latter as its moniker, but really, does anyone ever actually roll on the floor laughing? I don’t. I’ve never laughed my fucking as off either, and if I did laugh harder than LOL, I’d probably leave it at LMAO, since I’m still not entirely convinced that “ass” and “fucking” belong together. TMI? (Too much information?)

Last night, thanks to Facebook, I finally discovered the meaning of an acronym that’s been puzzling me for a while now: SMH. It’s always looked sort of awkward to me, perhaps because it lacks a vowel and doesn’t quite roll off the keyboard. I figured it must mean something like “shut my hole,” which is even cruder than LMFAO. Almost immediately after I posed the question “What does SMH mean?” as my status update, an FB friend responded: “Shaking my head.” (If you can shed some light on FTW, FTL and/or IRL, please do!)

Oh, yeah! Why hadn’t I thought of that before? Possibly because in everyday life, I shake my head about as seldom as I LMFAO and ROTFL. (I’m prone to headaches, so I avoid unnecessary head movements.) If someone says — or writes — something that I find particularly ridiculous, I’m more likely to roll my eyes, which is something I’ve been doing probably longer than I’ve been laughing out loud.

Alas, RME looks even more awkward than SMH. It reads like it should be part of a college course listing, not something one does in everyday conversation. But the next time someone feels the need to SMH mid-conversation, RME is exactly what I’ll be doing.

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