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Danny Wallace: When textspeak becomes actual language

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Danny Wallace
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Danny Wallace

Colin’s had a date with a girl and it all went very well apart from one thing.

“She lols,” he says, taking a bite of his sandwich.

“She laughs out loud?” I say.

“No,” he replies, chewing and staring me straight in the eye. 
“She says ‘laugh out loud’.”

“She says ‘laugh out loud’, 
out loud?” I say, shaking my head. “She ‘lolols’?”

I make a delighted face.

“Lol,” he says, sarcastically.

But this, for Colin, is a dealbreaker. You lol online, he says. Only a mad person lols offline. Imagine a world in which everyone just walked around, he says, where they all just shout lol.

What would happen next?

Crowds at football matches shouting “RISING EXCITEMENT!”, that’s what. People watching romantic films yelling “TOUCHED!”

Which could very well lead to the person sitting next to them on the flight getting arrested.

No, loling is not laughing out loud. It is entirely unacceptable behaviour.

“What would she lolol at?” I say, pleased I have at least coined a new phrase.

“Stop saying lolol,” he says, cutting that pleasure dead. “Lolol will not take off.”

He is not usually so dour. This date must really have affected him. Plus, I think, he’s a little too down on lolol. While it’s true that my attempts to have archaeologists renamed ‘coffin boffins’ has hit a wall, and 
while I also must admit that no one yet describes their post-lunch slump as ‘Pret lag’, I think I’ve finally really got something with lolol.

“So I’d say a joke or something,” he says, reliving the horror, “and instead of laughing, she’d just go ‘lol!’ or ‘lols!’ or ‘looool!’”

“Looool is better than lols or lol. Looool implies genuine and elongated amusement. Lols is just a lazy way of saying lol lol.”

“And she’d do it all the time,” he continues, ignoring my attempts to categorise the various lolling going on. “After a while I couldn’t tell if she meant it or not. She’d lol at everything.”

“Like what?”

“Anything. I could say ‘The world’s gone to hell!’ or ‘I’ve sadly lost contact with the other kids at the orphanage’ and she’d go ‘lol!’.”

The woman has misunderstood laughter.

“Maybe she likes you,” I suggest, “but just in no way finds you good company. Perhaps in that way it’s like our relationship.”

But he just shrugs. Colin seems quite down because in every other way this girl, like me, seemed perfect. They enjoy the same stuff, he says, and that’s important, right? Plus she wants to meet again.

“Well, don’t worry about it!” I say. “The fad will pass. People won’t be saying ‘lol’ in 40 years. There won’t be nursing homes packed with grannies saying ‘lol’. You just have to wait it out. Five, 10 years down the line she’ll be saying something else that annoys you. Perhaps by then you will even have made her laugh out loud for real.”

And I can tell in this single moment I have hit the nail on the head.

The fact is, Colin is not so much worried about this woman’s annoying habit of saying ‘lol’ as he is about what her use of lols might say about him.

Because these are not pure lols. On some level he suspects these lols – so liberally applied to their conversations – may be hiding something.

And that something… is nothing.

They’re a lol-shaped plaster with nothing underneath. 
A bridge across a yawning chasm. There to disguise the fact that there is, in fact, no connection between them.

They’re bad lols. Tainted lols. Lol-lies.

Does she really enjoy the same stuff as Colin? Or is she just saying she enjoys the same stuff, the same way she is saying she is laughing?

Because you can say anything, can’t you? Perhaps if they have this second meeting Colin should just start describing his own actions out loud in a way that makes him seem better company too? Next time he looks at her he could whisper “handsome glance”. If he buys her a coffee, he could mutter “wonderful gesture”. If this is the game she wants to play, Colin’s going to have to set his own rules. But to make him understand this, 
I am going to have to join in.

“Pass me the salt, PMSL,” I say.

“That’s not how it works,” 
he says.

“Rofl!” I say. “ROFLCOPTER!”

“Is it 2008?”

“PMSL,” I say again, because I don’t know any others. “This is your FUTURE, Colin, if you continue with this madness!”

Something clicks. Colin sends her a friendly text that night.

He refuses to tell me what she wrote in response.

But he does say it was not lol.