The Smiley Becomes the Feeling

A family friend just called me to explain she needed a lesson in text messaging.

“My clients are younger people now,” she said, “and they text all the time. I need to learn how to do this.” She’s getting an iPhone. For communicators, it’s inevitable. They must adapt to all media in order to compete. As a real estate agent, she must learn to use an iPhone (Twitter, fb, and Quora too). More media, more subtleties, more opportunity.

Personally, I’ve been writing “lol” in emails and text messages. It came from my sister, who texts me all the time (and uses SMS like the rest of us use online chat), as well as the comments in reddit. Loling came unnaturally at first, but next thing I knew I used it spontaneously. It has become one with the laugh. If I’m at a keyboard, I write it while laughing. One inevitably follows the other.

We are all a little like Pavlov’s dog. Writing “haha,” laughing, and writing “lol” eventually become one. If you’re on one side of this fence, you find this habit annoying and infantile. On the other, it has become like shaking hands, a normal facet of everyday communication.

Your choice is either to adopt the “status quo,” and communicate in “English,” or communicate the way those who have adapted do. If you choose the former, then which English are you choosing? 20th century, 19th century, 10th or any in between? Why? If you choose the latter, then you know what you’re speaking actually is English. Isn’t it?


(Inspired by Photo by Tom Coates.)






10 responses to “The Smiley Becomes the Feeling”

  1. DDog Avatar

    When I first got to college, I was very precise in my instant messaging: always proper capitalization and punctuation, no abbreviations, complete sentences. At some point I started writing “LOL,” with quotation marks, to poke fun at the people who used it earnestly. At some point, I’d done it so often that it wasn’t a joke anymore and I was the one using it earnestly.

    I still feel a little visceral guilt over it, although intellectually I know it’s just another shift in colloquial language and not actually the end of the world or an indication of poor character. I still have my little rules to rationalize my use of it… I only type LOL in caps when I physically laughed, lol in lowercase when the statement was funny but not literally laugh-inducing.

    1. Julien Avatar

      Irony becomes authenticity. Interesting DDog. 🙂

  2. Jake LaCaze Avatar

    I’ve recently had thoughts similar to this. When people complain about texting and Twitter bastardizing the English language, I wonder how many times the English language has been bastardized in the past. How can any individual or society complain about the English language evolving while also praising Shakespeare, who made up his own words and had all of these crazy little sentences? It’s so easy to praise the change of the past and fear the change of the present or future.

    I try not to let my English get too out of hand (“ur” still makes me cringe), but I agree with your point — if you want to communicate with others, you have to communicate the way that they communicate.

  3. Sylvia Lima Avatar
    Sylvia Lima

    And…, Spanish people will write “jaja” which is translated from haha/lol

  4. LBelgray Avatar

    See, I think it’s one thing to write lol, or LOL, in response to something that was funny. But writing it as a coda to something you yourself said is just the same as nervous laughter. It’s like a tic. And pretty much always unnecessary.

    I wrote a whole post a while back on what I call LOL Tourette’s. Check it out, would love to know what you think. LOL.

  5. Brent the Closet Geek Avatar

    My mother often admonishes me for abbreviating my brother’s name as “Al” (his full name is Alex).

    I’ve taken to telling her it’s what she should expect from the generation that decided “haha” was too long and shortened it to “lol”.

    Though I’ve noticed some slight differences in how my younger brother uses the term, his usage is purely in irony.

  6. Andrew P. Avatar
    Andrew P.

    While I’m certainly less scornful of it these days, I still think that the commonplace use of these so-called web abbreviations and acronyms is the slippery slope of a language’s degradation. At first it’s just a harmless “lol”, 20 years from now we’ll all be hamfisting our keyboards with the assumption that we’re actually communicating something. See Idiocracy.

    Language is beautiful in its precision; its power to describe and identify just about every emotion, event, detail, and object with meticulous accuracy. And while few ever fully master one, its vastness and power should be respected, if not employed.

  7. @TheGirlPie Avatar

    As one who’s been around since the time when “things in print are true” and a word designer by trade and instinct, I was slow to adopt the fashion of the LOL, the emoticon, and all other texting acronyms. FWIW, I don’t care for fads, and while usually an early adopter, I don’t go with the crowd.

    But the English language, on which I’m surprisingly considered an expert (go figgur!), is a living, evolving creature and I’ve adapted along with it. Though I expect correct spelling, USAGE is king — and we’re not speaking the “Kind’s English” (thank god!) So we can’t expect this generation to write or speak that English of my childhood.

    Different tools, needs, perspective, rules, training, standards (and very little shame) have allowed an evolved (or devolved, depending) state of written communications. I often want to txt in email now — and do, depending on the Reader. It’s all about being “heard” by your intended recipient.

    Adaptation allows survival — kudos to your client. But your post also reminded me of lesson a Fortune 500 employer of mine taught: every company-issue message pad at every phone was printed “Answer with a smile in your voice” beside a smiling mascot… and that lip-curving act DOES help you sound happy. But even better, and how I’ll remember your post: smiling or LOLing can actually (bio-chemically) PUT you into a happier mood. And I’m all for that.

    Thanks for the swell post, Julian ~!

  8. Lak Avatar

    I started off saying lol more frequently then ever. Now because of it I detest the over use of it. I often cringe if I read any of my previous past messages or notes that have “lol” in it so many ridiculous times.

    How are you?
    I’m good thanks lol you?
    – Is it really that hilarious that he’s good?
    He did say he was good not feeling ridiculously funny?

    What are you doing now?
    Nothing bored lol you?
    – Right you’re bored which is funny so you are laughing out loud yes?

    “LOL” has become the new full stop however hopefully it will phase out as people begin to realise how unnessary it is and how annoying it can be.

    I get many lol texts as in – “lol xxxx”
    what are you meant to reply to that?

    Also Julien I adore how you ended that with the “lol”

    I think that just made it for me :).

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