It’s fairly standard for my generation (I won’t say my age but I do have to scroll down a bit to find my year of birth when registering for stuff online) to be curmudgeonly about all the new-fangled e-speak: emoticons in emails and texts, abbreviations like GR8, PLZ and THX and the Facebook Like button. My type tend to point out that these kinds of communication techniques are trite and insincere, that they represent a society that is no longer the master of its own language or is in so much of a hurry that it has to resort to baby talk to get a point across.
But because I am the Iconoclast, an unconventional eccentric who marches to a different drummer (and yes, that’s my favourite line off Pinky and the Brain), I’m not going to say the obvious stuff that my demographic would say on the subject. In fact I’m going to speak in favour of one particular modern idiom, perhaps the most maligned of them all. I speak of course of that most ubiquitous of acronyms.
I speak, of course, of LOL.
It’s replaced the old favourite, the incorrect use of apostrophes as the most likely to be discussed on one of those TV shows where Jeremy Clarkson or that one who’s on lots of Radio 4 panel games and has the name of a legendary pro-skater but isn’t a pro-skater make fairly obvious observations about modern life (Predictable Old Men, I think it’s called). It’s regarded by many as the embodiment of the moral decay that brought us the English Riots, the Phone Hacking Scandal and Dappy out of N-Dubz, and I have to confess that I too bridled against it when it first appeared on my screen. Really? I thought. You actually laughed out loud when you read my previous message? That’s ridiculous. I thought.
But of late I’ve found that it’s really rather useful. And here is why I think so.
When someone sends you a message that’s genuinely funny – and I’m talking about properly funny, not some rehashed gag that’s been doing the e-rounds since the days of dial-up modems. I’m not talking about 10 reasons why women can’t drive, or why men can’t find the clitoris – I’m talking about quality material of the sender’s own creation. When that happens, it’s difficult to know how to respond. You can write something funny back, perhaps developing on the idea, but that can look like you’re steamrollering over your mate’s gag, and that’s not polite. Another option is simply not to mention it, but that’s downright rude. Or, and people are doing this increasingly, you can respond with hahaha.
Now I don’t know if you’ve ever really gone to town to write a funny text or email. I have, because, as this blog suggests, I have an inflated view of how entertaining I can be, and tout my material around like some medieval minstrel wandering through cyberspace with jaded social commentary instead of lute-accompanied ditties. And when I think I’ve been funny my fragile ego keeps running to the window like a dog waiting for its owner to get back from the shops until I get a response. If the response is: hahaha, then my dog ego curls up in the corner and starts whimpering. It looks sarcastic more than anything. But then what can I expect? Even if the recipient thinks I’ve been hilarious, he or she isn’t going to respond with I found that very funny indeed. You’re brilliant, Wilson. You should be writing for an award winning comedy show. But not My Family cos that’s rubbish and you’re worth so much more than that even though they’d probably pay you loads because you’re so clever.
So what better than a universally agreed acronym that says “I acknowledge the effort you have gone to and I found the material amusing”? And it doesn’t mean you had to have actually have laughed out loud; it was never meant to be taken literally. When someone in conversation relates an anecdote and says “I was absolutely pissing myself,” he or she isn’t saying they actually wet their pants with laughter. Adults don’t actually wet their pants with laughter. I never wet my pants with laughter.
Except that one time, and it was only a little bit, a wee bit if you will, but it was quite ironic because it was while I was watching the scene in Peep Show in the church where Jeremy wets himself.
And I’ve got to be honest I do fucking hate it when people mis-use apostrophes.