Saturday, September 22, 2018

Why Do We Type LOL When We're Not Laughing Out Loud?

Thirteen years ago a friend and I devised a surprisingly non-ditzy system for rating food (and other things) on a scale of one to ten. I continue to be amazed at how useful and effective it is. But there's one problem: "8" devaluation.

Here's how the system distinguishes 8s:

The problems began when I first found myself 8-ing without any actual vocal expression of pleasure. Over time, it's gotten worse and worse, to the point where now anything merely good strikes me as 8-ish. And "good" should be 7.

There's no such problem with 9. Either rational thought breaks down or it doesn't. But "Mmmm!" is a mental concept as well as a sound, and if you divorce the two, the concept becomes awfully slack. "Store-bought cookies! Mmmm! Of course, I don't literally mean 'Mmmm!' I'm not making that sound! But I'm typing 'Mmmm' just to express my general affection for cookies!"

Once 'Mmmm!' becomes more conceptual than literal, 8 starts devaluing until it covers anything decent.

This is surely the exact same process that makes us type 'LOL' even though we're not laughing out loud. Once the concept untethers from the physical act, devaluation begins. At this point bona fide LOLs likely account for less than 5% of all LOL reportage. There is peril here (LOL!).
I tried to come up with more examples of this phenomenon, and struck upon a connection that's slightly half-baked. (but, really, what's new? Half-bakedness is pretty much the Slog's entire brand). See what you think:

You know how people in long-term relationships eventually start giving each other those utterly loveless perfunctory kisses? They're more gestural symbols of kisses then real kisses. Tepidly theatrical "Mwahh!" kisses never appear early in a relationship. It's where things devolve once love becomes more of an abstraction rather than an actual thing.
The first time an early girlfriend kissed me like that, I told her that if she ever again kissed me symbolically, the relationship would be over. I was pretty uncompromising back then, but it's not like I didn't have a point.
When "laughing out loud" is framed in a purely abstract way - as something I would do (or might do), even if I don't actually do do - then anything even vaguely amusing starts to fit that bill. Same for "Mmmm". And same for kissing. This is what happens when the actual dissolves into the conceptual, losing its gist and power.

So I sit stone-faced, munching a merely decent cookie while joylessly reporting "Mmmm!". Or I barely crack a grin at a minor attempt at wit while reporting uproarious laughter. Or I cursorily peck at someone with a tightly puckered mouth as a report of loving affection.

Does it work? Do all three examples stem from the same function? I think so...but am not sure!

1 comment:

Anonymous coward said...

I used to play lots of video games, and it was common culture to type lol when somebody said a remotely funny phrase. This was normal so I did not really think about it. If a person made a comment that made you laugh out loud, you would say rlol. Roll on the floor laughing out loud. Despite the fact that nothing anyone has said ever has elicited literally rolling on the floor laughing response from me.

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