DOTI (downgrading of text initialisms)

Benjamin Barrett GOGAKU at IX.NETCOM.COM
Sat Nov 27 18:57:13 UTC 2010

I have had the impression lately that text abbreviations have been downgraded.

I recall Mark Aronoff's paper "Automobile Semantics" where he discusses a chain downgrading of automobile names. The automakers would introduce a new, more prestigious and more expensive automobile to their lineup, while lowering the price of their other cars. People would buy the lowered-price car, happy of the prestige it carried, though not necessarily aware that the prestige was in free-fall.

Thursday, I confirmed with a teenager and a fifty-something tech guy that LOL indeed means "not funny."

It seems a change something like the following has happened:

<g> (grin/mildly funny) -> eliminated
<LOL> (laugh out loud/funny) -> the new <g> and/or not funny
<LMAO> (laughing my ass off) -> the new <LOL> = funny
<ROFLMAO> (rolling on the floor, laughing my ass off) -> the new <LMAO> = outrageously hilarious

Not to say that all people recognize this new arrangement, simply that some on the forefront of IM (instant messaging or chatting) change recognize the shift and have, like savvy car purchasers, accepted the new value system.

A somewhat outdated analogy for the current status of <LOL> might be "knee-slapper," used at one time by many to mean hilarious, but by others to have its current meaning, something whose content might have been considered funny in the past, but no longer passes muster.

It seems that this shift might be an IM analogue of a politeness strategy found in oral discourse.

I recall an Irishperson complain that her Californian friend invited to come to her house any time if she was in town, so she stopped by when she was. The Californian was put totally out because the invitation to stop by anytime is not an invitation to actually do so, merely an empty social nicety.

My teenager informant told me that LOL is what he always uses for something that's not funny, which seems to be very much like the empty invitation to stop by.

Benjamin Barrett
Seattle, WA

The American Dialect Society -

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