A Look At Life: Lolling

1st August 2013

The Right Way To Loll About

Eluned Thorne

There is nothing better than lolling about. Lolling, that is, in the sense of lying stretched out, relaxed, with nothing much to do and no cares or worries. I will loll pretty much anywhere if the surface and my time are expansive enough. It’s a great word, loll: it sounds like it is. In my head, I hear it spoken in a laid-back West Country accent with a lovely long drawn-out ‘o’, and then I imagine myself on a sofa or a sunbed, or under a tree in dappled shade, with a suitable beverage, a tasty snack and a good book. Happy times.

What I hate, though, is ‘lol’ing. Note the single ‘l’. My computer doesn’t like it either, and, as I type, is desperately trying to insert the extra ‘l’ and cautioning me – with a big red underline – that I’ve left the little word unfinished. The verb ‘to lol’ – an acronym meaning ‘to Laugh Out Loud’ has, of course, become ubiquitous in common parlance, and it can only be a matter of time before Microsoft, too, bows to its inevitable ascendancy. Me, though – I have never used it, and intend not to.

My overriding reason for disliking it is trivial, really, given the general phonetic inadequacy of English spelling, but I’m sticking with it nevertheless: ‘lol’ simply looks wrong. Most English words have a double ‘l’, so I fear a death knel for English speling. Plus, when I hear it, I can’t help confusing what it actually means with what it sounds like – though whereas ‘loll’ conjours up images of sunbathing on Mediterranean yachts, possibly with James Bond in attendance and some casual jazz as soundtrack, ‘lol’ just puts me in mind of a bad day with a hangover in front of the TV. Technically, it should be l.o.l., or maybe l’o’l’, anyway, if one is being pedantic. (And grammar loves to be pedantic.)

I do appreciate why it’s used so much, though. In a world of texts and emails, where communication increasingly takes place in writing, ‘lol’ replaces the disarming smile, the conspiratorial laugh. It deflects blame; it implies jokiness in a phrase that could be misinterpreted as being deadly serious; and it saves many an embarrassed face. It oils the social wheels, in fact, and as such is not to be underestimated. But that wasn’t its original intention. At the outset, ‘lol’ was originally meant as an indication of someone reading something (in silence) and finding it so funny as to be moved to actually laugh out loud. There’s a kind of self-consciousness inherent in this that is quite at odds with the knowingness of the way ‘lol’ has more latterly been used. Think James Bond, on the yacht, reading an amusing article that makes him chuckle attractively… not James Bond sauntering up to the villain with a cheeky smile on his face, saying “I’m going to shoot you now. No hard feelings, lol….”

Neither do I subscribe to the notion of there being one ‘correct’ way of using the English language that excludes modern slang – I’m no purist or grammar fascist. Language evolves, is constantly enriched by new additions and certainly shouldn’t be preserved in aspic; grammar should be the servant of meaning, not the master. But there are, in fact, a lot of better words for ‘laugh’ – much more expressive words. There’s the simple ‘ha ha’; the onomatopoeic ‘chortle’ or ‘snigger’ or ‘chuckle’ (even The Beano and The Dandy have used those); there’s ‘smirk’, ‘titter’ and ‘snicker’ for the sarcastic; ‘guffaw’ and ‘whoop’ and ‘roar’ for the uninhibited. There’s ‘giggle’ for the irrepressible. I even quite like ‘rofl’ [Rolling On the Floor Laughing] because it makes a lovely, gruffly-bubbly sound rather like the sort of laugh a dog would make, though let’s face it, the last time any of us actually Rolled On the Floor Laughing, we were probably aged about five, or drunk. Or enjoying a previous life as a dog. But it’s a nice image, nevertheless.

However, lolling and ‘lol’ing do have something in common. We do both because we’re lazy. ‘Lol’ is the text-ese equivalent of the sort of conversation you have about the weather with someone you don’t know very well. Conversations peppered with ‘lol’s become very dull very quickly and peter out into inanity - unless your name is Laurence, of course, and are commonly addressed by a diminutive version of your name, in which case, be careful, Lol – James Bond is behind you with a gun.

And the other problem, of course, is that lol is open to several interpretations; David Cameron famously thought it meant 'lots of love' until Rebekah Brooks disabused him of the notion. Imagine trying an ironic 'laugh out loud' lol with someone you don't know that well, and finding they thought you were being rather too friendly instead…

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