It was early in our courtship that I realized the guy I was dating, with whom I now cohabit, wasn’t laughing at my jokes. Well actually, he may have been laughing at my jokes, and in fact I thought he was laughing at my jokes, because he consistently responded with boisterous HAHAHAs to my humorous text messages.
It was flattering. Except when I made a joke that clearly wasn’t that funny — perhaps only worthy of a single ha — and suddenly it dawned on me that his typical HAHAHA reply (that’s three HAs, no spaces, all caps) was formulaic. Which could mean only one thing: This was not indicative of an actual measurement of laughter, but merely of the autocorrect function on his phone that had memorized a HA sequence. I was the idiot thinking I was hilarious and he was just sooo into me.
Take hahaha, which we’ll call basic laughter. It’s actually anything but basic, with the ability to shorten (haha), lengthen (hahahahahaha), capitalize (HAHAHA), punctuate (Ha!), elongate (Haaaaaaaaa), or replace with an “e” (hehe) — though, realtalk, The New Yorker may have called hehehe a “younger person’s e-laugh,” but ask any actual young person today and his or her response is likely to be “ew.” (Heh, however, is acceptable.)
Then of course there is LOL, for “laugh out loud,” which actually means the opposite, because nobody using LOL has actually laughed out loud since at least 2015. “It’s like saying ‘k,’” said Sharon Attia, a 22-year-old college senior, noting that a single ha is also pretty much the equivalent to giving someone your best resting bitch face.
Variations to LOL (or lol, as it may be) include the phonetic “lul,” or “the cool girl’s el-oh-el,” as Ms. Attia described it, which is “like a blase-inspired ‘lol’ — as if I am acknowledging that this is humorous but do you really have nothing better to do than text me about it?” There is also Lollerskates, lollercoaster, loltastic, words that are “fantastically creative,” as the linguist Gretchen McCulloch has written, but “ring vintage early 2000s.” Another expansion, she noted, is lolz or lulz — “but it’s more of a noun than an emotive response,” as in “so many lulz” (pronounced “lawlz”).