The red line: is it OK to use LOL?

Mar 14, 2014

Dear Freelance Editor,

Is it ever permissible, under any circumstances, to use the term ‘LOL’ or ‘lol’ (I’m not sure if I should capitalize that or not, lol)? I am a grown person, and not a fourteen-year-old girl.


Adult Human LOL

Dear Adult Human LOL,

No. It is never permissible.

LOL (or lol) will eventually cause our civilization to collapse into anarchy and bedlam, if we don’t fight it with every last breath in our wasted bodies.

Freelance Editor, herself, is not perfect. She is prone to the kind of verbal hiccups that were stamped into her generation by this movie. She says “like” too often, and she has been known to pepper informal emails with emoticons. She knows that these are not good habits; she feels great and lasting shame.

But LOL is remarkable both for its nonsensicality and its disingenuousness. LOL, of course, is supposed to stand for “laugh out loud.”

Here is the thing: when you write LOL, you are rarely – if ever – actually laughing out loud. It is the written equivalent of a false, polite chuckle. You are indicating that you find something humorous, but LOL itself is remarkably un-humorous and lame. When you write LOL, you are saying: “I know you are trying to be funny, but I have nothing to say about it; let us move on.” It is not truly participating in the conversation. It is lazy (please note that I am not saying that if you habitually write LOL, you are lazy; I am saying that you are undoubtedly a cool, vibrant, funny person - and thus so much better than this listless, limp expression).

If you ever tried to PRONOUNCE “lol” as a word, it would sound like you were swallowing your own tongue.

Wow. Do you have the same issue when people write things like “hahahaha” in response to a joke?

I do not have the same reaction. “Hahahaha” is permissible in very informal emails, texts, and the like.

… what? You are unhinged.

Here is the difference. I have a baby niece – very cute, very small. If I look this new little baby niece in the eyes and say “hahahaha”, she will laugh, or at least smile. That is because laughter – the slight dropping of the jaw, the open vocal “aaa” punctuated by little diaphragmatic huffs to make “hahaha” – is universal. It is instinctive. It is human. I can laugh with someone from any region in the world, and we will make approximately the same sound.

“Hahaha” is admittedly not the most grammatically impeccable response in the world. But it is also not some Frankenlanguage newspeak abomination that makes angels weep and cows give sour milk and dead men rise moaning from their tombs, thirsting for human flesh.*

The seemingly minor LOL is killing your Freelance Editor, slowly, like a paper cut that never stops bleeding.

Please stop writing it, ever – please. Join my one-woman boycott.

Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha.

This has been a note from a Freelance Editor.

Have a question for our resident Red Liner and occasional hyperbolic ranter, Kate Hamill? Leave it in the comments, or email her at

*To date, there is no empirical evidence that LOL has done this – but surely it’s only a matter of time.

Another reason not to use LOL.