Laan van Nieuw Oost-Indië 275, The Hague, The Netherlands +31(0)70 365 46 77

Word of the Day: lol (fun, now also: laugh out loud)

‘Have you ever thought about LOL?’ Robyn asked yesterday evening in our coffee break. Robyn is a very enthusiastic teacher who shares my love for words. Every time I see her, she comes up with a new word that we should investigate: ‘Dus, griep, bijzonder….’ I cannot keep up with her.


‘Why LOL? I hate jollity. Not a very funny word’. She answered: ‘It’s weird when you think that Dutch people are continually text messaging LOL usually with a smiley and they don’t mean the Dutch word for “fun” anymore but English “laughing out loud”. Is old Dutch LOL, fun being shoved out of the way by new LOL, laughing out loud?’.

So here is LOL, Robyn. Thanks.

LOL in the sense of ‘laughing out loud’ or ‘laugh out loud’ is an abbreviation used in computer chats. English LOL has now become an official word because it entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 2011. It mentions a Wayne Pearson using it for the first time on Usenet early eighties.There are many similar abbreviations: ROFL (rolling on the floor laughing), LMAO (guess what that means) etc. but these are not as popular as LOL. Because it can actually be used in speech, LOL has moved from the digital world into face-to-face communication.

In the Netherlands this created a strange situation, for we already have a word LOL. And it means ‘laugh’, ‘fun’, ‘joke’. Earlier in these blogs I quoted my favourite old aunt Jo (dead now for over twenty years) who used to sigh: ‘parapluutje, parasolletje, het leven is geen lolletje!’ (little umbrella, little sunshade, life is all but fun) and she looked as if she meant it too. Life certainly is no joke. Which of course is the ultimate joke.

In the Middle Ages the verb ‘lollen’ meant ‘to murmur prayers or hymns’. This word is probably related to ‘lallen’ which means ‘drunkenly slurring one’s words’. And there is another word like these two: ‘lullen’ meaning ‘to sing someone to sleep’ now ‘chatter’ or ‘talk nonsense’. Somehow, somewhere singing and murmuring was transformed into laughter, fun and pleasure. At the end of the nineteenth century the original meanings had been forgotten.

I never liked the word LOL very much. Nor its derivations: ‘lollig’ (jolly), ‘lolbroek’ (joker), ‘lolbroekerij’ (horseplay). But because of my old aunt Jo and her lesson for life the word ‘lolletje’ (joke) will always move me.