Text Messages and Internet Forums

21 November, 2019

Today on Everyday Grammar, we will explore two relatively new methods of communicating: text messages and internet forums.

We will talk about two common expressions you might see: lol* and I know, right?

everyday grammar
everyday grammar

These expressions carry much more meaning than you might expect, as we will see.

Definitions and grammar

We start with the term lol. Lol is short for "laughing out loud," as in "I am laughing out loud." The subject, I, and the BE verb, am, have been left out. Basically, lol expresses a person's opinion about something.

You might think that is the end of the story, but it is not. The term lol has a much richer meaning than what we just told you. We will talk more about it later.

Our second term, I know, right?, seems like a simple statement. The words I know are the subject and verb. The word right? is a kind of tag question – a word that is connected to the expression.

But I know, right?, like lol, has a much more interesting story than you might expect.

Important use in communication

John McWhorter is an expert on languages. In the book Words on the Move, he notes that lol serves an important purpose in written communication: "easing."

By easing, McWhorter means actions that people do to show they are feeling at ease or trying to be nice. For example, in real life, people often laugh or smile. They do this to show they are at ease and that the situation is not too serious.

Lol, McWhorter says, serves that same purpose in written communication.

English speakers use lol at the beginning, middle or end of a sentence. In many cases, they use lol to soften language or bad news.

Here is an example. A person borrowed a friend's car to run a brief errand.

The borrower wrote the friend the following text message:

Lol your car started to overheat just as I pulled into the driveway.

In this case, the person writing the text "eases" the news of the car overheating by starting the sentence with lol.

The writer also could have written the statement with lol at the end of the sentence, as in:

Your car started to overheat just as I pulled into the driveway lol

A person might use lol in the middle of a statement as in:

Bad news lol your car started to overheat!

In any case, the basic idea is that lol helps make language gentler. It means far more than "laughing out loud." In fact, it does not really relate to laughing at all.

"Anyone who used LOL to signal actual laughter would now be misunderstood: it would be, quite simply, a mistake," McWhorter writes.

In writing, other acronyms have taken the place of lol to show actual laughter.


Our second expression today, I know, right?, is like lol. It also serves the purpose of "easing."

But, as McWhorter notes, the words I know, right? show agreement in an indirect way. Instead of writing "I agree" or "I know" many times on internet forums or texts, many people use I know, right?

It has a casual, pleasant sound. It is a nice way to agree with someone.

So, you might see something like the following exchange on an internet discussion board:

Wow! That cat looks like Simba from the Lion King!

I know, right? It's incredible!

Imagine a change in the wording, as in:

Wow! That cat looks like Simba from the Lion King!

I know.

Such a statement is more abrupt, and far less conversational. The exchange between the two writers probably would not continue for much longer!

Closing thoughts

The point of our report today was to show you how English speakers use some terms or expressions that have more meaning than you might expect.

Understanding details like these will help you when you communicate or read in casual situations.

And some of the details we talked about – the placement of lol for example - are true of other kinds of words in English. Adverbs are one example.

The next time you read internet forums or send text messages, try to find other examples of words or expressions that native speakers use.

We will be back next week with another Everyday Grammar!

Lol that was a long report.

I know, right? But hopefully it was fun and helpful for the listeners.

I'm John Russell.

And I'm Alice Bryant.

John Russell wrote this story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

* You might see lol spelled in lower or upper case letters, or a mix of the two i.e. lol, LOL, Lol


Words in This Story

errand – n. a short trip that you take to do or get something

acronym – n. a word formed from the first letters of each one of the words in a term

casual adj. unstructured or unofficial; everyday

incredibleadj. unbelievable; unimaginable

abrupt – adj. talking to other people in a very brief and unfriendly way

conversational – adj. relating to or suggesting informal talk; relating to or suggesting a discussion

adverb – a word that changes the meaning of a verb

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