Linda Poon is an assistant editor at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
Research by Facebook suggests “hehe,” “haha,” and emoji have killed the once popular shorthand.
“LOL” is so yesterday. Maybe we’re not buying that the person on the other end of the chat is actually laughing out loud, or perhaps those three little letters are just not expressive enough. A new Facebook report finds that only 1.9 percent of us are LOL-ers. And the majority of those people are among an older group of Facebook users.
What’s killing “LOL” is our preference for “haha”s “hehe”s, and emoji. The report reveals that more than half of Facebook users express laughter with a “haha,” 13 percent prefer “hehe,” and a whopping third of users don’t even use words: For younger users, a smiley face says it all.
So why is a shorthand that was so popular that it made its way into the Oxford English Dictionary on the verge of extinction? One reason might be because it has an ambiguous meaning. When a friend texts you a simple “LOL,” she could be actually laughing, expressing sarcasm, or just being dismissive, writes psychologist Marcia Eckerd at Psychology Today.
Of course, you can say that about any shorthand used in text messaging. But “Haha,”can be written differently to express different things—from the polite “haha” to the more deranged “hahahahaha.” Sarah Larson at The New Yorker, whose story inspired Facebook’s research, breaks it down this way:
“Haha” means you’re genuinely amused, and that maybe you laughed a little in real life. (The singsong Nelson Muntz-style “ha ha,” of course, is completely different—we don’t do this to our friends. There’s also the sarcastic “ha ha,” a British colleague reminded me: he’s used to reading “ha ha” as “Oh, ha ha,” as in, Aren’t you a wag. “But I’m learning to read it as good,” he said. Poor guy.) “Hahaha” means that you’re really amused: Now you’re cooking. More than three “ha”s are where joy takes flight. When you’re doing this, you’re laughing at your desk and your co-workers can hear you, or you’re texting with both hands, clacking and laughing away.
“Hehe,” is on the rise and particularly popular among men. That one’s a bit mysterious, writes Larson, but to some, it hints at a bit of mischief.
A TV writer said, “ ‘Hehehe’ reminds me of Scooby-Doo. ...” Good point: Scooby’s laugh is a sneaky, musical series of “hee-hee”s.
The widespread use of emoji is both intriguing and alarming. It could mean that literate communication is headed for extinction, or it might mean we’re getting better at reading our friends’ cues. Elise Hu, NPR’s correspondent in South Korea, recently took screenshots of her family’s texts on a popular instant messaging app called Line for a blog post titled “We’ve Moved Into A Post-Literate Communication Era.” They used no words to communicate, only emoji—or rather “stickers,” the post-emoji version of emoji.
Who needs words anymore when a picture is worth a thousand of them?