Op-Ed: ‘Haha’ and ‘LOL’: Are texting’s staples simple laziness or signs of social desperation?
Last week I sent a text message to a friend. A Hollywood business meeting I had high hopes for had been suddenly “postponed.”
“Everybody canceled except me,” I texted.
She texted back, “Haha.”
What’s so funny about it, I wondered? Where’s the haha in my disappointment? My text was more sad than funny; her text steamed me. Dismissed twice.
“Haha” and its partner, “LOL,” are texting’s go-to replies, a vaguely complimentary, vaguely condescending way to acknowledge a text has been received.
I once wrote about the overuse of the superlative “amazing,” and, predictably, almost everyone I knew who read the piece told me it was an “amazing” article. Haha. Good one. LOL.
But the use of amazing is paltry compared with haha and LOL. OMG, I bet there are serious stats somewhere. Maybe the NSA could confirm it: I’d guess haha and LOL are approaching 1 billion “sends” a day, about three hahas and three LOLs for every American.
My 20-year-old friend Ida is the Barry Bonds of haha. I could break my femur and that’s what I’d get back from her. And fast. In the Texting Hall of Fame, Ida will be first ballot.
I can pretty much predict when I’ll get the response.
The single ha is employed for something that approaches humor, but more likely is a statement bordering on the ludicrous. For example, I text you, “Lets go 2 Aleppo, Syria”; you reply, “Ha.”
Less ludicrous, more humor and haha comes back. LOLs require being a bit funnier, but not much.
One time a text I sent got a hahahahaha. Two hahas, one ha. Not too shabby for a gang reporter. Someone told me a cousin of a friend of theirs once got a hahahahahahahahaha (nine), but this guy exaggerates, so maybe he only got a hahahahahahaha (seven) — which is nothing to laugh at.
It might have taken Richard Pryor in his prime to get hahahahahahahahaha (nine) or even a hahahahahahahaha (eight).
Still, even if Pryor got a string of hahas, it wouldn’t be as good as LOLLOLLOLLOLLOL (five). Now, that’s very funny. That’s someone approaching hysteria. That’s someone bent over, hands on their thighs, panting heavily just to recuperate from the laughter that may have even brought them to tears.
And though technically five LOLs have about the same number of characters as “that’s very funny,” they can be typed 2.4 seconds quicker. I’m pretty sure.
And therein lounges the lure of these two text messages: Speed. Ease of thumb typing.
And then, simple laziness or maybe social desperation: The way you politely laugh at a story someone tells at a party, even though it isn’t funny, you can now haha by mobile device.
Even if a text is funny, no one is really laughing. Walk down any street and people have their heads down, staring at their phones, texting or looking at texts. None of them is laughing out loud. They aren’t even smiling. They might be typing haha or LOL, but they are not living the text, not texting the truth.
If they were, you would be able to stick your head out of any office building in America and hear uncontrolled laughter. (I don’t know about other countries. I mean, do Russians haha? I bet Russian teenagers do. “Crimea back in da house!” “Haha.”)
I’m not saying you shouldn’t haha or LOL, but maybe change it up every now and then. Maybe frame a real response.
And yeah, I’ll get a lot of texts about this. You know what they’ll say.
Michael Krikorian, a former Times staff writer, is the author of a crime novel, “Southside.” Twitter: @makmak47
A cure for the common opinion
Get thought-provoking perspectives with our weekly newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.