Friday, October 26, 2007


Communicating with the written word is tough.

Studies have shown that about 70-80% of communication is unspoken. If you think about that for a minute, it’s mind-blowing. Body language and the volume and tone of your voice convey more information that what you’re actually saying.

For example, I could say:

“Hey, nice shirt.”

Depending on how I say that, I could be amazingly impressed by your shirt, just be making a casual, off the cuff comment…or more likely (at least in my case) I could be being incredibly, incredibly sarcastic.

That’s where the problem comes in. If 80% of conversation is non-verbal, that means we’re only being 20% clear when we’re writing.

I started thinking about this today when I realized that there’s really no good way to express laughter in writing.

I know, I know, you can always write ‘LOL’, but lets face it, ‘lol’ has become the written equivalent of a verbal tick. When was the last time you typed ‘lol’ and actually laughed out loud?

If we were strict, ‘lol’ would be replaced with ‘twabla’. Twabla stands for ‘That Was Almost Border Line Amusing’.

That’s why if something actually does make you laugh out loud, we resort to ‘lmao’, ‘rofl’ or even the dreaded ‘roflmao’.

Even then, when you ‘roflmao’ you’re almost certainly not ‘rolling on the floor laughing your ass off’, what’s much more likely is you did that weird little laugh where you don’t even bother opening your mouth, and just make a ‘hmmmph’ noise through your nose with one flex of your diaphragm.

So, forgetting acronyms, what are we left with?

“That was funny, you made me laugh.”

Well, that takes way too long, so we can forget that for a start.

Writing “Funny” or “That’s funny” is right out as well, thanks to our 80% problem. Is the person who just wrote “funny” after your awesome joke genuinely appreciating you amazing sense of humor, or are they just being sarcastic?

So our last option is onomatopoeia, but even that doesn’t work.

Ha ha? Tee hee? Heheh?

‘Ha ha’ has sarcasm built in. Think about it, when you laugh in real life, no one ever actually says ‘ha ha’, unless they’re saying it extremely slowly and just dripping with sarcasm.

‘Tee Hee’ is right out for guys because it looks as gay as a French horn, and for girls it sounds like the laugh of a cheerleader with ultra-low self esteem who’s laughing at a joke she doesn’t understand while trying to be obnoxiously ‘cute’ in the hope that someone will finally notice her.

‘Heheh’ sounds like the kind of laugh an uber-dork uses when he believes his victory in an online discussion somehow translates to real-life achievement.

Basically, we need to invent a whole new word to signify genuine laughter in an online conversation.

Any ideas?

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