Wednesday 23 May 2012

On rofling

A correspondent writes to tell me about a usage that he’s heard among young people college-aged and in their early twenties in America. It’s rofl, the texting acronym for ‘rolling on the floor laughing’. I’ll quote the bulk of Ariel’s message:

“To rofl now means sort of, to waste time in a pleasant way either alone or in a group. So someone sitting around looking at YouTube videos is rofling. So is someone throwing a football around with their 3-year-old. It's like ‘hanging out’ but with more positive and silly connotations, as if wasting time were a desirable thing.

You can also use to rofl to mean to fudge, or to make it up as you go. As in, ‘What's the plan on Friday?’ ‘We'll rofl it.’

On top of that, a few people also seem to be using it to mean ‘beaten badly in a competition or fight.’ As in, ‘We tried fighting the orcs in our game of Dungeons and Dragons this weekend, but we got rofled.’ From that the term ‘rofl-stomp’ has developed, meaning (as far as I can tell from hearing people use it), ‘to destroy decisively and in an impressive but comically excessive way’.”

I hadn't come across this before. It's a really interesting development, as few Internet acronyms have migrated into general usage in this way. People are always asking me whether texting abbreviations have had much of an impact on general usage, and my answer has always been ‘no’. Hardly any have achieved a usage outside of local slang – though LOL is a famous exception. Maybe rofl will be another.

Why this one? There always was a figurative sense to rofl: no one ever actually rolled on the floor. So it's not surprising to see it extending in meaning in various directions. It’s a nice opportunity to see semantic change in rapid action, as – with no standard dictionary usage to follow – people are evidently trying it out in different ways. I suspect one or two of these meanings will emerge as the winners in due course. In the meantime, it would be interesting to know from readers of this post whether the usage has turned up in other parts of the world – and I don't just mean the English-speaking world, for rofl has become a loan-acronym in several other languages. ‘Roflez vous’ perhaps?


John Cowan said...

My father (born in 1904 in Philadelphia) told me once that while attending a live performance of the Marx brothers (possibly in I'll Say She Is!) he saw people actually roll in the aisles, and indeed may have been one of them.

Marc Leavitt said...

It's a new neologism to me, but I like it. Most of the twitter initializations drive me crazy, forcing me to stop and try to figure out what they mean; unfortunately, many times I can't. But this one may succeed. Its similarity to "ruffle" makes it easy to remember, and, to use an American southernism, this dog may very well hunt.

Anonymous said...

Rofl is definitely used in German, pronounced with a German R and most of my teen-age students don't know what it stands for. It's not (yet) a verb, but serves as an interjection used to show that something is funny.

Sophia said...

This one is new to me too. I have heard young girls using "OMG" and "FYI" here in Australia though :)

neza said...

Not the same acronym, but along the same lines: I have come across a Twitter update by a French band (from Avignon, twenty-somethings). They wrote "ceci nous a fait loler". Forming new verbs by adding the -er suffix, thus making them a part of the group of regular verbs, is very common in French, but this one surprised me quite a bit!

Anonymous said...

I am 23, in Australia. While I've never heard "ROFL" used in the same way, it's definitely used, but in the same instances that "LOL" might be used in response to something amusing. Its meaning usually slightly differs from online chat though.

These are the most common types of responses where I hear "ROFL":

Girl 1: Sarah's pregnant with Dean's baby.
Girl 2: Oh. My. God. ROFL! I can't wait 'til Dean's girlfriend finds out!

Boy 1: Eamon got so drunk last night he hooked up with his cousin.
Boy 2: ROFL. What a fool.

Boy: This game keeps freezing every time I reload.
Girl: ROFL. Fail.

I suppose it's a new way of saying "That is hilarious!" but it's generally at the expense of someone's or something's misfortune or embarrassment. Sometimes there's an element of boredom or sarcasm. "LOL" tends to be used in the same way but is generally more positive. It's also common to say "I LOLed" or "I ROFLed" when describing something funny you witnessed. I've noticed myself saying it on occasion!

Licia said...

The loan-acronym ROFL has been used by young Italians in texting, messaging and other online discussions for quite a while.

Prompted by your question, I've just discovered that also in Italian a verb was made out of it, roflare (e.g. sto roflando, mi fa roflare etc.), used by young people in very colloquial contexts. It appears it is mainly used as a synonym for "laugh", with none of the specific meanings described in the first two paragraphs of Ariel's message (most young Italians only have a superficial knowledge of the English language and quite likely they only grasp literal meanings). I found one occurrence of roflare da morire which I found interesting because da morire ("to death") is an intensifier and I would have thought roflare already implied that somebody couldn't stop laughing.

It looks like roflare is also used in some Italian gaming contexts, possibly with a similar meaning as the one described for English.

Cerdo said...

The French interchange between LOL (and a slight variant thereof in LOOL - which makes no sense), and MDR ("mort de rire" - dies laughing) with a repetition of the letter 'R' to emphasise how amusing the last statement was. So far I believe these acronyms are purely used when communicating electronically by text message or instant messengers online. This use of Anglicisms is not unusual in contemporary French "argot" as many of the young use English words in a more colloquial, slangy sense, especially in emails, text messaging, and online chatting. Words such as "hello", "bye bye" and replacing the affectionate parting gesture of saying "bisous" or "je t'embrasse" with the English word "kiss".

I have heard someone say LOL in English speech but actually pronouncing it "loll" rather than using the acronym.

Katie said...

I seriously hope it gets adopted round the globe, I can't wait to exclaim 'ROFLST DU?!' in German! In terms of 'lol' my french exchange partner (who's 18 and therefore pretty up to date with the lingo- at least for his area), has stopped saying "mdr" completely, describing it as uncool. He just uses 'lol' instead, and I'm not sure he knows what "rofl" but he takes any Anglicism I teach him and regurgitates it enthusiastically, so I might have to give it a go!

Unknown said...

Well, even in Slovene, rofl is heard quite often, but with our rolled r. It is, for now, used only as an acronym/interjection, with no inflectional case markings that would make it a noun or no verb characteristics.
On the other hand, lol is increasingly popular, even though it is starting to be "uncool" in certain 'circles', cliques. It is used as an acronym/interjection, but often also as a verb - in Slo: "Ne me lolat.", literal translation to English would be "Don't lol me.", as in "Don't make me laugh."

But then again, I might have missed a use or two since these 'newcomers' tend to be (ab)used by people under 16 or 17 years of age, that is somewhere half through grammar school.