Wednesday 23 May 2012
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?