Internet slang (Internet language, Internet Short-hand, leet, netspeak or chatspeak) is a type of slang that Internet users have popularized, and in many cases, have coined. Such terms often originate with the purpose of saving keystrokes. Many people use the same abbreviations in texting and instant messaging, and social networking websites. Acronyms, keyboard symbols and shortened words are often used as methods of abbreviation in Internet slang. New dialects of slang, such as leet or Lolspeak, develop as ingroup memes rather than time savers. In leet speak, letters may be replaced by characters of similar appearance. leet is often written as l33t or 1337.
In 1975, Raphael Finkel of Stanford University compiled a collection of hacker slang, the Jargon File, from technical cultures, such as the MIT AI Lab, the Stanford AI Lab (SAIL) and others, of the old ARPANET AI/LISP/PDP-10 communities. Two items on this list in current use as Internet slang are "flame" and "loser". By 1990,the Jargon File had been enriched with examples of shorthand used in talk mode between two terminals, (for example, "BTW", "FYI", and "TNX") as well as some slang expressions in use on Usenet and new commercial networks like CompuServe (for example, "LOL", "ROTF", and "AFK".)
A Computerworld article, discussing the origin of several current web slang terms, cites a still-online FidoNet article from 1989, which displays emoticons in addition to all-caps shortcuts like "LOL", "BRB" and "TYT".
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Many items of Internet jargon cross from computer-mediated communication to face-to-face communication. For example, The New York Times' "Buzzwords of 2008" article includes: "FAIL", "longphoto", (a term coined by Flickr for videos less than 90 seconds long), "DWT" (Driving While Texting) and various terms starting with "tw-", inspired by the web service Twitter.
Teenagers now sometimes use Internet acronyms in spoken communication as well as in written, for example, ROFL (pronounced /ˈroʊfəl/ or /ˈrɒfəl/) and LOL (pronounced /ˈloʊl/, /ˈlɒl/, or /ˌɛloʊˈɛl/). David Crystal says that the crossover from written slang to speech is "a brand new variety of language evolving, invented really by young people, within five years".
Other commentators disagree, saying that these new words, being abbreviations for existing, long-used, phrases, don't "enrich" anything; they just shorten it. Furthermore, linguist Geoffrey K. Pullum of the University of Edinburgh states that even if interjections such as LOL and ROFL were to become very common in spoken English, their "total effect on language" would be "utterly trivial".
Laccetti, a professor of humanities at Stevens Institute of Technology and Molsk, in their essay entitled The Lost Art of Writing, are critical of the acronyms, predicting reduced chances of employment for students who use such acronyms, stating that, "Unfortunately for these students, their bosses will not be 'lol' when they read a report that lacks proper punctuation and grammar, has numerous misspellings, various made-up words, and silly acronyms." Fondiller and Nerone, in their style manual, assert that "professional or business communication should never be careless or poorly constructed" whether one is writing an electronic mail message or an article for publication, and warn against the use of smileys and these abbreviations, stating that they are "no more than e-mail slang and have no place in business communication".
Yunker and Barry, in a study of online courses and how they can be improved through podcasting, have found that these acronyms, as well as emoticons, are "often misunderstood" by students and are "difficult to decipher" unless their meanings are explained in advance. They single out the example of "ROFL" as not obviously being the abbreviation of "rolling on the floor laughing" (emphasis added). Haig singles out LOL as one of the three most popular initialisms in Internet slang, alongside BFN ("bye for now") and IMHO ("in my humble opinion"). In general, he describes these acronyms and the various initialisms of Internet slang as convenient, but warns that "as ever more obscure acronyms emerge they can also be rather confusing". Likewise, Bidgoli states that these initialisms "save keystrokes for the sender but [...] might make comprehension of the message more difficult for the receiver" and that "[s]lang may hold different meanings and lead to misunderstandings especially in international settings"; he advises that they be used "only when you are sure that the other person knows the meaning".
A 2003 study of college students by Naomi Baron found that the use of initialisms, even in computer-mediated communication (CMC) and specifically in instant messaging, was actually lower than she had expected. The students "used few abbreviations, acronyms, and emoticons". The spelling was "reasonably good" and contractions were "not ubiquitous". Out of 2,185 transmissions, there were 90 initialisms in total, only 31 CMC-style abbreviations, and 49 emoticons. Out of the 90 initialisms, 76 were occurrences of "lol".
Shortis observes that LOL is a means of "annotating text with stage directions". Hueng, in discussing these acronyms in the context of performative utterances, points out the difference between telling someone that one is laughing out loud and actually laughing out loud: "The latter response is a straightforward action. The former is a self-reflexive representation of an action: I not only do something but also show you that I am doing it. Or indeed, I may not actually laugh out loud but may use the locution 'LOL' to communicate my appreciation of your attempt at humor."
David Crystal notes that use of LOL is not necessarily genuine, just as the use of smiley faces or grins is not necessarily genuine, posing the rhetorical question, "How many people are actually 'laughing out loud' when they send LOL?". Franzini concurs, stating that there is as yet no research that has determined the percentage of people who are actually laughing out loud when they write "LOL".
Bonnie Ruberg, in an article concerning Internet linguistics, shares the following insight, "In a world of text communication where real-life facial expressions and vocal intonations are impossible, abbreviations like "lol" sacrifice their real meaning in order to articulate our nuanced intentions. They, in and of themselves, become glib, cliche—while at the same time almost necessary for expression online."
Victoria Clarke, in her analysis of telnet talkers, states that capitalization is important when people write "LOL" and that "a user who types LOL may well be laughing louder than one who types lol", and opines that "these standard expressions of laughter are losing force through overuse". Egan describes LOL, ROTFL, and other initialisms as helpful as long as they are not overused. He recommends against their use in business correspondence because the recipient may not be aware of their meanings and in general, neither they nor emoticons are (in his view) appropriate in such correspondence. June Hines Moore shares that view. So, too, does Lindsell-Roberts, who gives the same advice of not using them in business correspondence, "or you won't be LOL'ing".