LOL cats are so ubiquitous to those of us who use the Internet that it is hard to imagine an Internet without them. Yet, it is a fairly recent phenomenon and one with a naturally limited lifespan, in my opinion, because it is a form of entertainment. All entertainment is fickle and very much subject to relatively rapid evolutionary change in the modern world. It is a very specialist form of entertainment, relying as it does on pictures of cats in strange situations with clever captions written in Internet jargon.
Lol cats could be defined as, “photographic images of cats but sometimes other animals, usually in unusual positions, with embedded captions that are humorous (usually the words spoken by the cat) and nearly always in a very specific English slang (“lolspeak”) that is synonymous with this genre of entertainment“5
The embedded text is in a strong font such as Impact or Arial Black, in white and capitals with a fine black border (at 48pt), all of which is designed to make the text stand out for maximum impact and readability.
Both the header image and the one immediately below have captions that are in conventional English, however, and these are lol cats images.
The more typical lol cats image is like the one below, which also informs us that the image does not always have to be of a cat! Although 99.9% of the time it is. This is a sloth. So this is a Lol sloths.
The classic lol cats can be found on the website, icanhascheezburger.com from which these images were taken, with the consent of the website although I have reduced their size and removed links. This may not be authorised but there is a degree of anarchy about the lol cats genre that encourages breaking or at least challenging the rules.
The name of the website is in classic lol cats language: icanhascheezburger. Although the word, “has” seems to have been refined since the website’s creation to the more trendy, “haz”. Zs are popular in the lol cats dictionary. The word, “GOTZ” in the image above is an example.
The cheezeburger website started in February 2007, growing rapidly. It currently (as at March 2010) has an Alexa ranking of 2,1851, indicating very high levels of traffic. The figure means that it is the 2,185th highest ranked site in the world based on a range of factors including hits, page views and time on site. A search for lol cats produces this website on page one, number one as at March 2010.
Lolcats have been called “cat macros” as the image is an “image macro“. In my opinion, the expression means that information can be communicated more quickly in an image+embedded text (a compression of image and following text).
Update April 2012: I believe that my predication that LOL cats will fade into near oblivion is beginning to come true. Above, I say that the genre had a limited lifespan. That must be the case as it is very cultish and temporary. It had a very good run but the LOL cats website is fading and so is the cheeseburger site despite being well funded and staffed. Its Alexa ranking is on the slide despite rebuilding the site and adding a new dimension to it. It used to be in the 2,000s (excellent) but as at 5th April 2012 is at 3,148 for the last month.
The genre has evolved to include images that are without captions although these are not true lol cats. On the photographic image website Flickr (a Yahoo website), there are over 24,000 photographs on the LOL CATS group, with 7,500 members (as at March 2010). An excellent example is shown below:
You can make up all manner of dialogue for this photograph. See the original photograph on Flickr.
Another offshoot is ceiling cats. This is a bit forced and still more limited. How many images can you cobble together of cats looking down from the ceiling! The ceiling cats images that I have seen do not have captions on the image and the language is conventional English.
Yet another spin off is stuff on my cat.com. This website features yet more cats with anything on them or being worn by them. People put objects on their cats and submit the photograph to the site. The captions are not Lol cats style but once again conventional English. This has limited appeal in my opinion and it could be argued that it is sometimes an abuse of a cat. The picture below is an example of this genre. The cat by the way is a silver tabby shorthair, possibly an American Shorthair purebred cat but more likely a moggie although this is a very handsome and refined looking cat.
A lot of us use the expression LOL in emails to convey the fact that we are laughing at something in a received email or at least appreciative of the attempt to make us laugh. LOL is an acronym (an abbreviation of several words in such a way that the abbreviation itself forms a pronounceable word2).
LOL stands for “Laughing Out Loud”, or “laugh out loud” and even “lots of laughs”. It is part of Internet slang and it is widespread. It has transferred to every day use in face to face to conversations rather than being confined to emails, text messages or lol cats, as three examples.
There are alternatives that are either “initialisms” (a string of the initial letters of the words of a phrase that does not form a word3) or specifically acronyms. Examples of alternatives are:
- LMAO (“laughing my arse/ass off”)
- ROTFL or ROFL (“roll(ing) on the floor laughing”) – this can be said as a word (pronounced /ˈroʊfəl/ or /ˈrɒfəl/)
- BWL (“bursting with laughter”).
- LEL “Laughing Extremely Loud” and “Laughing Eccentrically Loud.”
- lolz Sometimes used in place of LOL.
- lulz Frequently used to denote laughter at the victim of a prank, for example. It can be a noun…”do it for the lulz.” The New York Times said, “lulz means the joy of disrupting another’s emotional equilibrium.”4
- lolwut lol + wut, used to indicate bemused laughter, or confusion.
- Lawl or Lal Pseudo-pronunciation of LOL. Usually not meant as serious usage.
There are perhaps three notable issues on the subject of using LOL and other acronyms:
- They encourage poor grammar, which is detrimental to young people seeking work and progressing in the work place.
- They are often not used genuinely so do not convey the true situation (but don’t most people do that anyway even when talking face to face?). Also LOL can show that the recipient appreciates the joke!
- For many people they are unintelligible or a least create uncertainty.
Lol cats is an “image macro”. I find this an odd and slightly pretentious term. It describes a picture with superimposed text, that is frequently meant to be funny6. It was first used on the Something Awful forums7.
It is said that the term “macro” originates in the use of the above mentioned forums when users could enter short text in the forum; software would then expand it to create an image
The term may go back further, though, to spreadsheets that I suggest were around before Internet forums. In spreadsheets such as Excel and the earlier Lotus 123, macros are created by saving a large number of keystrokes that are in sequence, which then manipulate the spreadsheet extremely quickly and which can be initiated by pressing a couple of keys (e.g. Ctrl+A).
Internet slang was initially used exclusively in Computer-mediated communication for example: instant messages (IM), e-mails, chat rooms. Computer-mediated communication means communication that takes place via two or more networked computers and includes more recently cell phones.
However, Internet slang has crossed the divide from the ether of the Internet to the real world of face to face communication with teenagers in a limited way e.g. ROFL – see above.
It is designed to save time and speed things up.
My initial thought about the sociological impact of lol cats is that there is none save for the further propagation of Internet pidgin English, which seems to have started with texting using cell phones and in speeding up the writing of emails. Speed and convenience is paramount indicating the transient (and often superficial) nature of the information disseminated.
In other words lol cats is an extension of sociological changes in society (a victim if you like of it) rather than the creator of changes.
It is an extension of instant gratification and entertainment which is the sibling of consumerism all of which is our attempt to remove ourselves from a world that, despite creating, we detest8. Note: I am being deliberatey provocative.
The founding website Lolcats.com was launched 14th June 2006. It was the first website dedicated entirely to funny cat pictures. They say that they founded the phrase “lolcats”9. As at March 2010, Oliver, the sites owner and editor, wishes to sell the site. Link: Lolcats.com.
Although, it is said that the first, recorded, time the word “lolcat” was used was on a c.2005 imageboard, 4chan (also a “chan” – short for “channel” or a user’s home page on a community website), which is a type of Internet forum that revolves around the posting of images. 4chan is an English-language imageboard website, which was launched on October 1, 200310.
Forums such as the one mentioned, Something Awful (a comedy website) spread the word — Link: Somethingawful.com
Then icanhascheezburger.com carried the baton forward rapidly, whereupon the lol cats culture took off. Icanhascheezburger.com started on Feb 2nd 2007 according to the waybackmachine11. However, it is said that the first cheese burger picture was published on the site on January 11, 2007 – it was something lifted from the Something Awful site allegedly12.
However, the first lolcats images may have been shown on a site called Caterday.com (domain registered 2005) that is now a Google Blogger site.
Internet meme (pronounced as if saying “me” with an “m” at the end) describes a rapidly spreading concept through the Internet. Lolcats grew quickly mainly via icanhascheezburger.com.
The spread is normally carried out voluntarily by individuals. It would seem to form a kind of cult. The original message may evolve. Internet meme can also be used to promote business through Internet “buzz” (Internet gossip and hype) and viral growth (growing like a virus spreads in the body).
Lol cats lends itself to video usage as a series of still images. The advantage over still images is that a sound track can be added to spice things up. The images are freely available so it just takes a simple knowledge of video making to string the images together and some royalty free music.
There are tons of these videos, as can be expected. Here is one randomly selected (note: sometimes videos are removed from YouTube):
What Other Visitors Have Said
Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page…
I has my human! Love you!
This is a picture of me and my kitty Sherlock. We used to always cuddle together.
Willie & Barbie Are Sleeping. Shhh!
Willie loves his barbie dolls – he eats their hands and drags them around by their hair! Annabelle Willie & Barbie Are Sleeping. Shhh!…
2. http://searchcio-midmarket.techtarget.com/ sDefinition/0,,sid183_gci211518,00.html
3. Michael Broad – I made up this definition – please confirm
4. Schwartz, Mattathias (2008-08-03). “The Trolls Among Us”. The New York Times
5. Michael Broad – this is entirely my definition and not from an “authority”. Not that that makes it any the less good.
7. “SAClopedia entry for “image macro””. Something Awful SAClopedia. http://forums.somethingawful.com/dictionary.php?act=3&topicid=83. Retrieved 2008-07-28.
8. Michael Broad – these are entirely my thoughts, not in any way researched.
10. Langton, Jerry (2007-09-22). “Funny how `stupid’ site is addictive” – “Iz not cats everywhere? Online trend spreads across campus” – Smith, David. “the unseen face behind today’s counterculture”.
12. About « Lolcats ‘n’ Funny Pictures – I Can Has Cheezburger?