by Jennifer Oxley*
LOLspeak (where LOL is an acronym for laugh out loud) is a variety of English that can be described as the human interpretation of how cats might speak English if they could. It is a playful interpretation that includes things like deliberate grammatical mistakes, misspellings, and baby talk. LOLspeak is primarily used in a satirical or humorous manner on pictures of cats that are posted on the internet. These pictures, with either LOLspeak or Standard English captions added to them, are known as LOLcats, a popular internet meme. An example of LOLspeak used on a LOLcat image can be seen here in the picture of the kitten and the coin.
LOLcats and LOLspeak appear to have originated on the image-sharing website 4chan, and were later popularised in 2007 by another image-sharing website, I Can Has Cheezburger?
LOLspeak varies from Standard English in a number of ways, including in its syntax, morphology and spelling, and can be considered grammatically incorrect. However, according to researchers Lauren Gawne and Jill Vaughan, LOLspeak contains a number of regularities and patterns. (‘I can haz language play: The construction of language and identity in LOLspeak’, in Proceedings of the 42nd Australian Linguistics Society Conference, 2011, p. 101 [online]) This means that LOLspeak is sometimes found to follow internal grammatical rules, for instance in regard to orthography and syntax. Examples include th, which is sometimes spelt with an f and assumed to be pronounced as such (u fink I eated ur foodz?), and the lack of agreement between pronouns and auxiliary verbs (oh hai! I iz steelin ur hart).
In 2010 a translation of the Bible into LOLspeak was published, growing out of a wiki-based, collaborative enterprise, the LOLcat Bible translation project. Below are a few of the LOLspeak terms found in the LOLcat Bible. Those wishing to see more examples of LOLspeak and the LOLcats images can visit sites like lolcats.com and lolcatbible.com.
Basement Cat – the cat devil
brutha – brother
Ceiling Cat – God of all cats
daddy-cat, daddy-kitteh – father
Erfs/Urfs – Earth
girl-kitteh, kitteh-girl, dotter – daughter
Happy Cat – Jesus Christ
kitteh – cat/kitty/kitten
kitteh-boy/boy-kitteh/boy-cat – son
mom-kitteh – mother
moocow – cow
pepples – people
sheeples/sheepies – sheep
sheep-doods – shepherds
sisty-kitty – sister
teh/da – the
to nom – to eat
‘Doge’, an internet meme similar to LOLcats, is a more recent online phenomenon relating to dogs. Like LOLspeak, Doge Speak is found on images, in this case pictures of shiba inu dogs. However, unlike LOLspeak, Doge Speak generally follows Standard English spelling conventions more closely, and its syntax is heavily restricted. A general overview of Doge Speak can be found on The Toast blog.
*Jennifer Oxley is a research assistant at the ANDC.