Published: April 24, 2023

Author: Ali Dimaio
Advisor: Prof. Kira Hall, TA Ayden Parish
Class: LING 1000: Language in US Society 
Semester: Fall 2022
LURA 2023



The goal of my video project for the course Language in US Society, embedded above, was to emphasize how the meaning of words  -especially slang - have adapted beyond having only one meaning through the growing use of the internet. The use of slang in our society today has grown tremendously, and as slang becomes more popular, words and their meanings often change to adapt to users' needs. Dialect is such a fundamental part of society as it allows people to verbally communicate with each other in unique ways. As the use of the internet has increased over the past few decades, humans have created different uses for the same word, with slang terms in particular. This change in meaning of a word is what linguists have classified as a semantic shift, with one of them most popular semantic shifts changing the meaning of the popular term “LMAO”.

Slang on social media has become so versatile due to the accessibility of new words on different communities. The internet has allowed more people to discover new vocabulary, which results in a variety of exposure from many more individuals to use words in new and different ways. Throughout my project, I explored how the slang term LMAO has many meanings beyond its literal meaning of “Laughing My Ass Off” and has transformed into a type of discourse marker. A discourse marker is a word or phrase that serves as a way to link thoughts or statements and organize sentences. Some other more common examples of discourse markers that you may run into more frequently than LMAO include “like”, “I mean”, “so”, and “well” amongst others. Throughout my research I have found that there are many different functions for the discourse marker LMAO. LMAO’s meaning is far more complex than it may first come off as, it serves as a way to laugh at or about something, show emotional solidarity, or to soften the tone of a more serious message. Short language is especially important over text where the element of verbal tone is not available, so slang terms often become substitutes for the tone of the sender's voice. 

Lmao when spelled with two or more O’s is an indication of laughing at or about a message; the more O’s a message has the more comical the tone becomes. Tone is the backbone of the meaning of language, which is why using slang and other discourse markers is so fundamental to use in order to properly convey the meaning, connotation, or intent of a message. To further emphasize my classification of this term being used to lighten the tone of a message, I also believe that this discourse marker is used more frequently between women to not be considered disrespectful or even “a bitch”, as Professor Hall has emphasized in our lectures. Oftentimes, women in society are classified as such when the tone of a conversation is not lightened, as it is when lmao is used, which is a theme that is observed frequently amongst women in conversation.

Overall, my goal of studying the term lmao -what some might even classify as a frivolous topic - was ultimately to shed light on the multifaceted nature of the term and the evolution of its semantic shift. The term LMAO has many unique functions beyond its literal meaning of laughing out loud, such as expressing emotional solidarity or softening the tone of a serious message. My research highlights the significance of discourse markers in conveying the intended meaning, tone, and connotation of a message. Understanding how discourse markers and slang usage impact sentence delivery is critical in communicating effectively and understanding sentence context. Ultimately, my project emphasizes the importance of the evolution of language over the internet and the impact that these changes can have on the meaning and interpretation of our messages, especially online and over text. 


Image Credit


  1. auTOBIographer from Twitter

  2. Cambridge Dictionary. (n.d.). Lmao. LMAO | definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from

  3. Merriam-Webster. (n.d.) Lexical. Lexical | definition in Merriam-Webster. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from

  4. McCulloch, G. (2020). In Because internet: Understanding how language is changing (p. 30). essay, Vintage.

  5. Monaghan, L., Goodman, J. E., & Bucholtz, M. (2007). Word Up: Social Meanings of Slang in California Youth Culture. In A cultural approach to interpersonal communication: Essential readings (Two, p. 282). essay, Wiley Blackwell.

  6. Schilling , N., & Wolfram, W. (2016). Levels of Dialect. In Dialects and Variations (Third, p. 66). essay, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.