First there was LOL (“laugh out loud”), an acronym that first appeared in the 1980s and became the reigning shorthand online for what people found funny. Then came ROFL (“rolling on the floor laughing”), LMAO (“laughing my ass off”) and even nonverbal cues like smiling emojis. Still, most type these terms straight-faced, relegating them to dull punctuation added carelessly to the end of a message. Now, the internet wants to revitalize laughing online with a new term: IJBOL.
Though it may sound like a Korean word or the name of a new boy band, IJBOL (pronounced “eej-bowl”) actually stands for “I just burst out laughing.” The term is not necessarily novel or different from how other iterations of internet laughter are used, but it describes something people actually do: explode into an audible, full-belly chuckle. It homes in on a type of laugh that may come in inappropriate or untimely settings — perhaps at a funeral, in reaction to a punchline just a beat too late or when you suddenly remember something funny.
Ellie Jocson, a 25-year-old bank analyst in Manila, uses IJBOL instead of LOL, because she said it more accurately reflected what happened “behind the screen” while scrolling through social media. “I’m usually just quiet,” Ms. Jocson said. “And then I let out a snort.”
For Gen Z-ers, it comes as a timely replacement for a slew of terms that no longer feel fitting. “I don’t LMAO. It’s just not what I do,” said Michael Messineo, a 27-year-old content creator who lives in Melbourne, Australia. “I associate LMAO with millennial humor. But then I associate IJBOL with Gen Z humor, which is funnier.”
“My friends, we’re all around the same age, like 18 to early 20s,” said Sebastian Champagne, a 20-year-old college student who lives in Brockton, Mass. “So a lot of us were like, ‘This is going to be our word now!’”
On the internet, IJBOL has been closely associated with celebrities, including Nicki Minaj, who fell back in her chair with laughter on a livestream, and Taylor Swift, who loudly “ha-ha”-ed into a microphone onstage while surrounded by cheering fans.
But the unofficial face of IJBOL, according to Twitter, is Vice President Kamala Harris. Ms. Harris has a reputation for chuckling unprompted, injecting levity or nervousness into any situation. In viral videos posted online, Ms. Harris can often be seen doubling over during an interview, almost dropping the microphone in her hand, or singing to the camera and laughing while strolling to her campaign bus (Ms. Harris did not respond to a request for comment).
“It’s sort of like her ‘meme-able’ factor,” Mr. Champagne said. “When IJBOL came out, people started to just like use her as a way to coincide the two together, because she’s kind of like the perfect definition of IJBOL. She’s always laughing at everything.”
Though the acronym IJBOL was entered into Urban Dictionary in 2009, it picked up in 2021 among the K-pop fan community, who would endearingly categorize their idols according to internet acronyms. Some can be labeled IJBOL (for celebrities who laugh all the time). Others, DPMO (meaning “don’t piss me off,” for celebrities who get angry about everything).
When Ms. Jocson came across IJBOL last year on Twitter, she thought it was a Korean word — one of many that she didn’t recognize as a non-Korean-speaking fan of the K-pop girl group Blackpink. IJBOL has a similar look to the Korean word for a large family-owned business conglomerate, “chaebol,” or the curse word “shibal.”
“I also thought, like other K-pop enthusiasts, that it’s a Korean word,” Ms. Jocson said. “I initially didn’t know what it meant. I had to Google it.”
Niche corners of the internet like K-pop fandoms can produce “spaces of creativity” where new lexicons are invented, said Michelle McSweeney, a City University of New York Graduate Center professor who studies digital laughter. These words couldn’t exist without the lingo-swapping of these subgroups.
“It so doesn’t surprise me that it first started on K-pop Twitter, because that’s also a pretty tight-knit community that communicates a lot with each other and creates these new norms,” said Professor McSweeney, who is also the author of “OK,” a book about how technology shapes language.
When outsiders start adopting a colloquial term, the word loses its specificity, and that’s when it becomes less fun. “You would totally use LOL with your boss. I will say that I have used LMAO with my boss, but like, that’s as far as I escalate,” Professor McSweeney said. “That’s why we need to bring new terms into circulation, because you’re not going to write to your best friend the same thing they’re going to write to your boss.”
The word would lose its edge and intimacy if, say, Ms. Harris started using IJBOL in her campaign — or if the term was written about in a daily newspaper.
“Everyone would like, lose their minds then never say it again,” Mr. Champagne said.