LMAO means “laughing my ass off.” It’s a slang abbreviation that shows you think something is incredibly funny.
Teens and other people have been talking about laughing their asses off for some three-quarters of a century—one of the most well-known uses of the phrase appears in Catcher in the Rye, a popular 1951 novel by J.D. Salinger ("It ends up with everybody at this long dinner table laughing their asses off because the great Dane comes in with a bunch of puppies," Holden describes, speaking of a movie he dislikes).
Let’s look at how the phrase was abbreviated as LMAO and how you can use it.
Origin of LMAO
According to sources that pop up in a quick internet search, the first use of LMAO happened during an online Dungeons & Dragons game in 1990. But the spelled-out phrase was part of casual speech and writing long before that, and the similar abbreviation LMTO (laughing my tush off) was in common use on the global computer network FidoNet before that. FidoNet users also used initialisms like AFK back then.
There are countless ways to communicate laughter online, and LMAO is just one. Many people type words that imitate the repetitive sound of laughter:
- kkk (Brazil and Korea)
- 哈哈哈 (China)
- xaxa (Russia)
- jaja (Mexico)
- হা হা (Bangladesh)
Some French speakers use MDR (mort de rire, “died laughing”). Nigerians like LWKM (“laugh wan kill me”). Jamaicans say DWL (“dead with laugh”). But check again tomorrow, and at least some of these may have gone out of style—internet lingo is ever-changing.
You can use LMAO as an example of this kind of evolution itself. After its synonym LMTO appeared online, LMAO arose along with an assortment of related internet abbreviations like the ones below. Some of them are used much less, or differently, than they used to be.
- LMBO – laughing my butt off
- LOL – laughing out loud
- ROFL – rolling on the floor, laughing
- ROFLMAO – rolling on the floor, laughing my ass off
Usage of LMAO
LMAO in text messages, in chat, and on social media has the same meaning. It always means “laughing my ass off.” It shows you think whatever you're responding to is funnier than LOL could capture (and, obviously, you don't have to be literally laughing to use these abbreviations).
You can use it alone or stick it onto the beginning or end of a complete or incomplete sentence. You might also use it to signal that you’re not being serious. It can be either capitalized or lowercased since it’s totally casual, and some people add extra O's to the end for more emphasis.
Here are some examples of each of these uses:
Person 1: Got a 62% on the physics test. I’m screwed
Person 1: Person 2: LMAO
lmao did you see the look on his face?
I tried to make a pizza and set the oven on fire lmaoooooo
LMAO that cat video!
When not to use LMAO
Since ass is a bit vulgar and is not a word most people use in formal settings, it’s not polite to use LMAO when you’re at work or school. The same is usually true if you’re talking to older people or those in authority, such as your grandparents, instructors, or boss.
This means you shouldn’t use LMAO in any form of academic writing, and you probably shouldn’t use it in professional writing unless you’re absolutely sure that people in your workplace won’t mind. On the other hand, you can use it freely in casual conversation if it will be understood and won’t offend the person you’re talking to. You can also use it in creative writing, such as in a text message dialogue between characters.
For those times when LMAO isn’t appropriate, what are some better options? Some people like to use “laughing my apples off.” That might be a good alternative if you write it out, but if you use LMAO to mean that, the difference won’t be clear. It may be better to write something that’s more conventional or that doesn’t contain vulgarity, such as one of these:
- That’s hilarious!
- I’m laughing so hard.
- How funny!
- OMG LOL
In casual settings, another possibility is to use emoji, such as the skull emoji, which relates to the idea of dying laughing, or the tears of joy emoji (more popular among millennials than Gen Z). Again, consider whether the person you’re saying it to will understand the meaning.
Best practices for LMAO
As with all internet slang terms, it’s hard to say whether LMAO is here to stay. But while it’s here, you can use it correctly by following the guidelines above. Let’s review them quickly:
- Remember that LMAO means “laughing my ass off,” which is not considered polite language.
- Stick to using LMAO only in casual settings where it won’t offend anyone.
- In more formal settings, avoid using abbreviations and write a sentence sharing your laughter instead.
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Is it polite to use LMAO?
Since LMAO stands for “laughing my ass off,” it’s not polite. It’s considered slang at best and vulgar at worst.
How do you use LMAO?
You can use LMAO in casual writing by using it alone or by adding it at the beginning or end of a sentence. It can be capitalized or lowercased.
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