Do you know what LOL means when somebody types it in an email or an IM?
It's okay to say "no". Everybody had to learn it somewhere along the way. I have asked my niece, a high school senior, many such questions (it means laughing out loud. I'll let you ask your niece what ROTFLMAO means. I'll give a hint: the L is for "laughing".
In the old days, teenagers asked their parents about the meaning of life, and words, and concepts. Now it's the other way around: we ask our teenagers what words mean, and to explain various social phenomena.
Honey, what's blogging?
Writing stuff on your web log, Dad; now quit bugging me, I'm on the phone.
I recently was interviewed by an influential journalist (who will remain unnamed here), and we completed part of our conversation through instant messaging, since deadlines, either editorially-imposed or software-imposed, often require intermittent conversations, some on the phone, some through email, some through IM.
So my conversation with this (funny, engaging) journalist became peppered with "lol" as we discussed the industry at large and a few things that are ridiculous, or perplexing, as observations were made on one side or the other of the conversation. Hopefully some of them won't end up in print, but it's okay if they do, because I generally stand by all my remarks.
Anyway, the point is that lol doesn't really mean "laugh out loud" for most people any more (among those who use this lingo at all, of course). It has become iconic, a way to smile electronically, a broader smile than the venerable :-) emoticon.
This is a fascinating social trend. You can't smile on the telephone, but there are audible cues as to what the other person might be thinking, or feeling; you can hear someone's tone, or chuckling, and pick up on the irony or humor. This is much harder to do in text-based conversations. You've all read the admonitions to "tone it down" on email because it's so easy to be misunderstood.
In this world of high bandwidth, multimedia, videoconferencing, and real-time communication, people still love to send text messages. Michael Tchong came by our offices yesterday, and we were talking about instant messaging and emoticons. His contention is that people prefer text communication, especially IM, for a number of reasons. I think I agree, because you can say things you wouldn't face-to-face, there's no embarrassment of timing (those long pauses on the phone) or bad hair (video conferencing). It's direct, yet you can think for a few seconds before replying, and edit your reply if you need to. And it's silent (to co-workers or parents) who may think you're working very hard, at the rate the keyboard is clacking.
It's just hard to laugh out loud silently, so someone miles away can hear you.