Explain Like I’m 35: What is IJBOL?

We could argue for days about what are the most important markers for defining shifts in internet culture. Many would point to the rise in new platforms, or would appeal to a certain style of meme. While both of these vital, 2023 has reminded us of a less obvious, but still essential factor in measuring the vibe: the ways in which people type their laughter.

Since the 1980s, LOL has held firm as many people’s acronym of choice when it comes to reacting to something humorous. ROFL first came along a little later in the decade and for some reason seemed to reach its peak in the midst of the rage comic craze, when writing the word ‘the’ as ‘teh’ was the funniest thing ever (legend has it the ROFLcopter still patrols the skies, all these years later). Then there’s LMAO, an early 90s invention that Tumblr veterans will probably associate withlowercase little green aliens, and the absurdist ironic humor of the mid 2010s. They all have their place, but these days they’ve been brushed aside for something loftier. IJBOL is now the fashionable way to express one’s mirth.

Standing for I Just Burst Out Laughing, IJBOL has been around since at least 2009, when two Twitter users claimed to have invented the phrase. From there, it seems to have surged in popularity with a little help from the two obvious candidates of TikTok and Stan Twitter. It’s taken a while to catch on — one social media user achieved virality in 2022 by asking “What does ijbol mean, is it Muslim or something”?

The unofficial mascot of this acronym is none other than Vice President Kamala Harris, whose habit of randomly getting the giggles in public exemplifies everything that dedicated IJBOL users hold dear. Exciting and irreverent, it is distinguished from its predecessors in that it describes the process of becoming amused, rather than just what happens when we get there. Many closely associate it with the usage of another established acronym, IDGAF, implying that it’s almost an act of rebellion, or acting like nobody’s watching.

Interestingly, this transition comes some time after the one that has happened with emojis. The crying laughing emoji has long been maligned as obvious and Boomer-adjacent by much of the younger generation, who instead favor the ‘I’m dead’ skull or the dramatic loudly crying emoji. That said, if some rumors are to be believed the latter has reportedly fallen out of favor as well. Nonetheless, IJBOL follows in their wake with its elaborate description of finding something funny. Even those of us who are LOLers at heart could do with an IJBOL moment every day.