Everyone knows LOL means laugh out loud, but how do you say it? Is it el-oh-el? What about as one fluid word "lawl"? Or maybe with a strong "oh" sound, like "lole"? Pronouncing anything you see on the Internet has been a fraught business since the days of the Great GIF Wars of 2013. But the dictionary has only weighed in on the pronunciation of a few of these, so we'll have to use our own interactions, expertise, and pop culture knowledge as a citizen of the Internet. We're here to help you navigate the Internet's acronyms and slang when you're out IRL (eye-are-ell) with friends.

Pronunciation of these acronyms can be split into three categories. First, there are the acronyms that are pronounced with each letter individually, as you would say FBI or CIA, called initialisms.* Then there are the ones said aloud as a single, fluid word, like FUBAR or YOLO. And then finally, we'll weigh in on those that can go both ways, including LOL and BFFL.

Pronounce each letter:

  • IRL – in real life.
    • Pronounced: "eye-are-ell."
    • Example: Here's Adrian Chen saying IRL Club, referring to the occasional speaker series about the Internet.
  • LM(F)AO – laughing my (f---ing) ass off.
    • Pronounced: "ell-em-ay-oh" or "ell-em-eff-ay-oh."
    • Example: Lil Jon's reference to the band LMFAO in the song "Shots."
  • BRB – be right back.
    • Pronounced: "bee-are-bee."
    • Example: How MC Lars says BRB in the song "IGeneration."
  • JK – just kidding.
    • Pronounced: "jay-kay."
    • Example: Sacha Baron Cohen says "JK" in The Dictator.
  • WTF – what the f---.
  • FML – f--- my life.
  • IDK – I don't know.
  • BTW – by the way.
    • Pronounced: "bee-tee-double-yoo" or, among #teens, "bee-tee-dubs."
    • Example: Urban Dictionary can explain this one.

Pronounce as a fluid word:

  • DGAF – don't give a f---.
    • Pronounced: "dee-gaf" as in rhymes with "gaffe."
    • Example: The Millionaires' life motto.
  • YOLO – you only live once.
    • Pronounced: "yo-low."
    • Example: Drake's motto.
  • FOMO – fear of missing out.
    • Pronounced: "foe-moe."
    • Example: YouTube star Dom Mazzetti has a good explainer.
  • GIF – Graphics Interchange Format 
    • Pronounced: "jif," or less acceptably but still okay, hard-g "gif."
    • Example: Once Jeopardy weighs in, the debate is mostly over.
  • ROFL – rolling on the floor laughing.

Either/or:

  • LOL – laughing out loud.
    • Pronounced: "lawl," or each letter as "el-oh-el." May also be said as "lole," as in "lollerskates," but that sounds more dumb. Though it does track with the Miley Cyrus film LOL.
    • Example: Dictionary.com favors the "lawl" pronunciation. For the each letter pronunciation, the Trey Songz song "LOL Smiley Face" will do the trick.
  • BFFL – best friend for life.
    • ​Pronounced: jokingly as "biffle," or each letter as "bee-ef-ef-el."
    • Example: The tumblr account What Should Biffles Call Me, for example

UpdateWe originally confused the terms acronym and initialism. FBI and CIA are examples of initialisms, while FUBAR and YOLO are acronyms, as The New York Times' Ben Zimmer points out here.