(Tl;dr: By 2014, 'lol' has long since shifted from an acronym to a word with a significant, predictable meaning. Other languages have turned emoticons into words, like Mandarin's "orz" which is meant to resemble a kneeling person and communicate respect. There's no justification in the study of language for treating 'lol' as an acronym or as any less wordlike than utterances we all accept on SIC like "OK", "huh", etc., in 2014 or 2099. By 2099, probably all languages will have either generated a home-grown equivalent to 'lol' or just integrated it into their comms wholesale - for decades, some probably more than a century.)
This is an issue that has been simmering on the back burner for me since one of my first days here, if not the first.
Some of you are programmers, some graphic designers, some scientists - of various disciplines - and so forth. At least one player is a game designer. All of us can offer insights from our fields in turn when relevant to the smooth functioning of the game and our common sense of immersion. It doesn't make us automatically right to be participating in some field or have taken some classes, but it usually gives us a different angle and some experience dealing with relevant questions that may seem more arcane to others - or may seem perfectly obvious, but their lay perspective leads them to the wrong conclusion.
It's fair to say that even if a chemist took a class in biology, that doesn't give her authority in biology, especially if someone who focused more on that discipline is available to offer her own opinion. In the face of abundant and easy-to-find evidence, though, lay people who engage honestly with the work can come to accept and understand that there are very good biological reasons that humans drink water, the atmosphere is made up of a certain amount of nitrogen, etc.
This should all go without saying, from my perspective - that there is no absolute authority on real-world matters and yet that some of us have experiences that lend credibility and gravitas to our snap decisions when that expertise is relevant. But maybe that's not how everyone thinks.
Because of this possibility, I spent a fair bit of time rehashing introductory morphology, syntax and pragmatics after a recent OOC-Chat discussion where it was decided that lol isn't a word - contradicting the linguistic reality, in my belief then and in actual fact. Then I decided to get to the meat of the issue and directly search for linguists' professional opinions on the word 'lol' itself. I believe I've been easily vindicated; here's a small sample:
Another recent grammatical change is the transformation of LOL. In a casual reply like “lol, i hear you”, actual laughter is probably not occurring. What began as an abbreviation meaning “laughing out loud” (or “lots of love”) is losing this explicit meaning and now frequently serves as a pragmatic particle marking empathy and a shared frame of reference, according to linguist John McWhorter.
Something similar, McWhorter says, has happened to the phrase (Do) you know what I’m sayin’? – it isn’t really the question that it superficially appears to be, but rather is “a piece of grammar, soliciting the same sense of empathy and group membership that LOL does”. Given its frequent informal use, the phrase is often compressed into a syllable or two for efficiency. If you search Twitter for nomsayin or knowmsayin, you’ll see how common this is.
In the comments, 'full stop' and 'dot dot dot' are given as similar examples of verbalized punctuation (similar to 'lol', that is).
Here's Carey's link to McWhorter on the subject: http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/30/opinion/mcwhorter-lol/index.html
It's important here that John McWhorter, a relatively conservative figure in both politics and linguistics, acknowledges that 'lol' is what, in this context, casual language users call a 'word': a particle of speech with its own significant meaning that can organically acquire new shades of meaning or shift to mean something else entirely over time. He refers to 'pragmatics' when he says 'pragmatic' there; the field of linguistics that studies the implicit and covert meanings of words and phrases, for example, how and why "Have you seen Frank?" comes to mean something different than whether you've literally laid eyes on the man, why the reply "I saw his truck at the store" doesn't elicit frustration, etc. Those of you who feel you know for sure what is and isn't a word, would do well to read more about pragmatics and morphology. Here's a note from the same blog linked to 'pragmatic' above: http://www.macmillandictionaryblog.com/a-pragmatic-note
Carey has a series of posts tagged 'lol' which often deal with it as a word and as an example of generative grammar, the normal human process of creating and changing grammar organically within a given society, geopolitical region or subculture: http://stancarey.wordpress.com/tag/lol/
As a footnote, Chomsky and linguists of his ilk have observed so many universalities and similarities in this process across cultures that they have proposed a common 'language organ' in the brain that utilizes various physical brain structures to apply the same kind of thinking to all living languages.
Wikipedia has an informative page on generative grammar, as in the study of how this kind of thinking operates within and across cultures:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generative_grammar
The Wiki page on morphology is a good read for laypeople who want to understand more about how meaningful bits of language are created, studied and change over time: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morphology_%28linguistics%29
I believe the question has now been settled without anyone having to resort to dense scientific reports or any kind of negativity, but if further citations are needed, let me know. If this post does generate animosity, I apologize. This matter should be pretty uncontroversial for those who engage with the facts.