A lolcat is an image of cat with an idiosyncratic and often grammatically incorrect caption superimposed. It is an excellent example of an Internet meme, a unit of cultural information which is rapidly shared between people. Lolcats most frequently pop up on Internet boards and in threaded conversations, although there are several websites dedicated to collecting and displaying the images as well. The basic stylistic format of the lolcat has also spread to other images, such as pictures of presidents, walruses, and gerbils.
The origins of the lolcat are found in a larger Internet concept, the image macro. An image macro is simply a photograph with superimposed text. Like other image macros, lolcat captions are typically written in a sans serif font, and they tend to be short and to the point. Frequently, the caption references popular or Internet culture. As often happens with memes, many lolcats reference other lolcats.
The name is a portmanteau of “laugh out loud” (lol) and “cat.” Along with numerous other abbreviations, “lol” is used in chats and text messages to express a physical reaction to a conversation. Using abbreviations also makes typing and texting much faster, ensuring that a conversation has a rapid pace. As the name implies, lolcats are deeply steeped in Internet culture, and they use a language and grammatical structure which integrates a great deal of texting and instant messaging speech. The speech is often called a type of pidgin, since it uses simplistic yet consistent grammatical structures.
The captions on lolcat images may often be grammatically incorrect, but there is a consistency in the incorrect grammar. Most of the captions are snowclones, cliched formulas such as “I'm in ur noun, verbing your noun,” “adjective cat is adjective,” or “I can has noun.” It is also entirely possible to have a grammatically correct lolcat, although the words of the caption are frequently misspelled. Many lolcat images include the common themes of “has” for any conjugation of “have,” along with numbers to replace letters, as is the case in “3” for “E.” Other dialect trends such as “Z” for “S” are also very common.
There are numerous lolcat themes, and Internet users are constantly evolving more. Many lolcats reference geek culture, while others appear to have invisible objects. Some lolcats want something, as is the case with the classic “I can has cheezburger” lolcat, while others already have something, in the instance of “I has a flavor.” Others poke fun at motivational posters, while some simply want to share, as in: “Let me show you my nouns. My nouns. Let me show you them.”