Webwatch: A Brief History of Lolcats


Intro: Lolcats are more than just a novelty, they are an outright phenomenon, argues Conor O’Nolan

For those of you who have lived in a cave without internet for the last few years, I shall explain what a “lolcat” is; a lolcat is a photo of a cat with an amusing caption. While the origin of lolcats is uncertain, photos of cats with captions have actually been around quite a while. One image from 1905 shows a cat in a dress asking for dinner in perfect crisp English. Bad grammar would not be invented until the 21st Century.

The term “lolcat” was first recorded in the gutter of the internet; 4chan (a place to be feared and respected). They were popularised in 2007 by the website icanhascheezburger.com, which ensured the meme transformed into a full blown phenomenon that has taken the world by storm.

Despite how simple the concept seems to be, lolcats are actually a continually evolving entity. There are memes within the meme, such as the eternal dichotomy of Ceiling Cat (God) and Basement Cat (Satan). There is a project on the internet that is slowly translating the Bible into lolspeak:

“An den Sam Jackson said: Teh walkies of the Ceiling Cat beliefer iz fightins an stuff by lotza unfair gredy aholes an George Boosh. Mani cheezburgerz 2 teh beliefer cat cuz of bein nice n stuff 2 helpin kittehs thru teh scary plaice. He gud beliefer cat and finden losted kittehs an such. Ceiling Cat gonna pwn demz who fuk wit my budz. U kno mai name iz Ceiling Cat when I’z scratchin yo ize out n such.” [Ezekiel 25:17]

Clearly, it is a profoundly important movement.

Lolspeak has also been used for (somewhat) more practical things. There is a functioning programming language called LOLCODE. The best example of lolcats being used offline is a book entitled: All Cats Have Asperger’s Syndrome. The book explains Asperger’s syndrome with the aid of captioned photos of cats and a simple narration. The concept might seem slightly redundant, but it helps to explain what is often a profoundly misunderstood condition.

Lolcats have had a bizarrely profound impact on the landscape of our internet. It is a generally harmless and innocent meme which continues to be funny despite having existed for three years already. Let’s just hope we don’t ever run out of cats to photograph.