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YOLO? OMG!

June 5, 2014

The stories of how we came to use these silly abbreviations, on the Internet, in our texts, and even in real life.

YOLO

YOLOYou’ve probably heard a teenager say this, or seen a friend post this on Facebook, right before doing something reckless or silly. It’s short for “you only live once,” and something people say to themselves to provide either carte blanche or courage. It’s not a new concept, or even a new phrase. The full phrase is often attributed to Mae West, but she was probably quoting 18th century German writer Johann van Goethe (“one lives but once in this world”) or the title of a 19th century Strauss waltz. It’s such a common phrase that there was a James Bond movie title playing on the phrase, You Only Live Twice, in 1967. The current fashion for YOLO, however, can be credited to the very popular rapper/singer/actor Drake. He used the phrase in his 2011 hit “The Motto.” (The motto in question? YOLO.) Drake tried and failed to obtain a trademark on the phrase, so as to prevent others from putting the word on T-shirts and bumper stickers.

OMG!

OMG is an abbreviation or “text speak” for “Oh my God!” that also sounds slightly less offensive than the full phrase. It’s been used in chatrooms, text messages, and on Twitter for years, and in 2011 the Oxford English Dictionary added it to the official lexicon of English. As it turns out, OMG is much older that expected—the first use of it dates back nearly 100 years, to 1917. In a letter to former First Lord of the Admiralty (and future prime minister) Winston Churchill during World War I, British admiral John Arbuthnot Fisher used the phrase. Fisher was all a-twitter about the possibility of being knighted. “I hear that a new order of Knighthood is on the tapis [slang from the era meaning “on the table”]. O.M.G. (Oh! My God!) Shower it on the Admiralty!” Yes, Fisher’s phrase was so new, he had to tell Churchill what it meant…which defeats the purpose of an abbreviation. (And by the way, that knighthood was eventually “showered” on Fisher.)

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