According to recent studies, 6 out of every 10 adults has encountered a term in a text conversation that they are unable to identity. While many of these acronyms, such as BRB and TTYL, originated from early cell phones’ 160 character texting limit, some have histories that date far before that. How far exactly? Try 1917.
As it turns out, the slang that teenage girls have been using to discuss the inner complexities of high school gossip was originally invented by a British admiral in response to a surprising news headline about the first World War. In a letter to Winston Churchill, John Arbuthnot Fisher revealed that “[he] heard a new order of Knighthood was on the tapis.— O.M.G. (Oh! My God!) Shower it on the Admiralty!” In another letter, Fisher was quoted as saying: “Oh. My. God. Winny, look at her bosom. It is so grand.” (I’m kidding, unfortunately, but imagine.) Though Fisher and Winston eventually had a disagreement (over miscommunicated sarcasm, probably) and went their separate ways, the contents of their correspondence has made a lasting impact on our culture, along with some other popular teen phrases that have some unusual origins. For example:
Pwn (v.): “to own” or to be dominated by an opponent or situation
“Pwn” or “to pwn” was first used in an online game called Warcraft when a map designer accidentally misspelled “own,” thus causing the computer to inform players that they “had been pwned” after they had lost to the computer. It is pronounced like “owned” with a p, which I came to find out only after I had bragged to someone that I had “totally pawned them at Words with Friends” and an awkward silence ensued. Like the phrase “to kill it”, pwn can be used positively or negatively. You can use, “I totally killed that test” or “I totally pwned that test” interchangeably. You can also say “I totally pwned my brother yesterday” but you should probably not say, “I totally killed my brother yesterday” because the cops might be alerted and at that point, I can’t really help you.
FTW (for the win): exclamatory phrase used to denote the end of an action
Believe it or not, FTW actually originated on the game show Hollywood Squares. When choosing the final square, the player in question was required to say “Square *so-and-so* for the win!” The show, which ran from 1966 until 1981, maintained this tradition throughout its entire run. Others, though, claim FTW came about through the online first-person shooter games called Dark Age of Camelot and Half-Life. The word appeared on the DAoC message boards, which is where it first developed its sarcastic tone. (Where would we be without the Internet’s ability to create sarcastic connotations, after all?)
Noob (n.): term for an inexperienced person
This word is widely believed to derive from the word “newbie,” which has a lengthy history in itself. In the 1960s and 70s, newbie was used as a name for new recruits to the Vietnam War. Many also relate the word to “neophyte,” meaning, a beginner or novice. Some believe “newbie” was also used by the British to refer to new male students in a classroom. Newbie’s transformation into noob, though, did not start until the 1980s when Usenet groups turned the word into a derogatory remark to refer to new users. The addition of zeros instead of Os (n00b) was meant to display disrespect towards the user. I don’t know how, exactly, because last I checked, tYp1nG l1k3 th1$ doesn’t convey disrespect, just an inability to use a keyboard and an ability to make me hate you.
Lawlz/Lawl (n.): an expression of excitement or joy
Lawl is the phonetic pronunciation of LOL, meaning laugh out loud. The word’s growing popularity marks technology’s intrusion into the actual construction of our language. Acronyms like BFF (best-friend-forever), TTYL (talk to you later), and IDK (I don’t know) are no longer confined to text messages; they can be used in real conversations as if they are standalone terms. What I mean by this is that you can call your best friend your BFF and it functions in exactly the same way. People recognize BFF as its own word without having to stop to remember that it is, in fact, an acronym. What’s fascinating about LOL is that it has become a word so independent of its acronym, it has spawned a new term entirely (lawl vs. LOL). Extend that idea to “lawlz” (LOL plural, like LOLs) and you’ve stumbled into a whole new world of language.
Okay, now that I’ve finished my rant about the deconstruction of language (a result of a funny disorder called “being an English major” which I hope is highly contagious), I’d like to point out how slang, though it can be annoying at times, is not all bad. Slang is a type of language shared and understood by members of a culture. It is a unifying branch of speech, a giant, literary inside joke shared by a collection of people, mostly teens, and intended to confuse parents to the point of mental exhaustion until they give up and buy their children whatever they want. Wait, OMG, JK, I totes didn’t mean to rite that. Where’s the, lyke, delete button? Lawlz, this is embarrassing. Watevs. TTYL, ppl!