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The Abbreviation “OMG” Is Way Older Than We Thought

Curiouser and curiouser!

Younger generations these days are saddled with a lot of responsibilities they’re not quite prepared for: Coming of age in a time of economic turmoil, figuring out how to get Earth to let us keep living on it without drowning in its rising oceans, dealing with the ever-looming threat that Siri will finally follow through with her plan and enslave us all. Less grave, but nonetheless usually put on the youths of the world, is the popularization of text-speak. You know the type: LOL, LMFAO, ROFL, OMG, Totes. Well, it turns out there’s at least one of those abominations to the English language that no one in any recent generation has to take the blame for: “OMG” is almost a hundred years old.

The earliest found instance of the use of the abbreviation OMG was found, in all places, in a letter to Winston Churchill. In can be found in the 1917 correspondance pictured above, from John Arbuthnot Fisher (which is a name that could use some abbreviation). The sentence in question reads:

“I hear that a new order of Knighthood is on the tapis–O.M.G. (Oh! My God!)–Shower it on the Admiralty!!” (sic)

The letter in question was published in Fisher’s Memories in 1919. Try not to imagine Winston Churchill reading that letter in the stereotypical valley girl voice. We dare you.

Fisher, who was a British Admiral, is largely remembered not as the inventor of OMG, but as the driving force behind the creation of advanced capital ship the HMS Dreadnought in 1906. It seemed revolutionary at the time, but actually ended up (temporarily) destroying Britain’s long-standing lead in naval power. He was also famous for abandoning his posts at the drop of a hat; he resigned from his job as head of the Navy in a letter to Churchill that simply read “I am unable to remain any longer your colleague…I am off to Scotland at once so as to avoid all questionings.”

There’s no doubt that since the time that letter was written that simple abbreviation has taken on an entirely new life of its own. Added to the Oxford English Dictionary last year, it’s only one in a line of abbreviations that have become incredibly prevalent in everyday speech. Naysayers will even tell you those three letters are going to be (or already have been) the downfall of the English language.

But that’s not the issue we’re tackling right now. Our question here has more to do with what brought Fisher, of stately British naval origin–and, according to the above picture, quite the sourpuss–to inadvertently become the first ever remembered person to use this phrase. Was it simply an attempt to save time as he ran away to places like Scotland? Did he prophesize that tweens the world over would champion his phrase and shout it from the rooftops their texting fingers?

We may never know.

(via io9)

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