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What's with the name?

Allow us to explain.

Curiouser and curiouser!

The Abbreviation “OMG” Is Way Older Than We Thought

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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  • Anonymous

    John Arbuthnot Fisher (which is a name that could use some abbreviation)

    Fisher is commonly known as “Jackie” Fisher, actually.

  • Anonymous

    isnt the o.e.d. fabulous?

  •!/alannabennett AlannaBennett

    Got that from this:

    If it is factually incorrect, just let me know and I will do something about it.

  • Anonymous

    As I understand it, Dreadnought wound up sparking an Ango-German arms race. While the British may not have had as big of a lead as they might have liked, they continued to have a significant lead over the German Navy in comparable ships. 

  • Anonymous

    I like how Fisher had to waste the space he just saved by then defining O.M.G., since no one had ever seen it before (although perhaps it had been used in correspondence with less high-ranking persons, Fisher at least thought he had to define it for Churchill).  I like the idea that he was setting up the term for use in future letters so he could use it without explanation.  What I can’t understand is why he wrote like a Valley girl in the first place!

    P.S.: Tee hee, your tag says “Linguisitics” :-)

  • Natasha Dythia

    I love this – it just goes to show every generation has the generation before telling them “We thought of it first” – Now we can go back 5 or so generations and the same thing is true :)

  • electrasteph

    Somebody loves him some exclamation points.

  • Anonymous

    Most of the TLAs (*) you see online got their start in old-school fanzines and APAs.  Some didn’t make the jump (phrases like Ook Ook Slobber Drool and Neep Neep Alert seep destined for the ash-heap of history) but a lot of the abbreviations were seen in LOCs (letter of Comment) and comment threads in APAs. 
    While a lot of folks use the @ sign to mean “in reference to your comment”, we used “ct”, or the cents sign if the typewriter (look it up) had one, or cheated by typing c slash.
    Now if there was only more HHOK and less NSAIRMI in the world… 
    (*) Three Letter Acronyms, naturally

  • COMALite J

    <neepery type=”vocabulary” level=”pedantic”>
    Actually, TLA = Three-Letter Abbreviation, not Three-Letter Acronym. Otherwise, TLA itself would not be a TLA, thus ruining the self-referential gag.

    Remember. if you can’t pronounce it as a word, it’s not an acronym. All acronyms are abbreviations, but not all abbreviations are acronyms.