OMG! This Slang Isn’t as New as You Think

If you’re old enough to remember televisions with dials, you might roll your eyes at some of the lingo used by the texting generation. Young people these days seem to speak in abbreviations. But the practice of using acronyms is not that old. English acronyms were first used in 1879, when a newly developed telegraphic code abbreviated the Supreme Court of the United States as SCOTUS.

But most people associate certain acronyms, such as LOL, WTF, ILY and OMG, with a newer way of speaking. What you might not know is that millennials weren’t the first to say OMG instead of “Oh my God.”

Lord John Fisher used the now-ubiquitous text-speak in a letter to Winston Churchill in 1917. The term appeared with periods between the letters and included the explanation in parentheses, reading, “O.M.G. (Oh! My God!)” As the head of the British Navy during World War I, Fisher may have been used to writing in code.

According to linguist Ben Zimmer, Fisher came up with the abbreviation on the fly to emphasize the sarcasm in his letter. The phrase wasn’t used regularly until the mid-1990s, when Americans started using more abbreviations and tech-speak in their slang.

One of the most commonly used words in the English language came about in a similarly haphazard way. The abbreviation OK was invented when the Boston Morning Post published it as a satirical abbreviation for “oll korrect,” a mocking misspelling of the phrase “all correct.”