OMFG! Sweary abbreviations FTFW

That’s Oh my fucking god and for the fucking win, for the uninitiated. Sweary acronyms and initialisms are a BFD (big fucking deal) on the internet. It’s hard to imagine everyday online discourse – especially on social media – without frequent encounters with, or use of, WTF (what the fuck), FFS (for fuck’s sake) and their semi-encoded ilk.

Concision is an obvious advantage: STFU and GTFO take far fewer keystrokes than the full phrases shut the fuck up and get the fuck out, saving the (ab)user time, effort, and – perhaps most importantly – the appearance of giving a shit. Sweary abbreviations also play a role in signalling group identity, expressing personal style, and so on, FYFI (for your fucking information). And they are extremely meme-friendly:

captain picard middle finger - stfu or gtfo

Abbreviating swearwords like this also allows people to use a form of language they might not feel so comfortable with were it spelled out, or in contexts where the explicit forms may be too risqué. Abbreviations make it easier to say whatever TF you want and still not be really swearing – unless you’re the GD (goddamn) NYT. Some may wonder WTF difference it makes – just say WTH (what the hell) if you’re feeling coy or you’re a euphemising FNG (fucking new guy) still figuring out what you can get away with.

WTF normally means what the fuck, but it can also mean why, who, when, where or even whatever the fuck, because WTF not, and WTF would insist otherwise. (WTF it can mean whether the fuck is hereby resolved.) These alternative uses are less immediately intelligible but usually obvious enough in context. Besides, ambiguity comes with the territory: FTW, normally for the win, can also be fuck the world or for those wondering, FTW.

As Ben Zimmer’s post above shows, WTF has gained nominal and attributive uses, extending its reach still further. Its popularity has led to expanded forms such as WTAF (what the actual fuck), WETF (what even the fuck), WTGDMF (what the goddamn mother fuck), and WTFO (What the fuck. Over.). It’s also commonly intensified, normally by repeating the F – search Twitter for WTFFF, WTFFFF, WTFFFFF, etc. for a flavour.

There’s a downside to its familiarity, or at least there was if you worked at the Wisconsin Tourism Federation (now Tourism Federation of Wisconsin) a few years ago, before they changed their name and logo. Though if you ask me, the marketing department missed a trick by not embracing this happy coincidence. They could have been all like LMFAO DILLIGAF? IDGAF (Laughing my fucking ass off. Do I look like I give a fuck? I don’t give a fuck). Instead they went FML (fuck my life) and rebranded:

wisconsin tourism federation - tourism federation of wisconsin - logo before and after

The internet may have supercharged the spread of sweary abbreviations, but some are already generations old. Fubar (fucked up beyond all recognition) and snafu (situation normal, all fucked up) arose as military slang in the 1940s and soon spread to wider use, as Jesse Sheidlower’s The F-Word details. T&A (tits and ass) appeared a little later. OMFG (oh my fucking god) didn’t emerge until the 1990s – at least nowhere there’s a record of itbut OMG is almost a century old. JMJ (Jesus, Mary and Joseph), an Irish exclamation that typically marks exasperation or surprise, is a relatively recent innovation, as is MILF.

Fubar, milf and snafu (and snefu, with everything in place of all) are unequivocally acronyms, pronounced like ordinary words as opposed to a series of letter-names. Others vary in this respect. Some people pronounce WTF as an initialism, whereas in my mind’s ear I tend to hear the full phrase: what [or whatever] the fuck. Gretchen McCulloch has heard ‘dubs-tee-eff’, while Language Log reader kip says ‘dub-tee eff’. Gretchen also cites ‘ohm-fog’ as a pronunciation of OMFG. Upper or lower case is a further source of difference.

Some sweary abbreviations run the risk of being cryptic AF (as fuck), but if you’re stuck you can always JFGI (just fucking google it). A wise-ass might tell you to RTFM (read the fucking manual) ASAFP (as soon as fucking possible), but that’s NFG (no fucking good) and will teach you precisely SFA (sweet fuck-all) because there’s no MF (motherfucking) manual for this shit yet, FYVM (fuck you very much).

The set of sweary abbreviations keeps swelling and mutating, with new offshoots used impromptu and only sometimes recorded systematically. Few if any such coinages aim for longevity but are simply part of the rough-and-tumble recreation of informal language use, what I’ve described elsewhere as the instinctive inclination to play with words and letters as though they were an abstract kind of toy (e.g., VFNSFW, very fucking not suitable for work, which I used in a post on sweary old songs). They may not be elegant or estimable, but they were never meant to be: they suit their sweary niches.

Swears are abbreviated in lots of other ways too, like dafuq, effing, mofo, and fuxache, but we’ll leave that for another GDMF day. AMF!

44 thoughts on “OMFG! Sweary abbreviations FTFW

    • Stan Carey April 16, 2015 / 2:53 pm

      It dates to 1991, according to The F-Word. I’m calling that recent lest I feel any more ancient than I already do.

      Liked by 4 people

    • Stan Carey April 16, 2015 / 7:21 pm

      Ah, I’d forgotten about these – thanks, Nancy. From that list, I also like DOMA (day off, my ass).

      Liked by 1 person

  1. cynthiamvoss April 16, 2015 / 3:03 pm

    Too funny about Wisconsin. I agree, they missed an opportunity lol. I love RTFM’s (probable?) offshoot RTFA for read the fucking article, where you see people asking questions in the comments section of an article that usually would have been easily answered by reading just the first sentence of said article. Cracks me up every time. People will bother to type RTFA but not give a simple answer to the question. The internet is so harsh and funny sometimes–can you imagine saying that face to face?

    Like

    • Stan Carey April 16, 2015 / 7:24 pm

      That’s another good one, Cynthia. I didn’t think of it when I put the post together. I see it sometimes on Twitter too, and to be fair it’s usually justified!

      Liked by 1 person

      • cynthiamvoss April 16, 2015 / 7:42 pm

        Oh totally! I agree with the people who write RTFA but would sooner ignore the annoying questions than take the time to tell someone RTFA. I just love how angry they get sometimes that a person would dare ask a question without reading the article first. So silly.

        Like

  2. slaterkristen April 16, 2015 / 3:23 pm

    Another interesting article 🙂

    I always read expressions like WTF as the words the letters represent – so they tend to retain their force for me.

    One minor quibble I had is that I always understood fubar to be ‘fucked up beyond all repair’ (according to my father, anyway, who was in his teens in the 1940s). Since it’s slang, though, it doesn’t seem unreasonable that the ‘r’ could stand for ‘recognition’ as well.

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    • Stan Carey April 16, 2015 / 7:33 pm

      Kristen: Maybe that’s why the NYT won’t tolerate WTF! The ‘r’ in fubar is given as recognition in all the sources I consulted, including the OED, American Heritage Dictionary, Chambers Slang Dictionary, and The F-Word – which is not to say it isn’t or can’t be repair, but that doesn’t seem to be the primary or usual interpretation.

      Like

      • slaterkristen April 16, 2015 / 10:23 pm

        Well, there you go. I’ve learnt something new! Always a good thing. 🙂

        Like

  3. FuckedUpPhoebe April 16, 2015 / 4:32 pm

    I’m loving these formal and informative pieces about swears and gestures. It’s like a classy way of talking about all the shit most people are too scared to write about. Expletives and acronyms FTW (for the win… Not fuck the world because that wouldn’t make much sense now would it?)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Stan Carey April 17, 2015 / 7:52 am

      Thanks for the feedback, Phoebe. I think one of the reasons swearwords are so interesting to talk about is because they’re so often politely ignored or euphemised or denigrated. There are lots of good books about profanity but not so many places online dedicated to it.

      Like

  4. Rob Chirico April 16, 2015 / 5:15 pm

    From a Soupy Sales show: He held up a poster with the letter “F” and asked the off-stage intern what letter he saw. The intern replied “K.” This happened several times. Soupy then asked the intern: “How come every time I hold up F you see K ?

    Liked by 4 people

    • Stan Carey April 17, 2015 / 7:56 am

      That’s a good one, Rob. The joke recurs in pop music, too, such as The Script’s ‘If You See Kay’ and Britney Spears’ ‘If U Seek Amy’.

      Like

    • Stan Carey April 17, 2015 / 8:11 am

      Thanks, Barry – nice examples. So buy the fucking [x] and sell the fucking [x] are the recurring templates.

      Like

    • Stan Carey April 17, 2015 / 8:13 am

      The Picard one? Yes, a fine freeze-frame. I saw the image doing the rounds and added some suitable text.

      Like

  5. datatater April 17, 2015 / 12:49 am

    “fuxache”, it took me a couple of readings to get that, but now…OMG, that word is now my BFFF!

    Like

    • Stan Carey April 17, 2015 / 8:18 am

      ‘Sake is even more opaque but I like the visual strangeness of fuxache (though I don’t use it myself). Somehow the ‘x’ takes the sting out of the swear.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. astraya April 17, 2015 / 9:34 pm

    1) In many grammar books, ‘how’ is listed as a ‘wh-‘ question word. We could easily have ‘HTF should I know?’ as the answer to an inquiry.
    2) Years ago I learned piano from a Roman Catholic nun. I noticed that her cross had ‘JMJ’ engraved on it. (Which is slightly strange, because Mary wasn’t on the cross, and Joseph had presumably died long before.)

    Like

    • Stan Carey April 18, 2015 / 8:27 am

      HTF is a good one, and has some informal currency: I get about 10.5k Google hits for the exact phrase, most of them in web forums and comments but also one in a military novel called Echo Platoon by Richard Marcinko and John Weisman.

      Like

  7. M. Dunn April 18, 2015 / 8:02 am

    To Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, don’t forget the military Charlie Foxtrot for clusterfuck.

    Like

    • Stan Carey April 18, 2015 / 8:31 am

      I like how those are doubly encoded. You might even get away with using them in polite company if you didn’t linger on them.

      Like

  8. Lady Demelza April 19, 2015 / 12:01 am

    One of my favourite Australian profanities is ‘kenoath!’ which is the contraction of ‘fucking oath!’ I don’t know whether it was imported into Australia already in this form, as it is fairly unusual to have an Australian contraction which omits the first syllable entirely. I love how it doesn’t actually have ‘fuck’ in it, but we all know it does. I really like the feel and sound of this expression, and very much enjoy using it, but it mustn’t be used too often, or it would lose its special impact.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Stan Carey April 19, 2015 / 8:31 am

      Demelza: That’s an interesting one. UK English has kinell (or ‘kin’ell, ‘king ‘ell, etc.), which is analogous in some ways; both foreground that crucial plosive. Having the word oath itself in a swear is a bit like saying pain instead of ow, etc. – which people also do.

      Like

  9. Lady Demelza April 19, 2015 / 1:51 pm

    I dont think the ‘oath’ refers to the act of cursing itself, but to telling the truth. Sorry, I should have explained the usage better. ‘Kenoath?’ means ‘oh, is that so?’ and ‘kenoath, mate’ means ‘really, my friend, I swear that this is true.’ As an exclamation of surprise, it means ‘I can hardly believe my eyes/ears.’
    But see there, I couldn’t find another way to say ‘promise, affirm’ without to resorting to ‘swear.’ Just as with ‘oath,’ it refers to the affirmation of truth as well as profanity. Maybe there is a level of pun present in this usage that I have always missed entirely. But I think it is a descendent of the old-fashioned ‘God’s oath’ as ‘strewth’ is a contraction of ‘God’s truth.’ ‘Strewth’ can be substituted for ‘kenoath’ in most contexts, but it is not a swear word, it’s not as cool, or enjoyable to say, and it’s become terribly hackneyed since it became the catch-cry of a certain character on a certain soap opera that has been very popular around the world.

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  10. Chips Mackinolty April 27, 2015 / 5:39 pm

    @Lady Demelza and @ Stan Carey. There was a boat in Darwin for a while called Far Kurnell (the latter being a beachside suburb of Sydney.

    More to the point is FIGJAM.

    A former Chief Minister of the Northern Territory of Australia allowed the term, referring to his good self, to slip through in a parliamentary debate. After he was subsequently informed as to its meaning, he subsequently got the term ruled as unparliamentary. Fuck I’m Good Just Ask Me.

    Like

    • Stan Carey April 27, 2015 / 7:33 pm

      FIGJAM is a great acronym. I hadn’t heard of it before, but it seems to have some currency; it was even the title of a song by Brisbane hip-hop group Butterfingers in 2005. (The term also shows up in several recipe websites…)

      Like

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