The rather odd history of OMG…….

OMG, as anyone under the age of twenty-one (and practically everyone else, at this point) knows, stands for “oh my god!” The acronym is commonly used in text messaging but it predates the era of the ubiquitous mobile phones. In fact, it predates the era of phones mobile or otherwise.

The Oxford English Dictionary has long been the standard-bearer of what belongs in the English language and what does not. Unlike other dictionaries, which stay faithful to a long-established vocabulary of words, the OED tries to adapt to the lexicon of the day. So when words and similar terms enter our collective parlance, the OED’s editors may end up adding them to their dictionary. In March 2013, “OMG” was one of the added terms, along with “muffin top” (“a protuberance of flesh above the waistband of a tight pair of trousers”) and “LOL,” meaning “laugh out loud.”

But the OED doesn’t simply define the word. It also attempts to track down the term’s origins. Sometimes, it fails, of course; take for example the term “deciding rubber ” which is the deciding game in a bridge match or a Test series. The term has been in use for decades, if not centuries, but no one,at least no one the OED can find, knows where it comes from.

OMG, on the other hand, has a known first use. It isn’t from the mid-1990s, when the Internet started on its path to ubiquity, or even from the 1980s, when services such as Compuserve (remember them?) dominated the early digital communications space. The term OMG dates back to 1917 and rather oddly involves Winston Churchill. That year, the recently retired Admiral of the British Navy, John Arbuthnot Fisher, wrote to Churchill about rumours of a new batch of honours about to be awarded. According to the OED, he wrote: “I hear that a new order of Knighthood is on the tapis—O.M.G. (Oh! My God!)—Shower it on the Admiralty!”

The OED doesn’t mention Churchill’s reply, if any, and does not explain why Admiral Fisher needed to both use the acronym and immediately write out its full meaning. The OED does, however, provide the next earliest known use. It was in 1994, in an online newsgroup about soap operas , in particular Coronation Street. The author asked the rest of the group, simply, “OMG, what did I say?”

 

 

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