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YOLO: The Evolution Of The Acronym

Posted: 05/17/2012 12:52 pm

By Megan Walsh

It may not surprise you that, like most trends, the lifespan of "YOLO" has been (happily) short-lived. The expression hasn't quite disappeared from UDel, as you can still hear it drifting out of the bars at 1a.m. with the throngs of inebriated students, but it quickly went from a simple motivational phrase to a social death wish. As an abstract phrase, and not a concrete trend, the evolution of YOLO is almost impossible to track. However, we will attempt the impossible. We will follow YOLO from its origins to the very last time it was uttered in a non-ironic setting.

Let's begin by defining what YOLO is.

YOLO [YO-low] part of speech: interjection - YOLO is an acronym for the phrase "You only live once." Often used to persuade others to do something they normally wouldn't.
For English majors and grammar nerds: YOLO often prefaces other related thoughts but is not necessarily related to them (hence, interjection). Example: "We're skipping all our classes today...YOLO." Here YOLO breaks new ground by appearing at the end of a sentence instead of the beginning, as interjections usually do. However, YOLO has evolved to become so flexible that it no longer can be tied down to the phrase it stands for. Therefore, it could act as a verb in certain circumstances. Or even an adjective as in "Today was so YOLO."

During late 2011 and the early months of 2012, "YOLO" could typically be heard amongst fraternity members or "bros" while convincing each other to do something really stupid. Like, "Dude who cares about indecent exposure laws, YOLO." It eventually began being used by irresponsible girls after they did something stupid to convince themselves that it was worth it (it never is). Example: "Oh wow we shouldn't have attacked police officers with our fingernails last night HAHA YOLLLOOOOOOO!"

Now, let's start at the beginning.

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  • 2006:

    On July 4, 2006, The Strokes released a song titled "You Only Live Once," propelling the phrase into pop culture. Or at least, into the vernacular of people that listen to The Strokes. The song is the first track on their third album First Impressions of Earth. When it was released as a single, The Strokes asked their fans to request the song on radio stations and place the track in their MySpace profiles. They named the plan Operation YOLO.

  • 2008:

    A restaurant opened in Fort Lauderdale, Florida named YOLO. We just thought that was interesting.

  • October 31, 2011:

    "The Motto," a hip-hop song by Drake featuring Lil' Wayne, premiered on this day. Most people attribute today's use of YOLO to Drake's lyrics. "The Motto" sold over two million copies in the U.S. alone and debuted at #18 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart. The lyrics include: "Now she want a photo, You already know though, You only live once: that's the motto ... YOLO." Thanks for the tip, Drizzy.

  • November 1, 2011

    A group of obnoxious California teenagers, along with some Jersey Shore wannabes, immediately adopt YOLO as, you guessed it, their motto.

  • November 20-something, 2011:

    YOLO really starts bouncing around Twitter and eventually becomes a trending hashtag across the nation. It usually accompanied tweets that should have made any responsible friend and/or Twitter follower call the cops and/or a medic.

  • December, 2011:

    Zac Efron embraces the trend and gets "YOLO" tattooed on his right hand. He claims it has always been his personal mantra. Yeah. Attracted to ink? He also has a feather on his right bicep! Yeah.

  • March, 2012:

    The trend starts to get out of control. Somewhere, in some college town, a frat boy said to another frat boy "Let's just skip the gym today bro, YOLO." And the second frat boy said "That's not funny."

  • April, 2012:

    The phrase officially isn't cool anymore. In fact, it's so uncool that hipsters everywhere are adopting the phrase. For example, a hipster might take those generic beach tank tops with "YOLO" stamped on them and rip them up and tie them around their heads. You know, to protect themselves from the sun and whatnot.

There are two lessons to be learned here. First, bad trends die. Hard. Whenever you decide to buy into one, expect to be made fun of in the near future. Second, YOLO is dumb. Everyone does stupid things. We don't need a catchphrase to encourage us or even justify our actions. Maybe Drake was trying to tell us something else when he said "Every day, every day, fuck what anybody say/ Can't see 'em 'cause the money in the way." He's a very successful man. He's very rich. I'm sure he wasn't encouraging everyone to screw their lives up by skipping class and breaking the law. Let's do Drake proud by remembering what YOLO really means, and do America a favor by just never, ever saying it again.

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