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FOMO also fomo

noun uncountable

fear of missing out: the fear of missing a social event or other positive experience, especially one that you have heard about through social media

'To avoid a serious case of FOMO when you find out that everyone is hanging out without you, we've rounded up four must-stop NYE [New Year's Eve] events where all the cool kids are guaranteed to convene.'

Racked 29th December 2011

Have you ever suffered from FOMO? If you've no idea what I'm talking about, then it could be argued that you're in fact already a victim of it, because in not knowing what the word means you're, well … missing out.

as humans we're programmed to feel a bit insecure or disappointed if we think we've missed an opportunity that others have made the most of

FOMO (also sometimes appearing in lower-case form as fomo) is a trendy new acronym standing for the expression fear of missing out, used to describe that feeling of anxiety which many people experience when they discover that other people have had fun together, been successful at something, or done just about anything which they might have wanted to be involved in. FOMO manifests itself in various ways, from a brief pang of envy through to a real sense of self-doubt or inadequacy.

FOMO is of course nothing new, since as humans we're programmed to feel a bit insecure or disappointed if we think we've missed an opportunity that others have made the most of. So why has this concept recently struck a chord with us, and so much so that we've suddenly invented a new expression to describe it? Predictably, the answer is connected with new technology, and social media in particular. Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter make it instantly obvious to us what other people are 'up to'. If you're feeling a bit low or bored one day, flicking on your computer and discovering that a bunch of mates or acquaintances have been whooping it up without you is only likely to make you feel worse. The problem is that online networking makes it instantly possible for us to compare our lives with those of others. In previous eras we might have been blissfully unaware of what everyone else was doing, but now, even a tiny little Twitter post has the potential to make us feel a little bit peeved or envious.

FOMO is also sometimes connected with being insecure about the choices we've made, because it's now much easier to see what might have been if we'd decided differently. Social media can give us an immediate impression of what we missed when we decided to skip that party, drink at the pub, etc, or even when we made more significant life choices such as ending a relationship.

One way to help alleviate FOMO might be to go cold turkey on social media, a prospect linked to what's been dubbed a digital detox, a period of not using electronic devices. The next time you're tempted to idle away a few minutes on Facebook, remember that you could be 'missing out' by being glued to the screen.

Background – FOMO

FOMO is one of the latest examples of the way electronic communication, and especially online discourse, have raised the profile of acronyms and initialisms in everyday language. It remains to be seen whether this acronym will be a flash in the pan, like for example WILF, which popped up three or four years ago but now seems to have fallen out of the limelight, or stay the course, like LOL and OMG for example, which seem to be retaining popularity and making a more enduring impression on the language. FOMO certainly seems to have attracted the attention of some linguists in 2011, being runner-up in the American Dialect Society's annual 'Word of the Year' vote (the winner was the verb occupy in its recent sense connected with public protests).

It could be argued that FOMO is an unwelcome side effect of what's been dubbed Facebook narcissism, a form of self-obsession that emerges from excessive use of Facebook and other social media.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

For teachers

Would you like to use this BuzzWord article in class? Visit onestopenglish.com for tips and suggestions on how to do just that! This downloadable pdf contains a student worksheet which includes reading activities, vocabulary-building exercises and a focus on the unreal ('third') conditional.

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This article was first published on 19th March 2012.

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