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OMG

interjection informal

used to show surprise or excitement about something, especially in text messages, e-mails and social networking websites

OMG

adjective informal

causing a reaction of surprise or excitement

'OMG! Our columnist Amy Childs reveals the truth about her nights out with Peter Andre …'

New Magazine 5th April 2011

'Fans of the hit ABC Family show "Pretty Little Liars" can expect at least three major 'OMG moments' during tonight's season one finale, teases executive producer I. Marlene King.'

Wall Street Journal 21st March 2011

There's good news for anyone scratching their head as they're left with the letters 'O', 'M' and 'G' at the end of a game of Scrabble™ – yep, you've got a word there that'll potentially score you points. OMG has been rubber stamped by its recent inclusion in the Oxford English Dictionary, which, rightly or wrongly, is popularly regarded as the ultimate seal of approval when it comes to status as a bona fide word.

OMG is only used to express shock or surprise at events or facts which are more trivial relative to the grand scheme of things

OMG is an abbreviation of the expression oh my God (or oh my goodness or oh my gosh) and in the domain of text and instant messaging, social media etc, has become a popular mechanism for expressing surprise or astonishment, e.g. She's going out with Darren, OMG! However, what's particularly interesting about it is that its meaning and areas of use have, largely by dint of its popularity, begun to extend beyond its initial function as a simple means of minimizing keyboard strokes.

On the one hand, OMG is found outside of purely electronic contexts, popping up in other forms of print and in spoken language. It's been argued that wider written or spoken use of OMG and similar abbreviations (e.g. TMItoo much information, ILYI love you) is to some extent an attempt to mimic the informal, direct modes of expression typical of online discourse, and identifies the speaker or writer as someone who's fashionably au fait with the vocabulary of electronic media.

But secondly, and perhaps more interestingly, OMG has begun to take on a meaning which is subtly different to the expression it was based on. You might say OMG, look at that dress she's wearing! but would be far less likely to say OMG! She's terminally ill. In other words, OMG is only used to express shock or surprise at events or facts which are more trivial relative to the grand scheme of things. It therefore functions as a softer, more light-hearted alternative to the phrase it abbreviates and also avoids offending anyone sensitive to references to the 'big man upstairs'. It is sometimes used as an attributive adjective, as illustrated in the second citation above, to suggest that something is likely to shock or surprise people, and you can even tone down the level of shockability by describing something as a bit OMGish.

Somewhat bizarrely, as a knock-on effect from its use in spoken English, OMG is now sometimes also written in a kind of pseudo-phonetic full form as oh em gee, completely negating its original time/space saving function.

Background – OMG

Contrary to expectation, the abbreviation OMG predates the Internet. It in fact dates as far back as 1917, when it was reportedly used in a letter to Winston Churchill from a British Admiral, saying: I hear that a new order of Knighthood is on the tapis. OMG! The Admiral then subsequently explained (Oh! My! God!).

OMG is one of a number of initialisms which have become popular additions to our vocabulary because of their ability to communicate thoughts rapidly when time and character space are limited. Another notable example is LOL, mainly used as an abbreviation for laughing out loud, which like OMG has now begun to pop up in spoken language and is in fact often pronounced as a word. LOL has also taken on its own shade of meaning, suggesting that the user understands and acknowledges that something is funny, but is usually not actually laughing about it.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 26th April 2010.

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