Editor at Large Spoken English Written English

Is It Internet or Is It Oral?

Disclaimer: Dear readers, this entry contains examples of a virulent and suggestive Internet meme. Several, in fact. Viewers who scroll down will find pictorial innuendo and thinly abbreviated expletives. Discretion is advised.

Do ppl rly say OMG IRL?

I’m serious (srsly). Do people really say O-M-G in real life? Do girls in middle school mouth it to one another when their sportcoated history teacher goes off on a liberal tirade? Do teenage rock stars use it in interviews? Will it be Hillary’s next gambit (“We should have a government blogging team!”) to connect with the young people?

I live in Germany, so I don’t get to sample much impromptu U.S. English. I get dribs and drabs from American Idol, but the closest spelled-out IRL abbreviation I’ve heard used there was Danny Noriega’s amusing attempt to coin a new catchphrase out of T-M-T-H (Too Much To Handle).

When I see “omg” somewhere, or when I use it here to make a point, the deadpan reader voice in my head says something along the lines of “ohm’god,” emphasis on the first syllable, same rhythm as “Gossip Girl.”

Coincidentally, I guess the Gossip Girl PR team didn’t hear it quite like I did:


That’s a long, drawn out Oh. My. F@$*&#$g. God.

But what if it’s actually an O-M-F-G?

I really want to know! Especially since even before I came across this poster, I heard “O-M-G” used in a celebrity news report I lost one minute and thirty seconds of my life on last week. Don’t let that time be in vain!

The network airing “Gossip Girl” in the United States has claimed that their ad campaign

speaks directly to our adult 18-34 viewers using expressions that are part of their lexicon.

But would that lexicon be spoken or written? What do you say when you read the thing out loud?

Tell me: is O-M-G just what the anchors on Extra are saying to sound like those kooky MySpace kids? Or is it really appearing in the vernacular? This is one incidence where the recency illusion won’t come into play: I’ll be hornswoggled if OMG has been around one minute longer than AOL.

12 replies on “Is It Internet or Is It Oral?”

Jason Hillsays:

My coworker says ‘O-M-G!’ She’s 24.

The first time I heard her say it, I did a triple-take.

Sad as it sounds, I use both Oh-em-gee and lol, but only when I’m being very silly with friends so maybe it doesn’t count (or it does: considering English is not my first language it must sound even sillier).

That said, I don’t think I’d ever use it in any other context, and 50% of my brain cells must have commited suicide after watching that video (OMG).

I’m certain that the occasional person caught in the cauldron of linguistic alteration that was England during the 16th century was confused and astonished by “zounds.” Abbreviations, like everything else related to language, are just increasingly simplified. We’re refining the art. I don’t know how casual usage will manage to contrive shorter verbal abbreviations than “omg,” but it would probably be naive to assume that this was the uttermost depth to which the spoken language could possibly be sunk.

Gabriel: “We’re refining the art”??? Please. Lazy people are bastardizing language rather than speaking in full and coherent sentences. I fully understand and accept “current slang”, but saying “OMG” is just laziness.

Some of my co-workers say “Oh-em-gee” aloud, but only ironically. Still, they say it when surprised or excited, so it’s already crossing the boundary between irony and slang-in-use.

@Jason, I did a triple take too while watching that video I link to up there. I don’t recommend you follow it.

@Mireia, I know, that video is insane. But it’s good to know exactly what’s out there, isn’t it? At least once in a while…and if you look at Dan’s comment I think there he shows the slippery slope between using it for fun and “crossing the boundary,” as he says.

@Gabriel, I think you’re right. We’re constantly looking for ways to simplify language, facilitate faster speech. It doesn’t mean it’s attractive, though. Or do you think it’s laudable?

@Ken, I think the key is in Gabriel’s observation that it would “probably be naive to assume that this was the uttermost depth to which the spoken language could possibly be sunk.” At least we know I won’t hurt for blog material.

@Dan I agree with you: usage is usage, irony or no.

There are situations in which imperfect grammar is appropriate. For older persons, past the age of puberty at least, those are probably restricted to making the occasional mockery of the younger folk for whom this sort of thing is just another casual idiom. Among those children, however, owing to the prevalence of the abbreviation and the universal apprehension of its meaning, I don’t consider “omg,” when spoken aloud, to be any more objectionable than a contraction. So long as the younger generations remain capable of verbal formality when the situation calls for it, I find it difficult to judge any evolution of the language categorically; and if any generation may be found incapable, the blame lies with the parents and educators rather than with the casual language of the day.

@sylvia: O-M-G, it’s unbelievable. I think I may have to stay in Germany forever.

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