The Washington Post

#YOLO: The newest acronym you’ll love to hate

Singer Mary J. Blige (L) and rapper Drake perform onstage during the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

YOLO, or “You only live once,” is sort of a teen interjection for “Carpe Diem.” Only it’s short on the noble idea of living life to its fullest — and more focused on brash decisions and their consequences.

The abbreviation has been bouncing around Twitter for a while now, but it cemented its place in cultural conversation when it was written into the Drake song “The Motto.”

“You only live once: that’s the motto [expletive] YOLO,” Drake sings. Actor Zac Efron also endorsed the abbreviation with a tattoo on his hand.

Often — and not to get all after-school-special on you — YOLO is used as an excuse for bad or risky behavior. That, or a chance to play mean pranks.

Switching seats while the car is goin 100+ #yolo

— Larry Peterson III (@bigtimer17) April 6, 2012

Just got a call from my brother he got kicked out of his hotel in panama for peeing off the balcony #cantstoplaughing #YOLO

— Spencer Thomas (@SpencerrThomas) April 6, 2012

Risking my chances of going to jail for 60 days...#YOLO

— Stephanie Machado(@stephchado) April 6, 2012

Robyn Dexter, campus editor of the Eastern Illinois University’s Daily Eastern News, pointed out the recklessness of #YOLO to her fellow students. “When I see “YOLO” in a tweet, I know instantly that something unintelligent and cocky is going to follow,” she wrote. “There’s nothing wrong with taking risks in life and trying new things. I’m totally for that. But there’s a fine line between living your life to the fullest and making spur-of-the-moment, completely irrational decisions.”

#YOLO has spawned some parody accounts: @Yolo Jokes and @YoIoHumor both tweet tongue-in-cheek YOLOs like “Not removing my USB safely ... #YOLO”

Even the president isn’t immune from the YOLO craze. In a Politic365 article about Obama’s press conference on the Supreme Court’s healthcare decision, in which he said that he was confident that the court would not take the “unprecedented” step of overturning the law, Jeneba Ghatt called it Obama’s YOLO moment:

“It was his YOLO, an only-live-once all out before the Supreme Court drops one of the most consequential legal decisions in U.S. history.”

Running the country? #YOLO.

Update June 29, 2012: After the Supreme Court ruled to uphold the Affordable Care Act on June 28, a YOLO meme did, indeed emerge — but it wasn’t for Obama. Instead, its subject was Chief Justice John Roberts, who sided with the court’s liberals in what could be considered a major YOLO move for the usually conservative justice (via Funny or Die).

Maura Judkis covers culture, food, and the arts for the Weekend section and Going Out Guide.


Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read


Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
How to make Sean Brock's 'Heritage' cornbread
New limbs for Pakistani soldiers
The signature dish of Charleston, S.C.
Play Videos
Why seasonal allergies make you miserable
John Lewis, 'Marv the Barb' and the politics of barber shops
What you need to know about filming the police
Play Videos
The Post taste tests Pizza Hut's new hot dog pizza
5 tips for using your thermostat
Michael Bolton's cinematic serenade to Detroit
Play Videos
Full disclosure: 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1 ghoul
Pandas, from birth to milk to mom
The signature drink of New Orleans