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BRB is an initialism for the expression “be right back,” which is typically used in instant messaging to notify others of a brief absence from the conversation in progress.
One of the earliest known uses of BRB appeared in a log from a Apple II Development Forum, held on January 3rd, 1989. During the chat session, at least two different users wrote “brb” to denote that they were temporarily stepping away from the chat room.
While “BRB” is most widely used in the context of real-time chat, the term has been also discussed on Usenet, including a post on the alt.usage.english newsgroup on January 13th, 1994. After poster Tony Y.T. Chan inquired as to the meaning of the initialism FYI (for your information), Ron O’Dell replied with a list of seven internet initialisms people had been using online to help Chan and other readers who were not as familiar with them, including BRB.
On April 21st, 1996, BRB was discussed in a Los Angeles Daily News report on internet slang, among many other terms. In June 1997, the term was defined on the FAQ for the Multi-User Dungeon (MUD) Valhalla. Later that year, in December, BRB was added to the Online Slang Dictionary, followed by its inclusion in the Free On-Line Dictionary of Computing in January 1998.
That November, Mads Orbesen Troest touched on the use of BRB in IRC chats in his academic paper on computer-mediated communication while studying at Aalborg University in Denmark. On March 16th, 2006, a poster on the Unsolved Mysteries forum posted a short list of online initialisms. On April 11th, 2003, BRB was first defined on Urban Dictionary, where nearly 70 definitions have been submitted as of October 2013.
In April 2006, BRB was used in the name of nonprofit organization BRBInfo, a Christian group dedicated to the idea that Jesus will “be right back.” The following month, members of the forums for the MMO game MapleStory launched a poll to compare the use of “AFK” (away from keyboard) and BRB, in which 70% of the voters chose BRB as their preferred method of marking themselves as away in-game (shown below, left). That September, a thread was started on the WordReference Spanish-English forums seeking a Spanish translation of the phrase “be right back.” By November 2006, the term began to be used as part of the LOLcats caption “Going to the moon, BRB,” with an image of a striped feline wearing the cover from a spindle of blank CDs on its head (shown below, right).
In July 2008, BustedTees released a BRB shirt depicting a boomerang, a throwing object that is made to come back to its point of origin. PC World traced the history of BRB through its America Online roots for an article on the history of online shorthand. By February 2010, BRB was often found in LOL Jesus image macros, specifically ones in which Jesus is depicted on the cross (shown below, left) or ascending in to heaven (shown below, right). In March 2010, a Facebook fan page for the phrase “Going to the moon BRB” launched, gaining more than 5,300 likes as of October 2013. A fan page specifically for the BRB intialism was created that May, attracting more than 4,500 likes in the same time period.
In 2013, BRBApp was introduced to the iOS App Store, allowing users to notify friends that they will be away from their mobile devices for a specified amount of time via their social media accounts. The app features customized messages, referencing the nostalgia behind the custom away message feature of AOL Instant Messenger. Since its launch in August, founders David Krevitt and Noah Levy reported the app has been used by students attending class, people whose phones have died and those who are driving.
fn67 Mads Orbesen Troest – Computer-Mediated Communication: Lingua Ex Machina
Unsolved Mysteries – What do all the abriviations mean? (LOL, BRB and more!)
The Daily Beast – BRB, a New App, Wants You to Put Down That Phone, Without FOMO
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