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“YOLO” is an acronym for the phrase “you only live once”, which is often used as a hashtag on Twitter to bring attention to exciting events or excuse irresponsible behaviors. The acronym was popularized in 2011 after being featured in the hip hop single “The Motto” by Drake. In November 2012, the Oxford American Dictionaries included the slang term “YOLO” in its shortlist for the 2012 English Word of the Year.
The earliest known use of the acronym is attributed to Adam Mesh from the third season of the NBC reality show The Average Joe. Mesh launched the “You Only Live Once” (YOLO) clothing line on March 20th, 2004.
The first Urban Dictionary definition was submitted by user Colin on April 6th, 2004. The promotion website for San Francisco’s nightlife event YoloSF was launched on November 10th, 2005. In July of 2006, the American indie rock band The Strokes launched a promotional campaign called “Operation YOLO” prompting fans to request their 2006 single “You Only Live Once” (shown left) on radio stations. The life coaching site YOLO Coaching was registered on June 1st, 2007. On March 14th, 2008, YouTuber JCVdude uploaded a video titled “YOLO ‘you only live once’ JCV” (shown right) outlining his philosophy of living life to the fullest.
On October 4th, 2009, the weather forecast site Weather Underground blogger Beachfoxx published a post titled “Friends……YOLO – You Only Live Once.” On July 27th, 2010, an infant bodysuit with the words “YOLO You Only Live Once” screenprinted on the front was submitted to the online retailer Cafe Press. On December 16th, 2011, The Huffington Post published a photo of the American actor Zac Efron with “YOLO” tattooed on his right hand. A Facebook page for the acronym has 3,725 likes as of March 5th, 2012.
The acronym was used in the 2011 hip hop single “The Motto” by Canadian recording artist Drake featuring Lil Wayne. On October 23rd, 2011, Drake posted a tweet using the word accompanied by a photo of himself standing on a balcony.
The now defunct Twitter analytics site Trendistic reported that tweets with the keyword “yolo” rose significantly on October 24th, one day after Drake tweeted the photo from his balcony. In addition, Google Insights graph also indicates that search queries for the keyword “YOLO” began to rise drastically between October and November 2011. The song was officially released on November 29th and was followed by the official music video on February 10th, 2012. In just 21 days, the video accumulated over 450,000 views.
“Now she want a photo, you already know, though
You only live once: that’s the motto nigga, YOLO”
On November 29th, 2011, YouTuber iBeChucks uploaded a video (shown left) complaining about the use of the word soon after the release of Drake’s song. On February 29th, 2012, YouTuber ThisIsACommentary (shown right) uploaded a video titled “Yolo These Days” in which he criticized the word’s sudden rise in popularity and compared it to the word swag.
On June 17th, 2012, Redditor pigpen5 submitted a post titled “This is the first ad for an Anti-Yolo campaign a friend of mine is trying to start”, which highlighted a picture of a woman looking at a pregnancy test with the caption “Nine months from now #YOLO Just wont be as cool as you thought it was.” Within one month, the post received over 16,000 up votes and 700 comments. In the following days, the image was reposted to the viral content site Buzzfeed and the Cheezburger site FAIL Blog.
On June 28th, 2012, BuzzFeed published a post titled "10 Phrases You Can Say Instead of “YOLO”, which included several alternative expressions with similar meanings to the acronym. On July 8th, BuzzFeed published a post titled “20 Different YOLO-stragrams”, which highlighted several Instagram photos that have been tagged “#yolo.”
On July 14th, the Internet humor site Cracked published a blog post titled “5 Reasons the YOLO (You Only Live Once) Meme is Wrong”, which included an infographic with fictional characters who have lived more than once. On July 20th, the New York Times published a blog post titled “#YOLO”, which highlighted several tweets mocking the use of the hashtag on Twitter.