A quick guide to the language of the Internet

by Izabela Wisniewska

In 2011, the acronyms 'LOL' (laugh out loud) and 'OMG' (oh my god) were elevated to the status of real, genuine words when they gained inclusion in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Both phrases were categorised as being “strongly associated with the language of electronic communications”, and their addition marked a seismic event in the world of language.

It seems that we can no longer move for the sheer number of acronyms and Internet slang words now used in society. They creep into serious business emails and the younger generation even have a tendency to say 'LOL' in face-to-face conversation. For the uninitiated, this new digital realm can be a confusing, bewildering place.

The language of the Internet is fascinating and its prevalence in modern day society and ability to cross cultural divides means that even web developers have to keep their LOLs and OMGs in mind when preparing a website for multiple audiences.

In this post, I'm going to open your mind to 10 Internet acronyms and slang words that you really should have in your vocabulary.

1. AMA (Ask Me Anything)

Definition: Ask Me Anything stems from Reddit, a website positioned as a hub for multi-threaded conversations on virtually any topic. AMAs are generally held by public figures or celebrities and should be though of as public Q&A sessions.

2. DM (Direct Message)

Definition: Direct messages are available on a number of platforms - most notably on Twitter. They are simply a way of sending a message to someone directly, thus hidden from public view. “DM me” is therefore a common phrase used when private matters need to be discussed.

3. ELI5 (Explain Like I'm 5)

Definition: Need something explaining in layman's terms? Using 'ELI5' will ensure people dumb down technical or scientific waffle!

4. Facepalm

Definition: Done something silly? 'Facepalm' should conjure up images of someone planting their face in the palm of their hand, shocked at the mistake they've just made; if you feel like doing the same, you can use facepalm to express disappointment in yourself.

5. IMO/IMHO (In My Opinion/In My Humble Opinion)

Definition: Another Internet stalwart, IMO is a safe way to express one's opinion without sounding like a know-it-all. Add in 'humble' and you can do so whilst appearing humble about whatever opinion it is you're delivering.

6. IRL (In Real Life)

Definition: The internet is an ethereal, intangible place in which to socialise, and, occasionally, we all need reminding that a world exists beyond. Enter 'IRL', which is used to initiate a digital conversation about something in real life.

7. MFW (My Face When)

Definition: This is intended as a reaction to something that has caused enough surprise, anger or joy to warrant a visual depiction of that particular emotion. 'MFW' is usually partnered with an image or animated GIF that illustrates the emotion.

8. NSFW (Not Safe For Work)

Definition: We won't dwell for too long on this one, but if a piece of Internet content must be shared and is, shall we say, not appropriate to be viewed at work, 'NSFW' is usually used as a pre-warning. Very useful to know!

9. SMH (Shaking My Head)

Definition: A little bit like 'facepalm', SMH is used to convey disappointment, but this time directed at someone else's mistake.

10. TBT (Throwback Thursday)

Definition: If you want to post an old photo or video and gain plenty of views, it pays to hold on until Thursday, when 'Throwback Thursday' becomes one of the most popular tags on social media. Post that photo of your old school mates and add 'TBT' to the message and it is guaranteed to garner plenty of attention.


It's easy to dismiss the above as simply products of a social media-obsessed generation with an unbelievably short attention span, but look at it another way and the language of the Internet is actually rather beautiful.

It is simple, no frills and, quite often, very inventive. Chances are, you're using elements of it already, but if you've ever received a text message from a loved one that has left you scratching your head, I recommend keeping the above list close by your side.


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