The Meaning of Delete

It's an old word that's come a long way

The word "delete" in a speech bubble.

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Many people use the delete button on their computers, smartphones, and tablets every single day (and often multiple times a day) to cut out or retype written text. But somehow, the word has made its way into our everyday language.

What "Delete" Means and How We Use It Now

It's pretty obvious that the word "delete" is synonymous with "erase," "eliminate," remove," or "get rid of." Whether you need to fix a grammatical error in a Word document or want to change the emoji you included in a text message you plan to send, the delete button helps you do it.

The delete button might also refer to the backspace button. Depending on which type of keyboard you're using, you might have separate delete and backspace buttons. For instance, Mac keyboards have the delete button where the backspace button is on PC keyboards. On Macs, however, the delete button works the same as the backspace button.

Today, the word "delete" encompasses more than what we type on an electronic keyboard. We're increasingly using it to express how we want to essentially remove or eliminate different people, thoughts or ideas from certain experiences we're having or from our lives entirely.

When "delete" is used this way in casual conversation, it's usually done with a geeky, humorous undertone. The word also helps emphasize and exaggerate the desire to destroy or eliminate something.

Examples of Modern Day Uses of "Delete"

"I need to delete last night from my memory."

"If you really want to move on, you have to delete your ex from your life."

"I'm deleting myself from this conversation immediately."

The word "delete" doesn't exactly work with describing the removal or elimination of objects. For instance, "I deleted that whole cake," or "I'm going to delete the kitty litter," doesn't quite have the same geeky, funny undertone to it as do some of the above examples, which involve people, thoughts or ideas.

The Origin of "Delete"

Believe it or not, the word "delete" first appeared back in the 1530s, long before electronic keyboards ever existed. The root of the word comes from the Latin word, "delere," which means to "wipe out," "cut out," "destroy," "efface," or "remove."

In the 1600s, the word was being widely used in reference to cutting out portions of written materials. Centuries later, the use of "delete" expanded to include the cutting out of portions of other, more modern forms of media like audio and video recordings.

From Written Materials to Selfie Validation

Today, one of the most popular expressions that includes the word "delete" used across social networks is:

"Feeling cute, might delete later."

This expression is widely used as a default selfie caption and according to Know Your Meme, originated as a Twitter meme in early 2017. It hints at the slightly narcissistic nature of posting selfies for no other reason but liking your own appearance and hoping that your feelings will be validated by friends and followers via the number of likes and comments it attracts.

Of course, saying that you might delete your selfie later adds a sense of urgency—encouraging friends and followers to perhaps like it or comment on it before it's gone. It can also suggest feelings of insecurity, prompting friends and followers to offer likes and comments out of compassion or pity.

Either way, "Feeling cute, might delete later" is a brilliant, universally embraced expression that seems to be standing the test of time—even now as we reach a period of selfie overload. The fact that we feel that we can "delete" parts of ourselves (a.k.a. our online identities) from social media is perhaps the ultimate mark of modernization of this word.