What Does YOLO Stand For?

How to understand and use this abbreviation

Skydivers falling through the year, depicting the YOLO sentiment you only live once

Neves / Getty Images

YOLO stands for "you only live once," a modern exclamation of enthusiasm that has reached viral meme popularity. The expression #YOLO has even become a searchable keyword on social media. Like most internet jargon, YOLO is not suitable for initial business dealings. YOLO is best used in personal texting, email, online chatting, or in special circumstances where a business acquaintance has become a friend.

Both uppercase and lowercase versions of YOLO (yolo) mean the same thing and are perfectly acceptable, though YOLO is mostly used in upper case.

When texting or communicating online, be careful not to type entire sentences in uppercase; this conveys shouting.

Examples of YOLO Usage

Example 1

  • (User 1): So, the two of us have decided to bungee jump this weekend at the indoor waterpark.
  • (User 2): What? Are you crazy? 
  • (User 1): YOLO!
  • (User 2): hahaha, awesome! I wish I had the courage to do that!

Example 2

  • (User 1): There is a zip line in Las Vegas that I want to try. It goes something like eight blocks over Fremont street.
  • (User 2): What? Hanging from a cable?
  • (User 1): YOLO!

Example 3

  • (User 1): I can't believe my wife talked me into going to a step aerobics class tonight. Ugh!
  • (User 2): Props, dude! That will be a great workout!
  • (User 1): YOLO, right? LOL

Origins of the Modern YOLO Expression

YOLO is thought to be part of the evolution of the phrase carpe diem ("seize the day"). The expression is used to inspire courage and bravery, or to justify doing something ill-advised or out of your comfort zone.

Expressions Similar to YOLO

  • FTW (For the Win!)
  • AMAZEBALLS (That's Amazing)
  • Ermahgerd! (Oh My God)
  • Epic Win! (That's Extreme and Memorable)
  • OMG (Oh My God)

Capitalizing and Punctuating Web and Text Abbreviations

Capitalization is a non-concern when using text abbreviations and chat jargon. Use all uppercase (e.g., ROFL, which means "rolling on floor, laughing") or all lowercase (e.g., rofl) letters and the meaning is identical.

Proper punctuation is similarly a non-concern with most text message abbreviations. For example, the abbreviation for "too long, didn't read" can be TL;DR or TLDR. Both are acceptable.

Never use periods (dots) between your acronym letters; it would defeat the purpose of being a shortcut. For example, ROFL would never be spelled R.O.F.L., and TTYL would never be T.T.Y.L. 

Recommended Etiquette for Web and Text Jargon 

When tempted to use jargon in messages, evaluate who your audience is, if the context is informal or professional, and then use good judgment. If you know someone well and it is a personal and informal communication, then absolutely use abbreviations. On the flip side, if you are just starting a friendship or professional relationship, avoid abbreviations until you've developed a relationship rapport.

If messaging in a professional context with someone at work, or with a customer or vendor outside your company, avoid abbreviations altogether. Spelling out full words shows professionalism and courtesy. It is much smarter to err on the side of being too professional at first, and then relax your communication over time organically.