First use of OMG—in 1917!

December 3, 2012 • 5:03 pm

According to Time magazine, the first recorded use of “OMG” as an abbreviation for “Oh, my God!” wasn’t this decade. It wasn’t even in this century. It was in 1917, in a letter from Lord John Arbuthnot Fisher (the famous “Jacky” Fisher who headed the British Navy during WWI and resigned after Gallipoli).

This makes Lord Fisher an official teenager.

Here’s the letter:

Screen shot 2012-12-03 at 5.54.32 PM

Fisher and Churchill:Fisher%26Churchill

26 thoughts on “First use of OMG—in 1917!

  1. OMK (Oh, the Kitteh to whom I am housekeeper).
    (Not that that kitteh has been alive for nearly thirty years now.)

  2. The book “The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language (David Crystal, 1995) notes that the Gale Research Company book “The Acronyms, Initialisms & Abbreviations Dictionary” contains over 400,000 entries.

    Crystal points out (page 120) the three-letter “CMG” is referred to as the “Call Me God”…properly, it is ‘Companion of St. Michael and St. George”. To me, “OMG” as an abbreviation would not be far off.

    Regarding old phrasing sounding new, at the 1911 World Series, “Home Run” Baker was declared “outtasight”!!(good, great). Getting drunk, described by other words (page 90, Crystal) included “tanked” and “blotto” as first recorded in 1905! “Bombed” and “shit-faced”, expectantly…the 1940s.

  3. OMG indeed.
    It is remarkable how fast this has turned into an Internet meme without anyone ever spelling out what, precisely, the celebrated former First Sea Lord was advocating in his letter to Churchill:
    Committing the British fleet to an all-out action in the Baltic, a full fifteen months after the inconclusive outcome of the Battle of Jutland had precisely shown that the German fleet could not be “gobbled up in a few minutes”.

    The Baltic Project had been a pet project of Fisher while in office, luckily never to be attempted, and it had left its imprint on Churchill, who pushed hard for a similarly ill-conceived Operation Catherine in the spring of 1940, after his return to the Admiralty.

    About time a little less attention was paid to acronyms, internet memes, and saucy love emails sent by highly decorated generals, and a little more thought was given to the hare-brained schemes concocted by our heroes. If any praise is to be dealt for the dull professionalism of level-headed officers bearing the brunt of over-enthusiastic strategists and, in the end, deflecting it, “shower it on the Admiralty!!”
    On this, at least, Fisher’s grudging advice was sound.

    1. I think Scheer knew damn well how close he came to disaster at Jutland. He twice did an emergency turn when he found that Jellicoe had crossed his T (why he went back for a second time is still a bit of a mystery). What is forgotten about Jutland is that the Grand Fleet suffered virtually no casualties at all (Marlborough with 2 killed) and that any further fleet action would have been catastrophic for the Germans.

      Anyway for those who want a good insight into the British mentality at Jutland, Andrew Gordon’s “Rules of the Game” is a must-read

      1. Indeed, and just to clarify, this is saying that the losses were (nearly) all suffered by Beattie’s battlecruisers (with their poor health and safety procedures), the destroyer screen and a bunch of obsolete armoured cruisers that blundered into the battle.

        Having said that, any attempt to operate in the Baltic in either world war would have been suicidal and lost half the fleet to mines and coastal submarines.

  4. I think the virgin Mary might have scrawled הקוד שלי הו on the wall when she found out that she was pregnant.

  5. My favourite example of an expression used far earlier than people suppose is, “A computer can only do what you tell it to do.”
    (You hear it much less nowadays, since we have become so very good at telling it what to do.)

    “The Analytical Engine has no pretensions whatsoever to originate anything. It can do whatever we know how to order it to perform.”

    – Lady Ada Lovelace, 1842.

  6. I had heard of this but not seen the context before. This is clearly a joke about orders of knighthood. The Foreign office joke about the Order of St Michael and St George was explained (much later) in an episode of Yes Minister.

    There are three classes of knighthood in this order:

    CMG (Companion ): “Call Me God”

    KCMG (Knight Commander): “Kindly Call Me God”

    GCMG (Knight Grand Cross ): “God Calls Me God”

    1. The recently retired Cabinet Secretary (the highest post in the UK civil service) Baron O’Donnell, then known by his given name of Gus O’Donnell, allegedly signed his memos to the Prime Minister thus: “GOD”

  7. I can one-up you on ancient teenagers. In the year 1500 the poet Dunbar wrote

    “Yon man is lyke out of his mynd”.

    OMG, like, gag me with a spoon!

  8. The world’s come quite some way since those heady days when admirals quoted Alexander Pope during office hours!

  9. I’m imagining a 21st Century parent naming their child “Arbuthnot” without getting a call from Child Services.

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