What Does "OMG" Mean?

G. Wiesen

The phrase “OMG” acts as an acronym for the phrase “oh my God,” which is typically used as an exclamation to express surprise, alarm, or disgust. While the phrase likely began as an abbreviation for use in online chatting, in chat rooms or through instant messaging programs, it has since extended into use in text messaging through mobile phones, as well as general parlance in both written and spoken language. Depending on the way “OMG” is used, and the speaker and listener in a particular situation, it can potentially be seen as a sign of poor communication skills, though it can be used ironically as well.

"OMG" is commonly sent as a text message.
"OMG" is commonly sent as a text message.

“OMG” is one of many acronyms that came into use at the end of the 20th century through the prevalence of messaging software and devices. Many of these acronyms originated in various computer formats, such as in chat rooms and while using instant messaging programs. Common phrases that were often used in these settings, such as “laughing out loud,” “oh my God,” “away from keyboard,” and “be right back” were shortened to acronyms “lol,” “OMG,” “afk,” and “brb.” Many other acronyms exist and are often used, and profanity is frequently added through the addition of one or more letters.

OMG might be shouted by someone who is surprised by friends who organize a surprise party.
OMG might be shouted by someone who is surprised by friends who organize a surprise party.

The phrase “oh my God,” which is typically expressed through “OMG,” has been used in many different settings as an expression of surprise or horror. This same meaning has been extended to the acronym for the phrase as well, and the statement or image to which this phrase is a response often indicates the exact purpose of the phrase. While many Internet acronyms are typed in lowercase, “OMG” is often typed in all caps to further express the sense of alarm this phrase is meant to indicate.

Emoticons may be added to acronyms like "OMG" to add emphasis.
Emoticons may be added to acronyms like "OMG" to add emphasis.

Use of “OMG” can be intended and viewed in a number of different ways, usually depending on the person using it and the person to whom it has been sent. While the acronym may seem fairly innocuous, there are many people who see it as indicative of poor communication skills or low intelligence. This may be an unfair judgment, but the negative connotation with “OMG” is something that anyone using the acronym should be aware of. It can also be used in spoken language, typically pronounced as three letters rather than a single sound, and may be used in an ironic way to express disinterest or a lack of surprise. Much like other forms of Internet slang, it should not be used in academic writing or other formal settings.

"OMG" can be used when someone has feelings of frustration.
"OMG" can be used when someone has feelings of frustration.

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Discussion Comments

@fBoyle-- OMG isn't only used online or in text messaging anymore. It's used in songs too, like Usher's song "OMG." So it's definitely become a part of popular culture. But in that song, as far as I can remember, OMG stands for "oh my gosh." So I guess that's an alternative meaning.

I don't mind when people say "OMG" when they chat with me, but if it's used repetitively, it does get a bit annoying. I think it's fine when it's used once in a while. A couple of my friends do use it a lot, usually when they're surprised by something. When they say it too often though, I warn them about it. I mean, how often can someone be surprised right? You don't want to overdo this expression.

I think "OMG" used to have a negative connotation but doesn't as much anymore. The reason is because whether we are chatting online or on the cell phone, we are always trying to shorten our words for efficiency and space. So, many words are turned into acronyms and "OMG" is just one of them.

Interestingly, I think it also makes a difference whether this acronym is capitalized or not. I usually don't capitalize it because I don't want my expression to grab too much attention. Using capital letters, regardless of what you're typing, means that you are yelling or emphasizing something. So I usually type "omg" and I've never encountered negative feedback because of it.

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