Here's the Meaning of 'YOLO' for Those Who Have No Idea

One of the latest trendy acronyms kids are using online

YOLO is a popular online acronym that stands for:

You Only Live Once

That's right—this is an acronym that is meant to remind you of your own mortality and force you to ask yourself, am I going to make the most of it?

How YOLO Is Used

YOLO is used as a motto to convey the idea that you should take risks and live life to the fullest because you only have one life to live and you may be missing out on a lot of exciting things.

It can be used as a standalone acronym or in a sentence. Some take it further by using it as an adjective. See the following examples to get a better understanding of how this acronym is typically used.

Examples of YOLO in Use

Example 1

Friend #1: "You weren't in class this morning. Where were you?"

Friend #2: "Skipped it to go go-carting because YOLO"

In this first example, Friend #2 uses YOLO to justify their behavior. They want to make it seem like they're living life to the fullest, which, according to them, involves skipping class sometimes.

Example 2

Friend #1: "I just drove two hours all the way home after messing up the suspension on my car from driving over some train tracks"

Friend #2: "That is so YOLO of you"

In this second example, Friend #2 uses YOLO as if it's an adjective. They're so impressed by Friend's number one daring behavior that was probably very unsafe.

Example 3

Facebook status update: "Didn't check FB for a whole day. YOLO"

This last example shows how YOLO might be used in a sarcastic sense. Not checking Facebook isn't typically considered a thrilling, risky or potentially life-threatening activity, but this Facebook poster uses it to make it seem like it is.

How 'YOLO' Started

Although the full phrase, you only live once has been used casually for years, the acronym exploded to become a huge trend in pop culture largely thanks to Canadian music artist Drake, who featured the acronym in his hip-hop single, The Motto. On October 23rd of 2011 and according to Know Your Meme, Drake sent out a tweet with YOLO in it.

You Only Live Once

The Viral Spread of YOLO

Sometimes all it takes is a simple post from an influential figure or celebrity to set off a new trend, which was clearly the case with YOLO. A significant increase in Twitter activity with tweets including YOLO as a keyword or hashtag had taken place on October 24th—just a mere day after it was tweeted by Drake.

Today, there isn't a social network in existence that probably hasn't had the YOLO acronym shared on its platform. Social media users on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and other social networks now commonly use the #YOLO hashtag to post about their once-in-a-lifetime ideas.

Some people are serious about it and others use it as a joke. The humor and tendency to exaggerate the acronym has helped contribute to the trend's spread across the social web.

Here are a few places you can look to see publicly posted #YOLO content:

Several web enthusiasts have taken to using meme generator tools to create and share images that promote the popular YOLO trend. Meme Center has a collection of user-generated YOLO memes that you can browse through.

Parodies of YOLO

YOLO went viral because social media users knew how to take its use to new and ridiculous heights. While some people legitimately used it to describe risky or daring experiences, like traveling alone to a foreign country, or deciding against a traditional wedding and planning to elope, other users took it as an opportunity to use the acronym to describe even the most mundane experiences. 

Typing YOLO after a relatable, everyday experience is a popular way to use the acronym. Social media users seemed to find quite a lot of amusement in coming up with posts like, "Woke up at 10:13 a.m. #YOLO," or "Pet my cat for a full five minutes today. #YOLO."

For the sake of web humor, anything can be a YOLO experience. These parodies are the ones you'll often see shared online these days and made into memes. 

A Different Interpretation of YOLO

In the midst of all the YOLOing, some social media users decided to dive deeper into the meaning behind the phrase. While everyone believed it was something to say to encourage people to take more risks and be fearless, other social media users began pointing out that YOLO actually means the exact opposite.

They argue that since YOLO implies you only have one life to live, you should take care of yourself by being careful and always planning ahead when taking risks. Rather than carelessly throwing yourself out into risky situations without giving any thought to it first, you should do everything you can to stay safe.

And so, it turns out that YOLO really has two different definitions, depending on how you personally decide to interpret it. You can now find YOLO in Oxford Dictionaries.