It is the nature of languages to evolve through time or to die out completely through lack of use. The English language, for example, bears little similarity to that which was spoken a thousand years ago. Even when you look back only half that time, although many words are similar, others will sound strange. Some will have changed in meaning and context, making them appear odd to us these days.
The English language is still changing and evolving, with new words and phrases like “what does fomo mean” added to our dictionaries each year. Few things have contributed – and even accelerated – this rapid change than the Internet, and its accompanying gadgets that allow instantaneous, worldwide connection.
More specifically, social media networks have probably had the most influence, as people express themselves and share intimate details with friends, peers, and often with complete strangers right across the world.
One of the major factors and worries of modern life is the concept of time passing too quickly. Time is precious, fleeting, and we never seem to have enough. Combined with the advent of ‘texting’ via earlier models of cell phones, as space was limited and each message incurred a charge, it was essential to abbreviate the message as much as possible, saving time and money. “Text-speak” became a habit, which continues to this day, encouraged, in part, by Twitter’s original 140 character limit, which has only changed in recent times.
As a result, reducing phrases to acronyms or abbreviations has not only become the norm, it has become a way of expressing your understanding of modern culture, to prove that you are ‘on trend’, to use a popular phrase of the times.
And one of these acronyms, seen frequently for the last decade, is TFW.
Nerd culture and the sharing of emotions
As an example of evolving words, the term ‘Nerd’ was once an insult, along with ‘Geek’. The digital age has changed this, and the online world is filled with those who proudly claim the status of being described as either. These people develop their own language, a sort of code that only the ‘cool’ can use or understand. Instead of describing feelings, the word was shortened to feels, or even feel.
Along with this, Internet memes arrived, with images representing an idea or a feeling, with a short piece of accompanying text. When someone wanted to express how they felt about a particular event or incident, they often shared a meme with the words “My Face When…” with a description of that event. The picture was intended to illustrate the person’s emotions in a humorous or obvious way. About ten or so years ago, a very basic meme known as the “Feels Guy” emerged, with a classic example being “TFW no gf”, meaning that the person was saddened by the fact that they were currently without a girlfriend (gf).
It could be said, then, that TFW is directly related to MFW (My Face When) and the Feels Guy, as they are about sharing emotions. TFW is frequently, but not always, accompanied by a meme or a photo.
You could be forgiven for not knowing this, as there are so many acronyms out there, often with the same letters in different orders. Some have very different meanings, so it is best not to mix them up. TFW actually means “That Feeling When”, or “That Feel When” and occasionally even “That Face When”.
It is usually employed online, through social media, to express an emotion in response to something, usually a personal circumstance. These can be either positive or negative, serious or humorous. Mostly, they are fairly relatable:
- “TFW you are late for work and the train breaks down”
- “TFW your boss says you have to work late”
- “TFW you open the fridge and it’s empty”
- “TFW you find a dead bug in your pizza”
And so on. But they can also communicate unusual, awkward or bizarre events, usually for comic value…
- “TFW you call your teacher ‘mom'”
- “TFW your pants split as you leap for the bus”
- “TFW you didn’t realize you dropped ketchup on your tie until after the interview”
- “TFW you run outside in your towel to grab the papers. And you get locked out. And you drop your towel. Just as the neighbor says hi.
As you can see, the acronym starts the sentence, followed by a statement that evokes a feeling. Sometimes you will identify with this feeling or emotion, other times you will laugh at the idea.
The term TFW is among the most used, mostly by younger people. They have embraced it and developed it, and now, as well as adding it to memes, they attach it to the short video clips known as GIFS, giving them a broader range of circumstances and emotions to use.
However, the use of TFW doesn’t stop there. It is now frequently used on its own, sometimes in response to another post. It has taken on a meaning of its own, still connected with feelings and emotions, but that meaning can change in relation to the way it is used.
For example, if you receive a private message, via email, text or social media, that you take exception to, you might reply “TFW”. It could mean any number of things, but most likely will convey that you are unhappy about the original message. It could also be seen to be asking the sender how exactly they expected you to respond to such a message.
Without a doubt, language – especially that used online by younger generations, will evolve. The evolution of text-speak has resulted in young people who are not bound by the rules of grammar or even spelling, finding new ways to communicate through acronyms and abbreviations. It is easy to be indignant and to oppose this – but it will continue to happen anyway.
But, after all, wasn’t language invented to help us communicate? If it is effective, and the message is put across clearly, who’s to say it is wrong?
In the end, the youth of today will be tomorrow’s leaders, and good communication skills will be vital to their success, or failure.
TFW you know it’s all good!