Love & Wisdom

What Texting Codes Leave Us Scratching Our Heads?

From ‘FWB’ to ‘NSFW,’ decoding acronyms has become a national hobby, bonding us in our confusion

By Sarah Stackhouse February 15, 2024


Isn’t it ironic? Abbreviations were supposed to make life easier by making communication quicker. Yet, here we are, Googling like detectives in the dead of night, trying not to let on that we’re not as hip as our digital personas suggest. 

The cryptic language of Gen Z’s texting codes has thrown many for a loop, including me. Forget “BAE” – it’s now a relic of simpler times. And if you don’t know what it means, SMH. I’m going to make you Google it, like everyone else, LOL.

A new study by language education website Anna Spanish dug into Google’s data, revealing the acronyms that have us most befuddled. It spans more than 150 terms across categories such as dating, gaming, business, technology, and everyday slang.

“FWB” (Friends With Benefits) tops the list of confusing terms, prompting more than half-a-million Americans each month to turn to Google in search of answers. “NSFW” (Not Safe For Work) isn’t far behind, with 445,300 queries, proving it’s definitely not the latest boy band.

And then there’s “SMH” (Shaking My Head), leaving more than 400,000 individuals puzzled every month.

“HMU” (Hit Me Up) and “DTF” (Down to F***) are just a couple of examples showing people really are trying to navigate the dating scene without getting lost in translation.

For the romantics, “OTP” (One True Pairing) lets us champion our favorite fictional couples (yes, Edward and Bella are still in the running).

“POV” (Point of View) has found new life beyond photography, thanks to TikTok’s influence.

“IMO” (In My Opinion), “TL;DR” (Too Long; Didn’t Read), “FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out), “ISTG” (I Swear To God), and “LMAO” (Laughing My A** Off) all make the top 15.

Always up for some fun at Seattle mag, we decided to ask ChatGPT for a new take on a few of the acronyms.

  • NSFW: Nice Sweaters For Winter
  • FOMO: Fish Only, Meat Out
  • ISTG: International Society for Tired Gardeners
  • DTF: Doing The Finances 
  • IMO: I Marry Ostriches
  • GTFO: Gather The Family Over

I’m NGL. I find a lot of humor in all this confusion, and I love TFW it finally makes sense. The fact we’re all trying our best to keep up is incredibly endearing, and frankly, makes me feel less alone in my cluelessness. Will I ever fully grasp the hip lingo of Gen Z’ers? That’s TBD.

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