It’s a well-worn saying that “everything old is new again,” but the older we get, the more we agree.
If you have a smartphone and you text, chances are you abbreviate as much as possible (or poss). In fact, you may conduct entire “convos” with emojis or all caps expressions. Right?
Hands up everyone who lets slip OMG, ROTFL, OMW…even LOL? C’mon. Admit you LOL every once in a while.
And you might have looked up some of that stuff, right? Without your 12-year-old kids knowing you had to do it.
Well, a fairly recently uncovered newspaper archive shows that one of those abbreviations, IDK, actually predates the interweb by about 80 years. In fact, it appears to have been in use by WWI-era American soldiers to harass new recruits.
— Yesterday's Print (@yesterdaysprint) July 18, 2019
A newspaper snippet from a 1918 edition of the Wichita Beacon proclaims “‘I.D.K.,’ is latest U.S. soldier slang.” That latest slang, the Beacon writes, “stands for ‘I don’t know’ in reply to fool questions asked by recruits and men who have just landed.”
We can imagine that response would have been accompanied by #Eyeroll – if there were hashtags or emojis in use then.
Task and Purpose reports the slang comes from the time-honored tradition in the U.S. military of “boot-shaming.” For those one step removed from the military, the pejorative term “boot” is itself an acronym meaning “beginning of one’s tour.”
Military.com explains new Marines joining a unit are usually referred to as “boots” until they go on a deployment or have at least a year or two in the Corps. Especially among post-9/11 era infantry Marines however, you are pretty much a “boot” until you’ve been to combat.
Task and Purpose also brings up another nerdy linguistic fact ¬— terms like CIA, FBI, DoJ aren’t technically acronyms. They’re initialisms (like we need more “isms” in life), because you pronounce every letter. OMFG.
Acronyms, on the other hand, (OTOH – another initialism, ICYMI), are things like NASA, SNAFU, CENTCOM and SEALs, where you pronounce the letters together to form a “thing.”
And now for bonus points, we include the following terms you might have heard (particularly if you’re a Marine):
Answers in the comments please.