July 9, 2012 at 9:19 AM ET
By Lela Davidson
Today’s teens have discovered the axiom “you only live once,” aka YOLO, and are enthusiastically embracing it on Facebook, Twitter, and unfortunate tattoos. Also known as The Motto, YOLO should not be confused with froyo, the popular ice-cream alternative; or Lolo, as in Jones, the virginal Olympian whose dating strategy includes inviting Tim Tebow to church; and certainly not with Polo, because that’s so retro.
YOLO was popularized in the song, The Motto, penned by rapper/philosopher Drake. The rest of the lyrics are all about partying and doing something to “ladies” that would make Tipper Gore wash her ears out with soap. But it’s not all bangin’ and ballin’. YOLO served as the theme of Jackson Salter’s valedictory address to the James Caldwell High School Class of 2012. In it he describes the acronym’s alternate meanings:
“There are two ways we use the word YOLO: The first way is: YOLO, whatever, I don't care. The second way is: YOLO, I'm going to take advantage of the fact that I am alive, and do something special.”
Salter went on to encourage his classmates to do great things, reminiscent of Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society: "Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary."
Zac Efron, one of the more squeaky clean young actors, sports a "YOLO" tattoo on his hand. However, in my exhaustive research I found that YOLO is primarily used to indicate wild or reckless acts, such as:
“Peeing off the balcony cuz I can - #YOLO”
"Playing bumper cars on the highway... #YOLO"
OK, teenagers, I get it. Some of you think risky, impetuous behavior is cool. Well, watch out, because parents can play that game too. How about these parental YOLO examples I just made up:
“Just cashed in the kids college fund. Hello, Fiji! #YOLO”
"Flipped off my kid's teacher at the parent-teacher conference. #YOLO"
The expression can also be used ironically, for example:
“Grocery shopping with my mom #YOLO
Newsflash, kids, we don't always love our parental duties with every fiber of our being. Parents can YOLO ironically as well:
“Watching three back-to-back soccer games, then chaperoning the high school dance. #YOLO.
YOLO on the way out?
Thankfully, there appears to be a YOLO backlash. For those who say YOLO is just carpe diem for stupid people, I say don’t be silly, haters. Carpe diem has four syllables. YOLO has two, and therefore consumes less of your precious life to shout and tweet. Despite YOLO’s initial outrageous vibe, a quick Twitter search reveals this trend has lost its edge. Everything from choosing the right hairstyle to confessions of engaging in the incredibly high-risk behavior of carrying an iPhone without a protective case is now tagged with the ubiquitous #YOLO.
In other words, YOLO has quickly become yet another meaningless way for teenagers to annoy their elders. Let us hope this one is short-lived. In the meantime, I’ll keep working to promote my own viral acronyms, like YAAM (you are a moron) and LITS (life is too short) – because it is, especially to listen to that Drake song.
Lela Davidson is the author of Blacklisted from the PTA. Her writing is featured regularly in family and parenting magazines throughout the United States and Canada. She blogs about marriage, motherhood, and life-after-40 at After the Bubbly.
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