Surprisingly, Vanity Fair’s terrific Oral History of YOLO, is NOT exclusively a bunch of bros yelling “YOLO” before jumping into a coffee table at a frat party (full disclosure: I’ve never been to a frat party).
Using the Lonely Island’s Digital Short as a jumping-off point, the magazine detailed the rise (and death?) of the phrase (word?) that has populated so many hashtagging sprees and been the cause of so many minor injuries.
The biggest revelations from the piece were 1. basically everyone started saying YOLO accidentally 2. it’s still pretty fun to hear academics try to define the zeitgeist using terrible trends. Here are some of our favorite quotes:
1. Ben Zimmer, lexicographer, tries to explain YOLO’s staying power.
“That’s one of the key elements for a successful neologism, is that it has to live beyond its original context, its original environment and adapt to new situations, and YOLO seemed to be endlessly adaptable.” So people could use YOLO seriously and then when it backfired, pretend they were being ironic.
2. Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart explaining why he named his ranch YOLO instead of “you only live once.”
“We shortened the name because we didn’t want to talk about it with people.” We’ll assume those people do not include journalists who call him up to talk about the oral history of YOLO or people who work for the Oxford English Dictionary.
3. Adam Mesh produced YOLO merchandise while he was a contestant on Average Joe.
“The saying was ‘you only live once,’ but I couldn’t fit it in my phone banner, ’cause the phones weren’t like they are now, so literally the only thing I could write for the banner was ‘YOLO.’” Was a greater origin story ever written?
4. Why YOLO isn’t cool anymore.
“Katie Couric was talking about YOLO,” says Katherine Martin, Head of U.S. Dictionaries at the Oxford University Press.
5. The all-time best quote comes from Hart again.
“You can even scream, ‘YOLO!’ It’s an easy scream word. You can also [whispers] ‘YOLO.’ It sounds sexy.” If everyone could start whispering “yolo” into their loved one’s ears immediately, that would be great.
Sadly, there was nary a mention of Zac Efron’s famed YOLO tattoo.