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New Teen Buzzword: Yolo


OK. If you're under 25 and you're listening, for those of us who aren't, we're about to discuss some vocabulary The Boston Globe language columnist Ben Zimmer says you already know. Ben Zimmer, let's do this thing. Yolo.


RAZ: Yolo. It's an acronym that stands for you only live once, and Ben Zimmer says it's the buzzword of the year for teenagers and young adults.

ZIMMER: Especially after a song, "The Motto," by the rapper Drake came out.


DRAKE: (Rapping) Now she want a photo. You already know though. You only live once; that's a motto. Yolo. We 'bout it every day, every day, every day.

ZIMMER: When the video came out in February, all of a sudden, yolo was everywhere.

RAZ: And that's where it started?

ZIMMER: Well, you can find precursors, definitely. The full expression "you only live once" goes back a long ways.

RAZ: That's not new, right? Yeah.

ZIMMER: Not at all. No. But this year is really the year of yolo, thanks to that song "The Motto," and how it then spread.


DRAKE: (Rapping) Now she want a photo. You already know though. You only live once. That's a motto. Yolo. We bout it every day...

ZIMMER: It's a fascinating shibboleth, an expression that really marks one group from another. If you're young, you know yolo. In fact, yolo seems to encapsulate something about youthful behavior, sort of crazy, reckless behavior and living that way without worrying too much about the consequences.

RAZ: So how would you use it, for example?

ZIMMER: You could say, you know, I got so wasted last night. Yolo. That would be a sort of a retrospective yolo talking about something that happened in the past.

RAZ: More - a more thoughtful yolo.

ZIMMER: A more thoughtful yolo. Well, you know, you could be weighing different decisions. You want to park illegally in this spot? Yolo. Should I buy these shoes or pay rent? Yolo. So it can just get tacked on that way. It can also be used as a verb. You can talk about yolo-ing as a way to talk about expressing that youthful vitality, let's say.

RAZ: Hmm. Ben, yolo, I would suspect, is going to have a short shelf life because I understand that Katie Couric, when she launches her new talk show, is going to have a segment called "What's Your Yolo?" which is quite possibly the fastest way to make that term uncool.


ZIMMER: What Katie Couric is doing with this segment is encouraging viewers to write in or make videos that they submit to the show talking about what's the thing that you want to do before you die. What do you want to cross off your bucket list?

RAZ: So she's turned yolo into bucket list.


ZIMMER: Right. So that yolo expression, the way she's using it, is turning it to something else and certainly nothing related to that kind of youth culture that it came out of. So if Katie Couric is latching on to it, that may really signal the death knell of yolo.

RAZ: See, I was always under the impression of yolt.

ZIMMER: You only live twice.

RAZ: You only live twice, right?


NANCY SINATRA: (Singing) You only live twice...

ZIMMER: Right. So that was the James Bond novel which turned into the movie with the Nancy Sinatra theme song. It was recently used on the show "Mad Men." When that song was on the show in June, there were people who were making that connection between yolo, you only live once, and yolt, you only live twice.


SINATRA: (Singing) You only live twice...


DRAKE: (Rapping) What's up? What's up? What's up? What's up, what's up...

RAZ: That's Ben Zimmer, language columnist for the Boston Globe. He recently wrote about the term yolo. Ben, yolo.



DRAKE: (Rapping) Now she want a photo. You already know though. You only live once. That's a motto.

RAZ: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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