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I have looked in a number of places, with contradicting results.

The Urban Dictionary provides a whopping 73 "explanations", of which I will quote just a few. (Original spelling and punctuation preserved.)

  • ZOMG is a varient of the all-too-popular acronym "OMG", meaning "Oh My God". ZOMG originated from the imageboard 4chan.org and one of it's members Zardoz.

Even though 4chan is the Internet meme machine, I would like to see supporting evidence for this particular claim.

  • zOMG is a varient of the all-too-popular acronym "OMG", meaning "Oh My God". The "z" was originally a mistake while attempting to hit the shift key with the left hand, and type "OMG"

The first sentence is copied verbatim from the previous (and older) explanation, with the "Z" changed into a "z". It appears that the author hasn't quite thought it through — if you mistakenly hit Z instead of Shift, you'll end up with "zomg", not with "zOMG". Besides, on my keyboard, there's the > key between the Z and the left shift key.

  • A more enthusiastic (if not sarcastic) way of saying OMG. The Z doesn't stand for anything, but rather is added onto the O, thus making it pronounced "ZOH MY GOD!!1"

Doesn't address the origin and is not very convincing anyway — why "Z" and not "S", "X", "W", "J", or in fact any letter?

  • ZOMG was the ruler of the planet XYRZON until 2451 AD, when he was overthrown by KFOP after the battle of SHMUR.

Oh well.

  • zombies! oh my god!

This is actually the most convincing so far, since over at the Wiktionary I am told that ZOMG is an initialism. Then again, I am not told anything about etymology, and in the usage notes for OMG, I am told that ZOMG is "emphatic, in the same sense of LOLZ". Which contradicts the idea that it's an initialism.

On the talk page for ZOMG, there's only this brief exchange:

This entry should be amended to note that the "z" is added emphasis from the common typo committed when hitting the "shift" key. [Unsigned, but the history attributes this to Adjwilli, 19:50, 4 November 2008]

  • Except that it's not: see [1]. Unfortunately, although this FAQ is accurate, the fact that it has not been cited in a reliable source means that we cannot include it on Wiktionary. Shii 14:21, 12 December 2008 (UTC)

That last link is dead, so I went to archive.org and dug up an old copy of the page:

ZOMG was originally coined in January 2003 by two individuals, James Curbo and Matthew Milan, over ICQ

The following chat log may or may not be exact, so apocraphycal information has been used to recreate this event.

Hannibal Smith: d00der!
Rick Feynman: zomg!
Hannibal Smith: ZOMG!
Rick Feynman: fag! ZOMG!

I can see why reliable sources are hesitant to cite this FAQ, especially given the fact that it was written by Matthew Milan himself.

Lastly, over at The Free Dictionary, I am told that ZOMG is an acronym with the following definitions:

  • Zoh My God! (gaming, World of Warcraft)
  • Zombies Oh My God
  • Zeus, Oh My God
  • Zerg! Oh My God!
  • Zebras on my Grass (gaming clan)

Now I am utterly confused. Some of these suspiciously look like backronyms.

So, can anyone, by any chance, provide a definite answer on the origin of ZOMG? Or is it lost forever?

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3  
Nice question. I'm not fully convinced by any of these explanations either. –  b.roth Oct 15 '10 at 10:39
5  
+1 for your research. (Wish I could give more.) –  ShreevatsaR Oct 15 '10 at 10:51
33  
+1 for deeply researching your own question and sharing your findings. –  Mehper C. Palavuzlar Oct 15 '10 at 11:28
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On my keyboard, there's no > key between left-shift and Z. But I agree, if that were the origin, the acronym should be 'zomg', or at least 'zoMG'. –  Marthaª Oct 15 '10 at 14:39
22  
@Martha: maybe it started out as zomg, which is an error, and became ZOMG when people liked what they saw and started using it on purpose. Like how people sometimes wrote "SOMETHING IN CAPS!!1" because their shift came off too early, and people (in imitation) started writing things like "SOMETHING IN CAPS!!!1one" –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Oct 15 '10 at 14:59

5 Answers 5

I'm partial to the shift key+z typo answer.

If you're typing OMG really fast (cause you're so excited) you're going to slip and hit zOMG, since the < key isn't between shift and Z on most US keyboards.

Outside of any of the other possible origins, the typo is the most likely because it's most easily 'discovered' by small groups of people who are instant messaging each other. Most likely it has risen out of a parallell evolution because of our natural tendencies (as opposed to being invented or "first coined" by anyone).

Essentially, we all invent it ourselves.

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21  
+1 for typo. The same goes for pwned (instead of owned) as the letter p is right next to o –  webbiedave Oct 15 '10 at 15:00
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@webbie As well as !!!!1!! –  mfg Oct 27 '10 at 18:23
    
Shouldn't there be lots of sister terms to this also due to accidentally hitting the z key when about to excitedly write in all caps? Even if not as memes we should be able to Google for some other contenders. –  hippietrail Jun 1 '12 at 4:58
1  
@hippietrail There's the sister punctuation!!!!!1111!!! of someone's finger slipping off the shift-key, while typing excessive bangs. Sometimes parodied with various mathematical formulae that result in 1; ZOMG!!!11-cos πradians!! or the word ONE etc. –  Jon Hanna Feb 20 '13 at 21:46
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@Alex C On my mobile phone the key to switch from lower to upper case when texting is below the Z key (I suppose this is a Shift key though I've never thought of it like that). So it's a mistake as easily made by texting as typing. Yes it's an ancient phone. This is an ancient question. –  Mynamite Apr 9 '13 at 17:36

ZOMG predates 4chan, which launched in October 2003 and seems to have been used as a sarcastic way to say "Oh my God!" .

From a since deleted Wikipedia article:

ZOMG is a Derivative of the Internet shorthand term for "Oh My God", OMG. The term is commonly used to express humorously overwrought excitement and as a way of mocking internet slang as a whole, and is most likely representative of pushing the Shift key over-zealously and sloppily, thus pushing the "Z" key in the process, on a QWERTY keyboard. It has appeared on various websites and message boards, often associated with a "witty" remark or trolling, and was spotted in use as early as 1996. It is reasonably widespread today in the online Anime and gaming communities, and is often used in its more ironic sense on internet pop-culture forums such as Fark.

...

Usage

ZOMG is often followed by a variation of LOL or by an excessive series of exclamation points trailing into a numerical "1". This last convention implies the typist's ineptitude in creating a simple Exclamation mark on a QWERTY keyboard. A common addition to the previous scenario is to append the word "one" after the numerical "1", e.g., "ZOMG!!!!!!1111one". On some message boards, this is sarcastically extended to phrases such as "ZOMG!!!!1111onetwoeleventy111". In some cases typists will go to extreme lengths such as typing "ZOMG!!!11!1one!1cos(0)". In each case, the (self-depreciating) implication is that the typist lacks the wherewithal to type correctly.

In gaming communities, ZOMG is often followed by "hax", and cries of "ZOMG hax!" and the like may be heard when a player does anything especially impressive, implying (ironically or otherwise) that the player must be hacking the game to do so well.

Another meaning of the word suggests a usage as an odd child of the two words "Zing" and "OMG". This implies a more humorous nature to the word itself without the necessary implications of surprise that come with the acronym "OMG". Others suggest that "ZOMG hax" originally spawned in StarCraft, if a player lost quickly to a Zerg player, causing the losing player to think his opponent hacked because he won so quickly. Thus, "Zerg, OMG, hax" quickly because "ZOMG, hax."

Popularity

This slang word was not made popular on the Internet at large until its "reinvention" in 2003. ZOMG spread from a personal joke between James Curbo and friend Matthew Milan to the Raspberry Heaven Internet community, from there to the Something Awful Forums, LUElinks Forums, and popular image board 4chan upon its opening in October 2003, and from these places spread to the Internet community at large.

From a 2005 revision:

Origin

Although often cited as an invention of USAF officer James Curbo in 2003, ZOMG appears in a USENET post from 1999 and its use in some online MUD communities has been cited as far back as 1996. Some have suggested that its inventor in 2003 had seen ZOMG somewhere before without realizing it, while others consider it a case of parallel invention, as with Richard Jordan Gatling's invention of the screw propellor for steam boats only to discover that another man had had the same idea and beaten him to it.

In any case, the word was not popular on the internet at large until its reinvention in 2003. "ZOMG" spread from a personal joke between James Curbo and friend Matthew Milan to the Raspberry Heaven internet community, from there to the Something Awful Forums, LUElinks Forums, and popular image board 4chan upon its opening in October 2004, and from there to the internet community at large, particularly among anime and gaming fans.

ZOMG's popularity can be attributed partially to the difficulty in expressing emotion via the internet. Since the phrase OMG ("Oh My God") is often taken seriously when the speaker means it as a joke, the addition of a Z to the acronym gives it a certain ridiculousness, since few words begin with the letter Z would fit the acronym.

It makes sense to assume that ZOMG came from a typo of "OMGz," -z being a common intensifying suffix used in leetspeak.

And from another 2005 revision:

ZOMG also possibly originated from BBS chatroom emote commands such as zlaugh, zcry, etc.

I also found another copy of the ZOMG FAQ, the contents are the same but this one has a copyright notice:

Copyright (c) 2003 Matthew Milan and James Curbo

So it was written by both of them. I also found this from 2005:

zomg

  1. A social experiment started by Matthew Milan (Rick_Feynman) and James Curbo (hannibal)in January 2003 to explore methods of speading and popularizing internet memes. It was also a mocking jab at people who practiced "leet-speak".

Originally meant to be a more intense version of 'OMG' - who knows what it means now.

Originally 'launched' in two places, the Toronto Raptors Usenet Group and the Raspberry Heaven Direct Connect hub. From there it spread into the anime fan-subbing community, the Something Awful forums and the 4-chan Image Boards.


The oldest reference I can find is by Jonathan Seda on the alt.fan.nb Usenet group for Nintendo gamers, 24th April 1999. Here's a snippit of a presumably fictitious chatlog:

KREMIS: oh no!!!

KREMIS: BASTAR!D!!! fag!!

KREMIS: Go away!!!!! NOW PLEAEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!EEEEE!!!

KREMIS: ZOMG!!!!!

KREMIS: FFF


I also found ZOMG in signatures of forum posts dating back to 2001. Here's syntrix's signature, 28th September 2001, interesting for the zombie mention and ASCII art:

MOEW: ٩(●̮̮̃•̃)۶ Zomg Zombies ٩(-̮̮̃-̃)۶ ٩(-̮̮̃•̃)۶ ٩(×̯×)۶ ¯\(°_o)/¯

Jorji-'s signature, 24th January 2002:

zomg she finally got myspace lawls

spin's signature, 16th July 2002:

zomg, no more sites!

stu's signature, 26th December 2002:

ZOMG


Finally, as of last month, ZOMG has been added to Oxford Dictionaries Online, but doesn't help us much:

Origin:

early 21st century: perhaps in reference to fast or careless typing of OMG, during the course of which the shift key is missed and the 'z' key pressed instead.

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@PrestonFitzgerald: Please re-read the first three words of my answer: "ZOMG predates 4chan". –  Hugo Jan 8 at 15:53
    
I scrolled too fast! My mistake. –  Preston Fitzgerald Jan 8 at 15:54

I'll go for the "Zerg OMG" suggestion.

For players of Starcraft, one of the fastest ways to lose in a multiplayer game was for someone playing as the Zerg to create a lot of very low-level units straight away and attempt to rush your base before you had sufficient defences in place to protect yourself.

If you were playing with allies and this happened, you would need to get a message out to them pretty quickly if you were going to survive. "OMG Zerg Rush" would take a lot of typing time that you might otherwise be using to marshall your troops, but once everyone is familliar with it "ZOMG" gets the message across much faster.

That would be in keeping with the 1999 or thereabouts coining as well - I seem to recall that was when Starcraft first came out.

I think I first saw it on SomethingAwful, which was a kind of 4chan's natural predecessor, from my limited understanding of 4chan and what it does.

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Now, as a fellow gamer, I have no time to type in grammatically correct sentences while I am fighting, especially if I am in "All for All". So I give this explanation merit. –  Phonics The Hedgehog Nov 1 '11 at 20:43

Internet memes often have no one true source. ZOMG and related expressions can probably be traced back to early text chats; TLA* and ETLA** expressions have been used in networked chats since at least the early UNIX days--back when most users connected to a mainframe via a dumb terminal, it was possible to text-message other users on the same system in an IM-like fashion.

While the well-known 4chan is a very prominent source of memes, it is not the be-all and end-all. Ultimately, memes arise via the actions of two or more people communicating, which can happen in a much wider area than a single forum--consider the most recent Online Community Map and contrast the size of the SMS and Email worlds to the size of the 4chan segment.

If I had to make a guess, I would think that the origin of ZOMG is close to that of The First Smiley, but I doubt that any canonical answer will be found.

*Three Letter Acronym **Extended Three Letter Acronym. Sometimes, this is FLA for Four (or Five) Letter Acronym, but that's just not as funny.

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3  
We used to call ETLA's ACFL (Acronym Containing Four Letters)... –  AAT May 21 '11 at 22:47

Regarding the third proposal, i.e.,:

A more enthusiastic (if not sarcastic) way of saying OMG. The Z doesn't stand for anything, but rather is added onto the O, thus making it pronounced "ZOH MY GOD!!1"

Doesn't address the origin and is not very convincing anyway — why "Z" and not "S", "X", "W", "J", or in fact any letter?

..

Well, the reason for Z instead of S, X, etc., could be a combination of three factors:

(a) oh my god is an interjection

(b) [z] is an extremely common word-final phoneme in English (perhaps the most common?), coming at the end of almost all noun plural forms, all noun genitive forms, the verbs 'is' and 'has', and the simple present 3rd person singular of all verbs.

(c) Being our main inflectional ending, when it gets lopped off the end of the word, the remainder still makes sense (even if it is grammatically incorrect as such).

Thus zoh my god may be a particular tempting phonetic change/reinterpretation to make in a jocular context (as opposed to foh my god, toh my god, etc.)

Did you kill the zombies...oh my god! ==> Did you kill the zombie---zoh my god!

Reminds me of this slip of the tongue.

Finally, in passing it might be interesting to note that unexpected z-insertion happens in vernacular French (which also normally produces a lot of [z] phonemes at word boundaries). Here is an example from vernacular Quebecois: je leur ai dit pronounced/ʒløzedi – ʒjøzedi/ (On page 120 of the linked pdf.)

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protected by RegDwigнt Jul 19 '11 at 10:12

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