In the English language we have a lot of euphemisms for profanities that take the form of abbreviations; for instance, people may say the f-word or the s-word if they don't want to say fuck and shit. I always used to assume that WTF was the same type of thing.

However, I've noticed lately that if people are reading out loud a sentence that contains wtf, they often pronounce it as what the fuck - for instance, if they get a text message saying "Hey, wtf just happened?" and another person asks them what the text says, they are likely to say what the fuck just happened? instead of double you tee eff just happened? In this usage, wtf isn't a euphemism; it's just an alternate way of writing the profane phrase so that it is easier to type, i.e., an abbreviation.

So, my question: Which do we consider it? (And has it always been that way? For instance, perhaps it started out as a euphemism but is evolving into an abbreviation?)

  • How do those same people read omg? It may simply be that the w in wtf causes people to use the option with fewer syllables.
    – D Krueger
    Commented Dec 7, 2011 at 0:31
  • that's a good question. I've heard some (though) fewer people read it as "oh my god" instead of "oh em gee", which would indicate that (at least for such people) this is a productive phenomenon and not just the fault of the "w".
    – alcas
    Commented Dec 7, 2011 at 0:46
  • I actually consider it to be an acronym.
    – Beth
    Commented Dec 7, 2011 at 3:23
  • @DKrueger Personally, I pronounce it "ohmgeu".
    – user11550
    Commented Dec 7, 2011 at 5:50
  • @Beth: An acronym is some initials that are pronounced as a word, like NASA. Also, the answer would be much better if say why you think this.
    – Hugo
    Commented Dec 7, 2011 at 8:39

3 Answers 3


If people actually pronounced WTF "dubya tee eff," it would be an initialism (an abbreviation pronounced by spelling out the letters one by one).

In the acronym-mad military, WTF actually is said "dubya tee eff" and functions as a euphemism (apparently in those rare cases where decorum needs to be observed).

In practice, people use it as an abbreviation that means, "where I write WTF, say what the f^ck."

  • 1
    To be truly precise, an acronym should be pronounceable, like "MIDI" not just spelled out, like "MP3". pronouceability is what makes an initialism and acronym. Commented Dec 7, 2011 at 4:06
  • You are correct; I actually have a previous answer to that effect. However, I'm referring to the military as being "acronym-mad;" WTF remains an initialism, as my first paragraph states.
    – Gnawme
    Commented Dec 7, 2011 at 4:49
  • In the military, we say "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot !? (over) Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 22:48

I would say it's just an abbreviation. The fact that people normally speak the words out in full should be seen as evidence for that.

A euphemism is an alternative for a vulgar/profane form, intended to avoid giving offense to hearers / readers / God. I can't see how that would apply to a written form which is basically just intended to save typing.


Euphemism is a relation to the function of a term, not the term itself. If I say "Oh Fudge!" I may be deferring the pain of a burned finger in the presence of a toddler, or expressing delight at the appearance of a chocolate treat. Only the former use is a euphemism.

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