YOLO (aphorism)

"YOLO" is an acronym for "you only live once". Along the same lines as the Latin carpe diem ('seize the day'), it is a call to live life to its fullest extent, even embracing behavior which carries inherent risk. It became a popular internet slang term in 2012.[1]


Similar phrases have been in use for more than a century,[2] including these:

Emergence of acronym

One of the earliest known examples of the acronym relates to Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart's ranch in California, which has been known as YOLO since at least 1996.[3]

Adam Mesh, a contestant on the reality TV series Average Joe, produced and sold a line of YOLO-branded clothing and accessories the early 2000s.[4]

In 2012, the acronym "YOLO" became a staple of music and youth culture,[5] being a subject of graffiti,[6][7][8][9] Twitter hashtags,[10] pranks,[11][12] tattoos,[13] music, television shows and merchandise.[14]

The acronym was most popularized by Canadian rapper Drake, who planned to release a 2011 joint mixtape titled YOLO along with American rapper Rick Ross.[15] To promote this mixtape, "YOLO" was mentioned prominently on several of their tracks such as "The Motto", released on November 29, 2011, with the aim of promoting the tape. This use is said to have elevated the word into prominence and common colloquial use.[16] In late 2012, Drake expressed a desire to obtain royalties for use of "YOLO" due to the proliferation of merchandise bearing the phrase and lyrics from his song, which have been commonly seen at stores such as Walgreens and Macy's, but he does not own a trademark on the word.[14][17]

Hip-hop magazine Da South reported that the rapper Lecrae has deconstructed the phrase "YOLO" in his 2012 song "No Regrets".[18]

In the opening monologue of Saturday Night Live on January 19, 2014, Drake apologized about pop culture's adoption of the phrase, saying he had no idea it would become so big.[19]

In popular culture

A restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has held a trademark to the phrase "YOLO" in the context of the frozen yogurt business since 2010.[17][20]

Garage rock band The Strokes has a song called "You Only Live Once" that was released in 2006 off their album First Impressions of Earth.

Deathcore band Suicide Silence has a song called "You Only Live Once" that was released off their album The Black Crown in 2011.

American comedy trio The Lonely Island released a 2013 song titled "YOLO", featuring Adam Levine and Kendrick Lamar, parodying the phrase and the people who use it as a lifestyle meme. The song charted in a few countries, including #60 on the Billboard Hot 100.[21]

During the January 2021 GameStop short squeeze members of Reddit’s WallStreetBets—often touted their long-shot wagers against short selling hedgefunds with the expression "YOLO".[22]


Online media including The Washington Post and The Huffington Post described YOLO in 2012 as the "newest acronym you'll love to hate"[23] and "dumb".[24] The word was criticized for its use in conjunction with reckless behavior, most notably in a Twitter post by aspiring rapper Ervin McKinness just prior to his death, caused by driving drunk at 120 mph (193 km/h): "Drunk af going 120 drifting corners #FuckIt YOLO."[25]


  1. ^ Roberts, Soraya (December 16, 2011). "Zac Efron Adopts Drake's 'YOLO' Motto, as Does Souljaboy". Yahoo! OMG! CA. Retrieved November 8, 2012.
  2. ^ "You Only Live Once – YOLO". Quote Investigator. May 24, 2012. Retrieved August 4, 2012.
  3. ^ CRITIC, JOEL SELVIN, CHRONICLE POP MUSIC (1996-05-26). "Mickey Hart Marches on to His Own Beat / Ex-Grateful Dead drummer about to release magnum opus". SFGATE. Retrieved 2021-02-23.
  4. ^ Bereznak, Alyssa. "An Oral History of YOLO, the Word That Lived Too Long". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 2021-02-23.
  5. ^ "Skins | Ep. 107 | Songs from the Show". MTV. August 14, 2014. Retrieved August 25, 2014.
  6. ^ Swanson, Mirjam (May 18, 2012). "Track and Field: Mitchells making most of it". Press-Enterprise. Retrieved October 10, 2012.
  7. ^ Dye, Kevin. "Class of 2012 calls it a year". The Madison Press. Archived from the original on June 8, 2012. Retrieved March 3, 2013.
  8. ^ Express-Times File Photo (2012-05-29). "Clinton Police: Two Men Spray-Paint Profanity, 'YOLO' on Town Structures". Lehigh Valley. Retrieved October 10, 2012.
  9. ^ "Middle School Boys Accused of Spray-Painting Homes, Destroying Water Fountain". 10tv.com. May 31, 2012. Retrieved October 10, 2012.
  10. ^ "Parents, Students: Hoffman Estates School Overreacted To Senior Prank". CBS Chicago. June 1, 2012. Retrieved October 10, 2012.
  11. ^ Wright, Sharon (June 1, 2012). "Student Arrested Following Conant High School Senior Prank". NBC Chicago. Retrieved October 10, 2012.
  12. ^ "Students Lose Prom, Graduation Privileges After Senior Prank". DailyHerald.com. January 6, 2012. Retrieved October 10, 2012.
  13. ^ "Zac Efron Tat-Tat-Tatted Up!". 2011-12-16.
  14. ^ a b Diep, Eric (December 5, 2012). "Drake Wants Royalties for "YOLO"". XXL Magazine. Retrieved March 3, 2013.
  15. ^ "Drake Won't Name Rick Ross Mixtape "YOLO," Calls Phrase "Epidemic"". Fuse. June 12, 2012. Retrieved November 8, 2012.
  16. ^ Roberts, Soraya (December 16, 2011). "Zac Efron Adopts Drake's 'YOLO' Motto, as Does Souljaboy". Yahoo! OMG! CA. Retrieved November 8, 2012.
  17. ^ a b Burns, Ashley (January 6, 2013). "We Have Some Bad News For Drake Regarding The YOLO Wars". Uproxx.com. Retrieved March 3, 2013.
  18. ^ Hill, Kellus (May 14, 2012). "Lecrae - Church Clothes: DaSouth.com". Da South. Archived from the original on May 24, 2013. Retrieved July 10, 2015.
  19. ^ Hosted by Drake, SNL. "Drake's SNL Intro". Gossip Cop. Archived from the original on February 2, 2014. Retrieved January 28, 2014.
  20. ^ "YOLO". USPTO.report. Retrieved Jan 9, 2020.
  21. ^ "YOLO (feat. Adam Levine & Kendrick Lamar) - Single". iTunes. January 27, 2013. Retrieved December 31, 2014.
  22. ^ Pellejero, Sebastian; Quiroz-Gutierrez, Marco (2021-01-26). "MARKETS BlackBerry, AMC and Other Reddit YOLO Favorites That Aren't GameStop". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2021-01-28.
  23. ^ Judkis, Maura (April 6, 2012). "#YOLO: The Newest Acronym You'll Love to Hate". Washington Post Style Blog. Archived from the original on October 10, 2012. Retrieved October 10, 2012.
  24. ^ Walsh, Megan (May 17, 2012). "YOLO: The Evolution of the Acronym". Huffington Post. The Black Sheep Online.
  25. ^ Lupkin, Sydney (December 21, 2012). "Young Adults Tweet #YOLO When They Don't Study, Get Drunk or Drive Too Fast". ABC News. Retrieved December 29, 2012.