YOLO is an acronym for ‘you only live once.’ Similar to ‘carpe diem’ (‘seize the day’) or ‘memento mori’ (‘remember that you will die’), it implies that one should enjoy life, even if that entails taking risks. The expression’ is commonly attributed to Golden Age film star Mae West, but variations of the phrase have been in use for over 100 years, including as far back as (the German equivalent of) ‘one lives but once in the world’ by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in his 1774 play ‘Clavigo’ and as the title of a waltz, ‘Man lebt nur einmal!’ (‘You Only Live Once!’) by Johann Strauss II in 1855.

The acronym is in youth culture and music, and was popularized by the 2011 song ‘The Motto’ by Canadian rapper Drake (who later claimed to want royalties due to the proliferation of merchandise bearing the phrase). Actor Zac Efron has a tattoo with the acronym. The expression has been 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: ‘Drunk af going 120 drifting corners #FuckIt YOLO.’


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