by Katarina Meiske

The expression „YOLO“ which means „You only live once“ is a new, modern word established by the new Youth Movement or better the current youth implying living your life to its fullest.

There are several explanations for the origin of the word Yolo. The meaning of Yolo refers to the old famous sentence “Carpe Diem“ of the Roman poet “Horaz“. The intention of Yolo draws through the whole history up to date, always with the idea of enjoying the short life one has. The idea of “Carpe Diem“ is also depicted in the US- film “Dead Poets Society“ from 1989.

Its message is to think and act freely, to use and develop your skills as long as you can. Moreover you find the statement “You only live once“ in the lyrics of bands like Suicide Silence or rappers like Drake who are dealing with their own interpretation of the phrase which also has a big influence on the society.

One can interpret the sentence in different ways.“You only live once“ to grow personally through gaining knowledge and comprehension of the world or “You only live once“, don‘t waste your time on one specific subject, try to experience as much as you can. Suitable for the last interpretation of the sentence is the hippie movement of the 1960s.

The former hippie movement connected a generation with similar interests and created a new lifestyle. There one can find space to develop its own imagination of how to live life, comparable to today‘s YOLO phenomenon.

A sign that the significance of the word changed from an advice to a new lifestlye.

The actual difference between today‘s Youth movement and the former hippie movement lies in their different interpretations. The people who identified with the hippie movement most likely acted the way they did because of political beliefs. Nowadays the expression lost its strength, because todays youth doesn’t relate to political beliefs to the word YOLO, but rather the idea to not miss out on something fun. They try to be part in as much events as possible and to get the newest information or trends so they can share it with the whole world via social media networks like Facebook or Instagram to express themselves.

Social media is so significant to today‘s young generation that it almost forces them to do things that may seem stupid or dangerous just so they can be cool. It has to be mentioned that social media’s power depends on the people involved in it. The more socially insecure people get, the more social media’s influence and significance rises. They want to try different things and break out of standards created by society. Therefore the expression nowadays stands for light-heartedness.

This characteristic results in today‘s party- generation which interprets this credo in a new way with partying, which can cause in dangerous occurrences, for example the rise of alcohol-caused hospitalization of teenagers in Germany over the last few years. Following the YOLO-credo the youth doesn’t want to live in social standards. Thats why YOLO is also often used as an excuse for things that went wrong. Taking your lifestyle as an excuse for your failures could result in not realising the consequences of your actions and thus causing major future problems, for example losing important social values taught by parents or not finding a job and not being able to earn one’s keep.

YOLOs fast spreading popularity caused in a hype. The german word of the youth of 2012 is used for club- promotion as a slogan, so that nightclubs keep up with the youth‘s lifestyle. Today one can buy caps, shirts and more with the inscription YOLO in stores. The imprint „YOLO“ gives them more attention and thus profit.

So there are some aspects about the keyword and the lifestyle of YOLO which lead us to think about it, but everyone decides for oneself how to interpret the meaning of YOLO and how to live it.

Lastly I see that words and their meanings are in constant development caused by society. And if this Keyword YOLO wouldn‘t exist the people or better the youth would certainly find another word to express themselves, their feelings, emotions and needs. Over the years the implied meaning didn’t change, it has always been the interpretation of society and its view on the world which constantly changed. Every generation, regardless of age, needs something to identify with and for our generation this is symbolised through #YOLO.

Annotated bibliography:

The following links will give you interesting thoughts and trivia information about the Yolo context.

1. This article deals with the “popcultural meaning” of the acronym YOLO. It pointed out, that the phrase YOLO is no longer used like “seize the day” but rather “to not apologize for potential wrongdoings”. An article with exampels to show how YOLO is understood in our society.


2. This article is about the today’s youth which is constantly in contact with technology. It describes how young people handle the social network and how their behavior with new technologies creates or influences the today’s youth culture.


3. Here you can find various ways how Yolo is used by youth and how the acronym appears in their language. There also appears an interesting question why it has to be YOLO (You Only Lives Once) and not YLOO (You Live Only Once) through a little described story about a tattoo.


4. This article deals with the changing use of the acronym YOLO recently “from catchy new slang to a “dangerous” youth motto, to a sarcastic Twitter hashtag, to the name of a new African cell phone”. There you can find an interview about “an oral history of YOLO”.


5. This is an article about the “Generation Z“. It shows the differences between the “Generation Y“ and the “Generation Z“ and what we can learn from the younger generation.



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