Was FAFO the word of the year?

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‘…[I]t was a college writing center from Sioux Falls, S.D., that nailed the word of the year with its choice: FAFO. In case you don’t already know, FAFO is an acronym for “eff around and find out.” It’s a cheeky way to tell people that if they play with fire, they might get burned — or to announce they already have been. The Sioux Falls gang put a positive spin on FAFO, citing it as representing the “gumption” of their fellow students “when encountering a novel challenge” and noting that the Urban Dictionary calls the phrase an “exclamation of confidence.” It is that — but it’s also a whole lot more….’

— Amanda Katz via Washington Post

Not only have I never heard the term FAFO in the wild but I am unlikely to ever use it. Its cachet, according to the article, arises from Elon Musk’s use of the term in December 2022 to comment on kicking Kanye West off Twitter for dissing him. Just as many people I know will never consider giving Musk any of their money by buying a Tesla, the word is tainted by association. The idea of learning from one’s experiences and paying the price for one’s mistakes, invoking both the pluck involved and a little bit of satisfaction at someone getting their comeuppance, already has lots of linguistic code. There’s an element of “YOLO” and an element of chiding someone with “once burned, twice shy”, an element of “schadenfreude” (a sentiment to which I gravitate too frequently) and a sense of “stepping into it.”

But, as the article points out, we can celebrate the fact that 2022 was 

‘…a year when maybe, just maybe, people who did dumb or awful things (coups, tax scams, attacking smaller countries, making overinflated weed-meme offers for social media sites) would finally face some consequences. “Can you do that?” many asked during the Trump era. Could you just lie, cheat, swindle, funnel taxpayer dollars to your businesses, grab people’s genitalia with impunity? Well, 2022 suggested that you couldn’t, or at least not entirely. “Eff around, find out” was a bratty, satisfying way to reclaim the high ground…’

Not that I have any objection to regaining the high ground! And Musk himself, it seems clear, is effing around and, hopefully, finding out, although I don’t really expect him to learn from the experience, both because of his character and his net worth.

(In contrast, the more scholarly linguists of the American Dialect Society polled their members and came up with the suffix “-ussy” as the 2022 Word of the Year. I’ve never heard that in the wild either. I guess it’s pretty clear I don’t frequent Tik Tok.)

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