What Does FWIW Stand For, and How Do You Use It?

Though FWIW isn’t the most widely used internet slang, it often appears in Tweets, message boards, and chat rooms. But what exactly does FWIW stand for, where did it originate, and how do you use it?


For What It’s Worth

For what it’s worth, or FWIW, is a phrase that means “for what it’s worth.” It’s an idiom that’s rarely literal, and it’s used to respectfully articulate that someone should think about something, whether it’s a thought, an idea, or a reality.  If it helps, think of FWIW as “You can forget what I’m about to say, but I think you should hear it anyhow.” The term brings a friendly tone to what you’re doing, but it doesn’t alter the overall context of your statement.

So, rather than saying to a friend, “You have no idea what you’re talking about, 4K TVs have four times the pixel resolution of HD TVs,” you might say, “FWIW, 4K TVs have four times the pixel resolution of HD TVs.” FWIW may also be used to add a snarky, sympathetic, or sarcastic sound to a phrase. These sounds are often determined by context, but the use of “FWIW” that could be replaced with “FYI” has a snarky sound. (“FYI, toothpaste destroys germs that cause poor breath.”) )

It’s worth noting that FWIW is usually used at the start of a sentence. This is known as a prepositional expression, and it is used to inform readers that you are about to respectfully refute (or confirm) someone else’s viewpoint.

Consider a text argument between you and a friend about who the best actor alive is. Denzel Washington is your option, but your friend disagrees. “FWIW, Daniel Day-Lewis has won more Oscars,” he responds. “And, FWIW, Denzel has been nominated more times,” you might say. But that’s saying the unusual-looking abbreviation didn’t slow you down. If it had, you would have just sat there thinking, “What does FWIW mean?” instead of giving your short counterpoint.

As a result, think of FWIW as a hybrid of “in my view” and “for your facts.” This means you will incorporate a concept that is intended to be beneficial.

FWIW Has Been There For A Very Long Time.

“For what it’s worth” has been used as an idiom since at least the 1800s. The term comes from economics, and it was first used to express the monetary value of items, commodities, or individuals. A farmer in the 1600s would promise to buy a horse “for what it’s worth,” while a tax collector would threaten to “rap you for what you’re worth.”

There was a period when this economic sense and our new meaning were interchangeable. In stories like The Merchant Service (1844), when one character tells another, “Your opinion goes for what it’s worth—nothing,” you will see this overlap. (The author uses the pun “for what it’s worth” because the protagonists in this play are merchants). Interest in FWIW has slowly grown since 2004, according to Google Trends.

However, the “economic” subtext has largely vanished. “For what it’s worth” is now simply a cliche. It doesn’t bring much sense to a sentence; instead, it helps you seem respectful when correcting others. Given this, it’s no wonder that the word has been abbreviated to FWIW. To be polite, no one needs to type “for what it’s worth.”

This truncation most likely occurred in the early days of the internet. FWIW was common on Usenet in the late 1980s or popular enough to appear on an “exhaustive” internet slag and emoticon list from July 1989. According to Google Trends, the use of the term has gradually increased since at least 2004, but it has never surpassed the prevalence of initialisms like “NSFW” or “TFW.”

With FWIW, How Can You Tell About Someone’s Tone?

Context is crucial in all forms of electronic communication. However, most people who type FWIW aren’t trying to be dismissive. Much of the time, they either want to emphasize an argument or criticize it respectfully.

How to Use FWIW?

FWIW is most often used at the start of a sentence. This tells readers that you’re about to respectfully disagree (or agree) with someone else’s perspective by giving your point of view or truth. You might say, “FWIW, I liked ET,” or “FWIW, his movies are famous,” when your friend says he despises Steven Spielberg’s films. You’re not confronting your friend or telling him he’s wrong, so you’re also expressing your viewpoint. Since you were so courteous, he may also agree with you.

FWIW, on the other hand, sounds a little rigid at the start of a sentence. “I haven’t seen much of his movies, but FWIW, I liked ET,” you might tell to ease things up a little. FWIW may have a snarky, empathetic, or cynical tone, as we discussed earlier. This is generally determined by the context, which you must determine for yourself. However, if you want to save time, use FWIW instead of “FYI” in the same position.

“FWIW, you just like artsy-fartsy French movies, but your opinion doesn’t matter,” you might say your Spielberg-hating pal. That should be enough to silence him. (As a side note, FWIW is excellent for accepting a message without really conversing.) Most of the FWIW examples mentioned here are lifeless but not rude.)

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