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YOLO (aphorism)

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YOLO is an acronym for "you only live once". Similar to Latin "carpe diem" ("seize the day"), it implies that one should enjoy life, even if that entails taking risks, as if there would not be another chance for it. The phrase and acronym are both used in youth culture and music, and were both popularized by the 2011 song "The Motto" by rapper Drake.


Similar phrases have been in use for more than a century,[1] including these:

In the 20th century, the phrase, "you only live once" was commonly attributed to comedian and actor Mae West.[2][3]

In the early 21st century, the acronym "YOLO" and the phrase, "you only live once" became a staple of music and youth culture.[4] The acronym has been a subject of graffiti,[5][6][7][8] Twitter hashtags,[9] pranks,[10][11] tattoos,[12] music, television shows, and merchandise.[13]

A restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has held a trademark to the phrase "YOLO" in the context of the frozen yogurt business since 2010.[14][15]

The acronym was most popularized in the 21st century by rapper Drake, who planned to release a 2011 joint mixtape titled YOLO along with Rick Ross.[16] 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.[17] 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][13]

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

The comedy band The Lonely Island released a 2013 song titled "YOLO" parodying the phrase and the people who use it as a lifestyle meme. The song has charted in many countries, including #60 on the Billboard Hot 100.[19]


Online media including The Washington Post and The Huffington Post describe YOLO as the "newest acronym you'll love to hate"[20] and "dumb".[21] The word 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 that described driving drunk at 120 mph (193 km/h): "Drunk af going 120 drifting corners #FuckIt YOLO."[22]

In the opening monologue of Saturday Night Live on January 19, 2014, Drake apologized about culture's adoption of the phrase, saying he had no idea it would become so big.[23]


  1. ^ "You Only Live Once – YOLO". Quote Investigator. May 24, 2012. Retrieved August 4, 2012. 
  2. ^ Clare Conville, Liz Hoggard, Sarah-Jane Lovet. Dangerous Women: The Guide to Modern Life. Retrieved August 4, 2012. 
  3. ^ "Mae West Quotes". BrainyQuote. Retrieved July 10, 2015. 
  4. ^ "Skins | Ep. 107 | Songs from the Show". MTV. August 14, 2014. Retrieved August 25, 2014. 
  5. ^ Swanson, Mirjam (May 18, 2012). "Track and Field: Mitchells making most of it". Press-Enterprise. Retrieved October 10, 2012. 
  6. ^ Dye, Kevin. "Class of 2012 calls it a year". The Madison Press. Archived from the original on June 8, 2012. Retrieved March 3, 2013. 
  7. ^ Express-Times File Photo. "Clinton Police: Two Men Spray-Paint Profanity, 'YOLO' on Town Structures". Lehigh Valley. Retrieved October 10, 2012. 
  8. ^ "Middle School Boys Accused of Spray-Painting Homes, Destroying Water Fountain". May 31, 2012. Retrieved October 10, 2012. 
  9. ^ "Parents, Students: Hoffman Estates School Overreacted To Senior Prank". CBS Chicago. June 1, 2012. Retrieved October 10, 2012. 
  10. ^ Wright, Sharon (June 1, 2012). "Student Arrested Following Conant High School Senior Prank". NBC Chicago. Retrieved October 10, 2012. 
  11. ^ "Students Lose Prom, Graduation Privileges After Senior Prank". January 6, 2012. Retrieved October 10, 2012. 
  12. ^ "Zac Efron Tat-Tat-Tatted Up!". 
  13. ^ a b Diep, Eric (December 5, 2012). "Drake Wants Royalties for "YOLO"". XXL Magazine. Retrieved March 3, 2013. 
  14. ^ a b Burns, Ashley (January 6, 2013). "We Have Some Bad News For Drake Regarding The YOLO Wars". Retrieved March 3, 2013. 
  15. ^ "YOLO". LegalForce. Retrieved March 3, 2013. 
  16. ^ "Drake Won't Name Rick Ross Mixtape "YOLO," Calls Phrase "Epidemic"". Fuse. June 12, 2012. Retrieved November 8, 2012. 
  17. ^ Roberts, Soraya (December 16, 2011). "Zac Efron Adopts Drake's 'YOLO' Motto, as Does Souljaboy". Yahoo! OMG! CA. Retrieved November 8, 2012. 
  18. ^ Hill, Kellus (May 14, 2012). "Lecrae - Church Clothes:". Da South. Archived from the original on May 24, 2013. Retrieved July 10, 2015. 
  19. ^ "YOLO (feat. Adam Levine & Kendrick Lamar) - Single". iTunes. January 27, 2013. Retrieved December 31, 2014. 
  20. ^ Judkis, Maura (February 25, 2011). "#YOLO: The Newest Acronym You'll Love to Hate". Washington Post Style Blog. Retrieved October 10, 2012. 
  21. ^ Walsh, Megan (May 17, 2012). "YOLO: The Evolution of the Acronym". Huffington Post. The Black Sheep Online. 
  22. ^ 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. 
  23. ^ Hosted by Drake, SNL. "Drake's SNL Intro". Gossip Cop. Archived from the original on February 2, 2014. Retrieved January 28, 2014.