While FWIW isn’t the most used slang on the internet, it usually ends up on Twitter posts, message boards, and chat rooms. But what does FWIW mean, where did it come from and how to use it?
What is it worth
FWIW means «whatever it takes». This is an idiom that rarely carries any literal meaning, and is used to politely say that someone should consider an opinion, idea, or fact (usually because their opinion is wrong).
If it helps, imagine that FWIW means «You can ignore what I’m about to say, but I think you should still hear it.» This phrase does not change the general meaning of your sentence, it just adds politeness. tone to what you are saying.
So instead of telling a friend, «You have no idea what you’re talking about, 4K TVs have four times the resolution of HD TVs,» you can just say, «FWIW, 4K TVs have four times the resolution of HD. televisions.
Interestingly, FWIW can also be used to make your sentence snarky, empathetic, or even dismissive. These tones mostly come from context, but as a general rule, any use of «FWIW» that can be replaced with «FYI» has an odd tone. («FWIW, toothpaste kills bad breath germs.»)
It is worth noting that FWIW is usually (but not always) used at the beginning of a sentence. This is called a prepositional phrase, and it’s used to tell readers that you’re going to politely refute (or confirm) the other person’s opinion.
FWIW been around for ages
As an idiom, «for what it’s worth» has been around since the 1800s. The phrase actually has its origins in economics and was originally used to express the literal value of products, goods, or people. A 1600s farmer may promise that he will only buy a horse «for what it’s worth», while a tax collector may try to «rob you for all you’re worth»
There was a time when this economic significance coincided with our modern significance. You can see this coincidence in stories such as Merchant Service (1844), where one character says to another, «Your opinion says what it’s worth—nothing.» (The characters in this play are merchants, and the author uses «for what. it stands» as a play on words.)
But this “economic” subtext has largely disappeared. Now, «whatever it takes» is just an empty idiom. It doesn’t really add meaning to the sentence, it just sounds polite when you’re correcting someone. Knowing this, it is not surprising that this phrase has been shortened to FWIW. Nobody wants to type «for what it’s worth» just to be polite.
This contraction probably happened in the very early days of the Internet. There is evidence that FWIW was popular on Usenet in the late 80s, or at least so popular that it was on the «exhaustive» list of Internet slags and emojis from July 1989. Google Trends though never saw the popularity of initialisms like «NSFW» or «TFW».
How do you use FWIW?
Again, FWIW is usually used at the beginning of a sentence. This indicates to readers that you are going to politely disagree (or agree) with the other person’s opinion by putting forward your own opinion or fact.
When your friend says he hates Steven Spielberg movies, you can say «FWIW, I loved ET» or «FWIW, his movies are really popular.» broadcast your opinion. He may even agree with you just because you were so polite.
Of course, FWIW feels a little awkward at the beginning of a sentence. If you want to soften things up a bit, you can say, «I haven’t seen a lot of his films, but FWIW, I loved ET.»
And, as we mentioned earlier, FWIW can be sarcastic, empathetic, or dismissive. It usually depends on the context, which you have to feel for yourself. But if you want a shortcut, just use FWIW in the same place where you can use «FYI».
With that in mind, you could tell your Spielberg-hating friend that «FWIW, you only like artsy French films, so your opinion doesn’t matter.» This should shut him up.
(As a side note, FWIW is great for acknowledging a message without actually talking. Most of the FWIW examples listed here are incredibly lifeless, but they’re not rude.)
It’s hard to get through the internet without understanding a bit of slang. FWIW, words like NSFW and YEET probably won’t improve your life too much, but they will help you surf the web without getting too confused.