While FWIW isn’t the most popular piece of slang on the internet, it routinely finds its way into Twitter posts, message boards, and chat rooms. But what does FWIW mean, where’d it come from, and how do you use it?
For What It’s Worth
FWIW means “for what it’s worth.” It’s an idiom that rarely carries any literal meaning, and it’s used to politely express that someone should consider an opinion, idea, or fact (usually because their opinion is flawed).
If it helps, imagine that FWIW means, “You can ignore what I’m going to say, but I think you should hear it anyway.” The phrase doesn’t really change the overall meaning of your sentence, it just adds a polite tone to what you’re saying.
So instead of telling a friend, “You have no idea what you’re talking about, 4K TVs have four times the pixel resolution of HD TVs,” you could just say, “FWIW, 4K TVs have four times the pixel resolution of HD TVs.”
Interestingly, FWIW can also be used to inject a snarky, empathetic, or even dismissive tone in your sentence. These tones mostly come from context, but as a general rule, any use of “FWIW” that can be replaced with “FYI” has a snarky tone. (“FWIW, toothpaste kills bad breath germs.”)
It’s 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 you’re about to politely contradict (or confirm) somebody else’s opinion.
FWIW Has Been Around for Ages
As an idiom, “for what it’s worth” has been around since at least the 1800s. The phrase actually has its origins in economics, and it was initially used to express the literal value of products, goods, or people. A 1600s farmer might pledge he’ll only buy a horse “for what it’s worth,” while a tax collector might try to “rob you for all you’re worth.”
There was a time when this economic meaning overlapped with our modern meaning. You can see this overlap in stories like The Merchant Service (1844), where one character tells another, “Your opinion goes for what it’s worth—nothing.” (The characters in this play are merchants, and the author is using “for what it’s worth” as a pun.)
But this “economic” subtext has mostly faded away. Now, “for what it’s worth” is just an empty idiom. It doesn’t actually add much meaning to a sentence, it just makes you sound polite when you’re correcting someone. Knowing this, it’s no surprise the phrase has shortened into FWIW. Nobody wants to type out “for what it’s worth” just to be polite.
This shortening probably happened during the very early days of the internet. There’s evidence that FWIW was popular on Usenet in the late 80s, or at least popular enough to end up on an “exhaustive” internet slag and emoticon list from July of 1989. Use of the word has slowly risen since at least 2004, according to Google Trends, although it’s never seen 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 you’re about to politely disagree (or agree) with somebody else’s opinion by offering up your own opinion or a fact.
When your friend says he hates Steven Spielberg’s movies, you might say “FWIW, I loved ET,” or “FWIW, his movies are really popular.” You’re not really confronting your friend or saying he’s wrong, but you’re still putting your opinion in the air. He may even agree with you just because you were so polite.
Of course, FWIW feels kind of stiff at the beginning of a sentence. If you want to loosen things up a bit, you could say “I haven’t seen many of his movies, but FWIW, I loved ET.”
And as we mentioned earlier, FWIW can carry a snarky, empathetic, or dismissive tone. This is usually based on the context, which you’ll have to feel out for yourself. But if you want a shortcut, just use FWIW in the same place where you might use “FYI.”
With this in mind, you could tell your Spielberg-hating friend that “FWIW, you only like artsy-fartsy French movies, so your opinion doesn’t matter.” That should shut him up.
(As a side-note, FWIW is great for acknowledging a message without really engaging in conversation. Most of the FWIW examples listed here are incredibly lifeless, but they aren’t rude.)
It’s hard to traverse the internet without understanding a little bit of slang. FWIW, words like NSFW and YEET probably won’t improve your life too much, but they’ll help you travel around the web without getting too confused.