Busy woman eating a sandwich and talking on a cellphone at the same time.
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In texting and online, “ATM” actually doesn’t always refer to the machine you use to withdraw money. Here’s what this internet initialism means and how you can use it to describe your current situation.

At the Moment

ATM stands for “at the moment.” It’s used to let someone else know what they’re currently doing or feeling, or to tell others about their current availability for a conversation. People often say it as a response when asked a question such as, “What are you up to?” You could reply with, “I’m working atm.” This acronym is interchangeable with the word “currently.”

It’s a widespread term in text messages and chatting apps. You’ll also find it used as a status on social media pages, such as Twitter or Instagram. For example, someone might post on their stories, “Studying for a big test atm, do not disturb!” This is a signal to others that you shouldn’t bother them with messages for the time being.

Closeup of woman's hands using an ATM
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This particular initialism is almost always written in the lowercase “atm” instead of the uppercase “ATM.” This is to avoid confusion with the common non-slang definition for ATM, “automated teller machine.” This is an electronic banking station that lets customers complete transactions like withdrawals and deposits throughout the day. In scientific circles, “atm” refers to a unit of atmospheric pressure.

A History of ATM

ATM is one of the early internet acronyms that came into use during the 1990s and early 2000s. The first entry for the initialism on Urban Dictionary is from 2002 and simply reads, “at the moment.” During the early days when internet conversations were largely anonymized, it fulfilled a similar role to acronyms like “IRL” and “AFK.” They let people know what was going on outside of the virtual world.

Eventually, ATM would spread to other parts of the internet, growing exponentially in popularity when direct messaging became mainstream. Programs like AOL Instant Messenger and Yahoo Messenger allowed people to add custom statuses to their profiles. Users would often write what they were doing “ATM” on these short entries about themselves.

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This practice later spread to the rest of social media. Nowadays, it’s a reasonably common acronym online and in personal conversations between friends. If you ask your friend about what they’re doing right now, there’s a good chance they’ll respond with a message including “atm.”

What I’m Doing ATM

An essential element of using “ATM” is that the event or activity has to be current. When used in private messages and personal conversations, it’s almost always a response to a question.

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What someone is doing “atm” can be general or specific, and the amount of detail depends on the situation. A good rule of thumb is that the more interested someone is engaging in conversation, the more specific their answer will be. For example, if someone says, “reading atm,” they’d probably rather just be reading. However, if they instead say, “I’m reading this incredible fantasy novel atm! I love it, I’m about halfway in,” then they’re probably eager to tell you about it.

Getting Busy

Another common way to use “atm” is to tell someone else you’re busy and can’t join their conversation or event. This can be done in a straightforward manner, such as messaging, “Sorry, I’m busy atm.” You can also hint at the amount of work that you currently have to do, such as saying, “Sorry, I’m trying to finish an urgent report atm.”

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You can also use this acronym to send out a signal to others regarding your status. For example, if you’re currently headed somewhere without cell service, you might tweet out, “Headed up to the mountains atm! I’ll have no cell service for the next three days, but I’ll respond as soon as I’m back!” This tells others something important while also giving an update about your current status.

ATM bears a lot of similarities with the acronym RN, which means “right now.” Like RN, this initialism can also be used to convey how you’re feeling at any particular time. For example, you could say, “I’m kind of freaking out about the job interview atm.”

RELATED: What Does "RN" Mean, and How Do You Use It?

How to Use ATM

While most internet acronyms tend to be quite informal, this one can be used in some professional contexts if done correctly. However, if you work at a financial institution like a bank, be careful no one accidentally thinks you’re talking about the cash withdrawal machine.

Here are a few examples of ATM in action:

  • “I’m not actually that busy atm.”
  • “atm, I’m cooking some seafood pasta. Do you want the recipe?”
  • “Sorry, I’m kind of slammed atm. I’ll have to take a raincheck.”
  • “I’m just exhausted atm.”

If you’re not busy ATM, you might be interested in learning some more internet acronyms! Check out our guides to OFC, TLDR, and SMH, and you’ll be an internet slang master soon enough.

RELATED: What Does "SMH" Mean, and How Do You Use It?

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Vann Vicente has been a technology writer for four years, with a focus on explainers geared towards average consumers. He also works as a digital marketer for a regional e-commerce website. He's invested in internet culture, social media, and how people interact with the web.
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