A finger pressing an "F" key

Has someone ever replied to you with a single letter “F”? Don’t worry: It’s not as bad as you think. Here’s where this illustrious piece of internet history comes from and why an “F” means to pay respects.

What Is an “F?”

You’ve just described, in great detail, a terrible day to your friend via text. You got rained on, you lost your wallet, a dog bit your leg, and your partner broke up with you. In response, your friend sends you back a single letter, “F.” It’s confusingly short, and you’re not sure what it means.

On the internet, “F” is a slang term used to “pay respects” or commiserate in a tragic incident. Unlike other words we’ve covered, “F” isn’t short for anything. It’s almost entirely unrelated to the letter grade “F,” which means failure. It also isn’t related to the expletive “f***,” which is sometimes shortened to just “F.” Instead, this odd piece of web speak comes from a meme in the gaming world.

Press F to Pay Respects

Press F to Pay Respects on Call of Duty game screen.
Activision – Call of Duty / Steam

The origin of “F” is a classic internet story. In 2014, Activision released Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, the eleventh installment of the Call of Duty franchise. For the most part, it was a typical major FPS release, with millions of players loading up the game on its release day. However, during one of its cutscenes featuring the funeral of a major character, players were prompted to “Press F to Pay Respects” to trigger a quick-time action.

This scene received widespread derision from players and the entirety of the internet, with many mocking the inappropriate and awkward mechanic. It also detracted from the somber nature of the scene. Eventually, this meme spread far and wide outside of the context of the game, with it becoming one of the biggest internet memes of the 2010s. It also started the phenomenon of responding to tragic incidents, failures, and sadness with a single “F.”

RELATED: What Is a Meme (and How Did They Originate)?

Fs in Chat

F has taken on a life of its own as an internet slang term. One of the biggest catalysts for its widespread popularity is its use on the streaming website Twitch, where people can livestream themselves playing video games. When players make mistakes, lose, or accidentally do something funny IRL, such as knock over a coffee cup, people in chat would spam “F” repeatedly. The streamer themselves might ask for viewers to spam F by saying the phrase, “Fs in the chat.”

Eventually, this practice of saying “F” to everything related to failure or loss became extremely widespread on the internet. You can find people spamming “F” in relation to everything, from sports teams losing big games to public figures making widely debunked claims on social media. You’ll also spot some people spamming “F” when they disagree with someone’s Tweet or post, with the implication that the original poster is making themselves look bad.

An unusual phenomenon on the internet is how memes sometimes reach a point where their use becomes sincere and unironic. A good example is a practice many internet users have of sincerely commenting “F” when an online public figure, like a Twitch streamer or video game developer, passes away. While the original intent of Call of Duty to make “F” a touching moment may not have worked, internet users have found a way to genuinely show respect to the life of an iconic figure through a meme.

That’s a Big F

Nowadays, F is ubiquitous in conversations, especially with those very attuned to internet memes. That’s why when you’re texting someone a story about your hilariously terrible day or “TIFU moment,” they might respond with just “F.” This might seem weird, but this message might be sincere as they’re trying to formulate a better reply. Alternatively, they could be gently mocking you.

You might also experience this phenomenon on social media. For example, if you post a Tweet or Instagram Story detailing how terrible your exam just went, someone might reply with an “F.” This could mean a myriad of things, from making fun of your misfortune to genuinely sympathizing with your result. It might also be the start of a message, such as “F. I got a terrible score too.”

How to Use “F”

If you’re interested in adopting F into your vocabulary, it’s pretty simple. If you’re replying to someone who’s had some kind of mild misfortune, just send them an “F.” If they understand the joke, then it can be a way to inject some lightheartedness into the conversation.

Here are a few examples of “F” in action:

  • “Spam Fs in the chat, everybody.”
  • “F. Sorry to hear that man.”
  • “That’s an F.”

If you’re interested in learning more about some unusual online acronyms, check out our pieces on WBK, BB, and OOC. You’ll be chatting like an internet expert in no time.

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

Profile Photo for Vann Vicente Vann Vicente
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.
Read Full Bio »