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The changing face of uwu

uwu has become one of the internet’s original sins. It’s the kind of performative “cuteness” that rankles people, either because it’s disingenuous or because that’s the point.

Like everything bad on the internet, uwu started somewhere. Brian Feldman dug into it for his newsletter BNet – turns out, the first recorded usage of uwu is from a piece of Yu-Gi-Oh fan fiction, adding yet more weight to my belief that fanfic communities spawn at least a third of everything that becomes a thing online.

Feldman makes an interesting argument, though. The uwu in question was used in a self-effacing author note:

Wheee! Sarah/ryoulover4ever was my 200th reviewer! I’m sorry this took so long! -/smacks self/- Again, feel free to throw squids and fish at me. UwU I deserve it, I know.

Feldman argues that, in this context, uwu wouldn’t make sense if it was being used in a performatively-cute way. It doesn’t jive with the tone. It’s closer to confounded face emoji in tone, right down to the w-shaped mouth.

Here’s Feldman:

All of this leads me to theorize that the oldest known use of uwu deploys it in a dramatically different context than the one we are now used to. Which is fine, because internet language is rarely prescriptive — there is never one exact right way to use ambiguous pictographs like emoji and emoticons. In fact, that’s how they derive their power: allowing the reader to use the surrounding conversational context to figure out exactly what they mean.

Still, I’m not quite sure how uwu might have gone from a grimace to a cute face. Regardless, kinda neat.

uwu has changed. It’s evolved. That’s to be expected, really: anything that becomes popular will, eventually, become something new.

Who knows what it’ll become next. It may even turn into something even more annoying and more powerful.

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