For What It’s Worth
FWIW is an abbreviation meaning “for what it’s worth.” It’s an idiom that rarely has a literal meaning, and it’s used to indicate gently that someone should think about a viewpoint, idea, or truth. (usually because their opinion is flawed).
If it helps, think of FWIW as “You can ignore what I’m about to say, but I believe you should hear it anyway.” The phrase makes no difference to the general meaning of your sentence; it simply lends a courteous tone to what you’re expressing.
So, rather than saying to a friend, “You have no idea what you’re talking about, 4K TVs have four times the pixel resolution of HD TVs,” you might simply say, “FWIW, 4K TVs have four times the pixel resolution of HD TVs.”
FWIW can also be used to add a sardonic, sympathetic, or even dismissive tone to your sentence. These tones are primarily determined by context, although any use of “FWIW” that can be replaced with “FYI” has a sardonic tone. (“For the record, toothpaste kills bad breath germs.”)
It should be noted that FWIW is frequently (but not always) used at the start of a statement. A prepositional phrase is intended to inform readers that you are about to gently refute (or confirm) someone else’s opinion.
FWIW Has Been Around for Ages
“For what it’s worth” has been used as an expression since at least the 1800s. The phrase has its roots in economics, and it was originally intended to express the monetary worth of products, goods, or people. A farmer in the 1600s may promise to buy a horse “for what it’s worth,” whereas a tax collector might try to “rob you for all you’re worth.”
There was a moment when this economic meaning and our current meaning overlapped. This overlapping can be seen in works like The Merchant Service (1844), when one character says to another, “Your opinion goes for what it’s worth—nothing.” (The protagonists in this play are merchants, and the playwright is making a pun with “for what it’s worth.”)
However, the “economic” subtext has largely disappeared. “For what it’s worth” is now a meaningless expression. It doesn’t add much sense to a sentence; it only makes you sound courteous when correcting someone. Knowing this, it’s no surprise that the phrase has been abbreviated to FWIW. Nobody wants to be courteous by typing “for what it’s worth.”
This shortening most likely occurred during the early days of the internet. FWIW was popular on Usenet in the late 1980s, or at least popular enough to end up on a “exhaustive” internet trash and emoticon list from July 1989. According to Google Trends, use of the word has gradually increased since at least 2004, however it has never reached the popularity of initialisms such as “NSFW” or “TFW.”
How Do You Use FWIW?
FWIW is typically used at the beginning of a sentence. This tells readers that you’re about to politely dispute (or agree) with someone else’s point of view by expressing your own point of view or a fact.
When a friend says he dislikes Steven Spielberg’s films, you could respond, “FWIW, I loved ET,” or “FWIW, his movies are very popular.” You’re not actually confronting your friend or telling him he’s wrong, but you’re still voicing your opinion. He may even agree with you simply because you were courteous.
Of course, FWIW feels a little stiff at the start of a phrase. To lighten the mood, you may say, “I haven’t seen many of his movies, but FWIW, I loved ET.”
And, as previously stated, FWIW can have a sardonic, sympathetic, or dismissive tone. This is usually determined by the context, which you must determine for yourself. However, if you want a shortcut, use FWIW in the same place where you would use “FYI.”
With this in mind, you could tell your Spielberg-hating pal, “FWIW, you only like artsy-fartsy French movies, so your opinion is irrelevant.” That should do the trick.
(As a side aside, FWIW is great for recognizing a message without really engaging in conversation. The majority of the FWIW examples provided here are lifeless, but not harsh.)
It’s difficult to navigate the internet without knowing a little slang. To be honest, words like NSFW and YEET probably won’t make your life any easier, but they will help you navigate the web without becoming too confused.