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What Does “TLDR” Mean, and How Do You Use It?

Too Long; Didn’t Read

TLDR (or TL;DR) is an internet abbreviation that stands for “Too Long; Didn’t Read.” On the surface, the phrase appears straightforward. However, words and phrases, including TLDR, can vary depending on their context.

In its most basic form, TLDR means that a piece of digital text (an article, email, etc.) is too long to read. A single “TLDR?” without explanation could be an intentionally offensive or humorous remark. Most of the time, it’s simply a funny acknowledgement that a little portion of text is easier to absorb than a massive wall of text.

However, you’ll rarely find a single “TLDR” in the comments section of a web article. (or anywhere, really). People usually include a synopsis of what is being discussed with their TLDR. For example, towards the bottom of a lengthy sports article, you might see a comment that says, “TLDR: the Patriots will win the next Super Bowl.”

In a similar vein, writers may insert a TLDR at the start or bottom of a web article, email, or text message. This is intended to provide a summary of what the author is saying, with the caveat that the specifics of a lengthy book may not be worth every reader’s time. For example, a ten-paragraph product review for a bad laptop could simply begin, “TLDR: this laptop stinks.” That’s the fast synopsis; you can read on for more information.

TLDR Dates Back to the Early 2000s

We don’t know where the term TLDR comes from, like with much internet lingo. Our best estimate is that the phrase emerged in the early 2000s on message boards such as the Something Awful Forums and 4Chan.

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary (which approved “TL;DR” as a term in 2018) asserts that the phrase was coined in 2002, but provides no evidence to back up this assertion.

A Google Analytics graph showing how often people search for the phrases
Google Analytics

The first recorded use of TLDR (then written “TL;DR”) dates back to January 2003, when it was added to Urban Dictionary. There are also other forum entries from later that year that contain the phrase “TL;DR.”

Google searches for the terms “TLDR” or “TL;DR” have gradually increased since 2004. Unfortunately, Google Analytics began in January 2004, so we can’t go back much further. As you can see, the term “TLDR” has significantly outpaced “TL;DR” since 2004, which is why we’ve eliminated the semi-colon for the majority of this article.

How Do You Use TLDR?

In general, whether you’re the author or a commentator, you should only use TLDR when summarizing a piece of text. Using the phrase TLDR without providing a relevant summary of the text can come across as purposefully harsh. (but of course, that may be your intention).

When utilizing TLDR as a commenter, your task is straightforward. Leave a helpful summary that other readers will understand, or leave a snide “TLDR” and come across as nasty or juvenile.

A man wonders if he should reply to his boss' long email with a hefty TLDR.

As an author, your work becomes a little more difficult when you use TLDR. A TLDR-summary at the start of an article or email can save the reader time or serve as a brief introduction, but it can also provide the reader an excuse to skip the intricacies of your writing.

A TLDR-summary at the end of a long piece may be preferable because it allows you to summarize all of the details that the reader is processing. However, in other contexts, this usage can come across as snarky. It’s as though the author recognizes that their own wall of words may be fully comprehended in a single sentence.

It all depends on the setting for professional or scholarly use. As a general rule, don’t use TLDR in places where you wouldn’t utter LOL. However, if you want to use TLDR in a professional setting (it’s popular among programmers, marketers, and writers), consider saying “TL;DR” instead. It has a fancier appearance than the standard TLDR and is recognized as a word by Webster’s Dictionary.

So, TLDR: TLDR is a good approach to summarize information and speed up conversation. Use it only when it feels appropriate, and avoid sounding disrespectful.




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