“I work for the New York Times Upfront, a magazine run by Scholastic Inc. and the New York Times for high school students. We hope you can verify a recent piece of news. The Daily Mail has published a letter written September 9, 1917, by Britain’s First Sea Lord, Admiral John Fisher, to First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, where he first used the acronym O.M.G., for “Oh My God.” As you know, “OMG” is a phrase often used by texters, especially teenagers! Is Fisher the originator, and is there a handwritten version of his letter to Churchill?” —A.P., New York, N.Y.
There’s no doubt that it’s genuine, but we are not sure why the Daily Mail thinks this is a discovery. Lord Fisher reproduced the letter in his book, Memories (American edition, New York: Doran 1919) at page 77. The same letter was reproduced by Admiral Bacon in his biography, Admiral of the fleet Lord Fisher (London: Hodder & Stoughton,, 2 vols., 1929) II 194.
Fisher had a flamboyant writing style, often signing his letters to Churchill, “Yours till a cinder”—and other loquacious salutations which, given his resignation and disappearance from the Admiralty in May 1915, were somewhat less than sincere. Unfortunately, the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge reports that they do not have a copy of the original.
I cannot track “O.M.G.” or the spelled-out version to anything Churchill himself said or wrote, though Roosevelt once said “Oh My God” over a silly question at a post-Yalta press conference. And Churchill’s best friend, Lord Birkenhead (1872-1930) once cracked: “When Winston is right he is unique. When he is wrong, Oh My God!”
Bottom line: credit “O.M.G.” to Jacky Fisher!
—Answered for the editors of The Churchillian, National Churchill Museum, Winter 2012 issue.