There are some pieces of Internet slang like “xD” that have become so pervasive they are even understood by people who have never been online.
On the other hand, Internet slang can sometimes be very obscure.
In this brief post, we’ll look at an example of the latter, the word “onl.”
What does “onl” mean?
This uncommon piece of Internet slang is a shortened version of the word “online.” Although it may have originally meant whether or not a person was currently on the Internet, these days you are more likely to see people using this in reference to something that has happened or will happen soon. For instance, “see you onl” or “did you see what that guy said onl last night?” Alternately, you may be looking at a typo for “only” or “on.”
ONL and onl as “online”
Put simply, “onl” means “online.”
This is one of a raft of text message shortcuts intended to save you a few letters of typing, similarly to Internet stalwarts LOL and OMG.
Like those other text message shortcuts, people may capitalize all the letters and write ONL or they may just use lower-case letters and type onl instead.
Because most phones today support keyboard “swiping” and even voice-to-text, both of which are faster than manual typing, many of these texting shortcuts are slowly disappearing.
That means you aren’t as likely to see people use this particular phrase as you may have been four or five years ago. If it ever does show up, all you really need to know is that it means “online.”
“Hey, ru onl l8r?”
In regular English, that’s “Hey, are you online later?” The person typing this just doesn’t like swipe keyboards or voice-to-text typing, or they may just be trying too hard to seem Internet-savvy.
“Just got home. Meet u onl in a few?”
Again, the second part of this is “meet you online.”
Other possible meanings for ONL or onl
If the word “online” makes no sense in the usage of “onl” you are looking at, it’s also possible the person typing has just made a typo.
If “online” doesn’t fit the rest of the sentence at all, try substituting the word “only” or even “on.”
These are both words that are close enough to “onl” that it’s easy to accidentally type the Internet slang instead by mistake.
Additionally, there are some acronyms that could be intended instead.
Most of these are also very uncommon, with some examples including Open Network Linux, a specific type of computer operating system, and the Organization of Nurse Leaders.
Because acronyms are usually tied to profession-specific jargon, if you absolutely can’t figure out what the person meant by “onl,” try asking if it’s an acronym for something.
The origins of “onl”: an open question
Some pieces of Internet slang, which are tied to a specific service or meme.
For “onl,” several user-created systems suggest that the origin comes from a Vodafone manual.
Despite some Internet sleuthing, though, no authoritative sources for that appeared. All in all, it’s not really clear where this particular piece of slang comes from.
No matter its true origin, the most likely scenario is simply that someone thought this up as a counterpart to the common text message abbreviation “IRL,” or “in real life.”
ONL does mirror the form of IRL pretty well. Not only are both terms three letters long, they both end in “L” and have a vowel and consonant preceding them.
That said, remember that ONL or onl is not an acronym.
The letters of this particular expression do not become individual words, but rather are a shortening of a single word, “online.”
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.