Have you read TFA? September 23, 2022 7:39 AM   Subscribe

I often see people on Metafilter use the acronym TFA (the fucking article) to refer to the linked article in the OP post. It's not always clear to me from the context if that acronym is meant to come across as angry or irritated, or whether people also use it in a more neutral way?

It often makes me very unsure what is meant, because if I substitute "the linked article" for TFA in the comment the emotional tone of the comment changes so much.

When you use TFA do you always mean to imply "You didn't bother to read the article so you don't know what you're talking about, please don't waste my time"?

I'm wondering if I'm misunderstanding many comments because I always read it as aggressively irritated and accusing.

To be clear, I'm not objecting to people using "TFA" , I just want to be sure I understand it.
posted by Zumbador to Etiquette/Policy at 7:39 AM (47 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

It started as a bit of a scoldy note ("people are clearly asking questions about this situation that TFA answers"); I've also seen it used as a defense ("I did read TFA but I still didn't get it and have further questions").

I think the neutral use you're seeing is more of a tongue-in-cheek reference to that stronger usage. It's like: imagine if a couple of your friends had a tiff and one of them called the other "Dorito-face" or something equally as ridiculous, and then you all thought it was such a strange insult it became funny and you all started calling him "Dorito-face" as a general nickname.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:47 AM on September 23 [11 favorites]


I think that the high emotional "charge" has kind of leaked out of the term over time, and now it's just shorthand without much or any subtext.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:52 AM on September 23 [23 favorites]


I suspect it originated with Usenet or similar, where users asking questions that could be answered in documentation were told to RTFM, or Read the Fucking Manual. And it became "Y'all I RTFM but I couldn't find the answer," and it's a similar trajectory with RTFA. Kind of like "tl;dr" started out as an admonition: Too Long, Didn't Read, and now it's frequently used to mean "summary".

Here's a reference to a server called rtfm.mit.edu where FAQs about usenet lived! Vindicated!
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:58 AM on September 23 [14 favorites]


tl;dr: it's not necessarily grumpy anymore.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:00 AM on September 23 [7 favorites]


This reminds me of the way DTMFA went from being a stern command to an expression of mild surprise at a partner's behavior.
posted by mittens at 8:01 AM on September 23 [4 favorites]


I use it non-judgmentally. Practically speaking it's just a great shorthand. "The OP" means the post on Metafilter, not the thing the post links too. I don't intend to imply I'm angry at other people!

I have always assumed it grew out of the old usenet Unix board exhortation to RTFM ("Read the fine manual" but the F does not stand for fine, as one FAQ put it) so I can see the confusion now. But without the "read" part left in, my only worry in the past was that people might think I was dismissive to the piece, not to them. I've seen that once or twice.

Also, this is very nerdy in a Ned Flanders way, but I have to confess I think of it in my head as "the fine article" at this point.
posted by mark k at 8:05 AM on September 23 [4 favorites]


Even when I first encountered "TFA" (or it's counterpart, "RTFM"), there were people claiming (tongue fully in cheek) that it meant "The Featured Article" (and "Read the Fine Manual"). I think there's a group of people who came online later, or by different paths, who have picked up the usage without the initial meaning (and may even genuinely be unaware of the initial meaning). Wikipedia has Today's Featured Article, which they refer to as TFA.

I don't generally use the term myself, but absent any other context about annoyance, I read it as equivalent to just "the (linked) article"
posted by yuwtze at 8:05 AM on September 23 [5 favorites]


Read it as "The Falcon Article", as in BFR. Or fine, the fine article is a reasonable interpretation, sarcastic or not.
posted by sammyo at 8:59 AM on September 23 [1 favorite]


I think people use it as a generic, neutral "the article," but it still comes off to me as pissy and I find it very offputting.
posted by obfuscation at 9:22 AM on September 23 [2 favorites]


When evaluating a curse word for hostile intent you have to look at the whole comment. One swallow doesn't make a summer, one F doesn't make an anger.
posted by bleep at 9:27 AM on September 23 [9 favorites]


Back 20+ years ago on slashdot, people were racing to get the first post in the comment stream and not reading any of the user-supplied links and articles. RTFM was a commonly-known phrase in software, for the lazy people asking-not-studying when they had a query. RTFA became a cry of the users engaging with the supplied article against those who didn't engage with the content. (It's still relevant here.)

At some point, the summaries and users started referring to TFA, the fine article, because of this ubiquity of RTFM/RTFA.
posted by k3ninho at 9:29 AM on September 23 [1 favorite]


The term is used interchangeably in the sense of "you didn't read the article; your comment is addressed in the article" and "you didn't read the article because you disagree with the article's conclusion".

In my opinion, the former is alright (albeit somewhat aggressive), and the latter is discouraging reasonable disagreement.
posted by saeculorum at 9:54 AM on September 23


Today I learned that TFA doesn't stand for "the full article."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:16 AM on September 23 [40 favorites]


Nah, I would never post my hot take about an article I hadn't read.
posted by theora55 at 12:04 PM on September 23 [4 favorites]


I’m surprised at how many people find the usage to be neutral. I’m aware of its history and context, but still always read it as at least snippy.
posted by thoroughburro at 12:32 PM on September 23 [3 favorites]


I’m aware of its history and context, but still always read it as at least snippy..

A quick perusal of my comment history reveals that I've used TFA exactly once, and then as a self-scold. Which surprises me. I thought I'd used it a fair bit. Guess I'm not as cool as I thought I was.
posted by philip-random at 12:48 PM on September 23 [2 favorites]


Pretty sure TFA came from the "RTFM" acronym yuwtze cited. That initialism's been around since 1983 on the neolithic Internet.
posted by MollyRealized at 12:50 PM on September 23 [1 favorite]


I might be able to puzzle out what someone means by RTA, but RTFA has the full weight of ancient usage and custom. In this modern age, it may as well actually mean 'read the furnished article'.
posted by zamboni at 2:37 PM on September 23 [2 favorites]


And of course, DTMFA means “Delete The Mostly Finished Article”.
posted by umber vowel at 4:33 PM on September 23 [8 favorites]


I don’t recall if I’ve used the acronym or not in any comments, but if I have, I guarantee that it was out of actual annoyance and ire at some other commenter(s) who very obviously didn’t read the linked article.
posted by eviemath at 5:23 PM on September 23 [2 favorites]


I have never used it; I think it's mean.

- I recognize that people may have limited bandwidth
- I know the original intent of the acronym
- I know that some people will interpret it as testy
- I don't want to come across as impatient because I value patience
- I know there are people who will beat themselves up for not having read the article, and I wouldn't want to wish that on anyone, either

When I wish people would have read the article (and at plenty other times, too!) I use blockquotes. I think it's friendlier.
posted by aniola at 6:40 PM on September 23 [6 favorites]


TFA can be either grumpy or non-grumpy. Assume the best reading.
RTFM can range from mildly grumpy to “Please ABEND your life processes” grumpishness. Assume the worst interpretation.
posted by JustSayNoDawg at 11:40 PM on September 23 [1 favorite]


I read it as entirely neutral, but ^still find it puzzling that people associate fuck (or other "swear words") with anger. Maybe it's a class thing? Certainly, "fuck you" is fairly unequivocal (if often used in jest) but "fucking" reads as no more angry or upset or whatever than "very" to me. Don't get me wrong, you can use "fucking" in service of anger, but you can't with "very" as well.

So, context. If someone is saying "I just wanted to say that TFA is brilliant and I learned a lot" they probably aren't in the same headspace as "well if you just read TFA then it would be obvious!" It's just a fucking word, same as any other.
posted by Dysk at 1:19 AM on September 24 [6 favorites]


but "fucking" reads as no more angry or upset or whatever than "very" to me. Don't get me wrong, you can use "fucking" in service of anger, but you can't with "very" as well.

This doesn't really make sense to me? "Fucking" is not a simple intensifier like "very".

If someone says "the fucking article is brilliant" or "it's fucking hot today" it's easy to tell from the context that they are not angry.

If someone posts an article about bird feeders, and I make a comment that "bird feeders are great because x", and then the next comment says "TFA states that bird feeders are y" I can't tell what the tone is.

My experience of online conversation tells me that people usually don't mention the linked article unless they are implying you haven't read it, or are questioning your reading comprehension.

And using "fucking" in that context makes the comment seem angry to me, where if they used "the excellent article" I would read it quite differently.

It seems that many people don't have this same read on TFA as I do though.

It's just a fucking word, same as any other, and like any other word, it's meaning shifts according to the context it's used in.

Even writing that makes my previous sentence seem a lot more aggressive to me. I swear a lot myself, but I am careful when communicating online not to come across as aggro when I don't mean to be.
posted by Zumbador at 3:25 AM on September 24 [2 favorites]


TFA can be either grumpy or non-grumpy. Assume the best reading.

As a reader, I think you're right. Assume the most charitable interpretation.

As a writer, I'm going to assume the worst reading. I think it's my responsibility to try to come across as non-negative unless I'm actually wanting to be read as potentially irritated.

Or scoldy, insulting, with a high emotional "charge", admonitive, judgemental, stern, pissy, offputting, angry, somewhat agressive, snippy, scolding, annoyed, ireful, grumpy, aggressive.

Did I get them all? There's a lot of ways this can be interpreted by an apparent minority of people. I don't like needlessly excluding people. I'd like to include as many people in the conversation as possible.
posted by aniola at 8:51 AM on September 24 [2 favorites]


I think usage of RTFA across all MeFi sites may date back to a Metatalk thread from Irontom back on Oct 1st 2002. The same thread has the first use of RTFA as well. The abbreviation became an FPP title the following December and seemed to catch on in the blue from then on, appearing in comments regularly from the start of 2003.
posted by biffa at 2:54 PM on September 24 [2 favorites]


If we're voting, I'd say it's entered the lexicon as its own word separate from the same thing spelled out. That is, "read the fucking article" is snippy, referring to "TFA" isn't (necessarily). I also second the in-joke reference connotation, as if to say "I'm old enough to remember RTFM". But really, that's lost in-joke effectiveness because of the previous reason. It doesn't mark you as an old-timer anymore because it's common on its own now.

It's also useful, because in a long post, "the article" could refer to anything previously commented, but TFA is always the one(s) in the OP.
posted by ctmf at 10:55 PM on September 24 [2 favorites]


You can just use "OP" for "Original Post" instead.
posted by grog at 6:19 AM on September 25


You can just use "OP" for "Original Post" instead

OP is a Redditism for “Original Poster”, referring to the person who made the post. It typically does not refer to the post, or any linked article.
posted by zamboni at 6:46 AM on September 25 [6 favorites]


I use “the linked article” when there’s only one link in the original post and it’s not a situation where someone has been rude or wasted everyone’s time by saying something that is clearly and directly refuted by the linked article. Or I use “the [nth] article linked in the FPP” when there is more than one link. FPP being an original MetaFilter-ism for “front page post”.
posted by eviemath at 6:54 AM on September 25 [1 favorite]


You can just use "OP" for "Original Post" instead.

OP to me means the post itself--the thing that appears on the blue. If I'm talking about that I'm talking about something a MeFi wrote up, rather than the article linked therein.
posted by mark k at 7:15 AM on September 25 [1 favorite]


Mefi Wiki: Acronyms does mention both interpretations of OP.
Original poster -- the user who made the post or started the thread. Can also be "original post" depending on context.
FPP strikes me as a more Mefite-ish usage, but I get the feeling it’s more uncommon nowadays.
posted by zamboni at 7:40 AM on September 25 [1 favorite]


I read it as entirely neutral, but ^still find it puzzling that people associate fuck (or other "swear words") with anger. Maybe it's a class thing? Certainly, "fuck you" is fairly unequivocal (if often used in jest) but "fucking" reads as no more angry or upset or whatever than "very" to me.

Maybe it is a class thing, but I'm having trouble thinking of an IRL usage of "the fucking article" that wouldn't express frustration at another person ("I told you a million times, I already read the fucking article"), frustration at the article ("Jesus, another fucking article about this scandal"), or maaaybe astonishment ("So I read this fucking article, and it turns out it's literally about my old neighbor").

(Not that I think this applies to the "TFA" discussion-- I think that's basically a term of art and has its own logic.)
posted by dusty potato at 3:57 PM on September 25 [1 favorite]


I suppose in my idiolect you could also use it as a filler, which is a bit different. "I still want to read the... I don't know what exactly you'd call it, an essay? the fuckin'... article"
posted by dusty potato at 4:00 PM on September 25 [1 favorite]


Maybe it is a class thing, but I'm having trouble thinking of an IRL usage of "the fucking article" that wouldn't express frustration at another person ("I told you a million times, I already read the fucking article"), frustration at the article ("Jesus, another fucking article about this scandal"), or maaaybe astonishment ("So I read this fucking article, and it turns out it's literally about my old neighbor").


"You ain't seen it? It's a fucking good film, mate." That is pretty much how people would enthusiastically and joyfully recommend shit to I've another way my last few jobs. Maybe "it's a good fucking film" rather than that's way round, depending on the individual. It maybe "it's a good film, fucking brilliant" or similar. It's an unemphasised word that's quickly skipped over in this context, I guess similar to how you might use it as a filler word as dusty potato describes. Like, the stress is very much "it's a fuckin' good film, dude" not "it's a fucking good film" which would sound weird and aggressive, but isn't how the word is used casually.
posted by Dysk at 4:47 PM on September 25 [1 favorite]


Well, I humbly submit that fucking + adjective is a slightly different situation. :) But, you're right -- digging deeper, I find that in my speech "the fucking [noun]" as an intensifier can have multiple valences, even though the negative one does feel more readily available, personally. cf "I loved the fucking article you wrote"; "This is the fucking article that is going to finally get our magazine noticed"; etc.
posted by dusty potato at 6:11 PM on September 25 [1 favorite]


Well, I retroactively apologize to anyone I may have offended in my ignorance.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:07 PM on September 25 [2 favorites]


Just to reiterate that for me, at least, there's absolutely nothing wrong with people using TFA in either a neutral or irritable way 🙂

I just wanted to know how others feel about it because I had a feeling I was misunderstanding them because of assuming an irritable tone.

Clarifying this because meta talk conversations lately have often been requests to change language. This is not that.
posted by Zumbador at 9:14 PM on September 25 [5 favorites]


Metafilter: it's not necessarily grumpy anymore.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 2:04 AM on September 26 [2 favorites]


Ye gods, I hate all those little acronyms and abbreviations. I don't know if it's just me, but I cannot ever remember what they mean, not even the ones used in my job. Every single day I find myself looking them up, and you can guarantee I'll forget them again in minutes. I confuse WFH with WTF and the WWF (either of them). When I see NGL, I have to stop when I can't work out who Nigel is. I usually read IRL as 'Ireland'. If you just want to call it 'the article', that's grand with me.
posted by pipeski at 7:01 AM on September 27 [7 favorites]


OP is a Redditism for “Original Poster”, referring to the person who made the post. It typically does not refer to the post, or any linked article.

Using OP to mean Original Poster and/or Original Post predates the existence of Reddit.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:11 AM on September 27 [8 favorites]


For an instance of the use of the word "fucking" as a casual intensifier see the story of my grandfather.
posted by gudrun at 12:20 PM on September 27 [1 favorite]


This doesn't really make sense to me? "Fucking" is not a simple intensifier like "very".

In my experience, this is very culturally dependent. In some cultures, any use of the word "fuck" at all is taboo and indicative of extreme anger or emotional distress if it does get used. In others, it's so common it's almost a filler word.

Where I live now, it's pretty common to hear working-class people who are US-born say "fuck" a lot. Like, you fuckin' drop an f-bomb a couple-a times a fuckin' sentence, know what I mean? And if you fuckin' do it, people know where you're from, know what I mean? It's just fuckin' normal. And yeah, not everybody does it, but a lot of fuckin' people do. It's no big deal.

Other places I've lived, it would definitely not be normal, and while you might freely say "fuck" on occasion while you're amongst friends, you wouldn't say it at work, for example, unless your job is sufficiently high-status that you can get away with it. You might gripe about that fucking guy who cut you off on the highway, but it would be weird to talk about a fucking good ham unless you were trying to be funny.

And for some people I've known, of course, they'd never say it at all. Some of the people I lived with in college were completely unused to even hearing the word under any circumstances.

Anyway, I think the many contexts and meanings of the word "fuck" are part of the rich and varied tapestry of human culture and language that, while enjoyable to observe, make it hard to interpret what it means in any given instance. Even moreso for the pretty oblique reference in the phrase "TFA." I generally just read "TFA" as synonymous with "the article" and try not to assume anything about the emotional tenor of the comment using it unless there's additional contextual cues.
posted by biogeo at 8:13 PM on September 28 [3 favorites]


Overusing any filler word is something I find annoying and senseless, and try to avoid. I know TFA is rarely used in an angry way now, but it still always comes across like it a little bit. I've never used it and would prefer if we could come up with something better.
posted by blue shadows at 1:18 AM on September 29 [2 favorites]


I've tended to regard it as "the furnished article" as it many cases, construing the F as standing for "fucking" requires a radical reading of the text to extrapolate hostile intent. There is probably a term (related to minced oaths) where a swear word gets gradually elided in a phrase. I suspect a lot of people using SNAFU don't necessarily know its origin in an era where "fucking" carried a lot more weight.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:06 AM on September 30 [1 favorite]


having searched my feelings and conducted a rigorous survey of my own three instances of usage of the term on this website, when i do use the term i seem to be winking at the reader as an aside, like if you were among friends and someone outside of your circle says or does something odd or exceptional, possibly negatively noteworthy, and you say to your friends "this fuckin' guy" as in "get a load of this fucking guy, can you fuckin' believe it?"

which is to say, in my usage, it is not meant to convey anger or aggression to the reader or our other co-commentators on here MetaFilter, but is more of an insider nudge-nudge communicating bemusement or light sneering contempt towards something said or implied in the fucking article.
posted by glonous keming at 10:40 PM on October 1 [1 favorite]


I use “fucking” as an neutral-to-positive intensifier all the time. Like literally I just returned from hiking around the Scottisg Highlands/Isle of Skye just yesterday and I believe I’ve said some variation of “Fucking Wow” or “Holy Fucking Shit, look at that fucking view” at least 1000 times in the last week. I doubt anyone would have heard that as snippy.

Sidepoint: my IRL best friend is also a MeFite and I ask her if she’s read the fucking article or the fucking post in person pretty regularly.
posted by thivaia at 4:47 AM on October 2


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