Notes from a Linguistic Mystic

Sometimes I have to go looking for some sort of linguistic phenomenon to discuss, but other days, they seem to just fall into my lap. In this case, it fell into my inbox, in a mail from one of the school administrators:

…information about a new course…

This will not show up on the web until about the middle of next week, but is for your FYI.

FYI: An explanation of FYI

For those you unfamiliar with the English acronym, “FYI” stands for “For your information”. Generally, it’s just used to indicate that a message or bit of info is relevant to somebody. It started in the corporate world, but seems to have spread from there into everyday use. Here are a few usage examples from the EnronSent corpus:

enronsent27:28740:I received this today. FYI and follow-up if you’re interested.
enronsent42:12:4. FYI - Entities which have an asterik(*) are qualified in foreign jurisdictions and may, according to statute, need to file amended Certificates of Authority to reflect that they are now Manager managed.
enronsent43:24017:Thanks for the reminder. Just an FYI - it is not babysitting when it is your own kids. (Just kidding - wanting to share a pet peeve of my sister’s.)

Generally, it’s used in one of three ways. Sometimes, it’s used simply as an abbreviation, standing in for the full phrase, as in the first example above.

Other times, you’ll have an “FYI - ….information…” construction. Here, FYI (as a whole) means “The reason I’m sending this your way is because you probably want to know this”. See the second example.

Finally, FYI has become a noun for some people. You’ll get things like “This is just an FYI, but…” when somebody is trying to politely let somebody know of a hole in their knowledge of a situation. “An FYI” is a polite reminder or tidbit of information somebody might find useful.

However, I’ve never seen anybody say “For your FYI” before.

For your FYI? Call the department of redundancy department

“For your FYI” is a very interesting construction. I sincerely doubt that she was intending to say “for your for your information”, and I doubt that she was intending to say that the information was intended for our tidbit of information.

It’s also worth noting that this isn’t an isolated incident. A simple google search for “for your FYI” brought up several different sites containing the phrase (here, here and here), and even a CD titled “For your FYI”. On the site for the CD, there’s even a remark about the strangeness (and origin) of the title:

Exit 245’s second CD “For Your FYI” was released in 2001. The CD got it’s title from an email from current member Jason Robey who sent an email letting the group know “For their FYI” about an upcoming concert. The inside joke made it as the CD title and the disc features 15 songs a hidden track.

So, I’m not the only person who finds it strange.

Don’t worry, if you use it, I won’t call the Federal FBI

What’s happening here? Well, truthfully, I’m not sure.

One theory would be that people are forgetting (or ignoring) what people actually mean by “FYI”. Perhaps it is no longer viewed by this person as meaning “For your information”. Instead, it seems to have become an amorphous sort of word referring to “useful information”. Thus, what she really meant to say was “For your useful information”. Not terribly far from where we started, I know, but language works in mysterious ways.

I might be willing to chalk this up to linguistic randomness if “for your FYI” were the only case. However, this seems to be a trend. I found several google hits for “federal FBI” (federal federal bureau of investigation), and a handful for “hd drive” (hard drive drive). The people at PC Computer Notes (personal computer computer notes) might well be able to tell us something about this phenomenon, and it might be worthwhile to ask the next person you see discussing their “SUV vehicle” (sport utility vehicle vehicle). There might even be some posts made on language related web blogs (web web-logs) about it.

If you’ve got any ideas of what the linguistic explanation might be, I’d love to hear it As I said, I’m not exactly sure what’s going on here. I just know that it’s happening, and it’s interesting to watch.

The moral of this story: keep your eyes open, you never know what sorts of interesting language you’ll find, even places as boring as your electronic email.

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