Where does tfw come from?
tfw traces its roots to 4chan. Before it came to mean that feel when, tfw also stood for that face when. The earliest appearances of tfw were in the phrase tfw no gf, which was used on 4chan to express the sadness that someone feels when they don’t have a girlfriend. That expression’s predecessor, that feel when no gf has existed since at least 2010. It was eventually linked to an illustration known as That Feel Guy some time in early 2011. Together, the two were a potent combination.
Eventually, after the meme had been in circulation, the phrase collapsed into tfw no gf. Because of this, it’s very likely that tfw came from the no girlfriend meme in particular and grew into its own thing.
tfw began to rise in popularity in 2012. Eventually, tfw became a standalone phrase and no longer relied on images to get across its point, though they are sometimes useful. It’s also spread far beyond its birthplace of 4chan.
Who uses tfw?
As it exists today, tfw may appear with or without an image or GIF. It doesn’t matter either way, as tfw acts more as a conversational marker than anything. It’s a device that signals that someone is about to share some type of information, typically something that’s happened to them. What follows might be highly relatable to whoever is reading or it might be far too specific to be relatable.
For instance, someone might say, “tfw class starts in 10 min and the bus keeps stopping.” Everyone’s had an experience where unfortunate hiccups in transportation have made them late. However, someone who uses tfw might also say something like “tfw you’re #1 in tech and then your neighbor Pocatello steals your highest military tech and then declares war on you and you don’t have an army.” In this case, this person is using it as a way to vent when faced with a very specific negative situation since not everyone has been in their shoes or has even played Civilization V, the game that inspired that particular tfw.
tfw may be used interchangeably with that feel when, though tfw is quite a bit more popular.
“That feel when I'm just sitting here making spit bubbles and then Ashley comes out of her room and sees.”
“tfw you need to save the rest of your phone battery for the ride to your grandparents house but you REALLY need to listen to omarion”
micaela @micaeladermody Twitter (July 23, 2015)
“tfw ur too stressed to work well but ur too plagued by guilt when u take a break to fully destress”
genice @genicecream Twitter (May 6, 2017)