Where does welp come from?
Welp appears to originate as a variant of well on the model of nope and yep.
Pronunciation may explain why these words feature an expressive, final P. If someone wanted to end an argument, for example, by saying, "Well, that's just how it is," they would pause after the word well with their lips already positioned to articulate a P. Linguistic articles provide this as a phonological explanation for welp as early as the 1940s.
In the following decades, welp evolved from a synonym of well to a word with connotations all its own, conveying that a speaker is surrendering to a certain disappointing outcome.
Welp is particularly useful to mark tone where well cannot—for instance, in written communication instead of verbal. For this reason, welp has become a popular expression in online settings. As early as 2001, internet users were looking up the correct spelling of welp. By 2003, Urban Dictionary featured an entry on the term, and by 2006, the earliest Twitter users were including welp in their tweets. Today, welp is very common in social media.
Who uses welp?
Many headlines, especially for online news articles about a sad or disappointing situation, begin with an informal welp (e.g., "Welp, ‘Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood’ Just Lost Another Star"). In this vein, welp is often used to demonstrate resignation to an unsatisfactory reality.
Welp is also popular on social media, where it does not always signify disappointment. Here, welp can simply mean that the user is acknowledging something is happening, whether good or bad. This welp indicates that someone has processed information and is going to respond to it. In this way, welp acts like a discourse marker, used to introduce and invite a discussion of topic (e.g., "Welp, Beyoncé announced tickets on sale tomorrow. Who wants to go?").
Welp is sometimes presented on its own, typically as a caption to a photo or video and acting like the verbal equivalent of a shrug gesture. Indeed, on social media welp is commonly paired with the shrugging emoticon, ¯_(ツ)_/¯.
*steps on scale...no change* Welp, I might as well go completely off my healthy diet and eat a few cheeseburgers and cheesecakes...
@Glam_And_Gore, March, 2018
(SHE shrugs her shoulders as the LIGHTS begin to come back up to full morning.) Welp, that was six years ago, and I'm still stuck here watching the world scoot past my front door...I always did love a view.
Margaret Dulaney, The View from Here, 1993
[W]ith its diminutive but chic-enough-for-mama’s-room aesthetic, kiddie decor brand Land of Nod has always been a go-to...Welp, Land of Nod is no more, guys—and in its place: Crate & Kids. Crate & Barrel, the contemporary home-decor giant and sister to CB2, actually acquired Land of Nod back in 2001.
Gracy Beuley Hunt, PureWow, March, 2018