Oh My God! Winston Churchill Received the First Ever Letter Containing “O.M.G.” (1917)

omg letter 1

Winston Churchill is one of those preposterously outsized historical figures who seemed to be in the middle of every major event. Even before, as Prime Minister, he steeled the resolve of his people and faced down the Third Reich juggernaut; even before he loudly warned of the Nazi menace before it was polite to do so; even before he was pilloried in the press for the disastrous Gallipoli invasion during WWI, Churchill was a famous and controversial figure. As a young cavalry officer, he left his post in India to report on the bloody colonial campaign in the Swat Valley in present-day Pakistan. His hugely popular articles pushed the military slang word “sniper” into popular use. During the second Boer War, Churchill was not only captured at gunpoint by future South African prime minister Louis Botha but he managed to successfully escape from his POW camp. And after being pushed out of the government following Gallipoli, he returned to the military as a Lieutenant Colonel and commanded a battalion of troops in France. He also won a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953 and was, as we’ve recently seen, a pretty good painter too.

Add to this one more triumph: he unwittingly had a hand in shaping the speech patterns of teenaged girls some 50 years after his death. Churchill was the recipient of a missive containing the first ever usage of the oft-texted acronym “O.M.G.”. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, O.M.G.’s origins can be traced back to a letter to Churchill from Admiral John Arbuthnot Fisher, sent on September 9, 1917. After complaining about the state of affairs of the Navy during the war, Fisher closes with the following lame joke: “I hear that a new order of Knighthood is on the tapis – O.M.G. (Oh! My God!) – Shower it on the Admiralty!!”

Churchill’s relationship with Fisher was complex. While he was the First Lord of the Admiralty, Churchill brought Fisher out of retirement in 1911 to head the royal navy. Their relationship went south in 1915 following the failure of the Dardanelles campaign. Churchill was still roundly blamed mostly because of Fisher’s loud, public protestations. (In fact, had the naval officers pushed through the Dardanelles to Constantinople, as Churchill commanded, the war would have likely ended years earlier than it did.) Yet, much to his wife’s dismay, Churchill remained cordial enough with Fisher to exchange friendly notes.

The first online usage of O.M.G., by the way, came on a usenet forum about soap operas in 1994. Churchill does not appear to be connected to that instance.

Related Content:

Winston Churchill’s Paintings: Great Statesman, Surprisingly Good Artist

Color Footage of Winston Churchill’s Funeral in 1965

Animated: Winston Churchill’s Top 10 Sayings About Failure, Courage, Setbacks, Haters & Success

Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of badgers and even more pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

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  • Stephen says:

    Isn’t it a pun on the knighthood titles, such as KCMG? “I have a KCMG, you have an OMG”?

  • Rowan says:

    Reminds me from a conversation from the very clever English political satire “Yes Minister” between the Minister’s Advisor Bernard and the Civil Servant Sir Humphrey Appleby … Sir Humphrey is explaining the hierarchy of honours: CMG: “Call Me God”, KCMG: “Kindly Call Me God” and GCMG – Bernard asks what GCMG is and Sir Humphrey replies “God Calls Me God” (from memory so I might have left one out but the GCMG was the punchline of the joke)

  • Rowan says:

    Wasn’t Churchill first Sea Lord or first Lord of the Admiralty or something along those lines during WWI? So I guess that is the context of the joke.

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