What Does “TLDR” Mean, and How Do You Use It?

Internet initialisms and acronyms can be exceptionally confusing, filled with incomprehensible jargon and slang. Thankfully, there are usually clear answers for most of these expressions. One such example is “TLDR”

What Does TLDR Mean?

TLDR is short for “Too long, didn’t read.” It is an internet-based slang that is meant to be used in one of two contexts:

  • As an insult or derogatory way of saying that something is too long.
  • To summarize a long passage. For example, someone may give a multi-page explanation of something, and then add, “TLDR:” and a one or two sentence summary.

It often has a rude subtext, but not always, and context matters. Of course, that context is often missing on social media or via text, and this can make the reading of TLDR harder to understand.

Unlike some internet slang, you would never use TLDR in the real world. Unless you were trying to insult the author, it is not something that would ever be used in a professional context or in response to a real academic paper.

When Did This Word Start Being Used?

TLDR is one of the oldest internet slang initialisms – it is even in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. The same entry notes that the first documented use of TL;DR dates all the way back to 2002. Other websites have noted that this claim has no evidence, but that searches for the phrase can be found from 2004. It was added to Urban Dictionary in January 2003. One theory holds that the phrase first began to be used on an internet forum and began to spread from there.

How Can You Use TLDR?

Again, consider the contexts. It is generally only used as an insult or way of saying that something is too long for an in-depth analysis. For example, let’s say that someone when on a 1,000-word rant on a local message board about why they hated their local grocery store, but the piece was far too long. A response of “tldr” would suffice as a snarky way of saying that the piece was not only too long, but without merit.

However, if used by the author of the piece, the context dramatically changed. For example, let’s take the post above, in which someone goes on a long rant about why they hate their local grocery store. Let’s say that the post goes into great detail about the poor service, low quality of goods, and negative online shopping experiences. In this example, the long post would use extended long stories, examples, and analysis. If they wanted to summarize their own post, they could write at the bottom: “TLDR: Giant Eagle is awful because of their poor service, lousy quality, and God-awful app.” This would be a way of the author summarizing their own post and saving everyone else the time of needing to read it.