Crypto has a lingo all its own. One popular catchphrase uttered ad nauseum is WAGMI, short for “we’re all gonna make it,” referring to the idea that anyone can achieve financial independence (or fuck you money) from cryptocurrency trading.
And as crypto becomes more mainstream, its language also spreads—corporations like Pepsi and Budweiser tweet out WAGMI in an attempt to appeal to the crypto crowd, and Randi Zuckerberg went viral for a crypto-themed parody of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” replacing the iconic chorus with “We’re all gonna make it / Yeah, we’re all gonna make it.”
Although the crypto crowd popularized the WAGMI meme—and its polar opposite, NGMI, for Not Gonna Make It—its origins lie elsewhere, as many in crypto found out after Statelayer, a pseudonymous advisor at NFT swapping platform Sudoswap, tweeted last week: “Just learned that WAGMI and NGMI don't even come from crypto. This space is a sham.”
The phrase originates from Aziz “Zyzz” Shavershian, an Australian online fitness sensation who frequently posted content on bodybuilding.com and 4chan around 2010 (when content-generating influencing hadn’t fully yet blossomed as a career path) encouraging fellow young men to transition from skinny "sad cunts" to jacked “sick cunts” and gaining a substantial online following along the way.
"You gotta be a ripped cunt. You gotta be a shredded cunt. You gotta go to the gym. You gotta fuck bitches. You gotta not give a fuck. Because that's what we do bro, that’s what the Zyzz cunts do. That's what the revolution is. None of this sad cunt shit. We're all going to make it bro, that's it," Shavershian said in a video. Shavershian inspired many young men across the world to improve their physical health, but his brash style–perhaps what his fans find so captivating–also made him a controversial figure, an example of what critics call toxic masculinity.
That video was posted posthumously in 2012, because one year earlier Shavershian died from a heart attack in a sauna in Thailand at age 22. His family said that he suffered from an undiagnosed heart condition that was revealed by a post-mortem examination. After his passing, the personality cult around Shavershian continued to develop, with online communities dedicated to his legacy still going strong. Tribute videos referring to him as an angel get millions of views, and his legion of fans aim to get shredded and “make zyzz proud.”
Lewis, a self-described “Zyzz fanboy” who only goes by his first name, told Motherboard that when Shavershian said “we're all going to make it bro, he was talking to all the RuneScape and WoW nerds,” like him who were “young, had no friends, no sports, no girls or muscles.”
“He was telling us that he had made it—having started just like us—and that we could too,” Lewis told Motherboard. Many people like Lewis “fell in love with Zyzz and idolized him,” he said, precisely because he was a “rags-to-riches story.”
But how did the phrase travel from the niche online fitness subculture of young nerdy men to become the most relentlessly positive catchphrase in crypto?
Memes from one subculture travel to another together when an influx of participants occurs, and this is what likely happened.
Lewis frequented bodybuilding.com forum, where Shavershian was active alongside 4chan, from 2009 to 2014. He later got fully immersed in crypto, starting in 2017. That’s when he believes WAGMI made its way into crypto before really taking off in the last two years.
Many gamers like him migrated from WoW and RuneScape culture first, to online fitness communities, and later to crypto, Lewis said. That migratory flow makes sense, he explained, since these online communities are conducive to “introverted nerds.”
Dr. Asaf Nissenbaum, post-doctoral fellow at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who published academic research on online memes, told Motherboard that there’s appeal for niche online communities in aligning themselves with with “a more exclusive community–or more ‘hardcore,’ ‘OG’ and so on.”
“The stakes are high, we need all the memes we can get”
“This is of course true for communities that value the authentic or original in internet culture. Using 4chan lingo won't get you much social credit in a group of elderly cat lovers on Facebook,” Nissenbaum said. “I think it's safe to assume crypto is very much one of these communities, as it tends to be composed of young, nerdy people with available income and free time. WAGMI embeds the claim to being an authentic, informed member of ‘hardcore’ internet culture, aligning yourself with its subcultural and exlusive origins (even if you're not completely aware of its full geneology), which is something the crypto crowd values.”
For some in crypto, WAGMI isn’t necessarily a financially-motivated meme, and retains the generally positive bent of Shavershian’s original usage.
“WAGMI to me is about shifting from a hyper-individualistic mindset. It’s about recognizing we are all riding on the same piece of rock,” Sean MacMannis, marketing lead at Gitcoin, crypto's largest public goods funding organization, told Motherboard. MacMannis, who sports a WAGMI profile picture, says the meme is “about collective consciousness and interconnectedness for pessimistic internet-native generations.”
“People lose money in crypto so the idea that we're all gonna make it can influence irresponsible behavior”
“It’s a rallying cry to work together to solve the world's problems. The stakes are high, we need all the memes we can get,” MacMannis said. “Seizing the memes of production and using them for good, to solve the world’s biggest challenges. With language that resonates with internet natives, with degens.”
But for others like Joseph “Hutch” Dahari, business advisor at crypto token project $WGMI (intentionally spelled without the A) and former professional trader in traditional finance, WAGMI expresses “toxic positivity" and "false hopium.” Indeed, WAGMI is often explicitly a promotional slogan, deployed to boost confidence in the frothy crypto market, where financial ruin is just as common as success, if not more.
“Especially for younger investors, false hopium is risky, people lose money in crypto so the idea that we're all gonna make it can influence irresponsible behavior,” Dahari said. “I dig a good rap hit as much as the next guy, but am old enough to look out for those short on experience and education, which the crypto industry sorely needs more of.”
“When Zyzz said ‘we're all going to make it bro,’ he meant it,” Lewis told Motherboard. “Crypto Twitter says it and hopes to pull more naive dumb money into the ecosystem.”