The following focuses almost exclusively on its use in Metatalk, and depends on a pattern-matching technique that is imperfect, so there are definitely a number of instantiations of the template that I have not covered. Feel free to point out any interesting ones in the comments.
My search method: a SQL “LIKE” statement to filter for metatalk comments containing either the string “what” or the string “what.” at the end of a line in a comment, case-insensitive. This finds some false positives (“so what.”, dumbfounded solo “what”) but those are fairly easy to disregard by eyeballing the results for the classic four-ish line form.
Genesis of the WTFM meme
August 1st, 2002: Irontom calls out mathowie in Metatalk, and punctuates his concern with this construction:
The phrase gets discussed a bit in thread, and catches on as (generally) a joke, showing up a lot in Metatalk in the next bit, either repeated verbatim or modified in one of a number of ways. I’ve organized citations roughly by type of modification.
Replacing the first term
– My search was based on a search for isolated “WHAT”s, so finding this was just luck. There may be other instances of non-WHAT X for “X THE FUCK MATT”, but I will have to come up with a sane method for locating them.
Replacing the third term
Many instances of the template involve replacement or modification of more than one element of the original, or some other more complicated formal subversion.
? (taboo avoidance + comeuppance?)
WFTM? (Likely intended as WTFM. Oops! Mocking ensues…
WFTM, but the… Matt won…)
– I did a quick google search on “WTFM” and found a handful of further uses, most of them on Metatalk:
W.T.F.M as jokey Metatalk post
WTFM suggested as tag for Metatalk.
Reference to “WTF?” as wildcard template matching WTFM.
RFK (really, George Bernard Shaw) riff
RTFM? I WTFM! WHAT THE FUCK MATT becomes WROTE THE FUCKING MANUAL
w.t.f.m?, calling Matt out on a double post.
Miscellaneous style notes
Some of the citations deviate from the form of the original in specific curious ways or come off as ambiguous with respect to the original form.
General notes on format: the original was in all caps with terminal punctuation after each line, single-spaced, with periods for the first three words and a question mark for the final word. A variant without terminal punctuation on the initial three (or so) words cropped up not long after the meme first took off, and accounts for about half of the citations, with a somewhat greater proportion of the later citations.
– Lack of all-caps, taboo-avoidance munging of the word “fuck”.
– Idiosyncratic collapse of the third and forth lines together, tripled question mark
– Is this an intentionally abbreviated WTFM, or an unintentional template collision from someone aiming to emphasize their vanilla WTF without any attempt to reference the WTFM template?
– Parodic over-punctuation, including transliteration of numeric interpretation of failure-to-hold-shift-while-pounding-“!” string of adjascent “1” characters. This is a whole side discussion, one that would hopefully take a look at the plausibility of an actual angry person generating the order of keystrokes presented in parody. Alternating ? and ! characters? Really? Etc.
– Note the use of the blink tag on “FUCK”.
– Another dilemma. Intentional embellishment of the WTFM template, or random collision?
– Referenced in a question about the origins of the meme.
– Referenced in a description of a meetup photo.
– Note the double spacing!
– User writes “Hell.” instead of “Fuck.” for the third item. This one is double-spaced as well.
Name/target (fourth item) replacement
Specific Metafilter users:
By far the most common (and simplest) use of the template. Sometimes used jokingly, sometimes as a genuine rebuke, though reading the tone of any given use is a subjective game.
Note also the use of nicknames and foreshortening of usernames, presumably to hew somewhat closer to the rough topology and meter of the original.
TOM? (aka Irontom, who birthed this whole thing.)
MATT? (courtesy Evan “evhead” Williams)
Miguel? (aka MiguelCardoso)
CRUNCHY? (aka crunchland)
MATT? (in response to technical jargon)
SELF? (aka PrinceValium)
HASH_SLUT? (aka dash_slot-)
ADAM? (aka adamgreenfield)
DS? (aka darksmiler)
ME? (aka mathowie, with the self WTFMing)
Scarabic??? (re: corpse disposal)
MATT?! (yet again!)
GNFTI? (aka goodnewsfortheinsane)
MATT? (poor guy can’t get a break!)
MATT / JESSAMYN / CORTEX
MATT (it never ends!)
ME? (aka Skot this time)
F. MATT? (aka fandango_matt)
CONSUMER ELECTRONICS INDUSTRY?!
METAFILTER? (and again!)
CAT? (Ceiling Cat, that is.)
METAFILTER (that place can’t get a break!)