By Alana Dore, Word Nerd
This is the one you’ve been waiting for – I just know it. Your 2006 self was screaming for the origin of “pwned,” frantically calling out to you from the past, “Where does it come from?!” Well, not to worry, you T-Pain-loving kid bopping out to “Breaking Free” and “Promiscuous” – I got you covered.
The term, basically synonymous with the word “own,” means to perfectly or powerfully dominate someone. Most of the time, this domination occurs in a way which is particularly embarrassing to the dominee. Now, if you’re like me and you’ve only ever heard this word said, you’re going to run into a significant problem straight off the bat. The word is not “poned” or “powned.” It’s “pwned” – even though Google Docs is telling me poned is correct. Whatever.
The two most common origin stories don’t differ much. The first is pretty reasonable: some goon was trying to type own too quickly – or drunkenly – and hit the “P” key instead of “O.” (Fun fact: as I was typing this I did the same thing.) This mistake started to happen so often that Internet users began to accept and embrace it. The most popular story is a variation on this tale. Remember when you used to yell, “You just got owned” at people who lost in, well, anything? The term became especially popular among gamers and was even integrated, or supposed to be integrated, into the automated response when you lost to a computer in WoW. Unfortunately, the map designer hit the wrong key – hey, maybe he was the original drunk guy – and the automated message showed up as: You have been pwned.
There are additional, and far fewer, claims that the word existed as early as 1935 as the result of a drunken chess game – the slurred word pawn morphing into a term of dominance – but these rumors have been refuted by other chess grandmasters.
The real motivators behind this column are the Jonas Brothers. I was never a huge fan, but my roommate, bless her heart, is obsessed. See, the JoBros became obsessed with this word and started using it over and over again on their vlog, which meant hundreds of preteen girls also started using it over and over again. The word – which could have been resigned to a life of online multiplayer role playing games – became the new “it” word, nestled somewhere between “gotcha” and “punk’d!”
This popular mistake has spawned new words, including the present tense of the verb, pwn, and a version of the term as a noun – the act of “pwning” someone is pwnage. Some have even started spelling it pwn3d, but that is only because they are really opposed to vowels.
Most interestingly, the word has become unplugged, leaping from the virtual world of gaming and hacking and into reality, no offense intended to those who live their lives in front of an Xbox. I had “The Sims” for a while, so I understand gaming addiction.
If you’re reading this and thinking, “No one uses pwned outside of WoW and Mortal Kombat,” then I really hate to break it to you, but the word is used frequently in media. It’s been used on television shows from “Community,” “Parks and Recreation” and “South Park” to “Futurama” and “CSI.” In 2004, the word claimed a starring role with the web series “Pure Pwnage,” which was picked up by Showcase for a television series in 2010 and is currently being turned into a movie.
What began as a mistake, drunken or otherwise, rose from the gaming underground to ride on the tails of Tiger Beat stars all the way to the vernacular of 2000s teens. It takes its place in history alongside Total Request Live (TRL) – may you rest in peace – and Paris Hilton’s music career. Take that as you will.
– Alana Dore can be reached at Inside@HuntNewsNU.com.