Making your way into an online community can be really exciting. Some life-long friendships and lasting romances begin in humble chat rooms and message boards. But for the novice internet user, one of the biggest hurdles can be trying to figure out just what people are saying to one another.
Like any other culture, the internet has its own slang. Much of it has been born out of a need for speed; words are shortened, phrases are reduced to three letters, and emotions are distilled into pairings of punctuation marks. The nuances of internet slang are something you'll only pick up as you go along, but here is a brief list of some of the more likely phrases you'll run into out in the wild.
(Sidenote: The usage examples are presented in lowercase and without much punctuation, as that's how you're most likely to see them written.)
LOL - Originally standing in for "Laughing Out Loud", "lol" is now mostly used to indicate amusement rather than actual laughter. Extra lols can be tacked on to show that something is really funny, such as "lololol" (ad infinitum). Variations include "rofl" (Rolling On Floor Laughing; pronounced "roffle") and "lmao" (Laughing My A** Off). Example: "i just ran into my desk, lol"
OMG - Oh My God. Used just as it's said in everyday speech. Example: "omg no way!"
FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions. Used on websites. Example: "New to our site? See our FAQ!"
BRB - Be Right Back. Example: "getting coffee, brb"
BTW - By The Way. Example: "btw, did you get my email?"
WTF/WTH - "What The..." followed by your favored choice of profanity. Example:"i said wtf to my mom and i totally got grounded"
IRL- In Real Life. Commonly used in online gaming communities. Example:"i'm a teacher irl"
TL;DR - "Too Long; Didn't Read." Used when encountering an email or forum comment consisting of a "wall of text." Example: "yeah, i saw that comment, but...tl;dr"
A/S/L? - "Age/Sex/Location?" This is a query typically used in chatrooms by those looking to get a bit (ahem) amorous. For example, the correct response for a thirty-year-old man living in New York would be "30/m/new york."
THX - Thanks. Example: "got your message, thx"
AFK - Away From Keyboard. Used to indicate that the user will be unable to respond. Example: "phone call, afk"
FYI - For Your Information. Used much like the phrase "just so you know." Example:"fyi i am a spy"
OMGWTFBBQ - "Oh My God. What The ****. Barbecue." Yes, you read that right. This nonsensical phrase is used to mock other people who use internet slang and spelling too often or at inappropriate times (such as when trying to make a serious point or win an argument). Almost always written in all caps. Example: "OMGWTFBBQ please stop talking."
Unsurprisingly, many of the words you'll encounter online will be specific to a particular social group. For example, in online roleplaying games, you may hear the term "gank," a verb describing the act of performing a sneak attack on another player. But it's unlikely you'll encounter that term elsewhere. There are far too many subculture-specific words to list, so here's just a small sample platter of some universal terms (and some of my favorites).
noob - Short for "newbie." Someone with little to no experience or skill. In some gaming communities, there is fierce debate over the distinction between "noob" and "newb" --- one being derogatory while the other simply indicates being a novice. While some may argue the semantic differences, "noob" is the most common spelling seen around the internet, for both purposes.
troll - Somebody who posts forum replies or chat messages purely designed to make you mad. For example, if you are on a political blog, and you see somebody post an over-the-top inflammatory comment advocating the other side, chances are you're seeing the work of a troll. "Troll" can also be used as a verb to describe the actions of a troll.
lurker - A person who follows the threads on a message board but does not take part in the conversation. Lurkers may not even sign up for a user account. They may prefer to just watch from the sidelines.
meatspace - The world outside of the internet. Very tongue-in-cheek. Example: "i spend more time online than i do in the meatspace"
While many technophobes wring their hands over the internet ruining people's ability to spell, what they don't realize is that in some cases, we're doing it on purpose. Think of it like a dialect --- a badly spelled, nigh incomprehensible dialect. Like a rapidly evolving sort of pidgin, lolspeak can be very difficult for the newcomer to wrap their brain around. It has no clearly defined rules or grammar, yet it is blatantly obvious to all regular users when lolspeak has been used incorrectly. There are dozens upon dozens of terms and variations, many of which change with dizzying speed. The only way to keep up is to start speaking it.
no wai - no way
o hai/o hai thar - oh hi/oh hi there
wut - what
kthxbai - "Ok, thank you, goodbye." Indicates a speedy exit. Often used jokingly.
lulz/lawl - Onomatopoeic interpretations of "lol."
newbz - Onomatopoeic interpretation of "noobs."
oh em gee - Onomatopoeic interpretation of "omg."
pwn - To understand this one, you must first understand "own." To "own" is to win spectacularly, either at a game or at life in general. Now, since O and P are very close to one another on the keyboard, this often gets mistyped as "pwn." This misspelling is now more common than the original. The correct pronunciation is "pone." If used in the past tense, you may see "pwned," "pwnd" or "pwnt."
teh - Intentional misspelling of "the." Pronounced just as it is written.
leet - Shortening of "elite." Used to denote skill or expertise. Often written as "1337" (an example of leetspeak, in which letters are substituted with numbers and punctuation marks).
intarwebz - Exaggerated interpretation of "internet." Often used sarcastically to imply that they or someone else is unskilled with the internet. Sometimes written as "intertubes," as a jab towards Senator Ted Stevens' infamous description of the internet as "a series of tubes."
Front page photo by daveyp