Just about everyone who plays video games uses terms like "n00b", "scrub", "cheese" and of course "pwned", and most players would know what the words actually mean. But did you know where they actually originated from? This is what I'm here to tell you. I've done a fair bit on research into looking up the etymology of these words and also finding where the words were first applied in the context of video games, so I hope you enjoy it!

For the purposes of this list, I wanted to restrict it to one slang term per game, in order to have 10 unique games on the list. While there are games that no doubt are the origins of more than one slang term, I'm only listing one per game for the sake of variety.

Gamers really do have their own language, and every game has its own jargon that wouldn't make sense to anyone that doesn't play or follow that game. In this list, rather than focusing on those game-specific words, I've tried to choose terms that are widely used in a large variety of games, so these are phrases that most gamers should be able to recognise.

I covered this one in my previous list of top 10 under appreciated fighting game pioneers, but I'll cover it again here.

The term cheese is usually used in the context of video games to describe a possibly overpowered or absurdly strong strategy that is designed to win the game unless your opponent sees it and responds in exactly the right fashion. The usage of the term can be traced back to a 1994 fighting game called Primal Rage, that featured stop-motion dinosaurs and giant apes battling for domination of the planet.

In this game if you spammed certain moves or combos repeatedly, the game would decide that it had quite enough of that, and would prevent you from doing so for a few seconds. During this time a block of cheese with a line through it would display at the top of the screen, meaning "No cheese!". Why the developers chose to go with a block of cheese, I guess we'll never know, but it was one of quite a number of odd quirks the game contained. That's what they decided to go with though and the rest, as they say, is history.

So the next time you accuse someone of being cheesy, or you decide to use a bit of cheese yourself, think back to Primal Rage that started the trend!

This one is closely tied to the cheese entry, but it involves a specific type of cheese that's often found in real time strategy games, and that's what is called a proxy. When a player builds a structure not in their own base but in a position somewhere else on the map, with the intention of using that structure to unleash an attack that is more difficult to scout or at a much faster timing, it's known as a proxy. The term started being coined by players and became popular in the original Starcraft, although the concept itself wasn't new.

Contrary to what some may believe, proxy is NOT a shortened form of "proximity". This belief came about because the structure is often built within close proximity to an opponent's base. In reality though a proxy structure can be built just about anywhere on the map that's not in your base, as some proxy structures are built nowhere close to any player's bases, with the intention of making them harder to scout.

Proxy is a real word that means "substitute", and when you think about it this is exactly what you are doing; you are substituting the position of your structure. Instead of building it inside your own base, you're building it somewhere else.

The terms jank and gank sound like they are the names of twins from a bad 90's Saturday morning cartoon, but they are both words to describe pretty similar things in the context of video games, so they are listed here together. Basically, they are both used to describe the player being defeated in a manner that may be unfair or out of their control, but they differ in the situation.

Jank usually refers to something that happens within the game itself that causes the player to lose, die, be defeated, however you want to put it in an unfair fashion. It refers to stuff that's actually programmed into the game that is intentional design, that may be considered broken or of questionable balance. "I got janked by that stage!" or "That combo is so jank!" A good example of this, and a possible origin of the term (in video games anyway), is Super Smash Bros. This fighting game featured stages that could spontaneously spawn hazards that could KO the player, or randomly drop powerful items that could do the same thing (a trait the series has continued to this day). There's a reason competitive Smash disables items and restricts play to certain stages! Outside of the context of video games, jank normally means something redundant, worthless, stupid or of bad quality.

Gank on the other hand, usually refers to something that other players do that causes the unfair situation to happen. Most commonly it's used to describe a practice in MMORPGs where a group of players gang up to overwhelm and destroy a lower leveled player (or players) who can't defend themselves and are probably minding their own business. "I got ganked by a bunch of %&#$!" or "Let's go and gank those guys". This kind of thing was happening in games like Everquest and Ultima Online long before World of Warcraft was a thing. Gank is a word that came about as an abbreviation of "gang kill".

"LEEROY JENKINS!"

Leeroy Jenkins, sometimes shortened to just Leeroy, is a name given to players that decide to Rambo into a battle with little to no regard of what their team mates might have been planning and often end up getting all of their team mates killed. It's applied to many game genres these days that have some kind of team based element to them, but the term all started in World of Warcraft.

As his team mates come up with a detailed plan to tackle the next difficult battle, a player by the screen name of "Leeroy Jenkins" (real name Ben Schulz), who was apparently away from his computer making some food while the discussions were taking place, returns to his post and suddenly charges into the fight, yelling his name. His team mates rush in after him but are all quickly massacred by a legion of monsters. As the avatars of the guild members are lying lifeless on the ground, and the players are yelling at Leeroy for his stupid actions, Leeroy is heard to say "At least I had chicken" (which itself has also become a meme).

There is some conjecture about whether the video was actually a legitimate scenario, but regardless of whether it may or may not have been staged, this term has stuck in gaming circles and Leeroy's name is used to describe any player that puts their team at risk in such a way.

Yeah, we're gonna need to go here. If you've ever played an online shooter since around the turn of the century you'll no doubt know what teabagging is but in case you don't, teabagging is the act of quickly crouching down and standing up a number of times over the top of an opponent you have just killed. Technically speaking, it's meant to simulate the act of rubbing your genitals on the face of their defeated and lifeless corpse as a way of taunting them. Charming huh? Believe it or not, this is something that also happens in real life, although it usually has a more...let's say "adult" connotation to it. In video games, the practice was originally known as corpse humping but is now more widely known as teabagging.

So where did this all start? Again, this one is pretty difficult to pin down. While it no doubt existed beforehand, it seems Halo was the game that was mostly the culprit for making it popular. Up until Halo, the genre of first person shooters was mostly restricted to PC gamers that tended to be an older demographic. But Halo was launched on the Xbox and suddenly a whole generation of younger console gamers were exposed to the humble first person shooter. That combined with the game's online mode where suddenly you could be an anonymous jerk on the other side of the world, as well as the "Red vs Blue" web series, seemed to be the unfortunate perfect petri dish for teabagging to be born.

Bungie (the game's original developer, who calls it celebratory crouching), and 343 Industries that have taken over development duties of the franchise, seem to encourage the behaviour by showing a close up of your corpse for a few seconds before you respawn so you can have the pleasure of seeing someone teabag you. These days you'll run into teabaggers in virtually every online FPS game under the sun.

The definition of a smurf is pretty well known at this point in online gaming circles. In video games - particularly video games with a heavy online ranking component, the term smurfing refers to the practice of high level players creating new accounts with the intention of being able to play against and destroy low level players on the ladder. The practice is generally frowned upon by most gaming communities, as the last thing a new player wants is to be obliterated by a high ranking player, but that doesn't stop a minority of high level players from doing it.

I guess almost everyone also knows "The Smurfs" were a popular kid's cartoon show featuring little blue people. But how did the word get from a kid's TV show to video games?

The exact beginnings of the usage of this term were somewhat difficult to track down, but most sources, notably reports from groups alt.games.starcraft and alt.games.warcraft seem to agree it started during Warcraft II, one of the earliest games to actually have an online ranking feature. It points to a couple of players in particular that went by the names of "Shlonglor" and "Warp!", who created new accounts named "PapaSmurf" and "Smurfette" respectively, to play against low ranking players.

Shlonglor is quoted as saying: "First let me explain the Smurf thing. Warp and I enjoy making up names and playing people at war2. We make them think we really suck and then beat them up. [...] Well we have lots of fun playing as smurfs. We talk in smurf. We smurf us some ass at war 2. I guess that is totally childish, but it sure is fun."

A scrub in video games refers to someone who is a generally unskilled player, that believes they are the world's best player (or at least thinks they are better than they actually are). They don't seem to learn from their mistakes, don't listen to the advice of more experienced players, and keep doing the same bad things over and over. They usually blame their losses on lag, imbalance, a broken controller, the opponent cheating or a plethora of other excuses. They are often described as players that would prefer to complain about game mechanics instead of working on their skills. I'm guessing just about all of you would have encountered at least one gamer that fits this description.

According to Cracked, the term scrub was often used as a term to describe bad basketball players in the 90's. R&B group TLC then released a track called "No Scrubs" in 1999, suggesting that gaming didn't pick it up until some time after that. And of course you had the popular TV sitcom in the 2000's about medical interns. Urban Dictionary however has a definition listed that goes back earlier, to 1991 and Street Fighter II in fact, where bad players were known as scrubs or scrubbers as they would mash the buttons in a sweeping motion that looked like they were scrubbing something. The term is most commonly applied to fighting games, so this does make some sense.

Whether that's true or not I guess we can't be entirely sure but that's the best information we've got to go on, and it puts the origin of the term on video games and not an R&B song, so I'll roll with it.

#3: "Frag"

In case you have been living under a rock your whole life, fragging is what the common slang term is in mostly online first person shooters for killing opponents in online deathmatch games. That is, you kill them and you score a point, called a frag, and in killing them you have fragged them.

The origin of the term seems to be somewhat morbid, and seems to trace back way way way WAY before video games ever used it, in fact back to the Vietnam war, according to Gamesrader and several other sources. The entire war caused rifts between a lot of people, and that included members of military squads involved in the war, causing a lot of in-fighting. When certain members of a squad disagreed enough with another, they often took it upon themselves to dispose of the oppressive member. The cleanest way for them to do this without it being able to be traced back to them was to use fragmentation grenades. You "accidentally" pull the pin and "accidentally" toss it over to them (or say that the enemy threw it) and boom, you've just murdered one of your squad mates. So that particular use of frag(mentation) grenades seems to be where the word frag now comes from in the context of video games.

As for when video games actually started using it, it's difficult to say for sure, but in all likelihood it was Doom as this was one of the earliest games that offered a multiplayer deathmatch feature, and Doom II and Quake that followed it cemented the term in our now common gamer vocabulary. It does make you wonder though whether we'd still be using it if the origin of the term was more widely known.

#2: "pwn"

Everyone knows the term pwn, especially after the web series "Pure Pwnage" became so popular. pwn obviously begun as a typo ('p' is right next to 'o' on a qwerty keyboard), but it evolved into a deliberate misspelling of the word "own" (and is pronounced the same way) and is generally used in games to describe a dominating victory. "You got pwned", "I'll pwn you", "I got pwned" are all common uses. As the internet got more popular it turned into a general meme that's used to describe many things and it's somewhat lost some of its meaning.

According to Wikipedia the term seems to have originated through the 90's as hackers would display the message on websites that they managed to hack, or if they managed to gain root access into systems they would say they owned/pwned the system now. The origins of the word may go back even further than that though, to a history that most of us are probably not proud of, to the time of slavery. People literally owned a slave, the slaves were their master's property and their master exerted their authority over them...in other words they "dominated" them, so the word was used in a very similar way to when gamers picked it up.

One of the earliest, perhaps THE earliest examples in video games however points to the original Warcraft: Orcs and Humans game. In this game it seems a map designer made a typo, so when someone got killed the game would report "so-and-so has been pwned". But the un-typoed form of the word was used in Mechwarrior even earlier than this, where according to the "Battletech" lore that the game is based on, if you defeat an opponent you then "own" them in the traditional sense...they are your slave and your property, until they can regain their freedom.

These days, the term pwned isn't quite as widespread as it used to be, and seems to have been more commonly replaced by the term rekt (wrecked).

#1: "n00b"

Ah yes, the n00b. The term all of us can relate to because all of us at one stage were indeed n00bs.

n00b (which can also be spelled noob and nub), as the term is used in games, is obviously a derivative of "newb" which itself is a derivative of "newbie", meaning a new or otherwise inexperienced or unskilled player. Much of the time the word is used in a derogatory sense, but that's not always the case. Of course, we see the term used not just in the context of video games, but just about everywhere on the internet, even online forums. It's even started being used in real life, replacing more traditional words such as "greenhorn".

Believe it or not though but the term also has roots that go back to a military origin, way before video games started using it. The word "newbie" was short for "new boy", which is what British soldiers used to describe a new recruit.

It's practically impossible to nail down exactly when n00b started being used in video games (no, it did not start with Mortal Kombat, as the character of Noob Saibot was simply the co-creators of MK's surnames spelled backwards), but Counter Strike would have certainly played a large part in making it part of our now widespread gamer vernacular. One of the first games that featured online, team based gameplay with a competitive focus, it became a juggernaut that is still played worldwide to this day. The word was quickly picked up and adopted by CS players, and the game's popularity did the rest, no doubt also assisted by "Pure Pwnage".

So there it is, the top 10 origins of popular gaming slang. Hopefully, you found this list informative, and even if you didn't learn anything, you were at least entertained!

As I always do, I put a disclaimer here to say that, I KNOW that I've missed your favourite gaming slang term somewhere. Ultimately though, I could only choose 10 items for this list, and based on my criteria of keeping one slang word per game and also restricting the inclusion of game specific jargon, this is the list I came up with. However, please by all means let me know by commenting or posting on the forums what slang term I missed that you like the best, and also where it originated from.

Thanks for reading!


List by White_Pointer
(04/06/2016)

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Gamer since the early 80s, content creator, musician, writer. Professional in the video game and home entertainment industry for almost two decades. My YouTube channel is https://www.youtube.com/c/WhitePointerGaming
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