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The Evolution of Gaming Acronyms

The adoption of gaming acronyms into the popular lexicon is a testament to the geekification of the Internet and the world at large. What was once the sole province of techies and online gaming enthusiasts has now become a part of the average person’s everyday vernacular.

Noah Webster, the father of the American dictionary, probably never envisioned a day when words would be replaced by the widespread use of descriptive phrases boiled down to a simple string of letters. To be fair, it’s highly unlikely that Noah Webster ever dreamed of an entity as complex and rife with educational and entertainment potential as the Internet, either… or envisioned its ability to grant folks from all walks of life the means to connect, share thoughts, and even play games with one another without ever stepping foot outside their homes or towns. (Although we’d like to think that if Webster ever did imagine the Internet, he’d be a PC gamer.)

Jumping from American history to the history of the Internet – specifically, gamer terminology -- let’s take a closer look at the evolution of gaming acronyms. Which ones have risen from humble, PC-gaming beginnings but eventually reached the heights of cultural prominence? Which ones  remain a part of the proud gaming geek landscape? And which acronyms and phrases still languish in obscurity, only to be utilized by the hardest of hardcore gamers? Here’s a brief tutorial for all you “n00bs” scratching your heads and saying “IDK” to yourselves.

From the Online World to “IRL”

Regardless of whether you consider yourself a geek or a gamer, chances are you probably use many of these terms daily; a number of these acronyms stem from online gaming etiquette. Here’s a list of terms (and their uses) you’re probably already familiar with that you can thank gamers and early Internet adopters for:

BRB – be right back
It’s always nice to let your fellow gamers know that you’ll be returning to the game once you tend to some quick business.

BTW – by the way
“BTW” is the modern equivalent of “P.S.,” tacking on an afterthought to the conversation or offering up a totally unrelated comment.

FTW – for the win
In terms of gaming, the Internet, and pop culture in general, “FTW” has a rich history. FTW is typed to declare a victory of sorts or note that an action will likely result in a win. (“Shadow spell, FTW!”) 

One possible source where FTW as we know it may stem from is the game show, Hollywood Squares – basically, a live-action version of Tic Tac Toe with celebrities. Contestants would choose one of the nine celebrities taking up a corresponding section of the Tic Tac Toe grid and ask them a True or False question. If the celebrity and contestant agreed upon the right answer, the contestant was able to mark their square with an X or an O. (Center square Paul Lynde, FTW!)

An alternate, far more negative meaning for FTW is “[expletive] the world,” a phrase used by anti-authority types to declare their disdain for society.

IDK  - I don’t know

IRL or RL – “in real life” or “real life”
Used to reference something going on in your own life, as opposed to the action happening online.

JK – just kidding
Self-explanatory. “JK” is usually offered up pretty quickly after someone says (or types) something that could be easily misconstrued as offensive. A quickly-rendered “JK” often saves the day.

LOL – laugh out loud
LMAO – laughing my ass off
ROFL or ROTFL – either “rolling on floor laughing” or “rolling on the floor laughing”
ROTFLMAO – an amalgamation of “rolling on the floor laughing” and “laughing my ass off”
Most of these terms are pretty well laced with hyperbole. Let’s be real here: most gamers don’t literally “laugh out loud” and they sure aren’t “rolling on the floor laughing.” However, “LOL” rolls off the fingers and onto the keypad much more easily than “cracked a smile” or “chuckled slightly.”

STFU – “shut the [expletive] up” or “shut the frig up”
Not a very nice thing to type. Typically, this is something uttered in the heat of the moment. Consider following up this mean-spirited acronym with a “JK” if you happen to think the better of it.

TTYL – talk to you later
A nice way to sign off with the intent that you may be back online later. (Note: If you happen to be Winnie the Pooh’s pal, Tigger, you can sign off with “TTFN” – “ta ta for now.”)

TY – thank you
Because good manners are important whether you’re online or “IRL.”

WTF or WTH – “What the [expletive],” “What the freak,” or “What the hell” or “What the heck”
Depending upon the severity of the situation or one’s own predilection for profanity, these terms can be used interchangeably to express shock, surprise, or (most likely) confusion.

Lesser-Known, Yet Still Popular Acronyms

The following terms are rooted in gaming culture, but still have a foothold in the larger Internet landscape and are often recognized by non-gaming folks. Here are just a few:

AFK – away from keyboard
A less popular way of saying “be right back (BRB).”

BIO – leaving the game temporarily to execute a (ahem) “biological” function
A smarter, slightly more refined way of saying you have to take a bathroom break.

Ding! – an exclamation when a gamer levels up or ascends to a higher level. This nifty bit of onomatopoeia can be used across a variety of scenarios. In non-gamer terms, it can also indicate someone getting a right answer or making an accurate point.

Dood or D00d – ‘net slang for “dude”
How often do you see a slang term for another slang term?! “Dood” or “d00d” is used to refer to a cool person. Also, using “0”s in place of “o”s is cool – or c00l.

FWIW – for what it’s worth
IIRC – if I recall correctly
These two terms are pretty self-explanatory, however, use with caution as they can come across as a bit too “know-it-all.”

MMORPG or MMO – massively multi-player online role-playing game
An online game in which a large number players take on different character roles. “MMO” is further abbreviated term for this type of game. A prime example of an MMO is World of Warcraft.

NM or NVM – never mind
Can be dismissive or just an honest way of telling another person that something is not necessary.

NP – No problem
Acknowledging and/or agreeing to of another person’s statement and/or request.  Or, a modest way of accepting a compliment or thank you.

Noob or N00b – a shortened form of the term “newbie”
Refers to a new player or novice to gaming, the Internet, or any other sort of skill set. N00b can also be used by others in a derogatory manner, referring to an amateurish mistake made by a player. (Example: St00pid, n00b!)

PWN or PWNED – a play on mistyping the word “owned”
Due to the “p” key’s close proximity on the keyboard to “o,” in a fit of haste, the phrase “owned” had been inaccurately typed as “pwned.” Somehow, this caught on and countless gamers and Internet chat room trolls and those who do battle with them “pwn” their competitors when they deliver a particularly impressive win over an opponent.

RPG – role playing game
Any type of game in which players take on different personas or roles or create their own fictional character within the given world of a game. This term can refer to an MMORPG or a smaller, more intimate game. RPGs existed long before the Internet  with tabletop games such as Dungeons and Dragons standing as a forerunner to video games such as the Final Fantasy series, Fable, and others. 

WOOT! – an expression of joy
A hearty “WOOT!”  can be used when you want to cheer about any type of victory or when something pretty damn awesome happens.

Strictly For My Gamerz: More Obscure Gaming Acronyms and Terms

If you can recognize any of the following terms with ease, chances are you are among the hardcore gaming elite. It’s a safe bet that the bulk of these acronyms aren’t recognizable to those outside of the gaming industry. Give yourself a gold star, a cookie, or whatever reward of your choosing if you’re familiar with any of the following:

BAF – Bring a friend
Unlike parties IRL, bringing a friend in gaming terminology typically refers to some monster or beast bringing along another “friend” with it. It’s not quite over once you vanquish Big Bad #1. There’s usually a #2 lurking right behind him.

DC – disconnected server
Self-explanatory. A big bummer.

DoT – damage over time
Refers to a spell that isn’t just a one-time thing. Rather, this type of spell, as its name suggests, incurs damage to the player over time and usually requires some sort of cure.

Nerf – to lessen effectiveness in battle or diminish another’s abilities
In gamer-speak, to “nerf” something means to get rid of it. You want to nerf an enemy or the st00pid n00b who goes all Leeroy Jenkins and gets your entire guild wasted – or nerfed.

NPC – non-playable character
A character who exists in a game, but cannot be actively played. This can also be a derogatory slang for a person who is rather dull.

OOC – “out of concentration” or “out of character”
A concentration is a specific area in which a player’s character is proficient.  Sometimes a player can over-extend the character’s concentration, which then needs to be replenished.

A second use of “OOC” is “out of character” in which a player says something, well, out of character to give the other players a heads-up that this is not part of the game. An alternate way to indicate something that is said out of character is to use either double parentheses or  brackets: (( insert comments here)) or [[ insert OOC comment here ]]

XP – experience points
Points and/or levels accumulated over time. The more you play, the more experience points you rack up.


The list of terms that have roots in gaming or online vocabulary is virtually endless and growing all the time. Have we missed any gaming acronyms or terms you use frequently? Consider yourself a gaming computer expert? What acronyms do you think merit a mention on this list? Let us know!

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