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pwned also pwnd

past participle of pwn informal

1. very easily defeated in a computer/video game, especially in a humiliating way

1a. very easily defeated


verb [transitive] informal


noun [uncountable] informal

'…if Obama had simply been willing to wait one week, the bill could have gone to committee without Obama needing to pick a fight with the NRA. Instead, we – as Democrats – got pwned.'

Daily Kos 26th May 2009

'For the Xbox 360, there's the SpeakerCom 360, which enables your parents to hear all those whining tweens brag in fantastically high tones about how they just pwned you.'

Engadget 2nd June 2009

'Halo screen shot art prints now available … Depending on the options you choose, prints will run you from $17 to $120. But really, any price is worthwhile to have a permanent memento on the wall of your friend's pwnage.'

CrunchGear 4th June 2009

it might defy conventions of English orthography, but it's looking surprisingly like pwned … is here to stay

If, like me, you've got a teenager in the house, then it's almost certain that at some time in the recent past you'll have heard exclamations such as 'I totally pwned him.' Or 'I just got pwned!' It might defy conventions of English orthography, but it's looking surprisingly like pwned, meaning 'defeated in a computer game', is here to stay.

Pwned is the past participle of the transitive verb pwn, which, in computer gaming, refers to the action of defeating an opponent in a particularly satisfying and convincing way. As the examples show, pwned is the most prevalent realisation of the verb, because it most often occurs in the passive as in You just got/You've just been pwned! In computer gaming culture, using such expressions is a popular way to taunt and humiliate your rival(s).

Though pwned is the most common form, various spelling variations exist, including pwnd, pwnt and alphanumeric pwn3d. A related uncountable noun pwnage also exists, which is used as an exclamation referring to the situation of 'victory' over an opponent (and is well-attested in my house, I can often hear the dulcet tones of my 14-year-old uttering a satisfied 'pwnage!').

What's particularly interesting about pwned in recent months is that it's gaining currency in common parlance, in contexts completely outside the computer gaming world. There's plenty of evidence for the use of pwned to mean simply 'defeated' in any kind of competitive context, from sport to politics (compare the first citation above).

The verb pwn is also sometimes used with a more specific sense referring to the action of gaining unauthorised control of a computer program or system, as illustrated in this article.

Background – pwned

There are various theories about the etymology of pwned. One of the more popular accounts is that it originated in the online computer game World of Warcraft, where a map designer misspelt owned (where own was intended to be used in the sense of 'conquer' or 'dominate'). When the computer beat a player, a message along the lines of: X has been owned should have been displayed. Instead, it said: X has been pwned. A related, and perhaps more convincing theory, is that pwned derives from a simple keyboard error, p being next to o on a standard QWERTY keyboard. When players want to say owned, they regularly mistype it as pwned – so much so that the latter has become an accepted (and 'cool', so therefore even more popular) alternative in the gaming fraternity.

Partly assisted by VOIP (Voice Over Internet) technology, using which gamers can wear headphones to talk to each other over the Internet, pwned has transferred from written to spoken language. There are various possible pronunciations, the most frequent being 'powned' or 'pawned', or, if spelling variant pwnt is used, 'pownt' or 'pawnt'. This crossover into spoken language strikes me as particularly significant, since pwned seems to be one of the first, solid examples of a kind of 'operational' or accidental (i.e. keyboard-induced) word formation making it into mainstream spoken and written usage.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 15th July 2009.

Open Dictionary

Dunning-Kruger effect

the phenomenon by which an incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence

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