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spoiler

noun [countable]

a piece of information about a film, book or electronic game which can spoil the enjoyment of someone experiencing it for the first time

'The most successful new-wave criticism is that of the "spoiler". Spoilers are cultural hackers and leakers. They penetrate the high-security fence that studios erect around their new projects. Spoiling requires ingenuity, "sources" (suborned, of course) and a propensity to media felony. The net is the Wild West. No law between the website and Dodge City.'

The Guardian 29th April 2002

In the recent past, the primary definition of spoiler talked about a mechanism on an aircraft or on the rear of a car which reduced lift and increased performance at high speeds. In 2004, an investigation of spoiler using the Google™ search engine does not reveal a top hit in the engineering domain, but rather in the world of electronic gaming, where interested parties can visit a website, www.the-spoiler.com, which prematurely reveals cheats and solutions to gaming puzzles.

since proper enjoyment of a plot depends on dramatic tension, prematurely discovering what is going to happen "spoils" the experience

This new sense of spoiler has been around since the mid-1990s, and initially referred to pieces of information which reveal elements of the plot of a film or book. Since proper enjoyment of a plot depends on dramatic tension and suspense, prematurely discovering what is going to happen "spoils" the experience that the viewer or reader has when watching or reading for the first time. The usage was later applied in the gaming world, where it refers to pieces of information which signal the solution to a game or puzzle and therefore deny the user the pleasure of working things out for themselves. In both contexts, spoiler appears productively in compounds such as total spoiler, quasi-spoiler (quasi- as a prefix meaning 'part'), and pseudo-spoiler (pseudo- meaning 'fake').

Background – spoiler

Initially, spoilers only appeared on specialist Internet sites and newsgroup postings, preceded by a warning and ensuring that the user had to make a definite decision to read them by clicking on a specific link. In recent times, however, such warnings have been omitted and many readers have unwittingly spoiled their own enjoyment of new films, books and games.

More recently, this new sense of spoiler entered the world of journalism, where it spawned a participle noun for the activity: spoiling. A landmark case in journalistic spoiling occurred in 2000 when Hello magazine published unauthorised photographs of the wedding of Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, thereby violating the £1 million exclusive rights to the story purchased by rival magazine OK!. Media coverage of the lawsuits which followed referred to the activities of Hello magazine as a spoiler operation. The term spoiler-crit (crit as a short form for 'criticism') has also been used during recent years to refer to Internet-based reviews of films and television programmes posted significantly before their general release.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 9th April 2004.

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