What Does Getting Pwned Mean?

How to understand and use this internet slang term

The internet slang term "pwned" is used both online and offline as a gloating expression of dominance, control, or victory. If you've been pwned, you've been defeated by an opponent, often in a humiliating fashion. Being pwned carries connotations of great failure on the loser's part.

Being pwned may also indicate that you're a victim of a data breach. A website called haveibeenpwned.com will help you determine if one of your accounts has been compromised.

The Origins of Pwned

It's uncertain how the term pwned originated, but there are several theories. It may have sprung from the slang use of "owned," as in, "I owned you in that game." In the 1980s, hackers used the word "own" to describe the act of successfully hacking and taking control of a server or other computer.

If it originally began as "own" or "owned," pwned likely owes its etymological genesis to a keyboarding error in which a "p" was mistyped on a QWERTY keyboard instead of the adjacent "o," likely out of haste or excitement.

Pwned has also been attributed to a mistake in the online game Warcraft, in which the word "owned" was misspelled on a map.

The term also might have originated as far back as the 1960s, when MIT chess programmers referred to themselves as chess pieces such as kings and pawns, which is close to "pwn."

Another "pwn" origin story is that it follows the "p" trend in other tech-related words such as phishing and phreaking.

Examples of Pwned Usage

You'll see the term pwned thrown around in video games as well as in offline conversation. Used as a noun, "pwnage" is the experience of being, or causing someone to be, defeated badly, or failing profoundly. Here are some usage examples:

  • "We pwned the other basketball team!"
  • "Oh, man. I got totally pwned by the aerobics instructor in class today. That was rough!"
  • "Pwnage! I got an A on the exam!"
  • "That speeder got totally pwned by that radar-trap cop!"
  • "Captain America pwned Iron Man big time in that movie."
  • "Your argument made no sense. She totally pwned you."
  • "I got pwned by those three horde players. They ganked me bad."
  • "That was total pwnage! We crushed that boss monster!"

Pronunciation

Because of its ties to the word owned, pwned is usually pronounced "poned." You also might hear it pronounced as "pawned," "puh-owned," or "pwenned."

Recommended Etiquette for Text Jargon 

Like all internet and text jargon, use the term pwned carefully in your communications. Evaluate your audience and if the context is informal or professional, and then use good judgment.

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