What Getting "Pwned" Means and How to Use It Properly

If you've been pwned, you might not even know it

Young man celebrating at laptop, in a living room
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"Pwned" is a verb, commonly used as a gloating expression of dominance, control, or victory. This peculiar term is used most often in video games, though it has found its way into offline conversation. When you're pwned, you've been defeated by an opponent, often in a humiliating fashion. It also carries connotations of great failure on the loser's part.

The origins of "to pwn" are uncertain, but it is likely to have sprung from the slang use of "owned," which has equivalent meaning. 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. Used as a noun, "pwnage" is the experience of being (or causing someone to be) defeated badly, or failing profoundly.

Have I Been Pwned?

If you're a victim of a data breach, you've been pwned. There's a site called haveibeenpwned.com that will help you determine if you have an account that has been compromised in a data breach.

Usage Examples

Here are some ways you can use "pwned" in a non-internet context:

  • "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."

With today's MMO (massively multiplayer online) games, the term "pwned" has become a way to gloat in victory over another player. Conversely, "pwned" is an expressive way to say that you were defeated by another player:

  • "I got pwned by those three horde players. They ganked me bad."
  • "That was total pwnage! We crushed that boss monster!"

Other Origins of "Pwned"

"Pwned" has also been attributed to a mistake in the online game "Warcraft," in which the word "owned" was misspelled on a map — so it follows that it's typically pronounced as "poned." You also might hear it pronounced as "pawned," "puh-owned," or "pwenned," but these are less common ways to say it.

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." In the 1980s, hackers used the word "own" to describe the act of successfully hacking and taking control of a server or other computer. Another "pwn" origin story is that it follows the "p" trend in other tech-related words such as phishing and phreaking.

It's yet another example of digital culture spilling over into daily life. Expressive techno terms are ever more common in daily conversation. Now that you know how to use it, you can accurately pwn others.