“You have been owned”: An Easter homily with internet slang

I try to keep up with the latest generation. As far as the music, I’m hopeless, the same with recognizing celebrities. But the language interests me very much, and while I don’t usually “get down on the rug” (i.e. with the children, meaning use slang not appropriate to my generation), trying to follow the latest trends in language is a lot of fun.

Sometimes it gets nasty though. On a recent thread about Newt Gingrinch (careful–the thread is NSFW, internet slang meaning Not Safe for Work–meaning inappropriate or “adult” content) an ugly side of the new slang was revealed. One blogger was posting the bad-guy laugh MUWHAHAHAHHAHAHAHHAHAA!! and boasted I love “owning’ socialists!!, while another bragged 13 years old and owning!! What new thing was this? Do people want to be evil now? What is this “owning” thing? How do you own people? E-slavery?

Wikipedia always gets me through these generation gaps and was equally helpful here. The word is a form of the language “leet” or “1337”, an internet shorthand using numbers and other symbols to represent letters. The older meaning of “owning” means to gain unauthorized use of a computer system, to hack a computer, or to tie it up using multiple pings or denial of service attacks. The newer meaning ranges from something as seemingly innocuous as winning games, to making a fool of someone, to dominating someone.

The urban dictionary definitions are similar. Agreed-on definitions are (1) Make a fool of someone (2) Total and undeniable dominance of a person (3) to be defeated in a computer game, causing the winner’s ego to inflate like a party balloon as if such a victory has any tangible significance side that of his stinking socks-infested dorm room. These people will frequently create animated GIF’s of violent sports events where a player gets clobbered by his opponent, complete with blinking neon “PWN3D!” captions, and post them on their blogs to indicate that they should not be messed with. (4) a term used by hackers to describe gaining possession of a system (5) An overused gamerboy term. Using this term is now considered the most potent contraceptive available.

Sure enough, there are entire websites devoted to providing code with GIF images of someone getting urinated on or dousing themselves with gasoline and setting themselves on fire. To be sure, there are some images I thought were funny– an anxious mother clutching a baby in New Orleans as Bush plays the guitar, Colin Powell speaking into a U.N. microphone, or a deer at the wheel of a convertible while the hunter is trussed on the back seat.

Games used to be a culture’s way of teaching children the skills they would need as adults, but what are the games teaching here? Winning, dominating, totally humiliating your opponent? If the next international challenge is going to be the conflict between the West and the Middle East, what diplomatic skills will Americans bring to the conflict? And considering how American bubblegum culture spreads throughout the world like wildfire, they’re probably playing the same games in Baghdad right now. What will be the influence of this gameboy culture on the youth of the Middle East?

Every generation has to deal with the bully issue, and this generation is no different. They had bullies two thousand years ago, too. We are reminded of this again at Easter with the old passion story. The Roman soldiers mock and humiliate. Jesus gets “owned”. And God gets the last word.

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