Vocabulary pop quiz. Define the following words: “hypergamy,” “femoids,” “meeks.” If you got all of those right, you’re on your way to becoming fluent in alt-right.
No political movement has created an internet dialect with the speed and scale of the alt-right. Comprised of conspiracy theorists, anti-feminists, white nationalists, Donald Trump supporters, and other disgruntled right-wingers, the loosely connected group has organically formed a shared way of talking that allows different factions to identify with one another. This creates a verbal badge of allegiance, and the terms they have coined can be difficult for outsiders to follow.
The alt-right isn’t the first group to create its own online lexicon: The internet has long been a place for linguistic invention. Gaming gave us “woot” and “noob.” We now use “troll” as a verb in regular speech. Some people even pronounce “lol” as if it weren’t an acronym. Many of these terms were first used by small groups of insiders in internet forums before the words broke out and were appropriated by the greater public.
We are seeing the same patterns unfolding on public message boards such as Reddit and 4chan. Before they turn mainstream, words like these turn an online community into a kind of exclusive club. In the case of the alt-right, people who can correctly use a term like “blackpill” belong; those who can’t, don’t.
Beyond creating exclusivity, jargon like this reveals concepts that a group feels are common and important enough to require a go-to word. There is no readily available term in English that means “women are robotic or sub-human”—a belief held by many alt-right “manosphere” members—so they created “femoids,” a disturbingly common term that refers to women as non-human. Likewise, there is no term that derisively refers to people who believe in social justice, hence the demonization of “SJWs,” an acronym for “social-justice warriors.”
In order for terms like these to gain traction, the community must recognize and accept them. Being willing to use this controversial, politicized slang signals to others that you share their same unconventional point of view. The more entrenched and insider-y these words become, the less likely it is that outsiders will engage with (or even understand) the group, leading to an even greater communication divide between the alt-right and left.
Creating a dictionary for the alt-right
By dissecting the internet dialect of the alt-right, we can better understand the movement’s political motivations and views of the world. In order to begin to define alt-right-speak, how it spreads, and where it is used, we analyzed billions of Reddit comments to identify the terms that are being used across the alt-right’s online universe.
Instead of having a centralized home, the movement is split between various “subreddits,” which are topic-specific Reddit forums. We looked at six of the most common alt-right subreddits for our study. This sample spans a wide range of the new conservatism, from conspiracy theorists to “men’s rights” advocates and the most fervent red-state voters.
- r/Conspiracy, where conspiracy theories are traded with the utmost seriousness
- r/Incels, or “involuntary celibacy,” where men blame society for their romantic failings
- r/KotakuInAction, home of the somehow-still-active #GamerGate movement, and where video games are discussed
- r/MGTOW, or “Men Going Their Own Way,” where men decry feminism
- r/CringeAnarchy, where users cringe at SJW artifacts around the internet
- r/The_Donald, the biggest alt-right hangout, where serious Donald Trump supporters lurk
For each of these subreddits, we identified 50 words that were new and particularly distinctive to these communities. To determine the brightest of these rising stars, we searched the most recent two months of Reddit comments for the number of times a word appears in an alt-right-associated subreddit and compared it with average on the platform as a whole.
Our analysis reveals that many of these newly created terms cut across subreddits and other alt-right homes, revealing a perspective shared among different factions of the alt-right. It shows that people who read r/Incels are also reading r/The_Donald, and that there is overlap between subscribers to r/Conspiracy and r/KotakuInAction. It shows that the loosely organized groups that make up this movement—the shitposters, the anti-globalists, the misogynists, and many, many others—occupy the same slice of the internet.
For example, the emasculating term “cuck” is possibly the most prominent pan-alt-right coinage, appearing in the top-50 most distinctive words list for five of the six subreddits we looked at. “SJW” is next, appearing in that list for four of the six studied subreddits. Other overlaps include “chad” (r/Incels, r/MGTOW), “kek” (r/KotakuInAction, r/The_Donald), and “pill,” as in “black pill” and “red pill”, (r/Incels, r/MGTOW). This shows that the culture of these communities is not isolated.
To see how this jargon, and the identity around it, form online, we have assembled a preliminary glossary of the newest terms being used in the alt-right lexicon. We have included the etymologies of where and when they first appeared, how their meanings have changed over time, and how they have infiltrated other alt-right communities. The range of things that they describe, and the specificity of their definitions, shows how the alt-right is developing its own unique language.
Meaning: An idea or claim that is most likely true, but silenced by the powers-that-be on the “intolerant left.” Some examples include the idea that there are no intrinsic differences between men and women (particularly with respect to aptitude for certain jobs), the idea that there are “only two genders,” or the idea that immigrants commit more crimes and Islam is an inherently violent and misogynistic religion.
Etymology: Originating from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, this word was used along with “thoughtcrime” to describe ideas that are politically unacceptable to the all-controlling Big Brother. Before its current popular iteration, it first emerged in 2014 in the subreddit r/SRSSucks, an anti-political-correctness community dedicated to criticizing r/ShitRedditSays, which is itself a community revolving around critiques of things posted by other Reddit users. The alt-right’s ire for this community burns so intensely because of its strongly intersectional leftist culture, dedicated to calling out what is seen as the problematic behavior of other Redditors. The term was originally used in this context to denote the idea that SRS (ShitRedditSays) users were trying to create an Orwellian dystopia in which only a small subset of radical leftist opinions were acceptable.
“Wrongthink” exploded in popularity this year when Google engineer James Damore wrote a 10-page “Man-ifesto” that leaked and spread across the internet. The document, titled “Google’s ideological echo chamber,” argued that the reason for the over-representation of men in tech companies was that women were biologically unsuited to coding. He also believed that Google was sacrificing quality on the altar in its search to eliminate gender discrimination and bias within its ranks. Damore was fired by Google for writing the memo, and immediately became a martyr for the alt-right and subreddits like r/KotakuInAction.
These subreddits insist he was fired for “wrongthink.” In their eyes, Google is a left-wing safe haven in which “free thought” is not allowed, and Damore dared to speak out against the liberal shibboleth. The term stuck, and now it’s one of the most popular words in the new alt-right lexicon. (There was a slow increase in the use of the term even before Damore’s memo, but its popularity accelerated in the aftermath of the incident.)
Origin: Cult of the Dead Cow’s Goolag tool
Meaning: A portmanteau of “Google” and “gulag,” the latter being a kind of USSR-era prison that the enemies of communism were thrown into. It implies that the tech giant is a Stalinist dystopia that doesn’t tolerate thinking outside its left-wing ideological echo chamber.
Etymology: This term was used in niche parts of the tech community in 2008 when a hacker collective named Cult of the Dead Cow created Goolag, a tool that allowed people to use Google to indicate whether a site was vulnerable to being hacked.
After laying dormant for some time, the term exploded in popularity during the Damore controversy mentioned above. It emerged almost simultaneously in r/KotakuInAction and r/The_Donald, and it wasn’t long until Damore was photographed wearing a t-shirt on which the Google logo has been changed to Goolag. Time will tell whether it remains part of the alt-right lexicon a second time around, but r/The_Donald is making a serious effort at making it stick.
Origin: Unknown, possibly 4chan
Meaning: Chad Thundercock—or just “chad”—is a derogatory name given to attractive men who are sexually successful with women.
Etymology: The origin of the meaning of “chad” is murky, but it was probably popularized on 4chan, the imageboard also home to the Anonymous hacker collective. It rose out of the depths of the internet around 2013 but only reached alt-right consciousness in the last year or so. (You might have seen the “virgin walk” memes floating around, for example.)
Today the place you’ll see “chad” most often is on the subreddit r/Incels, which is a depressing mix of self-loathing, self-pity, and misogyny. Chads are the ubiquitous successful object of envy for this community: attractive, smart, successful, and always lucky with women. The idea is used to reinforce the notion that celibacy is involuntary; incels think the only reason why women won’t sleep with them is because they don’t look like chads, as women are shallow and will always go for chads.
Meaning: Men who are morally reprehensible but still able to have sexual success with women because they are physically attractive. The term is like “chad” on steroids: While a “chad” is a man who is sexually successful just because he’s attractive (but might not necessarily be a bad person), a meeks is a man who is sexually successful and disgraceful.
Etymology: “World’s hottest felon” Jeremy Meeks’ mugshot went viral after he was arrested for weapons-related crimes in 2014. The internet’s female populous swooned over this criminal, but the term derived from his name didn’t gain currency in r/Incels until mid 2017. It is meant to represent the ultimate truth: that women don’t care about men’s personalities at all, and an attractive felon is better than an unattractive “nice guy.”
The graph for the term is muddied a little by the existence of a popular college basketball player with the surname Meeks, but in May 2017, r/Incels overtook r/NBA to be the single biggest user of the term. The cause of this spike is likely due to a bot that is programmed to comment on the below messages whenever the word “personality” is used in the subreddit. The bot, programmed by one of the subreddit moderators, is meant to ward off interlopers who come to the sub looking to tell its denizens that they need to “work on their personality,” as well as to prevent users from trying to go against the accepted “blackpill” (see below) dogma of the community. “Meeks” makes an appearance in r/The_Donald and r/MGTOW, too, showing the cross-talk between different parts of the alt-right and the related manosphere.
Meaning: A portmanteau of “female” and “humanoid” or “android,” this term is used to describe women as sub-human or non-human. Some incels go further and use the term “Female Humanoid Organism,” or FHO for short.
Etymology: Its first use came about on Reddit in March 2017. It’s unclear where the term originated, but it caught on quickly and now regularly appears in several hundred comments and submissions per week across the site. It appears almost exclusively in r/Incels and related subreddits such as r/IncelTears, r/niceguys, and r/justneckbeardthings. Watch out for it as the year goes on—it could spread further than this particular corner of the manosphere.
Origin: Omega Virgin Revolt, a blog
Meaning: An alternative to the popular blue pill/red pill dichotomy, which comes from the scene in The Matrix where Morpheus offers Neo one of two pills: the blue pill would allow him to continue to live in ignorance while the red pill would show him the world as it really is. In Reddit lore, the “blue pill” represents mainstream feminism, whereas the “red pill” is supposed to represent the anti-feminist truth: that men are really the most oppressed in society, and feminism is about female superiority rather than equal rights.
However, taking the “black pill” means seeing that the whole system is broken, and the only solution is to refuse to engage with it at all. This is in contrast with seeking to take advantage of women through psychological manipulation, as advocated by many of those in r/TheRedPill and r/PickUpArtist communities.
Etymology: The term “black pill” first showed up in a blog post on a site called Omega Virgin Revolt in 2012. The idea behind the term is that red pillers, who recognize the world as biased toward women and feminism as female supremacy, don’t go far enough.
“Black pill” (and “blackpill”) started turning up on Reddit in late 2016 and has seen a boom in use since then, primarily in r/Incels. However, there are significant pockets of use in r/4chan4trump, r/The_Donald, r/altright (before the page was taken down in February), r/TheRedPill, and r/Conspiracy. Some of the incels’ idols are seen as having taken the black pill, most notably Santa Barbara mass murderer Elliot Rodger, who is often referred to (only semi-ironically) as “Saint Elliot” for having “martyred” himself to the incel cause.
Meaning: The act, by women, of marrying men who are socially “above” them, otherwise known as “marrying up.”
A common trope in the manosphere is that the “top” 20% of men (defined by attractiveness and social value) are competing for the “top” 80% of women. This has its roots in the economic Pareto principle, whereby 80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients. Men who aren’t in this top range believe they are ignored and need to be part of that 20% to avoid being seen as “undateable” by the majority 80% of women. Women who only want to date or marry that top 20% despite being in the bottom 80% themselves are described as “hypergamy.”
Etymology: The idea of hypergamy is an old one, coming from a translation of 19th-century Hindu law books where the Sanskrit term anuloma was used to denote marrying above one’s caste.
The term has been present on Reddit pretty much since its inception, with comments from as far back as 2010 in r/MensRights. The term has spread over time, and over the last year the most common uses were in subreddits like r/MGTOW, r/TheRedPill, r/Incels, and r/MensRights. However, there were significant uses in r/The_Donald, r/4chan4trump, and r/KotakuInAction, showing that there is a crossover between the communities of mens’ rights activists, Trump supporters, GamerGaters, and the alt-right at large.
Origin: Possibly r/The_Donald
Meaning: The set of subreddits dominated by Donald Trump supporters.
Etymology: The name potentially comes from this thread in which the author suggests that, since the SJWs have the “fempire” (the feminist empire of subreddits), they should have the “Trumpire.” This includes r/The_Donald, r/Mr_Trump, r/AskThe_Donald, and others.
r/The_Donald dominates its usage due to a bot that automatically removes posts in r/The_Donald that attempt to link outside of the Trumpire by saying, “Your comment has been automatically removed because you linked outside of the Trumpire.”
Meaning: Acronym for “God-Emperor of the United States.”
Etymology: A play on the Facebook group “God Emperor Trump,” which refers to the tabletop strategy game Warhammer 40,000, in which a dictator-like figure essentially governs for eternity. The term is used in part to rile Trump supporters by suggesting they literally want a dictator in the Oval Office, but whether the phrase is being used ironically is increasingly questionable. Used almost exclusively in r/The_Donald.
Meaning: Acronym for “the powers that be.”
Etymology: This term is used primarily in r/Conspiracy to refer to powerful people who “pull the strings” behind the scenes, such as the Illuminati, New World Order, or the “Deep State.” It’s also a buzzword in r/The_Donald and makes appearances in r/KotakuInAction and a number of anti-capitalist subreddits. Its vocal presence in r/Bitcoin might seem surprising on face value, but it makes sense in light of the strong libertarian, anti-authoritarian, anti-government bent shared among many cryptocurrency enthusiasts. Perhaps most disturbing is its appearance in r/LasVegasFalseFlag, a new subreddit with just over 1,300 subscribers that purports to “encourage insightful dissent in pursuit of truth”—presumably the truth being that one of the most deadly mass shootings in US history was the product of a conspiracy.
Meaning: People who identify as transgender because it is trendy.
Etymology: This term first came to prominence during GamerGate in 2014, but it is enjoying a renewed lease on life in 2017 thanks to the resurgence of the alt-right and the accompanying “culture wars,” in which gender and the rights of transgender individuals are notoriously contested subjects. This can most recently be seen by the controversy surrounding transgender bathroom laws in the US. Primarily found on r/TumblrInAction, it can also be seen in the identity-politics-oriented wings of the alt-right such as r/KotakuInAction, r/CringeAnarchy, r/The_Donald, r/SRSsucks, and r/MensRights.