Metafilter Frequency Tables: 13 years, 636 million words

I’ve updated today a project I first launched a couple years ago: Metafilter Frequency Tables, a collection of tables calculated from the last 13 years of comments made by users on Metafilter.com.

The tables break down word frequency for the site as a whole as well as by several major subsites, and for all time as well as by year, month, and day. Each table includes raw count and parts-per-million data for each word. It’s all generated by some perl I wrote that fetches comments from our database and tabulates it into these text files. Read about the methodology here.

This isn’t by far the most carefully constructed set of such tables out there — I am a hobbyist, not a trained linguist, and this whole effort is very much DIY — but it’s the largest I’m aware of focused specifically on this sort of internet-mediated casual textual conversation over the last decade-plus, and I’m hoping it will be of some use or interest to word nerds.

Your MOM stopped chewing her fingernails…

I’ve been quietly refraining from making Your Mom jokes for the last week or so, and it is actually a sort of difficult experience.

Partly because habits are just hard to break; partly because I actually really love “your mom” jokes.

Not because I think making fun of people’s moms is funny; I pretty much stay away from anything resembling a plausible attempt to comment on anyone’s actual mom.

I love your mom jokes because I love playing with language, and the process of yourmomization (for lack of a better word) is a seriously flexible one that lends itself to a wide variety of induced nonce euphemisms from the literal to the absurd. I like how it’s possible to take even the most innocuous sentence and yourmomize it, how the cultural association of “your mom” jokes with implications of e.g. sexual impropriety means even a totally absurd substitution (A: “I collated those files”, B: “I collated your MOM” or B: “Your MOM collated those DICKS”) reads as an acceptable (if often deeply stupid) semantic transformation.

I’ve even put serious thought in the past into, as a project in amateur computational linguistics and natural language processing, building a YourmomBot that would be purpose-built to parse natural language input, identify potential substitutions, and generate a comeback response from those candidates. (It could even be a learning machine: using either an explicit rating mechanism or an NLP heuristic that tries to gauge the positive/negative valence of responses to its comeback, it could build up a model of what substitutions work and use that to weight future candidate selections. As the basis for a joke entry in a future Loebner Prize competition it’d probably at least get a few laughs.)

I love dumb jokes for their own sake, but fundamentally the humor I find in absurdist yourmomization is not so much in the lowbrow implications of any given joke as in the sort of ready-made, Mad Lib universality of the pattern of jokes when made in series; it’s in the way yourmomization, when employed not as a personal attack of opportunity but rather as an always-on regime, is revealed (to paraphrase Stanley Kubrick) not to be hostile so much as indifferent.

A very specific riff on Chomsky, a modified theory of deep linguistic structures: every sentence was actually a your mom jokes all along.

But what I’ve realized is that what may be for me a personal exercise in long-form absurdism may as well be, for those around me, an exercise in littering every single conversation with really banal, repetitive only-barely-jokes. Which isn’t really fair to everybody who isn’t me, and isn’t really how I want to come off.

And I have tolerant friends and a deeply tolerant wife; no one is going to tell me I have to cut it out, nobody thinks I’m actually trying to diss their mom. They might groan a bit, which is the least they’re entitled to do, but that’s about all. They’re kind people.

But having a couple of friends visit for a few days at the end of last year and realizing that I was yourmomizing everything, even literally reflexively yourmomizing random snippets of half-overheard conversation from the other room, made me think about whether maybe it’s time to reel it in some, to recalibrate the meter. And probably the most effective way to start that process is to just kick cold turkey for a while.

And so I’ve stopped making “your mom” jokes for the moment. For a few days now.

All I can moderate so far is what comes out of my mouth (or mostly, considering most of my daily conversation is over the internet, what comes out of my fingers), not what comes into my head, and so I’m not really at a psycholinguistic level making any fewer of them, but now instead of having reflexive yourmomization thoughts and then producing them out into the world, I’m actively quashing the production part of process. Sometimes I mutter them quietly to myself instead of typing them out, but mostly I’ve been getting out ahead of that even.

It feels a bit like stifling a sneeze, one of those stifles where your sinuses get blasted by the blowback and feel unhappy. It’s not a process I’m enjoying. But it’s educational. It’s interesting. And I’m probably annoying fewer people.

And if I bottle up enough of this antiyourmomization frustration it might push me over the edge into actually implementing that chatbot.

12 Variations on Chekhov’s Gun

“If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should go off. Otherwise don’t put it there.”

– Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, as related by Ilia Gurlyand of a conversation from 1899

“Rules are made to be broken.”

– Ladies Home Journal, 1899

~ The setup ~

ACT I – SCENE 1
(The living room of a modest home. There is a fire burning in the fireplace; hanging above the mantle is pistol.)

ALICE
Oh, Uncle Bob, it is so good to see you again after all these years.

BOB
(embracing ALICE)
I have missed this old house. How is your mother?

~

~ The variations ~

1. The Vanilla

ACT III – SCENE IV

ALICE
You’ve betrayed me, and Mother! Everything this family stands for!

BOB
(grabs pistol from mantle, fires it at ALICE, killing her)
Oh god, what have I done?

~

2. The Ladies Home Journal

ACT III – SCENE IV

ALICE
You’ve betrayed us all, Uncle Bob!

BOB
(walks to fireplace, looks at pistol on the wall)
Yes, well, nobody’s perfect. Hey, where’d you find this neat gun?

ALICE
Mother bought it on eBay.

BOB
It’s really cool looking.

ALICE
Yeah, I like it a lot.

~
Continue reading

Overthanking a plate of injokes

So I’ve been playing Glitch for the last few days; it’s a lightweight free-to-play social MMO done as a browser Flash game, sort of a cross between a platformer and combat-free resource-wrangling games like Animal Crossing. It’s a good little time. It looks a bit like this:

But I play a lot of games and don’t mention it here much at all, so why am I bringing up this one? Because of a plate of beans, is why.

It goes like this:

1. I found out about Glitch because I work for and hang out at Metafilter, and a lot of folks on Metafilter are playing it. And so while my little yellow dude has been mining beryl and cavorting with pigs in exchange for steaks and harvesting bubbles off of bubble trees, I’ve been chatting with my fellow Mefites. And not only are the are a lot of us playing the game, there’s even a couple folks who work for Tiny Speck, the company that makes Glitch.

2. There’s a long-running joke on Metafilter about how we’re the kind of people who could overthink a plate of beans. It started as a joke someone made during a thread years ago in which people were earnestly deconstructing the performative elements of Alanis Morissette’s cover of Black Eyed Peas’ My Humps, and it caught on, to the point where “beanplating” and “to beanplate” are a commonly understood derived verb forms used to describe maybe-needlessly-in-depth analysis of one thing or another. There’s even a song.

3. Glitch has bean trees, on which grow beans. One can harvest beans, and eat them or use them as constituents in recipes. What Glitch hasn’t had is beans arranged tastefully on a plate.

4. Except, well, that now exists, thanks to one of those Mefite Glitchers who happens to work on the game.

Here it is:

Click on it and you get, as with most items in Glitch, a context menu that gives you some basic options and a special option unique to this item: overthinking.
Continue reading

The Big Atreides (or, The Dune Abides)

So there was a brief discussion of a twofer of Dune-related posts over on Metatalk, and it quickly unraveled into a series of questionable Frank Herbert vs. The Coen Brothers jokes when Metafilter user Eideteker said:

The Dune Abides.

You can read through the thread to see the raw output as folks put it together. Fun real-time riffing, people pushing in a few different directions with it over a couple of hours.

Here’s a neatened-up arrangement of my take on it, in the general style of an IMDB “Memorable Quotes” digest:

The Big Atreides

PRINCESS IRULAN [voiceover]: Way out in the stars there was this fella… fella I wanna tell ya about. Fella by the name of Paul Atreides. At least that was the handle his loving parents gave him, but he never had much use for it himself. Mr. Atreides, he called himself “The Dib”. Now, “Dib” – that’s a name no one would self-apply where I come from. But then there was a lot about the Dib that didn’t make a whole lot of sense. And a lot about where he lived, likewise. But then again, maybe that’s why I found the world so darned interestin’.

They call Arrakis “the Spice planet”. I didn’t find it to be that, exactly. But I’ll allow there are some colorful folks there. ‘Course I can’t say I’ve seen Caladan, and I ain’t never been to Ix. And I ain’t never seen no Reverend Mother in her damned undies, so the feller says. But I’ll tell you what – after seeing Dune, and this here story I’m about to unfold, well, I guess I seen a purpose every bit as turrible as you’d see on any of them other planets. And in Galach, too. So I can die with a smile on my face, without feelin’ like the God Emperor gypped me.

Now this here story I’m about to unfold took place back in the early 10190s – just about the time of the conflict with Vlad Harkonnen and the I-treides. I only mention it because sometimes there’s a man… I won’t say a madhi, ’cause, what’s a madhi? But sometimes, there’s a man. And I’m talkin’ about the Dib here. Sometimes, there’s a man, well, he’s the man for the place the Bene Gesserit dare not look. He fits right in there. And that’s the Dib, on Dune. And even if he’s a prescient man – and the Dib was most certainly that. Quite possibly the most prescient in Arakeen, which would place him high in the runnin’ for the most prophetic galaxywide. But sometimes there’s a man, sometimes, there’s a man. Aw. I lost my heighliner of thought here. But… aw, Shaitan. I’ve done introduced him enough.

THE DIB: I’m the Muad’dib. So that’s what you call me. You know, that or, uh, His ‘Dibeness, or uh, ‘Diber, or El Muad’diberino if you’re not into the whole my-name-is-a-killing-word thing.

THE DIB: Yeah, well, that’s just, like, my terrible purpose, man.

CHANI: What do you do for recreation?

THE DIB: Oh, the usual. I jihad. Ride worms around. The occasional prescient spice trance.

DUNCAN IDAHO: Facedancers! Fuck me. I mean, say what you like about the tenets of the Bene Gesserit, ‘Dib, at least it’s an ethos.

FEYD-RAUTHA [to THE DIB]: What’s this day of rest shit? What’s this wormshit? I don’t fuckin’ care! It don’t matter to Feyd. But you’re not foolin’ me, man. You might fool the fucks in the naib, but you don’t fool Feyd. This bush league wheels-within-wheels stuff. Laughable, man – ha ha! I would have killed you Saturday. I kill you next Wednesday instead. Wooo! You got a date Wednesday, baby!

THE DIB: Mind if I do a water of L?

STILGAR: You have got to buck up, man. You cannot drag this negative energy in to the jihad!

THE DIB: Fuck the jihad… Fuck YOU, Stilgar!

STILGAR: Fuck the jihad? All right, I can see you don’t want to be cheered up here, ‘Dib. Come on Guerney, let’s go get us a worm.

IRULAN [voiceover]: I guess that’s the way the whole durned Golden Path keeps perpetuatin’ itself.

CHANI: Do you like sex, Usul?

THE DIB: ‘Scuse me?

CHANI: Sex. The physical act of love. Coitus. Do you like it?

THE DIB: I was talking about the waters of my homeworld.

STILGAR: Jamis was a good fighter, and a good Freman. He was one of us. He was a man who loved the desert… and killing Harkonnens, and as a wormrider he explored the sands of the Great Flat, from Tuono Basin to Habbanya Ridge and… up to… Gara Kulon. He died, like so many young men of his generation, he died before his time. In your wisdom, Shai-Hulud, you took him, as you took so many bright flowering young men on Salusa Secundus, on Giedi Prime, on Bele Tegeuse. These young men gave their lives. And so would Jamis. Jamis, who loved fighting. And so, Jamis of Sietch Tabr, in accordance with what we think your dying wishes might well have been, we commit the water of your body to the tribe, which you loved so well. Good night, sweet prince.

THE DIB: Just say the Litany Against Fear, man.

STILGAR: I’m perfectly calm, ‘Dib.

THE DIB: Yeah, waving the fucking crysknife around?

STILGAR: Calmer than you are.

[The Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and his mentat aid Piter De Vries interrogate Duke Leto Atreides.]

VLADIMIR: Is this your uniform, Leto? Is this your uniform, Leto?

DE VRIES: Look, Baron…

VLADIMIR: Piter, please? Is this your uniform, Leto?

DE VRIES: Just ask him about the signet ring.

VLADIMIR: Is this yours, Leto? Is this your uniform, Leto?

DE VRIES: Is that your thopter out front?

VLADIMIR: Is this your uniform, Leto?

DE VRIES: We know it’s his fucking uniform! Where’s the fucking signet ring, you freaking’ duke?

VLADIMIR: Look, Leto. Have you ever heard of Giedi Prime?

DE VRIES: Oh, for CHOAM’s sake, Vlad…

VLADIMIR: You’re entering a world of pain, Duke. We know that this is your uniform. We know that you had a signet ring.

DE VRIES: And your fucking heir.

VLADIMIR: And your fucking heir. And, we know that this is your uniform.

DE VRIES: We’re going to feed you your uniform, Leto.

VLADIMIR: You’re killing your lady, Leto!

IRULAN: I like your style, ‘Dib.

THE DIB: Well, I dig your style too, man. Got the whole galactic princess thing goin’.

IRULAN: Thankee.

IRULAN [voiceover]: Sometimes you ride the worm and sometimes, well, he rides you.

I may be an X from Y, but…

“I’m just a humble country lawyer…”
— Jimmy Stewart as Paul Biegler, Anatomy of a Murder

“I’m just a simple hyperchicken lawyer from a backwoods asteroid, but…”
— Hyperchicken Lawyer as himself, Futurama

I may be just a simple armchair linguist from the blogosphere, but I know a snowclone when I see one, and this is an interesting one. “I may be an X from Y, but…” is a go-to phrase in an apparently wide variety of contexts where there’s some perceived rhetorical advantage to a disarming self-deprecating framing.

And while its use seems biased toward small-town/rural self-identification (“country bumpkin”, “dumb old hick”, “redneck libertarian”), its not limited to those contexts; the speaker sometimes identifies as a city-slicker (“a heal-wearing, wine-drinking gal from the city”), or a woman (“a girl from Manchester”), or a young person (“a kid from manila”), or as a member of any of a variety of other categorizations (“a grandmom from Chicago”, “a gay guy from Belfast”, “an insufferably white dork from Canada”).

Regardless of the role filling the X slot, the thrust remains the same: the speaker acknowledges their disadvantaged status in the context of the current conversation, but! But they’ve got something to say. As a rhetorical trick, it’s nice: a savvy speaker can claim some humility, but more than that can undercut a potential dismissal or (more deviously) put their interlocutor on the defense by insinuating a dismissive intent on the interlocutor’s part.

Jimmy Stewart’s quoted line from the Otto Preminger court drama captures that rhetorical thrust nicely, but it doesn’t fill out the template I’m interested in here; the “…from Small Town, Wherever” tag is missing. But as later parodies (such as the template fulfilling Hyperchicken quote above, or Phil Hartman’s drawn-out “I’m just a caveman…but…” spiels from Saturday Night Live) show, the form had legs.

And while the cited examples below don’t generally invoke legal contexts, the perceived role in pop culture perceptions of the small town lawyer as a rhetorically manipulative creature makes the generalization of the form for rhetorical framing in general conversation reasonable enough as a tactic, whether sincere or for the sake of a joke or some mix of the two.

So, collected here and alphabetized are all the hits I found on Google for the search string “i may be a * from * but” as well as variants with “an” as the article, “just be”, and “be just”, documenting only those hits that seemed to fit the pattern correctly with a physical location of some sort as the object of the “from” preposition.

(Notes for the future: It might be interesting to take this list and break it up into constituent parts ([a/an] [adjectival modifier(s)] [noun] from [location]) and look at those independently, or plot the noun and adjective constituents of the X part on a map according to the Y location. Also, to keep things focused and simple, I didn’t look in detail, or cite here, variants where there’s a negation (“I may not be a…”), or where alternatives to “I may be” are used (“I might be a…”, “I’m just a…”), or where the Y value is something other than a physical location (“…from another era”), or where the “from Y” tag is absent or significantly different structurally (“I may be a size 2 from the waist up, but…”).)

And so but: the list of cites, preserving capitalization it occurred in the search results.

I May Be ________ From ___________, But…

an 18 year chick from Canada
a 35-year-old white DJ from Maine
an African far away from home at Christmas-time
an American citizen from Hawaii
an artsy-fartsy from London
a backwards Christian hick from Ohio
a bitter old Klingon from Universe #2
a “blow-in” from Devon
a boy from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn
a bozo originally from Houston
a business school graduate from Canada
a cat from Memphis
a chow-hick from Napa
a country boy Republican from Idaho
a country boy from northern new england
a country bumpkin from the Arctic
a cracker from NYC
a crazy dog from Nagoya, Japan
a dirt-old farmer from Franklin
a dumb hick from Kentucky
a dumb hick from the woods
a dumb nigger from Chicago
a dumb old country boy from Montana
a dumb old hick from a dumb old hick town
an Echidna from another world
an emergency doctor originally from Maryland named Eric McDonald
an exchange student from Tennessee
an ex employee from a year ago
a farm kid from Texas
a fast talking blonde from California
a fireman from Lincoln Nebraska
a flashy girl from Flushing
a ‘fool from Stockholm’
a foolish boy from Chippenham
a foreigner (from an allied country)
a freckled face bitch from Down Under
a “Gaijin” from Texas
a gay guy from Belfast
a general hockey fan from Montreal
A Girl From Homer
a girl from Kansas
a girl from Manchester
a girl from Manchester
a girl from Nebraska
a girl from a Salford council estate
a girl from the Midwest
a gobby bloke from Bermondsey
a goober from Georgia
a grad from Knucklehead U
a graduate from SHS
a grandmom from Chicago
a green-bottomed kid from Texas
a “green go” politician from Alaska
a heal-wearing, wine-drinking gal from the city
a hick from Indianer
a hick from Montana
a hick from N. Louisi-Yana
a hick from Pennsylvania
a hick from a cow college
a hick from the sticks
a hick from up north
a hick girl from Tennessee
a hillbilly from jackson county
a humble Northern boy from England
a humble boy from the Midwest/ Appalachia countryside
a humble techie from a non-medieval institution
a humble woman from Wasilla
an illegal immigrant from Canada
an insufferably white dork from Canada
an Italian from NJ
an Ivy League educated white girl from the mid-west
a Jewish girl from Boston
a kid from manila
a kiwi indian drumma from new zealand
a lily white chick from the subdivision
a little girl from Texas
a little ol’ country boy from Lubbock, Texas
a little old country boy from St Louis
a lowly peasant emigree from Gloucester
a manly naturalist from Northumbria
a middle class ex- factory worker from Surrey
a naive white guy from London
a nice guy from the Midwest
an Okie from Muskogee
an ol’ yellow dog (from New York City)
an old dude from the Northwest
an old frustrated throw back from the 60′s
an old geezer from the hinterlands
an old nobody from NY
an old nobody from NY
an outsider from a different race
an outsider from the lower 48
a pasty Caucasian from a rural farming community
a plain working class bloke originally from the Newtownards Road in Belfast
a plonker from Penge
a privileged white boy from Scarsdale
a redneck from south Arkinsaw
a redneck libertarian from Kentucky
a rookie from England
a rube from Warren County
a schismatic from Rome
a simple Paddy from Ireland
a simple bloke from Otahuhu
a simple country lawyer from your northern neighbor
a simple guy from Bosie, Idaho
a simple guy from Mobile, Alabama
a simple guy from Norway
a simple kid from the trailer park
a simple man from Galveston
a sixteen year old sophmore from Missouri
a sixty year old white woman from St. Louis
a small town girl from Mt. Clemens Mi
a small town girl from Oklahoma
a “small town” girl from Portland
a stranger from afar
a stranger from far away
a stupid metalhead from california
a teenage guy from a small town
a total randomer from Manchester, England
a transplanted hick from New Hampshire
a transplant from CT
an uneducated, “granny taught”, hodad from podunk
an unkwown from the twilight zone
A VATO FROM THE VARRIO
a white boy from the ‘burbs
a white doctor from America
a white girl from Boston
a white girl from Oregon
a woman from Venus
a woman from the south
a Yankee from up north
a yokel from Ohio
a yokel who graduated from UF

Glengarry Glen Sith

THE DEATH STAR, INTERIOR: A CONFERENCE ROOM

A SITH LORD, VADER, addresses IMPERIAL COMMAND STAFF, including ADMIRALS OZZEL and MOTTI

VADER: Let’s talk about something important…

[Vader snaps toward Ozzel]

VADER: Stop. That. Breathing.

[Ozzel freezes]

VADER: Breathing is for chokers only.

[Ozzel gasps]

VADER: You think I’m Jedi mindtricking you? I am not Jedi mindtricking you. I’m here from Coruscant. I’m here from Palpatine and Sidious. And I’m here on a mission of mercy.

VADER: Your name’s Ozzel? You call yourself an Admiral, you son of a Bith?

[Motti stands up]

MOTTI: I don’t gotta listen to this sorcery–

VADER: You certainly don’t, officer. Because the good news is, I’ve altered the deal. The bad news is, you’ve got, all you have got one week to convince me not to alter it further. Starting with tonight. Starting with tonight’s rebel crackdown.

VADER: Oh, have I got your attention now? Good. Because we’re adding a little something to this month’s Imperial Raffle. As you all know, first prize is a TIE Advanced Fighter model x1. Anybody want to see second prize? Second prize is a set of steaksabers.

VADER: Third prize is I’m your father.

VADER: You get the picture? You laughing now? You got the Force. Palpatine and Sidious invested good midichlorians. Find their coordinates and kill them. You can’t forcechoke the rebels you’re assigned, you can’t forcechoke shit, you are shit. Hit the reactor chasm, pal, and beat it, because you are going out.

OZZEL: The Force is weak.

VADER: The Force is weak? The fuckin’ Force is weak? You’re weak. I’ve been wearing this helmet twenty years–

MOTTI: What’s your name–

VADER: Blast you, that’s my name.

[Motti laughs uncomfortably.]

VADER: You know why, Admiral? Because you flew a Tatoiine podracer to get here tonight, I drove an eighty billion credit Imperial Destroyer. That’s my name.

[Motti waves Vader off. Vader turns to Ozzel.]

VADER: And your name is you’re powerconverting. And you can’t play in the Sith’s game? You can’t crush them? Then go home and tell your protocol droid your troubles.

VADER: Because only one thing counts in this war: get them to die in the base which is rebellious! You hear me you bordok-loving rebelhuggers?

[Vader activates a holoprojector. Acronyms glitter in the still conference room air.]

VADER: A.B.C. A, always; B, be; C, choking. Always be choking. Always be choking!

VADER: F.O.R.S. Find, overwhelm, retrieve, smother. Find. Have you found some rebels. Overwhelm. Are you overwhelming their defenses, I know you are because it’s crush or walk, you choke or you hit the escape pods. Retrieve, have you retrieved the rebel plans for Kenobi. And smother.

VADER: F.O.R.S. Get out there. You got rebels starting uprisings, you think they’re doing that to get out of the asteroid field? A guy don’t threaten the Empire unless he wants a quashing. They’re sitting out there waiting to give you their plans. Are you gonna choke them? Are you man enough to choke them?

[Motti laughs.]

MOTTI: Incredible.

VADER: What’s the problem, Admiral?

MOTTI: You, Vader. You’re such a monk, you’re so powerful, how come you’re coming down here and wasting your parsecs with a buncha Hutt-slime?

[Vader gestures to his belt.]

VADER: You see this lightsaber?

[He sets the weapon on the conference room table.]

VADER: You see this lightsaber?

MOTTI: Yeah.

VADER: That lightsaber cost more than your speeder. I subjugated a hundred and seventy star systems last year, how many did you subjugate? You see, Admiral, that’s who I am, and you’re sarlac food. Evil guy? I don’t give a shit. Posh accent? Fuck you, go home and iron your Nazi duds.

VADER: You want to work here, choke!

VADER: You think this is abuse? You think this is abuse, you wookiee? You can’t take this, how can you take the blaster fire you get on a raid? You don’t like it, leave.

VADER: I can go out there tonight, with the battle stations you got, and kill myself fifteen thousand rebels. Tonight! In two hours!

[To Ozzel]

VADER: Can you?

[To Motti]

VADER: Can you?

VADER: Go and do likewise. F.O.R.S. Get mad, you clones of bitches, get mad! You know what it takes to crush rebellions? It takes brass rebreather units to crush rebellions.

VADER: Go and do likewise, officers. The rebels are out there. You wipe them out, they’re yours, you don’t I got no sympathy for you. You want to go out to those bases tonight and choke, choke, then it’s yours. If not you’re gonna be shining my faceplate.

VADER: And you know what you’ll be saying, a bunch of losers sitting around in a cantina. “Oh yeah, I used to be a Grand Moff. It’s a tough racket.”

[Vader pulls out a glowing vial.]

VADER: These are the new midichlorians. These are the Skywalker midichlorians. And to you, they’re Mandelorian gold. And you don’t get them. Why? Because to give them to you is just throwing them in a garbage compactor.

VADER: They’re for chokers.

VADER: I’d say the Force be with you, but you wouldn’t know who to electrocute with it if you had it.

[Vader straps his lightsaber back on and turns to Motti.]

VADER: And to answer your question, Admiral, why am I here? I came here because Palpatine and Sidious asked me to, they asked me for a favor. I said the real favor, follow my advice and fire your scruffy head, because a nerf-herder is a nerf-herder.

[Vader twirls cape and leaves.]

Cheevolution: video games jargon, word rage, and cheevos

Penny Arcade keeps track of videogaming culture so I don’t have to. And PA writer Jerry Holkins like words possibly more than I do, so as an added bonus I get the occasional dose of jargon that I’d otherwise miss out on.

For example: cheevo.

Today’s PA strip (which, for those of you lacking context, is a joke about the recently-announced mild price hike for Microsoft’s Xbox Live Gold online gaming-and-other-stuff service) brought the word to my attention.

A bit about video game context

Cheevo is shorthand for “achievement”, where (again with the context) an achievement in gaming contexts is some sort of badge-of-honor, otherwise valueless, that recognizes publicly that you have accomplished one or another varyingly difficult tasks in any given game. Kill your thousandth zombie? Achievement unlocked! Escape the sandmines without dying once? Achievement unlocked!

It’s an effective reward system for keeping players more engaged — or engaged longer — in the games they play. Microsoft didn’t invent the idea, but they were instrumental in mainstreaming it with the Xbox Live platform, and now basically any online-capable game platform and even many stand-alone games deploy some sort of achievement system. Parodic metacommentary games have been made. Ostensibly non-game mobile apps like Foursquare have used achievements to motivate users to stay active. Andy Baio, waxy of waxy.org, gave a great talk about gamic motivation earlier this year. The concept of achievement-like systems as abstract motivation for tasks, gaming or otherwise, has permeated the tech periphery of pop culture pretty thoroughly over the last few years.

And while the name may vary from system to system (Playstation maker Sony offers “trophies”, for example, while Foursquare offers “badges”), the name “achievement” has pretty much become the standard reference for all such rewards.

Cheevo?

But, so, yes, to cheevo: I read the strip and got to wondering just where the hell that came from, and when.

That the word exists is no surprise: gamers abbreviate and nickname and jargonize as much as any other group, and maybe more so historically than average given the need in online games to communicate with a minimum of keystrokes to keep one’s twitch muscles available for actual shooting/jumping/spellcasting/etc.

“Cheevo” has a entirely buyable ring to it: it’s kind of twee, sure, but it’s also snappy and easy to connect to the word its derived from, and anyway using a word because you know it’s sort of unsettlingly twee is hardly unheard of. So when did it start?

Doing some googling, the oldest cite I could find was this comment from July 5, 2007 on the gaming site joystiq.com by user “xenocidic”:

clearly it’s still shrinkwrapped as it doesn’t offer easy cheevo’s for his streak !

It’s worth noting that the actual word “achievement” appears nowhere on that page — xenocidic’s use isn’t set up by a prior use by either post author or fellow commenters. That suggests to me that the word was in circulation at least a bit before this, for the word to get used without comment, but that may be assuming too much about the longevity of any given joystiq thread (the comment came the day after the post and is the second to last in the thread) or the reactivity of the joystiq commenterbase to nonce words.

That xenocidic fellow uses it again on joystiq a month later, 8/8/2007:

why not just learn to play a real guitar …

i mean other than the lack of cheevos ~ why not …

and another user quotes and responds to the comment without blinking one way or the other at the usage.

By mid-november of that year, however, joystiq users have started to respond. In a post about the lack of achievements for ported older games, an unnamed user remarked:

seriously, achievements are addictive. We all know that. Some like to say “it’s supposed to be about the game!”. I have to admit that cheevos are and awesome thing, and make a game more fun for me. Speaking of that… just hit 10 grand last night with Assassin’s Creed! w00t!

Another user responds to the content of that comment and reiterates the “cheevos” usage, but then folks start talking about the usage itself, in a mix of word rage, defense, and just-to-annoy-the-annoyed repetition and intentional usage:

I wish people didn’t use the word ‘cheevos’.

CHEEVOS!!!! CHEEVEROONIES! Maybe something a little more l337 for you? Like cH33v0z! w00t!

Signed:
Cheevie McCheeverson

Cheevos

xenocidic himself speaks up at this point:

@btex, I didn’t like the word ‘cheevos’ either the first time I used it, but it’s really grown on me.

try it out sometime.

If I truly voiced how I felt about the bastardization of the word “Achievement” with “‘cheevos”, I would be accused of being prejudiced.

Oh and I’ve never heard anyone refer to Achievements as ‘cheevos’ but now that I have if I ever hear anyone say it again to me I’ll slit their throat, or just teamkill them repeatedly if it’s in a game.

@ Anticrawl… CHEEVOS! Run and grab the razor!

Another victory for slang and abbreviations!

I agree that these games will be bought and enjoyed by some (especially Psychonauts, which everyone seems to be on about), but I think they could have reaped a much bigger audience by including cheevos.

(yes, I said cheevos).

Cheevos.

And away it goes

Most of the early cites I found in 2007 were on joystiq, so it’s possible that site (and maybe xenocidic specifically) can claim some credit for the rise of the word into cultural ubiquity among videogame chatterboxes. By 2008 and certainly 2009 the word seems to have come into common casual usage in gaming discussions in general; the site cheevos.com exists for cheev-related bragging, useful tarpit Urban Dictionary has an entry from early 2009, and not just commenters but staff writers are using the word in headlines and copy.

But it remains conspicuously jargony as well, enough so that people start forum threads to complain about the usage or to assert (as in this thread from a couple months ago) that “cheevos is not a word and its annoying when people use as a replacement for achievement. Its just aggravating.”

And there’s backlash backlash as well, as in the sorta-activist blog Ch33v0 Unlocked, which embraces the usage (and the not-surprising transfiguration of “cheevo” to elite leet 1337 alphanumeric style) and basically celebrates it about as much as a blogspot blog could hope to.