Okay, this post is by request of publishing mastermind, Toni Weiskopf, who has been doing the final edit of my next book.  In MHV I have a creature who is hopelessly addicted to the internet use the word “Pwn” or “Pwned”. 

Is Pwn too obscure to use in a contemporary action fantasy monster-killing novel?  Would you, the reader be cool with that, or would you scratch your head and think it was a typo?

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65 thoughts on “Pwned”

  1. YMMV. I spend something like 8-12 hours a day on a computer, many of them on the net, so I recognize the term instantly, although I prefer to spell it pwn3d. 🙂

    I think non-geek readers would probably pick it up from context, for example, in a scene where a sniper takes down a Master Vampire from a klick away and then mutters to himself, triumphantly, “Pwn3d, you bastard!”

  2. Maybe have a scene where one of the geekier Hunters has to explain it to a non-l33tsp34k3r?

    Could add some comic-relief… I’m cool with it.

  3. Totally cool with it, might be good to x-splain it tho. Could be cool if one of the older hunters was confused and Owen had to explain it.

  4. I’d use it. It’s a word that is going to be understood by the vast majority of your readers, and I think those who don’t get it might just do a google search and figure it out quick fast and in a hurry.

  5. Point to consider, when I saw the title of this post I really expected to see a youtube video of someone getting smacked in the face with a .357 or some drunk getting tasered by a tiny police woman.

  6. Larry, people who spend so much time reading books that they don’t know what that means are probably the same kind of people that like to learn new things from the books they read. So you’re probably fine using pwn whether or not your readers already know it.

  7. I’ve been engaged in pwnage for the last month over at the Sherlock Holmes IMDB board, so, yeah, I’m fine with it. But I think it would be hilarious for someone to explain it to a person who didn’t know what it was.

  8. I would use it and explain it. The explantation might be funnier if you did it at a point where someone turns it against him “It’s owned you typing deficient idiot.” or something to that affect.

  9. I agree with the people who vote for explaining it and using it. But consider the source–we’re all techy/geeky enough to follow blogs, so we’re more likely to know it. You need to survey people who are specifically not on the Internet…good luck arranging that, though.

  10. I have no idea what it means. I would think typo. But I’m with Northwestern Diamondback–you could have a character easily explain it. One of the characters could say, what the heck does that mean? What is he saying? Then the other explains.

  11. Those who get it would get a good laugh, and those who don’t would benefit from a quick explanation. I say keep it.

  12. I’d personally root for Earl to do the “WTF?”, but with him pulling a Connor MacLeod he’s probably kept up better than that in preparation to eventually shed the Harbinger identity for his next “new persona.” Maybe Sam or Cody? Boone’s too young…

  13. Heh. Where I work they have these company-sanctioned employee groups. One of them is the Professional Women’s Network. Egad. It cracks me up every time I see it.

    So use Pwn/Pwned/Pwnd, but I’d suggest using it in front of somebody who says, “Huh?” when they hear it, and then you can explain what it means, then move on wit the story line. My thought.

  14. Let me guess… Internet Zombie? (As in, typical Daily Kos reader or HK-cultist… I’m willin’ to give HK’s new leadership a chance, but one must realize the Dr00lin’ Ph4nb01z don’t help their cause any.)

  15. Yeah, you could easily have one of the younger hunters explain it briefly to one of the old timers if you’re worried about alienating some readers.

  16. Well, I had hoped to find the meaning by reading the comments.

    Thoroughly enjoyed MHI and will look for more of your books.

    I’d even buy MHV to learn what pwn means.

  17. someone out there really believes that an audience who is obsessed with reading about big gun zombie killing cthulhu evil wouldn’t know what pwned means? i mean this type of audience isn’t exactly internet-shy. maybe if you wrote “knit your own socks for fun and profit” i would say there is a point but you’re fine i think.

  18. I don’t think it’s any different than some CSI goon going all “phlebotonum” with uber chemical double speak that doesn’t really exist.

    At least this is a real form of speech… er… text for some.

    Remind your overlord that Hemmingway drove people nutters writing like a Telegraph in short and choppy. Conveying thoughts. Losing proper structure. stop.

  19. I honestly doubt that it would need more than a casual explaination. I have heard 70 year old men use the word PWN in a spoken conversation…times are changing for sure.

  20. It wouldn’t cause any issues for me.

    If nothing else, just make sure it is used in a specific context, just like A Clockwork Orange. It’s overflowing with words that I had certainly never heard or could completely understand at first glance. But taken with their context over a couple of pages, and it becomes pretty clear what they mean.

  21. I am a middle aged attorney (gun nut), and I get the reference. I also think that the vast majority of your target audience will understand the reference and humor. I know that my 14 and 26 year old sons, well within your target audience, will get the reference. We all can’t wait for your next novel.

  22. I’d say leave it any time that character is speaking (provided there are some overt context clues the first couple of times it gets used) and say “owned” any other time, or when any other character is using it.


  23. I hate it when Captain Exposition walks out and starts ‘splaining things in a book. Every time he wanders onto the set, a low flying safe needs to hit him.

    Use the word. If someone can’t be bothered to google it, screw him.

  24. I’m with Kristopher. As soon as you explain it it loses the humor. Let people look it up and they will get a laugh when they learn it.

    But I could definitely see Harbinger doing a quick eyeroll when he hears it.

  25. I would use it. Don’t explain it. Like definitions to words used in books that people don’t understand, they could Google the word to find the meaning.

  26. Depending on the context Pwn is probably not going to confuse anyone to much. Though it might look odd if it’s the only l33t sp33k in the story.

    Also, if the character is saying it out loud, does the spelling match the pronunciation? How would one spell Pwn phonetically?

  27. I think it’d be ok so long as it only being used in dialog. Outside of dialog, it would definitely strike me as being a bit strange.

    I’m with Kristopher. As soon as you explain it it loses the humor. Let people look it up and they will get a laugh when they learn it.

    But I could definitely see Harbinger doing a quick eyeroll when he hears it.

    Depends on how you explain it. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy comes to mind…

  28. Speaking as a newly minted old geezer, I understand the usage of pwned and find it a LMAO moment, if a 2000 year old mummy used the term.

  29. There’s an idea, Larry, maybe have the character’s only language be l33tsp34k? Perhaps even have him be MHI’s IT expert?

  30. You could explain the term in a sub-title quote at the beginning of the chapter, like this from Wikipedia:

    “‘Pwn’ is a leetspeak slang term derived from the verb “own”… The term implies domination or humiliation of a rival.”

  31. Only if someone threatens to shove a size 14 up the users rectum immediately after he says it.
    People who actually use that word speaking need to be flogged.


    Just don’t overdo the pwned dialogue too much and you should be fine. If there is something I can’t stand is too much 7331 speak. And I work in IT.

    I am actually surprised that BAEN books of all places hasn’t had this come up before.

  33. “Would you, the reader be cool with that, or would you scratch your head and think it was a typo?” but Larry- originally it WAS a typo! 🙂
    In the context you use it in, it makes perfect sense and I wouldn’t change a thing…

  34. Seriously, anyone who is an NBA fan of any description knows what PWN3D is. I suspect that like WTF and LOL and LMAO this is one of those 21st century textisms that can now — safely — be taken for granted. Though I can understand if Toni isn’t necessarily ready to go there. Yet. Hey, Larry, you can be the first to crack the glass.

  35. Writers have always used acronyms, slang, abbreviations, coloquiallisms or God help us, written using an “accent ” (Alex Kilgore in Allan Cole and Chris Bunchs “Sten” series for example) in their stories to lend them an air of authenticity or levity. The term is in regular use amongst a sizable portion of society so I see the use of “pwn” as much the same thing.

  36. dude, if you don’t put it in, i’ll never read another bean book in my life. wait no, i will cause i pretty much just read books by bean folks. but i’ll cry and be sad that no one is giving my folks any reference. farscape, is pretty obscure and did alot of crazy stuff like that and it’s great 🙂 you want to be great 🙂
    come on you know you do.

    lots of folks play video games and there like the new comic books in a way. when mr. ringo first mention halo in one of his books. i remember running around screaming with excitement to brooke my girlfriend about it 🙂

    shes still with me btw, she never knew when we first ment that a dreaded tattooed dude was such a big geek. now, she’s more of a geek with me too 🙂

  37. You may also want to consider that while “Pwn” or “Pwned” is popular slang now, it may not be in few years time. If you want a good example, R A Heinlein used a popular slang term in his book “The Moon is A Harsh Mistress”. I read it for the first time twenty years after it was written and the term had fallen out of use in that time. Fortunately Heinlein wrote in a scene that defined the term.

    So if you expect MHV to be in print in twenty years, write a scene that defines Pwned otherwise the book may be too contemporary to stand the test of time. My father-in-law enjoyed your book and if you put Pwned in it he’d be scratching his head.

  38. Personally, I’d rather not understand a word than have a bit of exposition jerk me out of the story.

    I did okay with Chinese cussing in Firefly, Russkie slang in The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, and made-up cyberspeak in Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy. I’m pretty sure that the future me will be able to deal with the occasional unfamiliar bit of 1337-speak used to add flavor.

  39. +1 what Tam said (except for not being that big a Gibson fan).

    OTOH I can see a very funny scene arising out of several characters trying to explain the word history and usage all without quite getting the job done due to transient monster intrusion or the like. Alternatively, if the word appears early enough in the story, the rest of the book could be paced by failed/disrupted attempts by several different characters to bring the topic back up to explain the word.

    I have no idea what wikipedia would think of this but reproducing the “pwned” wiki page in it’s entirety as the books last stand-alone chapter would have a snort-inducung effect for most of your readers, I think.

    So long as the result is to clue in the unfamiliar reader that the usage was indeed deliberate and worth researching for him/her self without inflicting the dreaded expository interlude on the rest of us, I think you’ll have yet another success to deal with.

  40. Heinlein could introduce neologisms without any explanation but the context,and I can’t imagine it being difficult to make the context explain something as simple as “pwned”.

    Except for one thing, and that’s pronunciation. Spoken dialogue gets rendered in my head as spoken, so it is rather offputting to have an unfamiliar word that cannot be pronounced using English phonetics. “Pawned”? “Powned”? The Welsh vowel “w”, which I’m not that sure about pronouncing in the first place?

  41. I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Shoot a nerd vampire with an M203, and what’s left of him complains about how lame using the noob tube is. =P

    1. Be funnier still if the nerd-vamp was someone whose clock Owen cleaned in Q3A or Unreal Tournament or whatever the hot FPS of the setting-time was the previous night…

      “Oh, that was you? Sorry, dude, but I still gotta kill ya…”

  42. OK, I finally started reading the ARC version of MHV a few days ago and I just got to the troll in the book, saw the pwned reference, and came back to this post to ask:

    Is the name Melvin a reference to GunKid?

    1. Justin, if you’re going to name a troll, it doesn’t hurt to name him after the greatest troll of all time.

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