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Usenet Tutorial

Usenet Slang

People have been talking on Usenet for a long time, and over the years, certain words and expressions have evolved. Once you spend enough time reading newsgroups, you will begin to pick up the nuances. However, to help you get a head start, let's talk about a few of the words now.

To begin, people on Usenet use a great many abbreviations and acronyms. Such expressions are handy, and I want you to know what they mean. The table below shows some of them. As you can see, they are similar to the abbreviations we use when we send email, IM, text message, and so on. However, these conventions actually originated many years ago on Usenet.

Some abbreviations commonly used on Usenet

Abbreviation Meaning
;-)winking smiley
BTWby the way
F2Fface to face (in person)
FAQfrequently asked question list
FWIWfor what it's worth
FYIfor your information
<G>grin (same as a smiley)
MOTASmember of the appropriate sex
MOTOSmember of the opposite sex
MOTSSmember of the same sex
Ob-(as a prefix) obligatory
Objokeobligatory joke
ROFLrolling on the floor laughing
SOsignificant other

The meaning of most of these abbreviations is obvious, once you know what they mean, but I do want to discuss a few of them. Let's start with the smileys.

There are many different types of people on Usenet, and it is not hard to make a remark that might be misinterpreted. Usenet is used around the world, and your articles will be read by people from another countries, many of whom speak English as a second language and come from an entirely different culture.

For this reason, whenever you suspect that what you are saying might be wrongly interpreted as being insulting, it is customary to use a SMILEY: a short sequence of characters that, when looked at sideways, looks like a small smiley face.

The purpose of a smiley is to show a sense of irony, as if you mean to say, "Just kidding." For example, say you are taking part in a discussion about the best way to make pizza. You might write:

I can't understand why you don't like to put macaroni
and tuna fish on your pizza. But then not everyone has good
taste like me :-)

(To see the smiling face, tilt your head sideways to the left.)

Note: You will sometimes see smileys referred to as EMOTICONS. This practice should be deplored. A smiley is a smiley, and only a clueless goober would actually use a word like "emoticon".

The next abbreviation I want to explain is the prefix OB, usually spelled "Ob". In some newsgroups, the participants make an effort to ensure that all the articles are relevant. For example, the group rec.humor is devoted to jokes and humor, and people do not like it when someone posts an article that does not have a joke. Of course, from time to time, someone does want to make a non-humorous comment, so, when they do, they always put at least one joke within the article. The tradition is to refer to this as an Objoke (obligatory joke). In other groups, you will sometimes see the Ob- prefix used in a similar way.

Sometimes the discussion of particular items does not belong in the same group as the items themselves. In such cases, there may be a separate newsgroup just for discussion. This group is often designated by a name ending with the characters .d (discussion). For example, the rec.humor newsgroup is supposed to be for jokes only. The group rec.humor.d is for related articles, such as the discussion of particular jokes or requests for jokes.

Here is another example. The newsgroup alt.sex.stories — an extremely popular group, by the way — is for people to post erotic stories (and only stories). Discussion about such stories must go to the group alt.sex.stories.d.

When you look at newsgroup names, another important suffix you will see is .misc. This suffix is used when there are several related groups, each devoted to a specific topic. The group whose name ends in .misc is for the articles that don't belong in one of the other groups.

As an example, the table below contains the names of newsgroups in which people discuss bicycles. Notice that most of the groups are for specific bicycle-related topics, while the .misc group is for everything else. In such cases, it is important to use the .misc group when appropriate. If you post miscellaneous articles to another, more specific group, it will dilute the focus of that group (and people will get angry with you).

Example: Usenet groups related to one another

Newsgroup Description
rec.bicycles.marketplaceBicycles: buying and selling
rec.bicycles.miscBicycles: miscellaneous topics
rec.bicycles.off-roadBicycles: mountain bikes
rec.bicycles.racingBicycles: racing
rec.bicycles.ridesBicycles: tours and routes
rec.bicycles.socBicycles: societal issues
rec.bicycles.techBicycles: technical aspects

Returning to our discussion of Usenet slang, there are a few more words I want to mention. First, it is common for people on Usenet to disagree and to argue, and sometimes the discussion turns nasty. When this happens, someone will post a real stinker in which he criticizes another person or complains vociferously. We call such an article a FLAME. If an argument gets out of hand, with a lot of arguing back and forth, we call it a FLAME WAR. We also use the word as a verb, for example, "Sam got flamed by a lot of people because he didn't bother to read the FAQ before he started asking questions."

Another important word you will see is SPOILER. This refers to a statement about a book, movie or play that gives away the ending or reveals a surprise.

For example, let's say you are thinking about going to a particular movie. To make up your mind, you look in the newsgroup devoted to movie reviews (rec.arts.movies.reviews) to see if anyone has posted a review of that movie. If, while you are looking, you see an article that says it contains a spoiler, you would know not to read that review as it gives away the ending of the movie.

The last few words I want to discuss have to do with posting articles. It is common for someone to read an article and post a reply. This is called a FOLLOW-UP article. When people start to post replies to the reply, the sequence of related articles is called a THREAD. You can tell your newsreader to arrange articles into threads, to make it easy to follow the various separate discussions within a newsgroup.

Finally, when you post an article, you specify the newsgroups to which the article should be sent. If you send an article to more than one group, we say that you CROSS-POST it.

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