This article was written by Matt Olson and used to live at It is mirrored here as long as its former home is offline.

How to Write Like A Wanker

No matter what Flash-blinded web monkeys would have us believe, the Internet is a text-based medium: especially its major discussion forums (IRC and Usenet) where people from all over the world can interact and share information. A popular misconception about text messages on the Internet is that, to be an effective communicator and earn the respect and admiration of your peers, you must be able to write lucid prose; that your messages, articles, posts and pages must be easy to understand and pleasant to read.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Popular sites filled with cutting-edge Internet cognoscenti (such as Slashdot and ShackNews) give the lie to this harmful and destructive myth: they are brimming with horrific grammar, atrocious spelling, gratuitous abbreviation and childish, arrogant attitude. To be "in" on the net, you must write like a wanker.

1. Structure.

Just as every house needs a foundation, every brilliantly immature net text is built on a strong structure of ignorance, sloth, and mindless misguided belligerence. You cannot afford to ignore this section.

Don't capitalize.

Hey, if it made e.e. cummings look like a visionary, surely it'll do the same for you, right? Wrong. It makes you look like a lazy fuckwit. (Unless you demonstrate that you can use the shift key: for instance, by using characters that demand it, like double quotes. Then it makes you look like a pretentious fuckwit.) Even if you somehow manage to pull off the no-caps style with grace and flair, the best impression you will make is that of a fuckwit admirer of e.e. cummings. That puts you one up on ninety-eight percent of the Internet, but you're still a fuckwit.

Don't punctuate.

Sorry, that should be "Dont punctuate". Skipping out on important punctuation---apostrophes especially---is an effective way of letting the reader know that you can't be arsed to write properly. This gives you an opportunity to annoy your reader with poorly emphasized, amorphous run-on sentences. If you want to write like a wanker, you must take every chance to annoy your reader.

Apostrophes are fairly easy to deal with---just skip them entirely--- but hyphens are problematic. You might use spaces instead ("African-American" becomes "African American"), but this runs the risk of correctness (many people would accept "African American" as proper usage). Unfortunately, you run the same risk by simply omitting the hyphen ("e-mail" becomes "email"). Unless you're trying to come across as a pretentious wanker (see "Don't capitalize", above), you're probably better off avoiding hyphenated words, and going with whatever looks least intelligent ("africanamerican", "e mail") when it's unavoidable.


Fucking up your punctuation is a conservative but effective way of exposing yourself as a retard in front of the Internet.

1. Pluralize with Apostrophes.

"Pluralize with Apostrophe's." This one small tactic is guaranteed to annoy anyone with even a passing knowledge of proper grammar. With a single keystroke, you demonstrate that you're completely incapable of handling the simplest rule of the English language, and reduce your more capable comrades to fits of mute frustration at your wilful idiocy.

2. Overuse Mutated Ellipses.

Never use a comma, a dash, a (semi)colon, or a period. If you absolutely must punctuate---to end what would otherwise pass for a sentence, for instance---toss in either two, or four (or more) dots as an "ellipsis". This will come across as lazy, gutless, and flippant all at once: pure wanker.

3. Overuse Exclamation and Question Marks.

Nothing shows your reader how serious you are better than five or six exclamation marks at the end of a sentence. Nothing will make your TA answer your question more quickly than a string of question marks. Bonus points for mixing the two in a question you really want answered. Extra bonus points for stuffing three or four exclamation marks into the middle of a sentence. If anything that should have been an exclamation mark actually comes out as the numeral '1', you can be sure that your reader thinks you are a wanker.

4. Star Out Offensive Language.

Because calling her a 'cunt' would be rude, but calling her a 'c*nt' is perfectly acceptable.

Write Like You're on IRC.

A real wanker considers his time infinitely more valuable than his reader's. (You are a real wanker, aren't you?) Accordingly, don't hesitate to conserve keystrokes. Address your reader as 'u'; 'you' is time-consuming and obsolete. Never 'see' something if you can 'c' it instead. Refer to groups as 'ppl' rather than 'people'. Don't put a task off until 'later', do it 'l8r'. Tell your critics to 'stfu' instead of asking them to 'shut the fuck up'. If your reader has the time to actually read the drivel you post, they surely have the time to decode your dribbling shorthand.

Don't forget the cute misspellings. You're a wanker, but you wank to 'pr0n', not 'pornography'. Aspire to be 'kewl', but don't try to be 'cool' except on hot summer days. Don't neglect leetspeak, either: use the '0r' form of verbs as often as possible ('hax0r', 'ownz0r', 'wanx0r'). Replace 'o' with '0', 'e' with '3', 't' with '7', and so on. And while we're at it, be sure to write in an exaggerated ghetto/ ebonic style if you're obviously not black. Nothing says "wanker!" louder than James Francis Spalding III sending out 'greetz and propz to all [his] hos and homies in da hood'.

Use an Inappropriate Format.

Never send a plain-text email or make a plain-text Usenet post; send HTML instead, preferably with browser-specific extensions. If your system cracks down on such things (obviously trying to stifle your breakout creativity), use a gratuitously incompatible character set, like Shift-JIS Japanese. Or just embed SmartQuotes (which the real world interprets as VT320 control codes) in your text.

If you're writing for the web, you'll want to post Word documents instead of HTML, and be sure that they're from the most recent version of Word---you wouldn't want anyone to think that you're behind the times (or read your work), would you? Avoid standard document formats like PDF, PostScript and even RTF like the plague: you don't want the un-l33t masses to be able to read your work, do you?

Ignore Proper Spelling and Usage.

The English language is full of homophones, for example 'they're', 'there', and 'their': confuse them at every opportunity. "i hate my parents there car sux0rz.." (Note also the run-on sentence, leet-speak -0r verb form, uncapitalized 'i' and stunted, unwanted ellipsis.) While you're at it, don't forget to make glaring, obvious spelling errors: 'reasonabel', 'buisness', and 'mesage', for instance. (Bonus wanker points if you play the ESL card to explain your inability to operate a simple dictionary, though this applies more to gratuitous misspellings than---a wanker would use 'then'---misuse of homonyms.)

2. Style.

As one of my friends is fond of pointing out, a gratuitously bad command of the English language doesn't necessarily indicate a fundamentally dumb text. (If nothing else, a kitten walking across a keyboard may randomly type a Zen koan.) To present yourself as a proper wanker, you'll have to do better than sloppy spelling and atrocious grammar; you also have to demonstrate that you genuinely have no fucking clue what you're talking about.

Make Personal Attacks.

If people argue with you, the best way of refuting them is to call them 'fags' or 'Nazis'. ('Pedophile' is rapidly gaining popularity in this regard, too.) Make up wild and false accusations against them: "Mike just got out of prison for raping puppies, so he obviously isn't qualified to have an opinion about Unreal Tournament." Ignore their argument and attack their credibility: "Oh yeah? Why should I listen to someone who sells heroin to kindergarteners?"

Claim False Credentials.

If you're discussing copyright law, claim to be a copyright lawyer. If you're arguing about tobacco's effects on one's health, claim to be a doctor. (No matter what, claim to be a s00per 31337 h4x0r d00d: that always goes over well.) Refuse to provide any substantiating evidence, and for bonus points, grossly misuse jargon.

Make Shit Up.

Are your arguments getting shot down because you can't back them up? No problem: just pull some statistics out of your ass and go nuts. "Well, the crime rate goes down by 33 to 37 percent in states with gun control, so clearly pro-gun control people support mugging little old ladies." If anyone ever asks you where you get your figures, make vague references to articles, journals, or even television programs. "I read an article in the paper a few months ago that showed the earth was only six thousand years old because carbon-dating is bogus." When challenged, make vague references to shadowy conspiracies hiding the truth.

Another good way to make yourself look like a total wanker is to twist other people's positions beyond credibility. If you're arguing with a member of the NRA, for instance, assume that they support private ownership of main battle tanks and rebut appropriately.

Cite Urban Legends.

Chevy Impalas with rocket-assisted take-off packs crashing into cliffs. Tourists waking up without their kidneys in bathtubs full of ice. Swiss aerodynamicists rigorously proving that bumblebees cannot fly. Take these so-called "legends" as gospel. Remember, anything and everything you can find on Snopes is a fact ... unless it has a green dot next to it.

Emphasize and Misinterpret Religion.

Trying to convert your audience to whatever religion (or sect) they're not is a foolproof way of looking like a complete wanker. Be careful; if you've had a religious upbringing, you may accidentally take a familiar, moderate position: this is counterproductive. Insist loudly that the Bible is the literal word of God to a community of skeptics; claim that "deviants" are "going to Hell" on ; whatever you do, remember that the best way to convert the heathens is to loudly denigrate their beliefs. Don't actually bother learning about any of the religions you impersonate; feel free to just make shit up.

Be sure to cite the Book of 'Revelations'. That one always scores big wanker points with any Biblical scholars who happen to be watching.

Don't forget that Wicca is synonymous with Satanism. For that matter, all religions with no concept of "the devil" are Satan-worshipping cults.


You don't need something as limiting and backwards-thinking as a point to grace all of the IPv4 address space with your wanking writing, hell no! Start your masterwork with a skimpy rebuttal of what the last guy said, then make a fifteen paragraph digression into a dubious explanation of how quantum chromodynamics proves the existence of Atlantis.

If anyone complains that you're off-topic, call them a Nazi.

Post Non Sequiturs.

This is important: Never stay true to any local topic. If you're posting to a newsgroup for Unix mail programs, talk about the World Series, or cute little puppies, or try to convert them all to Christianity (if they talk about daemons, they must be Satanists, right?) If you're replying to a message-board post on Quake III, ramble on for ten paragraphs about lint from your navel.

Make Stupid Threats.

When someone takes issue with your writing, never fail to make dark h4x0rly threats about '0wn1ng' their computer. Tell them you'll "hack into their box", plant terrorist plans and child pornography, and tip off the FBI. (This works especially well if they live in Europe.) Tell them that you and "your friends" (yeah, right) will come by and "bust a cap in [their] ass". (This works really well if you're on different continents.)

Try to avoid making truly grandiose threats, like breaking into the SAC missile control computer (because, of course, it's gotta be connected to the Internet) and turning their home town into a glowing glass parking lot. People will think that you're being sarcastic, and might even consider you witty.


A number of people have helpfully written (and I use the term loosely) to correct my style of quotation and punctuation: namely, "like this", not "like this." Now, if you limit yourself to one reference, Strunk and White claim that:

Typographical usage dictates that the comma (and presumably the period) be inside the marks, though logically it often seems not to belong there. (p.36, The Elements of Style )

This rule is apparently derived from paper typography, where the kerning of the characters does indeed look better with the comma (or period) inside the quotation marks. However, other astute readers have taken great pains to point out to me that The Web Is Not Print.

Second, another fine and respected reference -- Fowler's Modern English Usage -- indicates that:

If a quoted word or phrase comes at the end of a sentence or coincides with a comma, the punctuation that belongs to the sentence as a whole is placed outside the quotation marks: What is a `gigabyte'? / No one should `follow a multitude to do evil', as the Scripture says

Fowler's also notes that the comma-inside-quotation-marks usage is typical of American English, which I consider an oxymoron. That makes all of you people who've written in to complain about my punctuation unequivocally wrong, though since it takes a reasonably technical and careful mind to notice the so-called error I won't hold it against you.

ESR also has something to say about my punctuation style -- namely, that unintended commas inside quoted strings are a counter-intuitive mutilation. This is, in fact, why I punctuate the way I do.


Your Friendly Neighbourhood Grammar Fascist -- Matt Olson 2002-2003 -- email: matt(at)infernus(dot)net