‘Pwn’ has made it into the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary!

gamingPsst! How many words can you think of in English which have no vowels (tsk tsk, not abbreviations, that’s cheating!)? Hmm, well, if you’re familiar with Welsh you’d have a head start (think cwtch and hwyl), but aside from exclamations and interjections (brrr, shh!), they’re quite rare. And not easy to work out how to pronounce. Take pwn, for example. When I first came across this recent addition to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries online and the new 10th edition of the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, not only did I have no idea how to pronounce it, I didn’t even know which part of speech it was. Cutscene: the corpus of linguistic data comes to the rescue, providing context and collocations. Which of the following do you think is a suitable example sentence from the corpus, using the verb pwn?

  1. He pwned his interview by arriving late.
  2. I really pwn the new edition of the OALD.
  3. I’m going to pwn some n00bs in this game.

If you got that one, you’ll be able to answer this: what does pwn actually mean? Here are a few options to choose from.

  1. to negatively affect an opportunity
  2. to really, really like something
  3. to completely defeat someone, especially in a video game

Spoiler alert… the answers to both questions are c), and the pronunciation can be found here. Unlike the exclamations above, whose spellings originated from the sounds they make, pwn stems from a mistyping of ‘owned’ in the online game Warcraft. It is an example of leet, or leetspeak (or even l33t, apparently).

Can you spot another example of leet above?

Triple-A* work if you found the Easter Egg, noob or n00b… (*Triple-A video games are those which are highly praised.)

Looking at the definition of pwn, you’ll notice it isn’t alone – which of these derivatives has/have recently been included in Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries online?

  1. pwnage
  2. pwnfest
  3. pwnmaster
  4. all of these
  5. none of these

Let’s not camp at pwn – if you’re a gaming wizard, already have lots of XPs, or are used to gold farming, you’ll have no aggro spotting which of these words and phrases in Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries online has nothing to do with online gaming:




gold farming

level up






And if, like me, you’re a noob, follow the links to be respawned!

Isabel is a Development Editor in OUP’s Dictionaries and Reference Grammar department. Aside from a short foray into the world of Super Mario in the late ’90s, she has never played a video game, so isn’t likely to be pwning anyone any time soon…

Author: Oxford University Press ELT

Every year we help millions of people around the world to learn English. As a department of the University of Oxford, we further the University’s objective of excellence in education by publishing proven and tested language learning books, eBooks, learning materials, and educational technologies.

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