Pwned: What Does It Mean?

I, like most of my generation, am a gamer. Well, let me clarify that: I’m a casual gamer. I’ll take a few games of Dr. Mario or Peggle over a MMORPG any day.

Still, I’m online a lot, so I run across plenty of gaming culture and jargon. Take “pwned,” for example. It’s defined as:

A corruption of the word “Owned.” This originated in an online game called Warcraft, where a map designer misspelled “owned.” When the computer beat a player, it was supposed to say, so-and-so “has been owned.”  Instead, it said so-and-so “has been pwned.”

It basically means “to own” or to be dominated by an opponent or situation, especially by some god-like or computer-like force.  It’s a good word, and fun to play with, so I thought I’d put it into a business situation and see what happened.

That being said, I was terrified of messing it up and running afoul of some gamer mockery. Better to stick to Dr. Mario for me, I think.


Mark Anderson Mark Anderson's cartoons appear in publications including Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and Harvard Business Review. His business cartoons are available for licensing at his website,

3 Reactions
  1. Mark, I love this one. I volunteer with a group of teens and we’ve gotten into various slang and pwned has come up a few times, for sure. Now I can point people to this post!! Plus, your cartoon explains what most people our age would typically say!! “Go find out what that means.” Rich. Truly rich. Thanks for the laugh.

  2. Pwnd has been around for about 25 years, long pre-dating World of Warcraft. Who ever claims it started from WoW must be 10 or younger. Even in Everquest is was common.

    Pwned, Pwnt were around as far back as 1987 coming from the H/P/A/V/C sub-culture (Hacking/Phreaking/Anarchy/Virus/Cracking, later cracking and hacking merged definitions and it became Virus Creation after the merge). Pwned is a common fat-fingering since OP are next to one another on the keyboard so owned was often pwned in BBS jargon when people didn’t catch the typo. Even earlier references are found in books containing the same typo in the days of typewriters. As most sub cultures do they adopted the the typo as part of their own l33t speak.

    The sentence “I owned your server and pirated your code” becomes
    “! pwned ur s3|2\/3|2 & pi8ed ur c0|)3” for example. Pwnt grew as the past tense as the Internet became popular world wide as many languages tend to butcher the difference between a D and a T so owned often was spoken ownt. Throw in the p and you got pwnt.

    Leet (short for elite) or even 733t speak has not vanished but rather evolved into what most people call text-speak. lol, kthx, ur, rotfl, and other text-isms are part of that language (often called cyber-speak). l33t speak is simply cyber-speak (or Geekanese as I coin it) with a focus on obfuscating the words a bit more. It isn’t uncommon to see l0l rather then lol. |<33p uP t3h g00|) \/\/0|2|<!!

  3. Mark,

    What is MMORPG?

    Have you heard about the term FTW? I often use the hashtag #teaFTW when I am writing tweet messages about tea.

Win $100 for Vendor Selection Insights

Tell us!
No, Thank You