TROLL: “One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument” – Urban Dictionary
I used to engage in political debates with a certain relative. The discourse would usually proceed like this:
Relative: I would never vote for [Politician]. His positions demonstrate his lack of sincerity.
Me: [Politician] is plenty sincere. I think he strongly believes in those positions.
Relative: Well, then he’s just stupid.
And there you have the lexicide of troll in a nutshell. Let me explain.
Troll used to serve as internet slang for a provocateur – someone who sought attention by posting controversial or contrary sentiments on a message board (e.g., a paean to steak tartar on a vegan website). Eventually, we all learned to ignore them, or not to “feed the trolls.” Since their comments existed only to get a rise out of people, we knew trolls lacked sincerity.
But as the world turns, so do the meanings of our words. Troll is now an all-purpose insult for anyone with whom you disagree or find nettlesome:
Commenter #1: Vote for [Politician]! She understands the plight of the poor!
Commenter #2: She was raised in Newport and went to Choate. How does she understand the poor?
Commenter #1: Get lost, troll!
Commenter #2 is fielding a legitimate counter to Commenter #1’s thesis, but in doing so, she raises an inconvenient truth, hence she is a troll. This lexicide reveals much about the psychology of the commenters who use it. When they label someone a troll, they assert that their opponent is just voicing a conflicting opinion for attention – because no one in his right mind would really believe that claptrap. In other words, whereas troll used to describe one who lacked sincerity, now it describes someone you think is just stupid – because they don’t share your viewpoint. That’s public discourse in America for you – intolerant of diverse opinions and proper word use. Which is worse? I’ll let you decide.
– Otto E. Mezzo