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Imagine that I'm running a friendly and informal online business. I would like to introduce my service to the new customers by a blog post that entitles, 'Are you a newbie to XYZ.com?'. Will that title make my customers feel intimidated?

My brother and I had a long argument about that word. I said that the word doesn't make such a bad meaning and it can be used anywhere in a friendly manner; but he said that it sounds derogatory and should be avoided. He also asked me to completely avoid that word. He believes it will make people angry.

Who is right and who is wrong here?

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Your brother is right. –  tchrist Jan 19 '13 at 22:53
    
Related because I was curious: What is the origin of "newbie"? –  Mark Beadles Jan 20 '13 at 2:01
    
Connotations aside, am I the only one who finds the phrasing "a newbie to XYZ" awkward/ungrammatical? –  ruakh Jan 20 '13 at 18:29
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Is there a specific reason why using "newbie" would be better than "new" in that case? "Are you new to XYZ.com?" convey the same meaning and does not have the negative connotations that the word newbie may have for some people. –  Sylverdrag Jan 20 '13 at 18:30
    
@Sylverdrag: "Newbie" is informal, while "new" is not, and the OP specifies that he's "running a friendly and informal online business". ("New" would not be bad -- it's not marked for formality, and can be used in any register -- but "newbie" could be better, if it weren't for the potential negative connotations.) –  ruakh Jan 20 '13 at 21:19

6 Answers 6

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Adding to what everyone has mentioned here, newbie should not be confused with noob (Which happens a lot), for all intentions and purposes:

newbie should be considered a word that references a person that is new to something, inexperienced or otherwise lacks in that particular moment, the knowledge to do some tasks, activities or any other actions in a way that shows experience and knowledge about the usage of how the system in used works, be it a particular game (Where it is used most often), a programming language or other activities where the user can gain experience over time.

noob on the other hand is the negative aspect that gets many users confused with newbie, this is mostly related to the pronunciation and environment where they are used. noob means a user who has at least one of the following characteristics and still does not appear to have gained experience over time:

  • He/She has been a user of a particular system for a long time
  • He/She has the knowledge of how the system works
  • He/She is preconsidered an experienced user because of time spend on the system and supposed knowledge of it (Sorry for the preconsidered oxymoron)

Because of all of this, one would think the user knows about the system but after having some experience with the user, one finds out the user, with all of his/her time using the system and learning from it, has nothing to show for. Basically an "experienced user" with 0% learned. In this case, noob is used to denote that the user, with all of his/her time spend in said activity, game, task has not learned anything new or has nothing to show for.

So the basic difference is that newbie is only applied to a new user that is introduced to a system he/she does not know yet. noob is used when a user has already time spend on the system and has learned nothing yet.

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That’s an interesting distinction, but I do not think everyone necessarily sees it that way. I believe you will find that some people class those both together, either in the one sense or in the other. –  tchrist Jan 21 '13 at 9:37
    
@tchrist Thank you for your comment. This is why I took the time to explain since they are most of the time misused to a point of confusion. –  Luis Alvarado Jan 21 '13 at 15:18
    
+1 for an elaborate and clear distinction of the two related-but-semantically-different words. I doubt majority of the answers implying "newbie" as derogatory is because they confuse newbie with noob. –  Mithun Jan 22 '13 at 9:54
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Perhaps the best summary is that 'newbie' can sometimes be perceived as mildly derogatory, due to confusion with 'noob', which is unambiguously derogatory. So, it's best not to use the term with folk you don't know, as @Mithun's brother suggested. –  Bobble Jan 23 '13 at 12:02
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I disagree with this answer pretty strongly. @Mithun, it's copy for your business, so you can do what you want. And if you came here to find the specific answer you were already looking for and accept it, that's fine, but I also think that's a mistake. Your brother is right that some people find the word "newbie" derogatory. Whether that comes from a basic confusion with the word "noob" or otherwise is completely irrelevant for your purposes. Want to avoid offending your users? Then don't use the word "newbie". –  Ben Lee Jan 25 '13 at 21:19

When it started in [who knows? See Mark's question on the word's origin] it was, if not derogatory then certainly condescending.

It can be used in a tone of "friendly ribbing", but that's true of other terms that would be considered derogatory when there's no other context to reposition it.

It's not considered explicit, so you could safely use it of yourself in a self-deprecating manner without much risk of people taking offence at the word itself.

To use it of potential customers, you'd have to be confident that the informal and fun tone had already been set. If so, then it could well work, but it could definitely backfire too. vBulletin's default member levels jokingly mock both new and more senior members by having "cool newbie" as the starting level, and "no life" as one of the more advanced levels. Since "no life" would generally also be seen as derogatory, this gives an insight into the way "newbie" can be taken here - it's an insult, but the tone is set so that mild insults are to be taken as a joke. There are businesses that can work with that tone, but most could not.

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Your first sentence seems to mean that you believe the term originated in talk.bizarre, but it's older than that. –  Mark Beadles Jan 20 '13 at 1:11
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@MarkBeadles I know of it occurring a few times before going back centuries (someone producing newbie from new wouldn't be a remarkable coinage), but I've heard that talk.bizarre was where it solidified into a regularly use term. If you know more that'd be interesting. –  Jon Hanna Jan 20 '13 at 1:52
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@MarkBeadles just saw your answer. I'd seen it as "uncommon" as US military slang, so your personally attesting of it as more common is indeed interesting. –  Jon Hanna Jan 20 '13 at 1:54
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Yes, I think it's a case of anecdotes vs. data here: in your experience it became common on usenet, in mine it was the military. In both cases it was certainly pejorative, though! I will post a separate question about the origin. english.stackexchange.com/questions/100704/… –  Mark Beadles Jan 20 '13 at 1:56
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@MarkBeadles my claiming Usenet as when it became common is from an attempt some time ago to get data, rather than personal experience (I never got into Usenet, and was quick to favour mail lists when they came on the scene). I'll be hoping your question comes up with something. –  Jon Hanna Jan 20 '13 at 2:06

Of the 17 general references for newbie listed in Onelook.com, 15 denote newness and inexperience, without discussing any negative connotiation.

Only two suggest a negative implication:

The Word Spy suggests that it can be derogatory:

A new or inexperienced user, especially one who is ignorant of netiquette and other online proprieties.

They offer an example:

There is nothing inherently bad about being an inexperienced user. It's only when the inexperienced ignore those rules that serve to grease the wheels of Net social interaction that they get branded with the 'newbie' label.

Wikipedia also suggest the possibility of negativity:

It can have derogatory connotations, but is also often used for descriptive purposes only, without a value judgment.

It is likely that many newcomers would not take offense at an acknowledgement of their lack of experience, but some may bristle.

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"Newbie" probably owes much of its widespread use to Usenet, where it definitely had negative connotations. In general, yes, I'd say calling someone a Newbie would be negative. The implication is not just that someone is new, but that they haven't "done their homework".

Having said that, there are clear examples of people using words like this in a way that gives a positive message. The publishers of the Dummies books did very well out of taking a negative word and giving it a positive slant.

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Newbie's origin is long before the Usenet, tracing back at least to 1969. –  Mark Beadles Jan 20 '13 at 1:09
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Despite the popularity of the "Dummies" book series, I would still not say it's given the term a positive slant. Yes, people buy and use the books but they're not jumping up and down shouting, "I'm a dummy!" :-) –  Kristina Lopez Jan 20 '13 at 1:50
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@KristinaLopez Indeed; also, there are probably more people in the English-speaking word who are not familiar with those book than those who are. –  Mark Beadles Jan 20 '13 at 2:03
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@MarkBeadles, that's what I love about this site, I always get fresh perspective. You're probably right! –  Kristina Lopez Jan 20 '13 at 2:06
    
@KristinaLopez: I'd agree with Dominic on this one. Sure, those books wouldn't cause someone to jump up and down shouting, "I'm a dummy," but one could still argue that the negative connotations of the word are largely removed each time someone buys one of those books (which seems to be rather often, judging by the success of the series). Words with generally negative slants can be made less negative in the context of humble, self-deprecating but good-natured humor. I don't think Dominic was saying that the negativity of the word has been erased, just that it's not necessarily always negative. –  J.R. Jan 20 '13 at 9:04

One possible origin of "newbie" seems to have been in the US military back in 1969.

I can assure you that when I myself was a "newbie" in the US Army in the 1980's, the term was quite derogatory, and not uncommon, at least in the vocabulary of my drill sergeants.

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I'm not sure that's diagnostic - is there anything not derogatory in the vocabulary of drill sergeants? :) –  StoneyB Jan 22 '13 at 14:20

In everyday use, "newbie" is used to describe not only the inexperienced, but also the most recent hire or new kid in the class - neither of which is an enviable position to be in. We've all been there and usually could not wait to graduate up from that title due to someone even newer filling the spot.

I would not use it in my business for any reason.

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