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Where does the internet jargon "Troll" come from?

The way I see it. If it's a fishing reference, then you can't accuse someone of "Being a troll" and if it's a mythology reference then someone isn't really "Trolling" they're just "Being a troll".

It seems like it has roots in both, because

  • it's like they're waiting under a bridge to pop out and get you
  • it's like dropping a line in and waiting for someone to take the bait while moving around a lot.
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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troll_(Internet)#Etymology (BTW, there's occasionally some additional confusion because of people writing trolling for trawling and vice-versa, even though they're completely different ways of fishing.) –  ShreevatsaR Feb 25 '11 at 17:27
    
Fun fact: Helsinki has a trolling contest. –  Pekka 웃 Feb 25 '11 at 18:37
    
On a related note: "trolling" vs. "trawling" –  Andrew Vit Feb 25 '11 at 19:15
    
If I could vote question this up, I totally would. I never even considered the potential fishing root of the word "trolling." –  emragins Feb 26 '11 at 2:37
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4 Answers

up vote 44 down vote accepted

You really have to go to the newsgroups to see the evolution of the word.

Before 1991, the word almost exclusively meant actual trolls of the D&D / Tolkien / Scandinavian vein. Troll dolls became popular that year, and that kind of diluted the issue a bit.

Then around early 1992, there came a user named Troll on the old alt.flame usergroup that was (for lack of a better word) a troll - more of a proto-troll, as he was on a usergroup dedicated to flaming, so he fit in. But even by their standards he brought the race-baiting, sexism, feigned ignorance, extremist political views, etc. to a new high.

First post July 8, 1992.

http://groups.google.com/group/alt.flame/msg/472da61199f426b1?utoken=3mCmCCkAAACa7VhXKNFnDL2EKUH4mq34cDgoNievjXoMAC-Lp0spl0T7OnOQKuqZvRM6KifiAp0

He seems to indicate his name comes from being a good insulter, and thus a sort of nasty guy -in other words, a troll.

I believe his name popularized a growing concept and made it the meme it is today.

Eventually it spread out, here's a 1993 post on alt.folklore.urban that still uses quotes around trolling to indicate its status as jargon..

http://groups.google.com/group/alt.folklore.urban/browse_thread/thread/cd29352f5cb19116/16e2d7b5e327a44b?#16e2d7b5e327a44b

The second post explicitly conflates trolling and fishing.

And the third confirms that trolling at a.f.u. began "1-1.5 years earlier", which syncs with what Wikipedia broadly states about the etymology.

Then Kibology blew up and kind of ran with it, and actually added notes about it to their FAQ, and stabilized it forever.

So trolling when it was just flaming was "nasty thing", then when it became more sophisticated it became "fish baiting."

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Wow, this is a good answer, how did you find this site anyway? –  Peter Turner Feb 25 '11 at 18:46
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StackExchange's very own Jeff Atwood tweeted it. And I love to mention whenever possible the fact that Google awesomely archived and made available all the old Newsgroup posts. –  Kyle Hale Feb 25 '11 at 19:54
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It's both for sure. I think the original reference to "trolling" is most definitely a fishing reference, because it is such an apt description of the activity. However probably almost immediately, calling the person a Troll for trolling brings you to the creature reference, and then you get "don't feed the troll."

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The fishing reference is the original root -- the idea is that you're fishing for people to get a rise out of -- but other meanings of "troll" mixed in very quickly. (Why wouldn't they?)

The Billy Goats Gruff story is not really a single or definitive source for the mythological troll, though.

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Yeah, but it's the kind of troll that gets conjured up right away. I don't think most people even get a fishing reference though. Probably why people tend to find the remark so offensive. –  Peter Turner Feb 25 '11 at 15:53
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Patent trolls are named after the troll in Billy Goats Gruff. They jump up from out of nowhere and demand a toll for crossing their bridge. By the way, troll dolls became popular in more like 1961, not 1991. In the fishing context, I'd think of it as more someone who's just hoping for luck — tossing a line off the stern of your boat, while sailing across the ocean. Not to say there aren't commercial fishermen who don't troll a lot and for whom luck is secondary to their knowledge and skill.

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