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
    Commented Jan 19, 2013 at 22:53
  • Related because I was curious: What is the origin of "newbie"? Commented Jan 20, 2013 at 2:01
  • Connotations aside, am I the only one who finds the phrasing "a newbie to XYZ" awkward/ungrammatical?
    – ruakh
    Commented Jan 20, 2013 at 18:29
  • 3
    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.
    – Sylver
    Commented Jan 20, 2013 at 18:30
  • 1
    @ruakh "Informal online business" doesn't mean that every word used in the copy has to be informal. A friendly and informal tone is not achieved just through the use of of buzzwords and slang, it is achieved through clear, easy to read copy, directly addressing the reader, jokes and personal references, non-politically correct statements, etc. "Are you new to..." is already informal. Compare with "information for new users" or "Introduction to...".
    – Sylver
    Commented Jan 21, 2013 at 5:15

6 Answers 6


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 use 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.

  • 5
    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
    Commented Jan 21, 2013 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. Commented Jan 21, 2013 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
    Commented Jan 22, 2013 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
    Commented Jan 23, 2013 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
    Commented Jan 25, 2013 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.


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.


"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.

  • 1
    Newbie's origin is long before the Usenet, tracing back at least to 1969. Commented Jan 20, 2013 at 1:09
  • 4
    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!" :-) Commented Jan 20, 2013 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. Commented Jan 20, 2013 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! Commented Jan 20, 2013 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.
    Commented Jan 20, 2013 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.

  • 1
    I'm not sure that's diagnostic - is there anything not derogatory in the vocabulary of drill sergeants? :) Commented Jan 22, 2013 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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