6

There's a video of a conference presentation by Gary Bernhardt about surprising behavior in the Ruby and JavaScript computer programming languages.

At the beginning of the video, Seth asks the audience:

You guys know what 'wat' means?"

[He makes a 'wat' sound. He also shows a silly photo of a donkey, perhaps on a boat, wearing some waterproof clothing and holding a cat.]

Someone from the audience replies with some reply which is inaudible in the video.

Seth tells the audience member:

Exactly, exactly.

Well, what does "wat" mean? I did a Web search for the query [ wat sound ], but didn't get any answer.

  • 5
    wat? – VampDuc Jul 30 '15 at 17:03
  • @VampDuc: Ah, it's the "wat lady" GIF animation. – unforgettableid Jul 30 '15 at 17:43
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    FWIW, while Internet meme-jargon surely has no authoritative pronunciation, I'd have pronounced "wat" much closer to what than Bernhardt, who essentially rhymes it with bat. I suspect this distance of pronunciation obscured the meaning for you. I think wat is meant to evoke a humorous pronunciation/casualness more than anything else (see also: wut) – WinnieNicklaus Jul 30 '15 at 23:17
  • 3
    Other examples include "wut" and "lolwut". – trlkly Jul 31 '15 at 4:53
  • 1
    Another example is "u wot m8?", stereotypically from England. – Federico Poloni Jul 31 '15 at 6:16
19

Unforgettableid is correct, it is synonymous with "what" as in exclaiming surprise or bewilderment at a given situation.

I disagree somewhat with the quoted material, however, which states that 'wat' arrived in its current shortened form just for ease of typing.

Chat slang is a method of typing long words and phrases as short one-to-four letter words and is also used by people who have difficulties spelling. For example, instead of typing out "are", someone may only type "r." Although chat slang can be easier for you and sometimes faster to type, it makes it difficult to read and most people will ignore you.

I think the 'h' gets dropped precisely because it connotes a more sound-like visceral reaction.

I believe that the person exclaiming 'wat' is such a state of surprise that they are participating more in sound than language and want to directly connote this feeling to the reader in a kind of playful tongue-and-cheek way. My answer might be too in the realm of speculation or linguistics but maybe not, I'll give it a go.

  • 9
    Comedy is frequently based on feigned stupidity. I think the usage of "wat" as a playful and intentional misspelling developed from its unintentional usage by the genuinely illiterate. People found it a useful shorthand to react to someone else's difficult-to-understand assertions using the "dramatic voice" of an ignoramus. – Doug Warren Jul 30 '15 at 18:36
  • 8
    A useful metaphor, perhaps: "This is so unbelievably stupid that I have become more stupid just by learning about it." – zwol Jul 30 '15 at 18:51
  • I agree - "wat" means "I do actually understand what you just said, but i think it's ridiculous so i'm going to pretend i don't understand, using a meme which will tell everyone that i do actually understand and am just joking". It's similar in meaning to saying "That's nonsense" (referring to something that isn't actually nonsensical, just stupid). – Max Williams Jul 31 '15 at 11:19
10

After five minutes of online research, I found out the answer.

"Wat" isn't a sound: it's a word. It's a piece of Internet slang meaning "what"; in this situation, it's used to express disbelief at these particular idiosyncrasies of Ruby and JavaScript.

Of course, it's generally a silly mistake to use Internet slang words such as "wat", because it will confuse Internet users such as me. The Computer Hope website notes:

Chat slang is a method of typing long words and phrases as short one-to-four letter words and is also used by people who have difficulties spelling. For example, instead of typing out "are", someone may only type "r." Although chat slang can be easier for you and sometimes faster to type, it makes it difficult to read and most people will ignore you.

(P.S. The mainstream definition of the word wat — "a monastery-temple in Thailand, Cambodia or Laos" — doesn't apply here.)

  • 2
    Yes. Here's a typical list of 9 specific aspects of Ruby/JS that might cause the jaw-dropping exclamatory "What!!?" reaction. – FumbleFingers Jul 30 '15 at 15:22
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    Don't go getting all ankor about wat. – bmargulies Jul 30 '15 at 18:50
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    In British English, especially pre-internet, the word "wot" was used to similar effect. Emphasis can be added by prefixing ""you". So in response to someone expounding on a complex topic, clarification can obtained by asking "You wot?" – Laconic Droid Jul 30 '15 at 19:39
  • Plus one, but I didn't read past "five minutes". – Mazura Jul 31 '15 at 23:04
  • @Mazura: Why upvote without reading the answer? – unforgettableid Aug 17 '15 at 20:55
2

Gary Bernhardt uses the term "wat" in his talk as though it were synonymous with English exclamations such as "What?!" or "What the hell?", which are common responses to absurd or unexpected stimuli.

However, the misspelling as "wat" is itself intentionally absurd. It derives from the culture of LOLspeak (aka Chanspeak), a culture that satirises the real or imagined psychology of humans and animals by emphasising incomprehension. Bernhardt's exaggerated pronunciation increases the sense of incomprehension he is conveying, adding to the general air of absurdity and making the talk more humorous.

The fundamental point he is getting across is that despite the efforts of the language designers, some of the results programmers encounter in Ruby and JavaScript violate the principle of least astonishment: they are surprising to the programmers, much as seeing an equid, perhaps on a boat, wearing some waterproof clothing and holding a cat, is surprising. Even if the items displayed on the screen are individually recognisable, either the fact that those entities rather than others materialised there, or the way those entities are combined, is unexpected and appears ludicrous. This is true both for the images and for the output from most of the code samples!

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