Does the word "troll" necessarily imply negative connotations?

More specifically, can the word "troll"/"trolling" be legitimately used to describe a posting which is clearly made with intent of merely generating laughs on April 1st?

Please note that the question is specifically about connotations involving intent - e.g. the assumption is that the posting is otherwise on-topic and not disruptive (e.g. a standalone question on a Stack Exchange site, which would be classified as on-topic AND not disrupting existing questions).

More specifically:

  • Urban Dictionary defines "Troll" as:

    One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.

    This seems to imply a clearly negative intent and thus inapplicable to April First jokes.

  • Online Slang Dictionary says:

    A person who posts to an internet discussion group or chat room with the sole purpose of disrupting it.

  • Wikipedia defines:

    In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.

    Again, making the assumption that the posting in question is not "extraneous, or off-topic", this seems MOSTLY to imply negative intent connotations to me.

    However, recently someone made an argument that, since "aiming to get laughs from people on April 1st" can be classified as "provoking readers into an emotional response", it should fit under definition of a troll.

So, my questions are:

  • Is there a well accepted connotation that "troll" implies negative intent, as opposed to including intent to provoke harmless April 1st laughter?

  • As a side question, does the wording in Wiki article (** or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion**) also impose a negative intent on "emotional response" part via the use of "of otherwise"?

  • 2
    possible duplicate of Trolling: billy goats gruff or fishing reference? Commented Apr 2, 2012 at 10:58
  • 1
    There was some relevant chat about the definition of trolling during March: March 20th, March 22nd Commented Apr 2, 2012 at 11:01
  • @FumbleFingers - while it's about the same word, that question does not seem to answer my specific connotation question at all.
    – DVK
    Commented Apr 2, 2012 at 11:11
  • 1
    There's already enough information on that link to make it clear that all "normal" connotations for the modern Internet usage are "negative". I've known people who use "cnt" as a term of endearment, and for Mellors in *Lady Chatterley's Lover it obviously had positive connotations. Which is to say any word can feasibly be used with "non-standard implications" - but not everyone will accept this, and I don't see ELU should be concerned with what's effectively "voting" on marginal usages. Commented Apr 2, 2012 at 11:56
  • Connotations are in the eye of the beholder.
    – Sam
    Commented Jan 1, 2014 at 22:27

5 Answers 5


Definitely. You have all those links to prove it already.

In usage, it is always used with negative connotations. Someone who is annoying online is usually dubbed "trolling".

I wouldn't describe an April Fools' Post as trolling. "Humorous" perhaps.

The fine line dividing an April Fools' post from a trolling post is, as you have already stated, harm. An April Fools' post, if harmless, would not be called "trolling".

However, if this April Fools' Post causes considerable disruption and harm, then it can be rightly called a trolling post.

  • 1
    I agree. While it's possible to post borderline-offensive comments for the sake of discussion, I'd much rather call that "playing the devils advocate" rather than trolling. At least until someone crosses the line (which is highly subjective). Commented Apr 2, 2012 at 12:02
  • I would describe any April Fools' posting as trolling, particulary on Stack Exchange, and indeed I did this year. It's intentionally subversive.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Apr 2, 2012 at 14:53

Troll is negative - unless you're fishing.

(Fishermen troll, but trolls phish).

  • Sorry, I meant in the "posting" troll context.
    – DVK
    Commented Apr 3, 2012 at 11:29

Edit 1/6/17: In hindsight, even if you're trolling for good, you know you're being a pain in the ass to somebody. So I'm on the fence as well w/ OP.

Previously: If a Troll provides counter-arguments, it thusly negates (something). Synonyms of negate include nullify, neutralize, etc. Arguing is not inherently negative. Propositional Logic uses the term argument to describe the basic structure of any dispute. In a dispute there are contradicting ideas: arguments. Upon the resolution of a dispute, ideally one (set of) argument(s) appeals to logic and prevails and any adversaries to said arguments learn.

"One man's hero is another man's tyrant".

If a troll disrupts interaction they perceive to be prejudiced, bullying, corporate tyranny, imperialism, etc. -- your dichotomous assessment of the action would be dictated by your agency in said matters.

So trolling can be positive.


I used to tell my boyfriend all the time that his friend was nothing more than a troll — the definition of which I was made to look up after someone else overheard me saying this.

I found the definition to be that I meant short, warts, smelled bad, and lived underground; we can find such trolls on movies and television.

What I meant was he was using my boyfriend for information and was getting him in trouble, luring him away from his responsibilities, and when he was caught, telling the person who caught him that it was my boyfriend’s idea all along.

So is troll an abusive word? I’d have to say that if you are calling someone a troll, then yes it’s abusive.


Yes. But at the same time:

Trolling is now referred to as almost any conversation, even wider — almost any communicative action, so the word has completely lost the original meaning.

Troll is not an insult: usually people call trolls those who are better (at least slightly) fluent communication skills.

Initially, the trolls call people, capable and able to initiate, maintain, keep under control the public network communication process (i.e. the process consisting of the two opposing sides, and a passive listening audience; such processes are known from ancient times, but gained mass popularity only with the advent of the Internet) and using this process regularly to achieve their local goals.

In other words, trolling is one of tactical communication technologies, which includes a variety of manipulative methods of different levels.

The Troll, for example, was Gargantua in early childhood, with his famous jests, and ancient Greek speakers all as one had mastered the art of trolling, otherwise on the space of policies to do would be nothing.

Nowadays the term has largely degenerated, people began to call anybody a troll — and those who master only a controversial polemical trick like "... you", and even those who do not master any at all.

(from http://www.chaskor.ru/article/dmitrij_byalik_zhzh_-_shtuka_dovolno_bestselnaya_20904)

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