Fish fear

Origins of “pr0n”

I was IMing with a friend the other day and we were wondering about the origins of the term “pr0n” — script-kiddie term for pornography. So I did a search on the USENET newsgroup archive at Google News, and found that the earliest use of “pr0n” dates to June 14, 1994:

From: Sam Brown (rigor@crl.com)
Subject: digital fantasies soft porm cd
Newsgroups: misc.forsale.computers.pc-clone
Date: 1994-06-14 17:33:49 PST

pr0n i meant!

$15 deliever 2nd day.

mail rigor@crl.com

I had originally theorized that “pr0n” existed as a way to use the world “porn” without setting off the PG-rated ‘bots that America Online and Prodigy — two of the biggest online services, back in 1994 — used to use to automatically hunt-and-delete discussion postings with R-rated content. But the Hacker Dictionary/Jargon File, however, claims that “pr0n” isn’t a tactical spelling, but just another typical bit of l33t-spe@k:

“pr0n” // [Usenet, IRC] Pornography. Originally this referred only to Internet porn but since then it has expanded to refer to just about anything. The term comes from the warez kiddies tendency to replace letters with numbers. At some point on IRC someone mistyped, swapped the middle two letters, and the name stuck, then propagated over into mainstream hacker usage.

Hmmm. I’m wondering: Does anyone out there know of an earlier use of “pr0n” than the one I uncovered? I’m almost thinking of emailing that guy in the USENET posting to find out how he first heard of the term.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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