ObDefinition: Grepping Loon

A grepping loon is someone who searches out particular terms on the Internet for the purpose of cutting and pasting a prepared rant or disingenuous misrepresentation of a topic rather than engaging in substantive discussion of the topic.

Some people have elevated this to a sophisticated form of trolling designed to provoke flame-wars and disrupt forums populated mostly by people with whom they disagree on that topic.

These people are a very large reason why netiquette guidelines, commenting policies and FAQs exist.

I am feeling old: I can’t find a decent reference/definition for “grepping loon” on the internets. This used to be a term frequently used and abused on USENet, and I’m rather dumbfounded to say the least that I can’t find a page on it. So I’m making one.

I feel it is still a useful concept in online forums, since I’m sure all of us have experienced the drive-by troll that has arrived due to a Google alert flagging a discussion on one of their pet issues and who never pops up on any other sort of discussion at that forum. Urban Dictionary has a halfway useful meta-reference with “lepping groon“:

1. lepping groon
One who searches Google Groups (aka usenet) for one’s own name or, more frequently recently, for a particular pet issue.
From “grepping loon”.
Certain words munged to avoid lepping groons.

As usual for Urban Dictionary this is so full of jargon that it’s not very useful for net newbies. To “grep” is to commit a particular type of search command on a file or database – I believe hardly anybody actually greps anything anymore – there are newer search utilities available, especially on the Web. “Munging” refers to deliberately misspelling a word by asterisking out the vowels or switching leading consonants to form a Spoonerism (as above with “lepping groons”) in order to disguise a key phrase from a standard search.

Here’s a decent paragraph from a 2003 forum post by randall bart that I’ll quote for some context:

Fascinating. This is someone who has never posted here before. When someone’s first post to a newsgroup is of a relatively controversial nature, does not ask questions, and does not tell of personal experience, that person can be ignored. What we have here is a grepping loon (though most grepping loons now use Google rather than grep). Searching in Google, I find no evidence he has ever talked about Terri Schiavo before. I conclude therefore he saw the word “euthanasia” and rabidly replied.

Anyone got anything to add?

Categories: language, technology


20 replies

  1. I’ve never heard the term, but I didn’t hang around usenet much. It reminded me immediately of crottled greeps.

    • It reminded me immediately of crottled greeps

      heh. That was a most enjoyable search result.

      Advances in technology…giving the ability to be obnoxious over the network to a wider population

      Too true. Ah to be back in the days before the September that never ended?
      Not really, but it had some damn fine points.

  2. ”I believe hardly anybody actually greps anything anymore – there are newer search utilities available”
    It’s probably one of the few programs (after web browser, email program, RSS reader) that I use almost-daily. That’s not to disagree: hardly anybody is a Unix/Linux system programmer or developer, and not all of them like command lines.
    Advances in technology…giving the ability to be obnoxious over the network to a wider population.

  3. Thank you for your comment on my post! I’ve edited it for accuracy. And I agree that grepping loons are v. annoying.

    • Hi Liz – thanks for taking a pedantic comment so graciously! I don’t know if you saw that I finally got around to updating the blogroll? Your blog is there now.

  4. I grep all the time!
    I don’t remember the phrase “grepping loon” from USENET. I remember Kibo and Kibozing, and I remember Serdar Argic (probably the most infamous grepping loon, about whom it was widely wondered if he was actually a bot).
    Is it frowned upon in general to show up on a drive-by when a Google Alert turns up one of your pet topics, or is it only a problem if you’re an ass about it? I’ve been known to do that, but at least I try to be polite.

    • Kibozing! oh the nostalgia!
      I’m still a big fan of people lurking to get the feel of a forum, as per the original news.announce.newusers guidelines. Very old-fashioned of me, I know – although LURK MOAR, NEWB! macros are a distinct trope out there. Certainly no harm is done so long as one isn’t being an ass about it, but I wonder what benefit comes from drive-bys generally? The point is interaction, isn’t it?
      There’s the occasional thread where people just want to be on the record with their point of view where that’s entirely appropriate, but I reckon finding forums to be engaged with is the whole point.

  5. I have nothing to really add, it’s just that I got this enormous burst of nostalgia for the days on Usenet and alt.folklore.urban when one had to be careful to talk about gloss flawing &c &c.

  6. oi, back when I was moderating alt.bible.errancy we had some absolute beauts!
    …I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Gloss flawing on fire off the shoulder of alt.fan.kibology. I watched cut’n’pastes glitter in the dark near the talk.origins gate. All those groons will be lost in time… like tears in rain… Time to moderate.

  7. Muuuummmm! You’re embarrassing me!
    I didn’t believe my physics-geek flatmate when he came home from Uni on day and said he had been chatting on the computer to his mate in Canada (this was in the mid nineties though). What a long way we’ve come since then.

  8. Yup we get these all the time in birth circles. :-) I never knew there were cool terms to describe them though!

  9. I also grep, but only on the command line. Looks like there are a few non-loon greppers still out there.

  10. I feel like maybe the ableist nature of the term is a SotBO, but I’m feeling compelled to note it anyway for the sake of completeness.

  11. tigtog: Maybe “drive-by” wasn’t the best term; sometimes I do find forums to continue to engage with via Google Alerts. “Parachuting in,” maybe. :)

  12. I thought the ‘loon’ might refer to how the bird (loon) catches its prey or something, but a bit of googling suggests that the name of the bird came from ableist language to begin with anyway. Sigh.

  13. SQUEEE!!! I’m on the blogroll!!! Thanks!!

  14. Ooh. That raises a completely off-topic question for me:
    Canadians generally refer to our $1 coin as the “loonie” because, well, there is a picture of a loon (the bird) on it. If the bird’s name came from ableist language (which I was entirely unaware of) where does that leave us with the popular name for the coin? Does anyone feel that it is inappropriate for us to call it a loonie? Our $2 coin is called a toonie, though I guess that’s not really relevant. It’s got a polar bear on it.

  15. wondering: My research suggests that the connection is tenuous and ancient (you have to go back to Old Norse). In general, for me, there are two pretty simple tests: (a) are you using the word in a negative way, as a slur or metaphor for something awful?, and (b) has anyone expressed hurt over it?

  16. Thank you lauredhel. That is a really good explanation and a great simple test.


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