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Definition

An edgelord is a participant in online social media who deliberately strives to offend others in order to advance their own personal image of being “cool” or uniquely conscious of, and insightful about, the arbitrariness and meaninglessness (as they perceive these things) of society’s norms and taboos. The term is a derogatory label used to describe such an individual, and would not typically be used by an actual edgelord to describe themselves.

Edgelords often disrupt unrelated conversations with explicit discussion of shocking and taboo topics relating to gore and morbidity, fascism and Nazism, sociopathy (real or feigned), torture, war crimes and sexual violence, and the abuse of animals and children. They may also strive to cast themselves as brooding, Byronic antiheroes, or to adopt the image of an intellectually superior ubermensch.

An edgelord makes a great show of demonstrating their adherence to media created by and about other people thought to be edgelords, though they often do so without having actually consumed and comprehended the media they claim to find so relatable (e.g. an edgelord may claim to love Nietzsche and Camus, yet not be able to demonstrate a working knowledge of what either philosopher actually said). Nihilistic and grimdark media is especially favoured by edgelords, as is anything espousing especially extreme ideas about rugged individualism and complete rejection of (and independence from) society, with the works of Lovecraft and Ayn Rand being frequent favourites. They also often lean into atheist and antitheist media, quoting Richard Dawkins and Stephen Fry, while altogether ignoring that the latter especially places high value on being a fundamentally decent and compassionate person. Additionally, they may attempt to apply butchered and bastardised ideas about evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology to support socially Darwinistic beliefs which are entirely unrelated to, and unsupported by, those sciences; they may even exhibit these beliefs without considering how the edgelord themselves would factor into them, potentially claiming to want social outcomes in which even the edgelord would not actually survive or have status. They might gorge themselves on rationalist writings by Yudkowsky and Scott Alexander, while making no effort at their own rationalism or cognitive hygiene. They are especially vulnerable to radicalisation by speakers like Jordan Peterson, who create the impression that social progress toward demographic tolerance is an existential threat which edgelords can "improve" themselves by "rebelling" against. Edgelords often refer to basic online community standards of respect and rational good-faith discussion as "censorship."

All of these behaviours are almost strictly performed for attention, and not because the edgelord actually believes the world will be a better place if their views are normalised.

Necessary Characteristics

  1. Shocking: An edgelord strives to induce shock and discomfort as a primary means of interaction.
  2. Pretentious: An edgelord espouses their views in order to receive attention and status.
  3. Invasive: An edgelord seeks to interrupt rational, orderly discourse on other topics, redirecting attention to their own views, and forcing moderators to expend time and energy maintaining standards of civility and academic rigour.
  4. Trolling: An edgelord seeks to invade calm, cohesive, peaceful social spaces, especially those where they know their specific views are explicitly unwelcome and actively damaging to the well-being of participants in those spaces. An edgelord explicitly participates in bad faith.
  5. Insincere: If an edgelord’s views were actually applied in society as described, the edgelord would not find it a true improvement of circumstances, and they would not be satisfied about the change. (This can be considered one of the primary differences between “punk,” which applies sincerely, and “edgy.”)
  6. Exploitation of Brandolini’s Law and/or Poe's Law: An edgelord does not exhibit the academic rigour of spaces they enter, and will exploit the fact that it takes more time to refute bullshit than to create it. An edgelord espouses views so extreme and absurd, in the name of shock value, that other discussion participants may be unsure if the edgelord is being serious or satirical, and they may inadvertently work in favour of the edgelord’s agenda (by interpreting seriousness as satire and playing along, or by interpreting satire as seriousness… and playing along).

Optional Characteristics

  1. Nihilism: An edgelord may believe everything is fundamentally meaningless and nothing is sacred. They may even take offense at the very concept of sacredness and deeper meaning.
  2. Misattribution of Popular Stance: An edgelord may mistakenly believe that their views are unpopular opinions, actively being suppressed by other demographics and the media, when in fact their views represent those of the majority.
  3. Demographic Prejudice: An edgelord may be a card-carrying member of parties and organisations chiefly defined by their racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, nationalism, and/or an overwhelming persecution complex aimed at marginalised demographics who are in no position to persecute their own oppressors.
  4. Groupthinking: An edgelord may prefer the company of other edgelords and strives to exclude non-edgelords from these cliques, repelling any potential influx of rationality.
  5. Inter-Scene Recruitment and Radicalisation: An edgelord may find themselves becoming an edgelord after an initially fairly non-edgy but socially unpopular group they joined (e.g. a handful of NiceGuy emo friends in high school) transitioned into an actively edgy worldview (e.g. Columbiners, the fandom oriented around school shooters). As the group’s views and social performance become increasingly edgy, the group becomes increasingly alienated from the same society they are alienating and even frightening, and they get recruited by other groups (e.g. incels, PUAs, MRAs, and RedPillers), resulting in the development of increasingly radically violent (and in this example case, misogynistic) views and behaviours in order to remain relevant to their new group.
  6. Proactive Anonymity: An edgelord may take great pains to compartmentalise their public social life away from the edgy views they demonstrate online. In conjunction with groupthink, this means many edgelords actively seek out online social spaces where strict anonymity is the norm, such as 4chan and reddit, while avoiding social spaces where cultivation of a long-term identity and presence is the only way to build an audience, such as tumblr and facebook.


Etymology


The word “edge” itself comes into modern English through a convergent evolution of two unrelated ideas: boundaries and sharpness.

Proto-Indo-European roots *kagʰ-, to take or seize, and *h₂eḱ-, sharp.

Proto-Indo-European *kagʰyóm, enclosure, and *h₂oḱ-yeh₂, sharpness, a cutting tool.

Proto-Germanic *hagjō, hedge, and *agjō, edge, corner.

Old English hecg, fence, and eċġ, edge of a cutting tool or weapon.

Middle English hegge, hedge, fortress, redoubt, a stand-alone shrub or tree used to mark the edge of a piece of property, and egge, the blade of a knife, the effective and active portion of an instrument or organisation, the front line of a military formation.

Modern English edge, a boundary line between separate spaces, the perimeter containing a space, the cutting portion of a knife, and numerous other literal and figurative definitions with which any reader of this writeup ought to be familiar already.

From here, we begin to investigate the term’s figurative meanings, and how they have evolved to produce “edgelord.”

circa 1600, on the edge, figuratively at the point of doing something irrational.

1755, edgy, having sharp edges.

1837, edgy, tense and irritable.

1980-1985, cutting edge, approaching or crossing the limit between acceptable and offensive; pushing the boundaries of good taste; risqué; existing at the forefront of technology or practice.

bleeding edge, exceeding the forefront of technology or practice; too new and untested to be reliable or to have any assurance of safety; taken from cartography and printing, a bleeding edge is when a printed image overshoots the intended margin where a map or other print is intended to be cut for bookbinding or framing, and meant figuratively to indicate that the current acceptability parameters or “margins” of society are constructed too narrowly to account for a new idea.

leading edge, the foremost part or vanguard of a trend.

1980s-2000s, edgy, used unironically as a compliment to mean “cool” by virtue of going against the grain of expectations and norms, being innovative, ahead of the curve, alternative, exciting, intense, and excessively dramatic or defined. Derived from all three examples immediately above.

2005, edgy, used ironically as a compliment to mean “cool” by virtue of exposing, emphasising, or even reveling in dark, grotesque, and uncomfortable aspects of human nature; demonstrating the courage to be seen as countercultural; demonstrating the psychological resilience and honesty with oneself necessary to face morbid realities without flinching or pretending they do not exist. Related: goth, emo, and punk.

2010, edgy, used ironically as an insult to mean one considers oneself above or outside of social norms (such as basic human decency, societal constructs, and widely accepted standards of responsibility and maturity), while in reality being transparently pretentious, lacking any useful insight, and baselessly making boldly offensive statements in an attempt to look “cool.” Variants used in memes: too edgy for me, 2edgy4me, 3edgy5me. One may argue that the pre-1900s definitions of “edge” have been reintegrated into this usage, relating to its implications of irrationally antisocial beliefs and urges, sense of disenfranchisement and social alienation, and overall irritability toward the norms and comfort of others.

2013, edgelord, used explicitly and unironically as an insult to mean someone who consistently, repetitively exhibits the immediate previous definition of edginess, in a deliberate manner, to the detriment of discussion and social development. Variants: shitlord (used primarily for Alt-Right supporters), douchelord (used primarily for young adult men behaving misogynistically to cultivate status among their peers).

2015, The term reached widespread Internet distribution and mainstream recognition following Sarah Nyberg's article “I’m Sarah Nyberg, and I Was A Teenage Edgelord" relating to Gamergate, and it continues to see active use at the time of this writeup.


Fictional edgelords

Real edgelords

  • Friedrich Nietzsche, German cultural critic and philosopher
  • Milo Yiannopoulos, British Alt-Right political commentator and Gamergate figurehead
  • Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade, French nobleman and writer
  • Anthony Jeselnik, American comedian
  • H. P. Lovecraft, cosmic horror author
  • Ayn Rand, inventor of Objectivism

Not edgelords, but easily mistaken for edgelords

  • Edgar Allen Poe - He wrote dark literature and revolutionised horror media, but it cannot be reasonably argued that he pretentiously believed doing so would cultivate social status for him.
  • Oscar Wilde - He was certainly pretentious, certainly countercultural, and certainly prone to taking his views to the point of inducing discomfort in others, but he made his arguments in good faith and with strong reasoning.
  • George Gordon, Lord Byron - He was, by all accounts, a larger-than-life, pretentious, dramatic figure, but he did not generally convey a dissatisfaction with social norms for their own sake.
  • Aldous Huxley and George Orwell - Satire is hardly synonymous with being an edgelord, even when extremely dark and dystopian imagery is used to get the point across. These two actually did have important points to make, and they made them for the beneficial caution of society.
  • V from V for Vendetta - He is genuinely committed to his cause, and not at all insincere of his pursuit of it, to the point of leaving the final decision about what will happen to someone who he expects to still be alive in the future he intends to create.

Iron Noder 2018, 6/30