The Etymology of “np”


Do you even wonder where these acronyms come from? Who starts them? Is there a secret cave full of the movers and shakers of the internet world who spend all day trying to come up with the next ‘lol’?

Well, wonder no more, my feathered friend. This is the story of ‘np’.

Our tale begins more than ten years ago, around 1995 or so. AOL was popular, the web wasn’t so popular, porn was just as popular as it’s always been.

I, unfortunately , was not popular. A good deal of my time was spent behind a computer screen, much like it is today. Now I spend my time aligned with noble causes such as writing this blog and checking my e-mail, but back then it wasn’t so innocent.

I was deep in the warez scene.

Warez is pirated software, and my hobby was trading it. It was kind of ridiculous, actually. I wouldn’t use most of the software I donwloaded, I would just trade it with someone else. Back then there was no Bearshare or Limewire or BitTorrent, so if you wanted a file you had to find someone who had it, and then trade with them one on one. Over the state of the art 28.8kbps modems we all had, this was a bit of a task.

Here’s how a typical interaction might take place :

<tynan> Hey, does anyone have Sim Penguin?
<l337dud3> yeah, i have it. do u have Barbie Makeover?
<tynan> Of course I do. You send first.
<l337dud3> Ok.

Now, here l337dud3 would start directly sending me Sim Penguin. This could take hours and hours. When it finished, I would start sending him Barbie Makeover. Pay attention, because here’s the action:

<l337dud3> thanks
<tynan>No Problem

There are two things you need to realize here – first, no one EVER said “np”. It wasn’t in the lexicon back then. Everyone said “you’re welcome” or “no problem”. Really, acronyms weren’t even that popular back then. People were more into substituting numbers for letters. There were a few basics : lol, thx, imho, but not much beyond that.

Also, I was high up in the warez scene. I was a member of some major organizations and a moderator on the biggest chat channel for this stuff. That meant that I had an audience.

The warez scene, in conjunction with the hacker scene which it shares a lot of members with, is where most, if not all of these sorts of chat abnormalities come from. The members of these groups represent the bleeding edge of technology and also the most time logged online. Or at least they used to. Slowly you’d see things they said trickle down into the general population of 40 year olds posing as 16 year old girls on AOL… and others, of course.

Many trades would go down each day, so there were a lot of repeats of the above conversation. One day I was feeling rather spunky, and somewhat lazy, so I switched up the conversation. It went a little something like this :

<l337dud3> thanks
<tynan> np
<l337dud3> what does that mean?

I know the conversation seems belabored and made up, but I distinctly remember him asking me what it meant. I told him it stood for “no problem”. I decided that I like “np” and was going to keep saying it. For a month or maybe two, almost everyone asked what it meant. I guess people figured it out after a while, because eventually they stopped asking me. Then all of a sudden someone said it to ME one day. I was shocked, because I knew that I was the only person who said it. In the next month or two after that, EVERYONE was saying it. Soon it was part of the vocabulary of every slightly rebellious teenager on the internet. A new acronym was born.

What proof do I have? None, unfortunately. This is very unfortunate, because very few people believe me. My ex believed me, but I don’t think she cared. Also, she wasn’t really into computers and probably had no idea what I was talking about. I don’t actually think I’m the first person in history to use the abbreviation “np”. That would be ridiculous.

I am, however, certain that I came up with the idea independently and was responsible for popularizing it in the most influential chatting community at the time. And I’m also certain that it became mainstream shortly after that.

Does this all matter? Maybe not, but I care. I actually feel a slight bit of pride every time someone says “np” to me. I think it’s really fascinating to think about how the word was passed from one person to another and ten years later it gets back to me.

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  1. I hate when that happens. Thomas Edison didn’t invent the lightbulb, but he got credit. The guy who came up with the original concept is unknown to us all.

    The same thing happened to me with Cable Modems.

  2. Yeah, I invented cybersex in ’84 when I was 12 but people used it for bad things. I have much empathy for the torment you must be experiencing.

  3. I swear that I started the short-lived trend of wearing a rubber band around the wrist, so I feel ya brethren. Keep hope alive!

  4. I know exactly what you mean, back in ’95 a couple of us were using AIM on my crap dialup connection and I was screwing around and said coo instead of cool, mostly to annoy this one guy Ian. The other people the room were asking what it meant, my friend started doing it too, “that’s coo”, “ya, coo”, etc. Ian laughed and said we sounded like a bunch of doves or something. Couple months later, everyone’s saying it. I too have no proof but my friends remember us doing it and we still get a laugh about the whole thing.

  5. There have been rapports (no exact source) that monkeys on separate but nearby islands suddenly perform the same completely new behavior, for instance using branches to get leaves out of the water of a lake to the shore. I’d have to add that monkeys don’t like water ofcourse.

    Similar things have been noticed in research, many times researchers are studying the same thing without knowing it of each other and have a revolutionary breakthrough at almost the same time. The only thing that matters in research though is who publicates first.

    I think these things are called energetic fields and that certain thoughts can be transmitted through air or something. So maybe you really did invent “np” and at the same time somebody else invented it…

    I also suspect that somebody else just used it but it never caught on and in Tynan’s case it did because he was so consistent in using it..

    Anywayz… I love creative language use!


  6. Actually before AOL there were several crappy services, like Prodigy and Compuserve. No abbreviations there other than for ‘grin’, and the old standards like wtf, btw, fyi, and thx. I don’t ever remember an ‘np’.

    And before that were the days of the BBS– modems calling up single servers in some dude’s basement. That’s where your warez scene got started, and the whole replacing letters with similar numbers or symbols was just a natural extension of ASCII art.

    We also never used smilies or frownies or any real abbreviations for short already short words, but we did use for the smiley there too. stfu and ggr and esa were also very popular, no surprise there. But no ‘np’! I’m pretty sure about that because who says ‘your welcome’ when you’re trying to be L33TX0RS anyway? 🙂

  7. Oh, doh, and the missing recurring symbol for grin in the post above is of course the contraband less-than, followed by ‘g’, followed by the contraband greater-than.

    Stupid blogs. Let me use my dang alligators!

  8. It’s funny because I remember using “Np” when no one else did too, I thought I invented it, it was an origonal thought that I used, and it probably was an origonal when you used it, but im sure there are many people that just thought it up, I do not think that you can claim soul responsibility for this, your just being silly. Although I do belive that you started to use it not influenced by other people; as did I. Stop being so hot headed and realize that you might not affect the internet scene as much as you think you do.

  9. Haha, I like it. (your reply) I am totally jealous of you; no doubt in that. I don’t know though, you claim to be the most interesting person in the world, I may have you beat. The thing is, you have a successful blog on your life, where I do not, so I guess you win in that aspect.

  10. All language use is creative. Everything we do is creative, even the thigs you wouldn’t have thought were. Breaking down that Lego house? The first step in building a train. Turning the radio on? Five minutes away from picking up the guitar.

  11. And despite the blind-us-with-science gibberish about monkeys, you’re right to a degree. There is a school of thought that says everything importat was little more than a product of the culture of the time. If Einstein hadn’t thought about Relativity (and that) first, someone was bound to, and very soon. No disrespect to Einstein

  12. For those who are noting that they had an original though at the same time someone else had the same thought, this isn’t uncommon.

    For instance, Newton and Leibniz both independently invented calculus. Just think about that, calculus isn’t just taking the first letter of a common phrase, so it’s very likely multiple people independently thought of np.

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