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Listen to Gavin Dudeney

Now here's a curious word. You probably didn't notice but the middle two characters are numbers, not letters, and this gives us a clue as to where the word came from originally - but more of that in a while. So, how does this word sound to you? Let me say it again... 'w00t!' Does it sound happy? It should do. When the Merriam-Webster dictionary chose it as their word of the year for 2007, they described it as 'expressing joy... similar to the word 'yay!'' The kind of thing you say when you win something, or when something good happens to you: W00t! I passed all my exams!

So why are there two zeros in the middle of this expression? Well, w00t! is widely believed to have originated in the online gaming community where teams compete to overcome other teams. Beating another team means that you 'own' them, and from there we get the bacronym (a phrase constructed after the fact) of 'we own the other team'.
However, gamers speak another language to the rest of us - they speak l337 ('leet', from 'elite') where words are written using different characters and numbers - just to confuse middle-aged people like me. So, 'we own the other team' becomes 'woot' and then is transposed in l337 to 'w00t!'. Simple, really.

Keen scholars will find the word 'woot' used in Chaucer's The Wife of Bath's Tale, meaning 'to know', and you'll also find it in pop songs from the early nineties and various different online forums, but it is the gaming usage which has captured the popular imagination. As Merriam-Webster's president John Morse points out, 'it blends whimsy and technology'.


download transcriptTranscript (pdf - 32 K)
download lesson planLesson plan - Teacher's notes, student worksheets with answers (pdf - 75 K)
download audioAudio - Gavin Dudeney on "W00t!" (mp3 - 658 K)
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