'trolling the internet' versus 'trawling the internet'

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'trolling the internet' versus 'trawling the internet'

Post by Erik_Kowal » Tue Dec 17, 2013 10:24 am

I've occasionally encountered people describing themselves online as 'trolling the internet'. It has not always been clear whether they were aware of the possible misinterpretation of their words, or whether they themselves understood what they were writing.

Anyone who has ever read or written comments in an online forum is likely to be familiar with the phenomenon of the internet troll, namely someone who posts inflammatory or gratuitously offensive material (usually under a pseudonym or nickname) with the general aim of provoking the other readers of the forum and/or hijacking the topic being discussed.

Presumably, not many people willingly admit to such activities except to other trolls or antisocial individuals. So in most cases we can probably discount this as being the intended connotation of 'trolling the internet'. (Incidentally, we have been so effective at eliminating trolls from the Wordwizard forum that we are now down to a mere handful of active members; we count this as a positive measure of our success. :/ ) 1

If this sense is excluded, that appears to leave two other possible intended meanings, both of them connected with fishing.

Trolling is the technique of dragging a lure or bait cast from a fishing rod behind a slow-moving boat. This is a low-yield, non-intensive type of fishing, and is mostly the province of amateur fishermen. Trawling, on the other hand, involves dragging a net through the sea or across the sea bottom, and is a large-scale commercial activity.

Nevertheless, when you have two types of fishing whose descriptors are pronounced very similarly and are both used in a metaphorical context, the eggcorn potential is obvious. (Perhaps the non-intended term should be classified as an 'eggcorn lite' rather than an industrial-strength eggcorn, as no neologising is involved.)

Trolling the internet would suggest a desultory and relatively unsystematic type of browsing and information-gathering, whereas trawling it suggests a thorough and systematic approach to locating and collecting data.

Surprisingly, Google's Ngram tool currently returns no hits for 'troll(ing) the internet', but Google's regular search finds (at my time/space coordinates) circa 871,000 occurrences of 'trolling the internet' and 1,000,000 hits for 'trawling the internet'.

This seems a good example of the potential for the confusion and lexical interference that can result when a pair of similar-sounding technical terms with related meanings suddenly find a new metaphorical application, especially when one of those terms also coincides with a novel twist on the designation for an ancient type of folk-tale character; however, a more systematic examination of the occurrences would be needed in order to determine, as far as possible, the coherence of the terminology with the intended meaning, and thus to quantify the actual extent to which the inappropriate term is being used.

1 In passing, it is worth mentioning an even more obnoxious type of modern-day troll, the so-called patent troll -- an individual or company whose business consists in acquiring intellectual property rights for the sole purpose of suing other companies for infringement, or of intimidating them into making out-of-court financial settlements.
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Re: 'trolling the internet' versus 'trawling the internet'

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sat Dec 21, 2013 12:54 pm

Some more relevant points are raised here.

In particular, I was struck by some of the observations made by the poster 'Darkmoon':
If I understand the definition of “eggcorn” correctly, then “Internet troll” indeed is one, but of an interesting and (going by the examples on the home page) highly unusual type. Y’see, trolling was first used with respect to the Internet as a verb (meaning to fish from a boat with a baited longline) as a metaphor to describe the activity of attempting to disrupt (and thereby vandalize) a forum by posting provocative and inflammatory material to it, in the hope of provoking the participants into overheated emotional responses. The metaphor involved was that the troller was “fishing for a bite.”

It is standard practice in English, particularly in US vernacular English, to turn our verbs into nouns, and our nouns into verbs. If the disruptive activity was to be called trolling, then both the provocative messages and the vandals engaged in trolling were called…trolls! The only problem with that strategy is that the word “troll” as a noun already has a well-established meaning: the creatures of Norse mythology. By metaphorical extension, a “troll” (noun) is an anti-social or even sociopathic person who is possessed of an ugly disposition and/or character.

This, then, makes the perfect eggcorn: an “Internet troll” is an ugly, vindictive, narcissistic, sociopathic vandal (the only thing s/he doesn’t do is live under a bridge—and we’re not so sure even of that), who has nothing better to do than to disrupt social intercourse in Internet forums and chat rooms, or engage in other forms of Cyber-Bullying—not necessarily for financial gain, but simply for the sheer Schadenfreude or ‘lulz’.
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Re: 'trolling the internet' versus 'trawling the internet'

Post by JerrySmile » Fri Dec 27, 2013 4:24 pm

Yes, very interesting connection, and I guess you're right about
'trolling the internet' versus 'trawling the internet'.
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Re: 'trolling the internet' versus 'trawling the internet'

Post by plwimsett » Mon Mar 31, 2014 7:37 pm

I can't help feel that "troll" comes from the palare "to walk". Or a slang way of saying stroll?
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Re: 'trolling the internet' versus 'trawling the internet'

Post by Erik_Kowal » Mon Mar 31, 2014 7:43 pm

Do you mean 'Polari', i.e. the type of theatrical slang that incorporates Italianate words, rhyming slang and Romany?
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Re: 'trolling the internet' versus 'trawling the internet'

Post by plwimsett » Mon Mar 31, 2014 9:49 pm

It has several variants in spelling-honest!
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Re: 'trolling the internet' versus 'trawling the internet'

Post by Wizard of Oz » Wed Apr 02, 2014 2:23 am

.. Erik plwinsett is correct so let's get the spelling thingy out of the way first >>
Polari (or alternatively Parlare, Parlary, Palare, Palarie, Palari; from Italian parlare, "to talk") is a form of cant slang used in Britain by actors, circus and fairground showmen, merchant navy sailors, criminals, prostitutes, and the gay subculture. There is some debate about its origins, but it can be traced back to at least the 19th century and possibly the 16th century. There is a longstanding connection with Punch and Judy street puppet performers who traditionally used Polari to converse.
Source: Wikipedia
.. plwinsett, it is interesting that troll is already part of the Polari lexicon .. the link gives a wide ranging view of how this word came into Polari .. whilst your observation is possible I do think you need to provide more research and/or examples for your contention ..

.. as an aside I found the article on Polari and then on Shelta to be extremely fascinating as many of the words have long been part of my vocab learned from older Aussies .. there is little doubt that our early migrants, servicemen, theatre people and circus people brought the Polari words into Aussie usage ..

WoZ always wondering where words were born
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