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Incel Vocab 101: What We Can Learn from the Language of the Manosphere

Researchers analyzed 11 million words from incel-related subreddits to better understand — and hopefully predict — the behavior of young extremists

In the wake of the misogynist mass shooting in Plymouth, England earlier this month, law enforcement officials and educators alike are searching for ways to identify signs of young men being radicalized by the manosphere, as well as those who may already pose a real-world threat. To that end, many have turned to online spaces like Reddit, YouTube and 4chan to learn the habits and behaviors of incels, or “involuntarily celibate” men.

When examining the culture of the manosphere, the language of the men who embrace extremist ideologies quickly becomes a major focal point. Their vocabulary is at once hyper-specific, violently misogynistic and continually evolving. For example, common terms include: 

  • Chad: Their word for the archetypal “alpha” man who all women want 
  • Stacy: The type of woman who only desires Chads 
  • Red-Pill: A worldview that portends society has turned against straight cisgendered men 
  • Beta: A description for those inferior to Chads 

But just how effective is policing the language of the manosphere, especially as the language itself is ever-changing? Not to mention, how does the manosphere define itself by its vocabulary, and what does the language say about the culture itself? Finally, what else should parents and teachers know to help identify boys who may be falling prey to online radicalization

To help answer these questions, I spoke with Veronika Koller, a professor of discourse studies at Lancaster University and founding member of MANTRaP, a collaborative research project that recently published a study analyzing 11 million words found across five manosphere-centric subreddits.

Besides the very specific vocabulary that’s developed over the years, what did your analysis reveal about how misogynistic world views are communicated online? 

How they voice their beliefs or opinions is almost always communicated in very rigid, strong statements, usually having to do with sex and gender and lots of comparisons of men and women. These are often put into terms that are very intensified and don’t allow for counter-opinions or a shadow of doubt. It’s never “sometimes women are like that,” it’s always “all women are always like that, full stop.” That rigidity matters just as much as the vocabulary. 

For many communities looking to combat the rise in violent misogyny, flagging specific vocabulary is often a first line of defense. So how does this specific genre of language manifest online? 

When someone talks about “femoids,” or when they use one of their acronyms like AWALT (All Women Are Like That), it’s indicative that they’re familiar with manosphere dialect, and it should be treated as a sort of warning symbol. But many communities have gotten very good at stopping just short of using vocabulary that would get them banned, so again, the rigidity of statements can reveal a lot.

Why do you think the manosphere consistently expresses itself in such rigid, absolute language? 

Right now, there’s an increased, ongoing discussion in Western culture about non-binary people, trans people, gender roles and what it means to be a woman or a man at this moment in history. By establishing black-and-white worldviews with very rigid gender roles and using language that doesn’t allow for doubt and reinforces each other’s beliefs, the manosphere is a backlash to that discussion. Of course, it also has the nice side effect of allowing them to blame someone else for their problems. 

What kind of things should people flag in order to combat the rise of violent misogyny — whether it be parents, teachers or moderators on social media?

We’re in touch with a charity that develops internet awareness and online safety programs for schools in London. We’re trying to figure out what in the language to look out for, but also what to look out for in the rigidity of their opinions. 

Mainstreaming is where the danger lies: There is a cultural problem with growing misogyny in online spaces that are either directed at men or predominantly frequented by men. Because you don’t become an incel overnight. You might start out in a gaming chat room or following someone on YouTube and get sucked into particular comments, which might link to something like “men’s rights.” It’s very gradual, and perhaps the violent self-proclaimed incel is the very tip of the manosphere iceberg. They’re not the lunatic fringe, there’s the whole iceberg underneath it