Songs should not be scrobbled unless they're awesomed

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A couple of months ago, I learned about a new social-media sensation by reading a series of exchanges  on the Facebook walls of teen friends, e.g.:

A: Hey do you know about this? You should join. NOW. DO IT.
B: Ahahahahahahahahahaha C showed me this. It ruined my sleep habits.
A: i know i went on a few weeks ago and now I CANT SLEEP
C: I saw you on it this morning and I'm like whoa
A: you should drop in at my room [URL]
C: I did and I said hi P:
A: huh i didn't see you
A:but HI!
C: yeah you weren't responding

C: I dropped in and awesomed a Deerhunter track some other dude was playing
A: oh okay i think i was derping around on gizmodo for a while so you probably came in then.

That sleep-ruining site is

It's one of those things where you need to know someone to get in, and it's not available outside the U.S. because of copyright worries (this seems to be a case where the DMCA makes the U.S. more liberal than other countries are), and you might not feel the need of a new way to spend your nights. So you can see some screenshots and get an idea of what it's like from Erick Schonfeld, "This is How Sacca Spends His Friday Nights: Wearing A Space Helmet On", TechCrunch 5/20/2011, or Eliot van Buskirk, "Can survive its popularity?", Wired 6/27/2011,  or Brenna Ehrlich and Andrea Bartz, "5 tips for spinning on the addictive", CNN 7/13/2011. Or etc.

But this is Language Log, not Social Media Log, so what's the linguistic angle? Well, the on-going verbification of lame and awesome is getting a boost from's labelled buttons:

And my search for relevant citations (e.g. "Songs should not be scrobbled unless they're awesomed") reminded me of another neologism that hasn't been discussed here, namely the verb scrobble.

This is one that the OED has missed, but Wikipedia tells us that scrobble means "kidnap or capture":

The term was coined by John Masefield in "The Midnight Folk", published in 1927, and is used extensively in the "Box of Delights", published in 1937, where Cole Hawlings is 'scrobbled' by throwing a black bag over his head and bundling him into a car.

Neil Gaiman also used scrobbling in the same sense in “Neverwhere”, published in 1996. Gaiman acknowledges the Box of Delights as the origin of the word.

More relevantly, the term was adopted by — apparently from its uses by Masefield, Gaiman, and other novels — where

Scrobbling a song means that when you listen to it, the name of the song is sent to and added to your music profile.

The Wiktionary entry omits the Masefield/Gaiman history, and also removes the link to

(Internet, slang) To publish one's music-listening habits via software, as counted events when songs or albums are played, to selected internet services in order to track them over time, out of curiosity and/or to make them visible to others.

Joseph Wright's English Dialect Dictionary (1904) has an entry for scrobble, variously glossed as "to scratch; to paw, as a dog", "to scramble, climb, crawl on hands and knees, to walk about with difficulty; to struggle",  "to struggle hard for a livelihood", "to entangle; to ravel", "a quarrel, a squabble". And Georgina Jackson's 1879  Shropshire Word-book glosses scrobble as  "a state of difficulty or trouble — generally brought about by folly or ill conduct; a scrape", "a tangle", or "to scramble". These make phonetic-symbolism sense, as well as having obvious affinities with scramble, scrape, squabble, etc., but they don't fit the usage at all.

Although the OED lacks scrobble, my search in that august publication did turn up the noun scrobicule or scrobicle, meaning "A small pit or depression; spec. the smooth area around the tubercles of a sea-urchin", and the derived adjectives scrobicular "Pertaining to or surrounded by scrobicules" and scrobiculous or scrobiculate "Having many small depressions; furrowed or pitted", which I offer for lagniappe.


  1. Josh Treleaven said,

    July 17, 2011 @ 7:28 am

    "derp" is one that has only come onto my radar in 2011. At first I thought it was a reference to the Muppets' Swedish Chef, but I'm not sure.

  2. Nathan said,

    July 17, 2011 @ 7:34 am

    I have the impression that derp is only supposed to be pronounced non-rhotically.

    [(myl) This seems unlikely, given its (rhotic) South Park roots, e.g. here.]

  3. Sid Smith said,

    July 17, 2011 @ 7:46 am

    scrobble: "to struggle hard for a livelihood"

    Perhaps a variant of scrabble, and thus linked to hard-scrabble.

  4. Toaster said,

    July 17, 2011 @ 10:01 am

    Here in the UChicago undergrad community, "derp" is definitely pronounced rhotically — I've never heard otherwise.

  5. Ed said,

    July 17, 2011 @ 10:29 am is not the originator of the more recent usage. they gained both the technology and the term when they merged with Audioscrobbler, a separate company, in 2005. the Wikipedia article for has quite a lot of useful information on the companies' histories, but unfortunately none on the origin of the 'scrobble' lexeme. (and for the record, it's just a gut feeling, but i believe it was an original coinage, not deliberate invention of a new sense for an old word.)

  6. Anthony said,

    July 17, 2011 @ 12:45 pm

    While Wiktionary doesn't mention, the link to "audioscrobbler" forwards to the Wikipedia entry for, which explains that the audioscrobbler project merged with around 2005.

    Surprisingly, the sexual meaning of the term "scrobble" is the *last* (of 7) listing in Urban Dictionary.

  7. JMM said,

    July 17, 2011 @ 2:17 pm

    Are there other instances of the verbification of lame and awesome? In my derping* around on the internet, I've come across kudo'ed, digged, and even karmaed referring to a sites approval system, I guess, if they're used and understood, they are certainly words, but if the word doesn't make the jump beyond sites using those terms, it seems a low threshold.

    *Derp is my Word of the Day today, especially as a verb. I think we've long needed an alternative messing/screwing/et al. around. I just wish we could lose the 'around' element and finally have a word in English for it.

  8. m.m. said,

    July 17, 2011 @ 9:21 pm

    LOL @ a non-rhotic "derp"….. actually, that just gave me an idea.

    I just got on From a californian perspective, the verbing of 'awesome' is… funny feeling. I'm becoming linguistically fossilized :(

  9. Duncan said,

    July 18, 2011 @ 12:13 am

    Surely, the audioscrobbler usage must originate from the "capture" sense, as in, capturing and broadcasting one's currently playing music.

    At least in the FLOSS (free/libre and open source software) world in which I spend much of my free time, scrobbling has been an option associated with a number of media player choices for some years. I remember trying to grok the term, multiple times in fact, as I'd find out what the feature was, then forget, then have to learn it again later as I investigated a media player update. But it has never been something I've been particularly interested in, as I see no reason to voluntarily make public /that/ detailed an aspect of my would-be private life. I've no problem telling people the type of music or performers that I like, but a public profile of what I'm presently listening to and how many times I've listened to specific songs is rather more than I'm comfortable with.

    But I didn't know the word history and reckoned it to be a play on "scribbler", the picture in my mind being that of automated graffiti on a public "wall", that was updated with the name and other information of whatever one happened to be listening-to/watching at the moment. I had traced it back to the wrong origin, scribble, rather than the literal scrobble, capture, possibly partly because the logical spot taken by the idea of capture was already appropriated for audio context use by the capture/record and capture/rebroadcast (as in icecast and shoutcast) usage, as well as the obvious but apparently entirely coincidental similarity to scribble.

    So very enjoyable post, to be sure! I definitely learned something new about a term not exactly unfamiliar to me. =:^) (Plus, I wasn't yet aware of the phenom, so that's new to me as well. But then, as most geeks, I'm not much of a social media animal, or for that matter, not so much a social animal, either. So that bit is no surprise.)


  10. Mitch said,

    July 18, 2011 @ 12:53 pm

    These seem like just more examples like "like" on Facebook, which I think is very common as a verb. Except "like" is already as verb so it's not as jarring. But when people say "I liked the post on his wall", it's really more like "I 'like'd the post", i.e. I hit the "like" button on it.

  11. Chris said,

    July 18, 2011 @ 2:01 pm

    On Google+, the new social network by Google, instead of "liking" things, you "+1" them. The service says things like "2 people +1’d this post".

  12. Luke said,

    July 18, 2011 @ 4:13 pm

    A verbification I had never heard before, and it took me a minute to parse:

    If you listen to the audio, you can hear Sally H. Jacobs describe how she "FOIA-ed" information regarding Barack Obama Sr. for a biography, which the online text helpfully renders as "I [made a Freedom of Information Act request for] his immigration file because I wanted to confirm the date he arrived in the United States."

    Social media is the source of a lot of silly neologisms, but every specialized field has its own odd jargon.

  13. Maureen said,

    July 20, 2011 @ 6:30 pm

    Oh, heck. I can't remember where I read it! But there's a book, with kids in it, where one of the girls is pretending to be… I think she's pretending to be one of the Wind in the Willows characters, with another kid pretending to be another of them, and they "scratch and scrobble". Badger is probably involved.

  14. Maureen said,

    July 20, 2011 @ 6:49 pm

    You know, I think it was one of the Elizabeth Goudge books. Pilgrim Inn. I think they scratched and scrobbled at the ugly wallpaper, and found a medieval religious painting underneath.

    In the 1881 Series C Original Glossaries, "scrobble" is on page 27 of the West Worcestershire Glossary (that's about halfway through the book).

    In the 1879 _Shropshire Word Book_ by Georgina Jackson, it's on page 327. It's a state of difficulty and trouble, or being entangled, or to tangle or unravel something, or to scramble. Scrobbling somebody in a bag would certainly entangle them and get them in trouble, so I doubt Masefield coined his sense of the word entirely ex nihilo.

  15. Maureen said,

    July 20, 2011 @ 6:53 pm

    Sorry, that's "Pilgrim's Inn" by Elizabeth Goudge. In England, it's called _The Herb of Grace_. 1948 novel, very good comfort read.

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