Zalgo text

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A Zalgo-text effect applied to the words "ZALGO TEXT"

Zalgo text is digital text that has been modified with combining characters, Unicode symbols used to add diacritics above or below letters, to appear frightening or glitchy.

Named for a 2004 Internet creepypasta story that ascribes it to the influence of an eldritch deity, Zalgo text has become a significant component of many Internet memes, particularly in the "surreal meme" culture. The formatting of Zalgo text also allows it to be used to halt or impair certain computer functions, whether intentionally or not.

History[edit]

Zalgo text was pioneered in 2004 by a Something Awful forum member who created image macros of cartoon characters with a glitched or distorted appearance exclaiming "Zalgo!" The text in the images was often distorted, and the style of the distortion became popularised as "Zalgo text".[1] The characters were often depicted bleeding from their eyes, and forum members interpreted Zalgo as an unimaginable, eldritch apocalyptic figure.[2]

Usage[edit]

Zalgo text is generated by taking a string of digital text and excessively adding various diacritical marks to the letters using Unicode combining characters.[3] Historically, it has primarily been used in horror or copypasta Internet memes. Its seemingly improperly rendered or glitched-out characters make it prevalent amongst memes intended to make the reader's device appear to be malfunctioning.[4] Zalgo text has become popular in the world of "surreal memes", which are intended to come across as bizarre or absurd.[5] A common signifier of surreal memes, Zalgo text ties in with an overall aesthetic sensibility of the strange and impossible that includes elements such as clip art and strange-looking recurring characters but refuses to represent real-world elements such as real people or brands.[6]

Zalgo text has also been used or alluded to outside of Internet memes. A fan-made campaign logo for the Michael Bloomberg 2020 presidential campaign, originally mistaken for an official logo, was described as closely resembling Zalgo text.[7] In 2020, a teenager and TikTok creator submitted the word "hamburger" in Zalgo text for his school yearbook caption; when the yearbook was printed, the text overlapped his photograph and that of the student below him.[8]

In addition to legitimate uses, Zalgo text has been used maliciously to crash or overwhelm messaging apps. Some versions of the Apple Messages app are unable to properly handle Zalgo text, and will crash if they try to render a message that contains such text. This behavior has been used to perform denial-of-service attacks against iOS users.[9][10] Similarly, Zalgo messages sent over Gmail have caused crashes.[11]

Influence[edit]

Zalgo text has led to the creation of other Internet-based glitch art. Performance artist Laimonas Zakas was inspired by Zalgo text to create Glitchr, a Facebook page that intentionally modifies and glitches Facebook code.[12]

Though the most influential aspect of the original Zalgo creepypasta is the modified text characters, other aspects of the story have been popular as well. Fans of the story have conceptualized Zalgo as "either an unseen supernatural force, a secret cabal, or perhaps even an evil demigod" and compared it to the Great Old Ones in the work of H. P. Lovecraft. Fan art depictions of Zalgo have included drawings and short films.[13]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Attivissimo, Paolo (24 September 2020). "Le parole di Internet: Zalgo text". Zeus News (in Italian). Retrieved 13 March 2021.
  2. ^ Nosiara, Rebecca (31 October 2018). "Slenderman, Candle Cove & The Rake: Here Are The Spookiest Stories Born On The Internet". The Music. Retrieved 13 March 2021.
  3. ^ Cicalese, Louis J. V. (28 February 2019). "How Does Zalgo Text Work?: A Guide to Using and Misusing Unicode Diacritical Marks". 256Kilobytes. Retrieved 4 May 2021.
  4. ^ Kumar, Sumit (14 September 2018). "What is Zalgo Text and How to Use It". The Broodle. Retrieved 13 March 2021.
  5. ^ Dahl, Kieran (11 May 2018). "Is This Surreal Life?". Slate. Retrieved 13 March 2021.
  6. ^ Bryan, Chloe (7 February 2019). "Surreal memes deserve their own internet dimension". Mashable. Retrieved 13 March 2021.
  7. ^ Beschizza, Rob (9 November 2019). "Mike Bloomberg "campaign logo" reminiscent of ZALGO text". Boing Boing. Retrieved 13 March 2021.
  8. ^ Weekman, Kelsey (9 June 2020). "Teen's bizarre yearbook photo draws concern: 'Someone's getting in trouble'". Yahoo! News. Retrieved 13 March 2021.
  9. ^ Panzarino, Matthew (30 March 2013). "iMessage denial of service 'prank' spams users rapidly with messages, crashes iOS Messages app". The Next Web. Retrieved 13 March 2021.
  10. ^ Lee, Dave (18 January 2018). "'Text bomb' is latest Apple bug". BBC News. Retrieved 13 March 2021.
  11. ^ Paganini, Pierluigi (11 January 2018). "Italian researcher discovered that Gmail shutdown after sending a Zalgo text". Security Affairs. Retrieved 13 March 2021.
  12. ^ Tsotsis, Alexia (12 January 2012). "Facebook Page Performance Art Glitchr Purposefully Tries To Activate Code Glitches". TechCrunch. Retrieved 13 March 2021.
  13. ^ Burkart, Gregory (8 February 2017). "This Footage Allegedly Has the Power to Summon 'ZALGO'". The 13th Floor. Retrieved 13 March 2021.