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Zalgo text is digital text that has been modified with
combining character In digital typography Desktop publishing (DTP) is the creation of documents using page layout software on a personal ("desktop") personal computer, computer. It was first used almost exclusively for print publications, but now it also assists i ...
s (
Unicode Unicode is an information technology Technical standard, standard for the consistent character encoding, encoding, representation, and handling of Character (computing), text expressed in most of the world's writing systems. The standard is mai ...
symbols that are generally used to stack
diacritic A diacritic (also diacritical mark, diacritical point, diacritical sign, or accent) is a glyph added to a letter or basic glyph. The term derives from the Ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language used in anc ...
s above and below letters) to appear creepy or glitchy. Named for a 2004 Internet creepypasta story that ascribes it to the influence of an wikt:eldritch, eldritch deity, Zalgo text has become a significant component of many Internet memes, particularly in "surreal meme" culture. The format of Zalgo text also allows it to be used to halt or impair computer functions, whether intentionally or not.


History

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". The characters were often depicted bleeding from their eyes, and forum members interpreted Zalgo as an unimaginable, wikt:eldritch, eldritch apocalyptic figure.


Usage

Zalgo text is made taking a String (computer science), string of text and excessively adding
Unicode Unicode is an information technology Technical standard, standard for the consistent character encoding, encoding, representation, and handling of Character (computing), text expressed in most of the world's writing systems. The standard is mai ...
diacritic A diacritic (also diacritical mark, diacritical point, diacritical sign, or accent) is a glyph added to a letter or basic glyph. The term derives from the Ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language used in anc ...
marks on top of one another. Historically, it has primarily been used in Horror (genre), horror or copypasta memes. Its improperly rendered or glitched-out symbols make it prevalent amongst memes intended to make the reader's computer seem like it is malfunctioning. Zalgo text has become popular in the world of "surreal memes", which are intended to come across as bizarre or absurd. 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.
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 was described as closely resembling Zalgo text. In 2020, a teenager and TikTok creator used 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. In addition to legitimate uses, Zalgo text has been used maliciously to crash or overwhelm messaging apps. The Apple iMessage app is unable to properly handle Zalgo text and will crash if it tries to render a message that contains Zalgo text. This behavior has been used to perform denial-of-service attacks against iOS users. Similarly, Zalgo messages sent over Gmail have caused crashes.


Influence

Zalgo text has lead 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. 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.


See also

*Universal Character Set characters *Glitch art *List of creepypastas


References

{{Reflist Internet memes Internet memes introduced in 2004 Software bugs Unicode Creepypasta