Via Twitter, @I_Am_Maylin_Now suggested that I look at aggro, and when I said it was a term with which I was not familiar, he directed me to a World of Warcraft (WoW) wiki site with this definition:

Aggro is a jargon word in WoW, probably originally derived from the English words “aggravation” or “aggression”, and used since at least the 1960s in British slang. In MMORPGs [Massively multiplayer online role-playing games], such as WoW, aggro denotes the aggressive interests of a monster/NPC. Some examples are “We’ve got aggro!” and “Go aggro that monster”.

The OED bears out  this out (regarding the origin), citing a 1969 article in It magazine (“At the moment kids are split up into different subcultural groups which have been driven by the system into a permanent state of aggro with each other”) and Martin Amis’s 1973 novel The Rachel Papers: “It wasn’t day-to-day aggro, nor the drooped, guilty, somehow sexless disgruntlement I had seen overtake many relationship.”

The dictionary doesn’t recognize aggro as a verb, but does locate an adjectival use in Australia, as in “My New York paintings were all pretty aggro, with plenty of black” (Sunday Mail of Brisbane, 1985).

As my Twitter friend might have predicted, the term seems to have entered the U.S. through the world of gaming, with the OED citing Wired magazine in 1999: “A gaming device that brings skiing, snowboarding, and skateboarding into your house without thrashing the furniture… The 2-foot X Board lets vid kids stand and deliver aggro drops, extreme spins, and more.” But it’s spread out since then, with Time Out New York asking in 2008, “Are bike enthusiasts too aggro in defending their rights to NYC’s thoroughfares?” and Vanity Fair referring last year to “steroids, which bulk the muscles and ramp up the aggro.”

23 thoughts on ““Aggro”

  1. The only way I’ve heard it used is in the phrase “We don’t want any aggro”.
    I.e. we don’t want any trouble (aggravation). I’ve never heard it used as described above.

  2. Peter and haaark have it right – as in “Didja get any aggro from your Mum?”. I heard it first in the 60s from Ozzies here in London.

    1. I remember in Thomas Pynchon’s novel Vineland (set in NorCal) there are several references a magazine named “Aggro World” presumably a publication for about marital artists, enforcers, spies, weapons specialists, etc.

  3. Aggro as a piece of gaming jargon grew up around an earlier game, Ultima Online. In that game, players discovered that the way in which the enemy AI picked out targets among the player characters could be manipulated, making it so the enemies concentrated their attacks on sturdier player characters, while ignoring the more fragile player characters who were dealing more of the damage. Later games included the management of aggro into the fights that were designed, and groups of players now count on having tools to influence aggro in their arsenal when they embark on bigger fights. In that sense, the gaming jargon “Aggro” is no Britishism, but its meaning is close enough to it that the sense was reinforced.

  4. As a person who plays way too many video games, I agree with Wendell on this. Outside of the MMO world, though, I would have agreed with Enchanted Seashells. It sounds like a very ‘dude’ word. “Whoa, bro, what’s with the agro? He is seriously harshin’ the wave!” or somethinglike that.

  5. My first thought, as a twenty-something American, was of the Aggro Crag from Nickelodeon’s “Guts” (1992-1995) – here’s a clip, below. It’s pretty iconic, at least to those of us who watched 90’s Nickelodeon, so “aggro” has been familiar to a lot of Americans in that context. I haven’t heard it since, but then again, I’m not a gamer. Still, it shows that the word was already becoming part of the lexicon in some form before WoW entered on the scene:

  6. I recall this term was very common in Australian soaps! I’m sure there would have been plenty of agro in Prisoner Cell Block H. A lot of “Australian slang” web pages claim aggro or agro to belong to them.

    1. Agree with you Pete. It was a word first coined, I believe by skinheads (qv?) as a rallying cry when bovver (qv) kicked off (qv).

      These days rather quaint (qv), when used by grannies (qv) and dog-collared (qv) God-botherers (qv) attempting to sound with it (qv).

      To it, Ben. There’s a few in there upon which for for you to chew (qv).

  7. @LeeKowalkowski

    Yes, lots of Aussie sites claim credit for slang that originated in the UK. The abbreviation of words and then adding -o or -ie is very British too.

    Some words, such as dags/daggy, have made a round trip back to the UK via soaps such as Neighbours after falling out of common usage in Blighty and with a very different meaning.

    1. alot of australian vocabulary / slang sites claim several american origin words to be australian too. i guess after a word’s been used somewhere long enough people naturally forget where it came from originally.

  8. whether or not “aggro” is american or british in origin is obviously debateable. i’m 51 and we’ve been using it in the states at least since i was a kid and back then there was almost nothing british on american tv nor did your average american get much exposure to britishisms at all through the media.

  9. We (Americans) used aggro playing Diablo as early as the 90s, but aggro was only from the monster to the player, as in “I have its aggro”, meaning “the monster is focused on killing my melee character, so you spell-casters can feel free to blast away.” It was never used for aggression by the player toward the monster. But it may have changed over time.

  10. We used it in online gaming in the late-90s, like in Diablo, NWN etc. but lazily with one g as “agro.” That was my first introduction to the term. Players were from U.S.

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