Inside an enormous circular room in a Los Angeles performing arts center, the 2016 National Yo-Yo contest is underway. To my left is the reigning U.S. champion, Gentry Stein, surrounded by several of yo-yoing’s most elite innovators. A butterfly-shaped piece of machined aluminum darts through an elaborate web of neon string between his hands. He is a god among the nerds here today.
To my right is Paul. A similar yo-yo sits dead at the end of his limp string. Today is his first time ever using a modern yo-yo, and I am ashamed to be his friend. He doesn’t know any tricks. He can’t keep up with the lingo. He doesn’t have any clue who Gentry Stein is.
He is, by any a metric, a noob.
Noobs seem to be everywhere these days, and labeling them sometimes becomes its own art within subcultures. Surfers have their “kooks” who cut veterans off on waves. Skiers have their “jerries”—or “gapers” or “gorbs”—who snowplow down the trail in obnoxiously wide turns. A new mountain biker can be a “joey,” like a baby kangaroo, or a “squid,” a moniker condensed from “squid lid,” which describes the cephalopod-ish appearance of a full-face helmet without a visor, a common piece of rental gear at bike parks.
Sometimes these insults straddle a line between describing someone new and someone who is simply unskilled; to be mistaken for a noob is probably worse than actually being one. In hockey, “benders” are players whose ankles bend inwards in skates that are tied too loosely, or who hunch too far over and lean on their stick for balance. “Hoser,” my personal favorite, comes from the pre-Zamboni era, when the losing team had to hose down the ice after the game.