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creepypasta

What does creepypasta mean?

Creepypasta is a genre of scary stories distributed via the internet. It is a subgenre of copypasta.

Where does creepypasta come from?

The portmanteau copypasta is believed to have been coined around 2006 by 4chan communities describing stories which were copied and pasted through forums about miscellaneous topics, similar to the 1990s/early 2000s trend of sending chain emails.

Creepypasta, the most popular subgenre within the copypasta medium, refers to short horror stories generally about urban legends or unsettling fake local stories. Primary features of the creepypasta genre include the lack of a disclaimer from the original author to clarify whether the post is fact or fiction, and the inclusion of local details which further blurs these lines. Creepypastas are told using a variety of forms and styles, and by virtue of the inherent community nature in internet forums, can even be interactive.

The myth of Slender Man is arguably the most well-known creepypasta, being both one of the original stories which made the internet literary subgenre take off in the first place, and one which continues to develop today with the advancement of higher-quality images and videos. The genre has been compared to a contemporary form of expedited folklore where stories are passed virally through various internet communities in the span of days or weeks, rather than slowly over generations.

Original creepypastas involved either only blocks of text or a picture with a caption (as with the origins of the Slender Man mythos). While some creepypastas are told in the more removed, third-person style of an official government report, most creepypastas have a first-person narrator. Often users will privately collaborate on a story and build on the original post in comments, which can make the stories seem even scarier and more convincing for uninvolved readers who assume there are simply a bunch of strangers online who all know of the same eerie tale. Using internet forums as the primary medium for telling and distributing such stories and manipulating the relationship between original posters, commenters, and readers enhances the horror inherent in the creepypasta genre. By telling audiences about something the original poster supposedly experienced themselves, overheard somewhere, or put together based on small pieces of information passed down through family members, the stories give readers the impression that they are part of the story themselves. This often makes the experience of reading a creepypasta even more chilling.

As modern technology has continued to become more high-quality and more easily accessible in the decade since creepypasta’s origins, the newer stories have expanded to include even more elaborate details and more convincing photo or video “evidence,” whereas older creepypastas were generally short and vague.

The marketing campaign for the 1999 film the Blair Witch Project has often been cited as one of the earliest examples of creepypasta (indeed, since the genre’s development with more advanced use of technology, found footage has become a staple of newer creepypastas). Prior to the film’s release, the production company put together a basic website with fictional background information on the legend of the witch, which was continually updated to include biographies and childhood photos of the young filmmakers in the movie and, later on, photos of the police search for them, their abandoned car, supposed news coverage of their disappearance, and additional recovered tapes and snippets of journal entries from one of the characters. The production company’s commitment to making the story seem real had a significant impact on the film’s success and initial audience reaction. Of course, the Blair Witch Project predated the term creepypasta, and so this term has only been applied retroactively.

A few things to note…

Both creepypastas and creepypasta are accepted as the plural form of this term.

For example…

“Creepypasta writers take popular urban legends—remember the legend of Bloody Mary?—or create entirely new subjects and fashion online stories with the intent to totally freak out the reader.”

Jessica Roy, “Behind Creepypasta, the Internet Community That Allegedly Spread a Killer Meme,” TIME (June 2, 2014)

“The video is part of a growing phenomenon making its way around message boards and e-mail chains called ‘creepypasta’ — bite-sized bits of scariness that have joined the unending list of things-to-do-when-you’re-bored-at-work.”

Austin Considine, “Bored at Work? Try Creepypasta, or Web Scares,” New York Times (November 12, 2010)

“The internet allows for the viral nature inherent in the original creepypastas that current creepypasta has evolved from, otherwise they’re just horror short stories. The internet gives it a sense of realism, so many of them are interactive too. It fosters a ‘support community’ of sorts, if that makes sense? And authors write their creepypastas based on reader feedback.”

Alex Coonce

This is not a formal definition of creepypasta like most terms we define on Dictionary.com, but is rather an informal word summary that touches upon the key aspects of the meaning and usage of creepypasta that will help you expand your word mastery.