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In Before ‘in b4’: The Origin and Rise of Internet Slang

What does inb4 mean? It’s pretty simple: it’s an abbreviation of “in before”, a term a person uses in online conversations to pre-empt a certain strain of replies from everyone else. Deployed strategically, someone who uses inb4 can derail their opponent’s banter right from the get-go.

While most internet slangs have murky histories, a few intrepid scholars managed to track down the etymology and origin of one of the most used debate tools on the internet. Here’s a brief breakdown of what they’ve found:

InB4: An Official Definition

Officially (or rather, as ‘official’ as internet slang definitions get), and according to Urban Dictionary, inb4 is “an expression commonly used on discussion forums and imageboards to forecast an anticipated response or a predictable outcome within a given thread”.

For the Gen Z and younger kids, imageboards are kind of like forums but with an emphasis on images and memes. In fact, much of the memes you kids enjoy came from imageboards, and one of the most popular –or, more appropriately, notorious –imageboards back in the day was a little site called 4chan.

Yes, THAT 4chan.

InB4: An Origin Story

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inB4 is a phrasal template (i.e. a phrase that you copy-paste) and is actually a derivation of an even earlier expression: in before the lock. The phrase “in before the lock” started on 4chan, where people would comment on a post before the thread was deleted, or “locked”.

Here’s the thing about 4chan: it was one of the most notorious websites in the early 2010s, mostly because of a single subchannel called /b/. In general, 4chan was pretty much like any other imageboard out there: they had different channels for different interests, but /b/ was the ‘random’ channel, and this is where things got weird.

/b/ became notorious for being a place to see some of the most messed-up images that made its way out of the darknet. However, it was also the source of some of the best proto-memes that the decade enjoyed. Because it was kind of a wild-west scenario in there (or, as /b/tards themselves like to call it: the asshole of the internet), mods were quick to ban and lock certain threads, especially if they contained questionable content (which, knowing /b/, it was aplenty).

One can argue, as well, that /b/ was one of the birthplaces of trolls and trolling culture in general.

And so, saying ‘inb4’ was crucial to getting the last say, whether it’s a quip or a joke or a self-righteous denigration of the entire thread. In fact, the earliest Urban Dictionary definition of the expression “in before the lock” was posted on March 9th, 2006, during the infancy of the internet age.

As for ‘in b4”, the first, earliest known archived mention of it can be found in a different channel on 4chan on March 31, 2007, with an official UD definition being recorded a month later on April 30, 2007.

InB4: the Rise of a Slang Term

By August 3 of 2007, Encyclopedia Dramatica had uploaded an article specifically about “in b4”, with instructions on how to use the expression properly. The entry states that ‘in b4’ should be used in a specific way:

“In before X can only be used as the first reply to a thread or comment, and only if that thread or comment is bait: that is, there is a near 100% chance that someone else will reply to the OP using a particular meme, flame, or solution. Saying “in before X”, where X is the anticipated response in question (or a variation thereof), under any other circumstances is wrong.”

This definition, however, has undergone a massive change over the years, with ‘inb4’ now being used to anticipate a person’s response to the original post, something that Encyclopedia Dramatica specifically warns against. Internet slang, it seems, undergoes the same evolution and redefinition of real languages.

In b4 is similar to, but is different, from the “First” comments one can find on threads, specifically YouTube. However, inb4 differs in that it can be used as both bait and response: provoking others to comment and having a ready-made response to any attempt to answer their original posts. While it might not be so common in our smartphone, Internet of Things, era, it’s still used by some of the internet’s old guard and is being passed on to the new generation (for better or worse).

Inb4: Variations

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The term ‘inb4’ didn’t stay in 4chan for very long: as /b/tards started leaving the imageboard for greener, safer pastures, they brought the term with them, gradually introducing the expression to social media and other forums, most popularly Reddit.

The earliest recorded use of ‘inb4’ on Reddit was in 2008, and it soon spawned several iterations and variations, including, but not limited to:

  • In b4 Togepi: The responder is sure that someone will eventually reply with a photo of the pokemon Togepi, a popular way of trolling people in the forum.
  • In b4 404: One of the first iterations of the expression, ‘in b4 404’ was heavily used on 4chan to denote that the poster is sure that the thread they’re posting in is about to be deleted, and has thus taken measures to save the content contained in the thread.
  • In b4 b&: Another popular variation, ‘in b4 b&’ means ‘in before banned’, which implies that the poster is sure they will be banned by moderators for their malicious activities and/or violation of board rules.
  • In b4 v&: Similar to b&, ‘in b4 v&’ is read as “in before van’, a reference to the 4chan joke that the imageboard was under constant surveillance by the cyber security agents of the FBI, who are monitoring the threads from a stakeout van, the same van (a.k.a the party van) that will conduct a house raid on posters. ‘Inb4 v&’ is usually used when posting/reply on/to a thread with questionable (usually illegal, like pornography or gore) content.

Sure, internet slang is far from the tech developments that changed the world, but it’s a fascinating look into the psyche of the average internet user. Are the results scary? A little bit, considering most of our modern internet memes and slang originated from 4chan of all places, but it’s a linguistically impressive reflection of how real-world languages are created, how they evolve, and how they adapt to the environment they’re used in.

In b4 hurr durr this article is stupid: you should know that we did our research. Sound off in the comments below if you’re smart enough to tell us otherwise (see what I did there).

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