In Internet slang, "lurking" means being present (e.g. on a mailing list, forum or chat) without participating yourself.

I'm curious: does "lurking" sound like something shady to you, or is it neutral?

I ask because the Dutch word 'lurking' means something different, and as such I always regarded it mostly-neutral - but the English dictionary definitions are all "shady", so I wonder what this is like for non-Dutchies.

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@raboof For internet people here in the US, common internet slang meaning is the common.

If I were to say it to anyone who wasn't tech here, they would likely think of stalker like behavior, "lurking in the shadows" etc.

@raboof "remaining hidden so as to wait in ambush." Source - Google Dictionary

@raboof There’s a split in English between online and offline usage, I think - it’s always had shady implications irl but it took on a neutral meaning online in the days of mailing lists and Usenet

@ghost_bird @raboof yeah if you said you were lurking around my workplace, I'd take that as negative. But lurking on a forum I see as neutral.

@raboof The word really had an existence before Internet usage btw. "lurking in the shadows" for instance

@raboof I said neutral but i'm a huge lurker so i'm biased 😆

@raboof I always assume that when people use it on the internet, they are using it as a tongue in cheek version of shady - I.e; actually, what they are doing is perfectly legit, but it feels shady because IRL, the idea of sitting in a room just listening to other’s conversations is a bit shady.

@raboof to me it really depends on the context? I'd be happy with somebody lurking in my forums but very unhappy with somebody lurking outside my house

@raboof It sounds neutral in an online context, but totally shady in an offline context to me.

@raboof @ThetaSigma It’s shady, but it has traditionally been kind of a self-deprecating joke so in this context I think it has taken on a more neutral connotation

@laurenzannah @raboof the act, I would argue, is entirely neutral and everyone accepts that. But the word retains that shady connotation- mainly for the “lurker”.
Often the word is used by way of a self-effacing apology “I’m speaking for the first time, you won’t know me but I’ve been lurking here for a while”. It’s an acknowledgment that they personally feel a bit awkward that they’ve not spoken before even though they already know everyone else in the room.

@raboof in broader english, lurking has a shady conntation, but in hacker dialect is does not.

@raboof @nlnetlabs I suppose context matters… As a natural US English speaker who has known the term “lurking” as Internet slang for decades, if I hear it in that context then it does not seem at all shady. But if I hear it in a physical context then it does have a shady implication. It can be used as a joke / to tease about one’s shyness, or as a real concern about potential danger, but in the physical context it definitely implies an attempt at staying in the shadows with negative connotation.

@raboof only no longer sounds shady to me because of the common internet definition

@raboof i associate "lurking" with someone like lurch from addam's family just always lurking around the manor. just someone who is always around

@raboof As a native British-English speaker I voted for “shady” but it's only slightly so in this context: a sense of taking from the conversation without contributing.

@raboof I’ve definitely been on the internet too long because this is context-specific to me. Lurking on a forum/site is neutral. Someone lurking across the street from my house is shady.

@raboof For me it’s an old, old term in virtual communities so I read it as neutral.

@raboof (English as a mother tongue, Canadian here) just as the other respondents have already noted with the use of 'lurking' - context matters. I use it as a benign term when online - to indicate that I'm curiously hovering over the conversation close enough to read the comments but not landing to comment myself. IRL it takes on an intrusive nature similar to spying on someone (IMHO).


When I was young many linguists thought that the word had a broadly "negative polarity", meaning it appeared more often in negative constructions - "Stop lurking!", "I'm not lurking" - than in neutral or positive ones - "I'm just lurking". I believe this has been shifting over the last few decades (something that can happen to marginally negative polarity items), especially motivated by its use in online contexts.

@raboof It probably meant something shady to me years ago, before I joined IRC, when the main use of it i was exposed to was in novels talking about shady characters :P

@raboof Lurkers online have always just just been there. As someone who has run mailing lists, the number of people who just read and don't (or rarely) post generally outnumbers the people who _do_ post, so I've never seen it as a negative. Just a lot of people who have nothing to say.

@raboof not a native speaker (nor am I Dutch), but in my experience "lurking" used in an online context like your examples has always had neutral connotation.

While in other contexts it seems to be exclusively used to imply some level of shadiness

@raboof I voted neutral, but the word has evolved for me over several years.
It also depends on context. I still hear it occasionally used to describe sinister motives. Lurking in an online forum? Not shady. Lurking out the front of my neighbour's house at night? Shady as heck.

I consider it neutral.

Lurking is something I do when I don't have the "spoons" to interact with something at any given moment.


@raboof for me (polish native speaker) it sounded shady at first but then I learned it’s neutral so now it sounds neutral.

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