UPDATE: I have personally sighted Zalgo! The horrible evidence is right here…
It’s impossible to even talk about Zalgo without filling in a bit of back information, but just the Cliff Notes version, don’t worry :) If you already know this stuff, pat yourself on the back.
H. P. Lovecraft was an American horror writer who was most active during the first third of the 20th century. His work is characterised by a stark, cosmic nihilism — mankind is a tiny speck of light floating on the limitless dark, a mote of rationality in a universe of madness, despair and chaos. His stories typically involve unfortunate fools stumbling across the truths of reality, and ending up raving mad… or worse. The most prominent force in Lovecraft’s mythos is Cthulhu, a titanic elder god temporarily imprisoned in an impossible city under the Pacific ocean, waiting for the stars to be right again, so it can be reborn and cleanse the world of the infection of life.
The internet sites Something Awful and 4chan are actually more related to the above than you might at first think. Something Awful is a comedy site that prides itself on its utter irreverence, total lack of taste and restraint, and its willingness to plumb any depth at all in the name of taking the piss. People generally either find it hilarious, repulsive or both. It is a smiling bowl of tulips compared to 4chan.
4chan is the black, twisted heart of the internet. It is the place where all the most paranoid rantings of anti-net politicians become simple truth, the crucible of filth that is responsible for most of the crazes, fads and original thought that makes the Internet what it is. It is the home base of Anonymous, the self-appointed random vigilantes of the net. Despite being a very simple message and image board, 4chan really is the very cutting edge of net.culture — and it bites. I seriously do not recommend it to people at work, people scared about turning up on government watch lists, or people without an extremely strong tolerance for being disturbed and disgusted.
4chan is broken down into various content areas. The most notorious is /b/, the Random board, where even other 4channers tend to tread lightly. /b/astards pride themselves on being offensive, peurile, whimsical, manipulative and, just occasionally, blindingly brilliant. The other relevant board is /x/, the Paranormal board. /x/philes tend towards the tinfoil hat and green crayon end of the mysteries spectrum, and there’s a hell of a lot of objectionable crap on there, but again, they have moments of glory.
So. Back to Zalgo. Or, rather:
T͖̩͙͉̉ͩͅh͎ͩ̎ͣ̑e̳ͮͯ̈́̀͌̚ ̣͍̂̈́͌S̮̺͉̙̚i̗n̺̻͈͖̤͎ͯ̈́ͣg̤̘͕̠͖̳̪͊̉ͯ͒́̏͑e̬ͪ̽̑̑ͥ̂ř̹̝͑̓ ̤̖ͅo̯̫̪̲̬̎ͬ̀ͯ̏͑f̺̝̐̐ ̭̭͙͕ͦͧ̇̎̊tͥ̒͗h̥̺̥̻̪ẻ̼̝͚̣̱͚͇̊̈̒ͪ́̚ ̥̥͎̠̗S̯̮ͫ̓̆ͣͦo̖̩̞ͬ̐ͪ̆̋̊n̞͓̼̭̽ͪ̐ͫg̱ ͙̘͊t̜̖̀ͨ͂̅ͮ͋ḥ̟͔ͬaͯ̄̌ͮͩt̥̣̳̂͒ ̿ͥ͐w̹̦̫ͬ̑i͍̻̳̮̰̰ͨͣͮ͛͛̐ͅl͙̓̒͐̓l̗̥̺̞͑̚ ̖͕̦̰̘̏ͣE̞̲͗n̬ͤͨd ̩͇͍̱̝ͦͩ̏̒̊t̾h͍̱͙͈͒̔͗ͫ̊͆e̙̤̱͕̣̲͓ ̟̩͇̟ͥ̅ͭW̍͑̆ͧ̓͐o̤͖̪͚̮̥̙͗ͧ̾͆̈̎̈r̘̯ͦ̑l͇͖̠̘̈́͂ͮ̒d͔̝̪̲̜͕̖̐ͫ̓ͭͩ̀
̻̹̟͕̪̠̍̏ͫͬ̆C̟̝̤̲͉͚̗̚l̟̫͙͉͇̳̯ͬͫͦ̍̾̂ͮa̱͐̀d̖̳̻̰̉ ̝̭̱̫̼̤̩ͦi̥̪͈̠͓̙̭n̫͍̳̮̹͙ͦ̓̏ͦͬ͂̓ ̼̲͑͑͛̀̅̂A̟͕̤̖̘ͭ͛̊r͍̥̮̟̜̫͍̍̊ͭ̑m͚̝̬̩̬͇̙ͤͩͪ̆ȍ͓̤͍̦̦͉͒̚u̩̪͙͙̣̘͉r̥̯͎ͅ ̱̟̮̎̆͂̈C̦̭̹̣͉͌̉̿ḁ̩̙͕̬ͩ͒̾͋͒̍͂r̿ͨ̀ͦͣͩ͆v̦͖ͦȇ̠̘͖̪͂d̯ ̰̣͇͚̇̋ͅͅof̩̻̬̹̱͎̒ ̐̚ͅS̈ͧ̑ͣͥ͐ṳ̖̗͗ͩ̐̐f̯͎͇̟̬̓ͧͩ͗ͦ̓̃f͖͂̌ͦ̚e̔͊͛̃ͤr̭͇̹̻̰̦͌̍ͫ̉ͧ̆͛i̹̣̝͈̙̰̠͊̏n͂g̓̔́͆̎̑
T͇̥͍ͧͪͪh͔̠ͩ͆é̱͚̥̰̻̎̂̋̽̇ ̪̦̗͉̖͎̱ͬͥ͒͂͒ͨ̒Ṱ͎͙̪̠̩͂r̟̮͇̭̤̺͈͒ͬṳͅͅt̺͉͚͔͚͖̯ͣͮ͂̔ͪ̍h̝̳̚ ͎͖̖͕̥̥͛̾̚o̟ͪ̂̆͊̈̾ͤͅf̗̳̱́ͥ͆ͬ̀̄ͬ ̖͇͎̗̯ͨ͐ͫ̿͛͊̚F͔̜̮͍͖̜̰̍̾ͣ̄o̥̲̬̙̭̬͑̓r̟ͨͣͦ͆m̫͚̓̏͂l̜̗̪̯̠̠̰ͩͦ͋̈́̃e̻̣̮̮̙̐͛͋̉s̀͆͂sͦ̒n̘ͣ̈̀ͣͣ̚e̦͉̱̭̍̓̾ͤͤs̾ͯ́̎͆̏ͩs,̘͛̈́̒̽ͫ̏,̺̠̽ͤ͊ͣ̋ ̓t̤͔͋͌ͨ̒h͊ͧe̱̳͖̲͚̖ͧ̑ͥͪ́ͨ̚ ̂̒ͧ̄̎ͧ̋B̯͉a͙̱̳͕ͦn͈͚̲̲̠̉͂͌̆̒̒i̘̯̣̜̟̙̭s̖̤̻͇͋ȟ̳͓͍͓̉̽m̦̟̰̳͕͂e̩̾̑̌̓̌̊͐n͈̫͙̗ͤ͋t̖̫͚͛͗̽ͩ̅ ͕͓̣̥̯̜͒͊͐ͮof̼̫̪̬̯̓̑̾͌̒ͨ̚ ̲ͥ̃O̮͓̘̍ͧ̍͆ͬrͦ́̍̆̇͑ḓ͉͍̭̳̖eͮr̭͇̮̬͚̣̂̿ͥ̈́̚
͚̗̞͓͑͐͛ͭͬͯ͂The̹̹ͮ̒̉͛̒̈́ ̗͇̞̹͔̯̺̈̄͗̿̐̂͌C̟̞̜̤̹̟̓ͅaͯ̂̀ͧn̘͔̮̞̥̗̎ͮ͛͐d̝͓͎̮̥͖̩̃͛l̝̟̽͋̊ͧ̇͐e̯͇̪̜̘ ̟̺̤̙̆ͨͫW̗͙̩͈̘̭͋̂ͫ̌h̩̭̱͚̭̰̘́o̝͚̲̞͑̃ͨ̐̎s͉̫̬̺ͩ̎e̫͋ͪ̈ͯͭ ̪͎͔̭͈͕́̃̐͛̓̉L̤̫̘̦̲̥͑ͩ͂i͇̫̮͆̌̇̆̉̍g̘͍͚̞͇͇͂̂ͭh͍͖͈̎ͯͮͮ̈̇̇ț͔̜̰̼̖̑̔ͤͬ̾ͅ ͇̪̺̼̠̐͊̓̉̆i̫͎ͭ͂̊̆ͨ̽ͅs͙͚ͧ̿ ͕̱͕̓̐͆S̲͋̏h͇̼͓͍̼͕̠͋ͯ͂̚a͔̣̘̝ͦd͈̰̣̪̥͇̞õw̜̰̜̭͛ͭ
͓̼̻̗̝͊ͦ̚T̝̦̅͊̅͐͑ͬͅh̗̹̞̺̲ͬ̂͋͆e̞̳̩̱̞͆̅̅͂̚ ͖̠̖̟̬̻̇̒̋̿N͑̍ͯͪͥ̄ͫe̮zp̳͑ͧ̂̑̉ͮė͍̜̜̬̖̉̚ȓ̳̓̒́d̘̏ͣ̋ͪiͪ͌̐̎̃̀̀a͕n̰̰͙͛̌͐̚ ̥̮Hiv͙̬͖̀̔̆̃̾ͮͥe͙̣̦̻̦ͮ͒-͕̱̬̻̫͋͊ͭMi̗̱̯̔ͥͭ̅̋n̗̑ͧ̍̐d̖̭̩͐̍ͣ͂ͥ̎ ̞̘͈̲̗̹̿ọ̳͍̹̯̥̹̏ͥ̂f̯̗͍̯̃ ͇̱̝̭̟͋͑͗ͣC̪̖͍͍͉͆h̟͍̗̮̔́ã͑o͒͆̃s
ͩHͦe͒̑ ̹̺̥̰̞̈̑ͤ͆ͦͧW̗̫ͬͨẖ̲ȏ̬̦̰ͯͅ ̱͈ͮͧͩͯ̎͆̈́W̘̦͎̻̼̝̉̏̎̆̾̂a̐͑͂i̫̣̳̗̒̊ͤ́̍̚t̟͖̤͎̳̓ͫ̽ͩͨͅs̠͎̓ͫ͑ͮ̒ ̻̯̞͎̪̙̬̈́B̺͗̓̓ͫ̽͂̚ȇ̱͓̰ͪ̈́̈̈ͮ̚h̥̙̩͔ͤ̄̽ͩ̅i͌ṇ͖̻̪̃̉̏ͣd͑̍ ̟̗̞͔̬̠̼t̹̘̀̍̿ͬ̈́ͥ̃h̞̹̫̩̝̝͕ͭͪ̄̒͐e͉ ̻̘̽͊͑̑̓ͥ̾W̬̝͓̠̫̳͉ͯͧͯͪ̑ͤa̻̜̘͓̩͉̜͒͗͌̒͂̓ͪl͈͕̜̠̠ͤͅl̞͓͎͈̆̽͛̇ͤ̾̿
Zalgo first started appearing in modified comic strips, the creation of Something Awful forum-member Shmorky in 2004. Otherwise innocent and chipper strips (from Archie, originally) were digitally altered and re-texted to describe the devestating and soul-blasting manifestation of Zalgo, the Nezperdian Hive Mind of Chaos (typically described in writing, as above, with the text blasted and mutated by unicode garbage). One of the strongest Lovecraftian creations of recent times, Zalgo slowly gained a following on the strength of Shmorky’s work, and it started cropping up all over the place. It begain appearing occasionally at source in webcomics, even in graffiti.
4chan latched on to it towards the end of 2008. It appeared in /x/, and spread quickly to /b/. From /b/, it lurched out to infect the internet. The peak of Zalgo’s dominance so far has been in April ’09. This is probably because it’s sacred day is April 4th, 4/04, the code for a blank web-page. It’s difficult to guess if it’s going to peak again next year, but there’s a fair chance. In the mean time, there’s a great selection of truly disturbing, bizarre Lovecraftian Zalgo goodness out there to be found (or avoided, depending on your tastes).
But be careful.
Zalgo, He Comes.
My apologies — I have no idea of the correct attribution of either of these pieces!
My thanks to benzo8 for the initial warning.