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Zalgo is an Internet legend about an ominous entity believed to cause insanity, death and destruction of the world, similar to the creature Cthulhu created by H.P. Lovecraft in the 1920s. Zalgo is often associated with scrambled text on webpages and photos of people whose eyes and mouth have been covered in black.
On July 27th, 2004, SomethingAwful Goon Shmorky uploaded several modified versions of the syndicated comic series Nancy and Archie to his personal website, which included the word “Zalgo” in two comics in the series.
On August 22nd, 2009, Shmorky explained the origin of Zalgo in a post on the SomethingAwful Forums:
I like how people who try to figure out the origin of the “meme” don’t even know where it came from originally. I’ll tell you where it came from. From me. I just made it up. Zalgo is something horrible. Zalgo is something that’s coming. It’s coming soon. It has nothing to do with Lovecraft. I’m not nerdy enough to make those kind of references. Seeing it become a meme kinda killed doing further Zalgo edits in the future (for me anyway) but maybe I’ll do one when you least expect it.
On December 2nd, 2008, the blog Grim Reviews published a post titled “The Zalgo Comic Chronicles”, which included various comic strips like Garfield and Ctrl+Alt+Del edited to include references to Zalgo.
The first Urban Dictionary definition was submitted by user Iewz on February 15th, 2009.
To invoke the hive-mind representing chaos.
Invoking the feeling of chaos.
With out order.
The Nezperdian hive-mind of chaos. Zalgo.
On March 21st, the earliest known 4chan thread about Zalgo was posted onto /b/ (random) board, featuring a Zalgo-style Calvin and Hobbes image. On April 6th, the first Reddit thread mentioning Zalgo was posted by user Trarcuri. On June 27th, 2010, the single topic blog Zalgo Comic Series was created for Zalgo-related drawings.
On August 26th, A TV Tropes page for Zalgo was submitted, which claimed that Zalgo represents a corruption of innocence, normality and the entire world. On December 25th, 2010, a Chatroulette screenshot of a Zalgo version of Boxxy reached the front page of the r/pics subreddit, accumulating 446 up votes before being archived.
On October 23rd, 2011, a Zalgo flash animation by Shmorky was submitted to Something Awful, which included footage from several children’s animated television shows with a black tentacle creature edited in.
Zalgo is frequently mentioned in the /r/fifthworldproblems subreddit, which consists of hypothetical problems that might be experienced when living in an alternate dimension. Zalgo references can be found on various other websites including the Creepypasta Wiki, Tumblr and FunnyJunk. A Facebook fan page has 5,659 likes as of March 28th, 2012.
On forums and image boards, scrambled text began being associated with Zalgo with phrases like “he comes” and “he waits behind the wall.” David Higgins revealed that the text is an abuse of a Unicode feature that enables the user to combine multiple superscript and subscript characters into a vertical line. The scrambled text can be created using the MarlboroTech Zalgo text generator.
T̫̺̳o̬̜ ì̬͎̲̟nv̖̗̻̣̹̕o͖̗̠̜̤k͍͚̹͖̼e̦̗̪͍̪͍ ̬ͅt̕h̠͙̮͕͓e̱̜̗͙̭ ̥͔̫͙̪͍̣͝ḥi̼̦͈̼v҉̩̟͚̞͎e͈̟̻͙̦̤-m̷̘̝̱í͚̞̦̳n̝̲̯̙̮͞d̴̺̦͕̫ ̗̭̘͎͖r̞͎̜̜͖͎̫͢ep͇r̝̯̝͖͉͎̺e̴s̥e̵̖̳͉͍̩̗n̢͓̪͕̜̰̠̦t̺̞̰i͟n҉̮̦̖̟g̮͍̱̻͍̜̳ ̳c̖̮̙̣̰̠̩h̷̗͍̖͙̭͇͈a̧͎̯̹̲̺̫ó̭̞̜̣̯͕s̶̤̮̩̘.̨̻̪̖͔
̳̭̦̭̭̦̞́I̠͍̮n͇̹̪̬v̴͖̭̗̖o̸k҉̬̤͓͚̠͍i͜n̛̩̹͉̘̹g͙ ̠̥ͅt̰͖͞h̫̼̪e̟̩̝ ̭̠̲̫͔fe̤͇̝̱e͖̮̠̹̭͖͕l͖̲̘͖̠̪i̢̖͎̮̗̯͓̩n̸̰g̙̱̘̗͚̬ͅ ͍o͍͍̩̮͢f̖͓̦̥ ̘͘c̵̫̱̗͚͓̦h͝a̝͍͍̳̣͖͉o͙̟s̤̞.̙̝̭̣̳̼͟
̢̻͖͓̬̞̰̦W̮̲̝̼̩̝͖i͖͖͡ͅt̘̯͘h̷̬̖̞̙̰̭̳ ̭̪̕o̥̤̺̝̼̰̯͟ṳ̞̭̤t̨͚̥̗ ̟̺̫̩̤̳̩o̟̰̩̖ͅr̞̘̫̩̼d̡͍̬͎̪̺͚͔e͓͖̝̙r̰͖̲̲̻̠.̺̝̺̟͈
̣̭T̪̩̼h̥̫̪͔̀e̫̯͜ ̨N̟e҉͔̤zp̮̭͈̟é͉͈ṛ̹̜̺̭͕d̺̪̜͇͓i̞á͕̹̣̻n͉͘ ̗͔̭͡h̲͖̣̺̺i͔̣̖̤͎̯v̠̯̘͖̭̱̯e̡̥͕-m͖̭̣̬̦͈i͖n̞̩͕̟̼̺͜d̘͉ ̯o̷͇̹͕̦f̰̱ ̝͓͉̱̪̪c͈̲̜̺h̘͚a̞͔̭̰̯̗̝o̙͍s͍͇̱͓.̵͕̰͙͈ͅ ̯̞͈̞̱̖Z̯̮̺̤̥̪̕a͏̺̗̼̬̗ḻg͢o̥̱̼.̺̜͇͡ͅ ̴͓͖̭̩͎̗
̧̪͈̱̹̳͖͙H̵̰̤̰͕̖e̛ ͚͉̗̼̞w̶̩̥͉̮h̩̺̪̩͘ͅọ͎͉̟ ̜̩͔̦̘ͅW̪̫̩̣̲͔̳a͏͔̳͖i͖͜t͓̤̠͓͙s̘̰̩̥̙̝ͅ ̲̠̬̥Be̡̙̫̦h̰̩i̛̫͙͔̭̤̗̲n̳͞d̸ ͎̻͘T̛͇̝̲̹̠̗ͅh̫̦̝ͅe̩̫͟ ͓͖̼W͕̳͎͚̙̥ą̙l̘͚̺͔͞ͅl̳͍̙̤̤̮̳.̢
Several pages worth of fan art, which often show characters with dark eyes and scrambled text, can be found on the art sharing website deviantArt.
Zalgo videos on YouTube typically show footage characters bleeding out empty eye sockets accompanied by scrambled audio.
Although the Zalgo comic was relatively well-known on SomethingAwful, search query volume for “zalgo” did not peak until March of 2009 when it made its way to 4chan.