In the early days of Usenet, when the internet was a smaller place that had far fewer amusements, "trolling" was the practice of deliberately stirring up consternation and confusion among newbies for the pleasure of watching them run in circles. I could be mistaken about this, but my impression is that the term was used by analogy with a fishing technique.
The world has moved on since then, and "troll" has come to mean, approximately, "One who deliberately disrupts a site, usually verbally, with malicious intent." This is by analogy with a class of churlish hairy monsters who lurk under bridges.
"Troll" is an inadequate term to cover all the kinds of misbehavior it's used to describe. However, since it's used by a great many people who don't register fine distinctions between trollish types, it's likely to go on being used to describe all of them.
A Troll Is:
- One who can't understand that it's his manners/behavior/language that get him into trouble, rather than his opinions.
- A person who encounters a lively conversation on an interesting subject, and can't think of anything more interesting to do with it than screw it up.
- Someone who disrupts a thread so thoroughly that even inattentive users notice.
- Someone who disrupts a thread so repeatedly that even the most easygoing users no longer believe it was done in innocence.
- One who wants more attention, respect, power, sympathy, etc., than his or her natural gifts and accomplishments would normally bring -- so far, that describes just about everyone -- and who addresses this disparity by trying to gain those things via less acceptable means, often involving repetitive "scripted" behavior.
A Hardcore Troll Is:
- Someone with an excessive, even obsessive focus on a particular interpersonal transaction, who tries to force, provoke, suborn, or otherwise manipulate forums and comment threads into enacting that transaction.
- People who are literally incapable of distinguishing rhetorical form and style from content. They experience their own opinions as something like a cross between a reification and a state of being, and they have an abnormal degree of self-identification with their opinions like like the one hoarders have with their possessions. They do not discuss their opinions; they possess, inhabit, and enact them, and will defend them as though they were defending their own body parts. What's odder still is that these opinions appear to all be second-hand; they are often oddly assorted; and they're never particularly transgressive or otherwise remarkable. I believe this variety of trollishness is an organically (neurochemically?) based cognitive impairment that may have been around for a long time, but wasn't noticed until the internet came along.
The Onion: Come On, Lighten Up, I'm Just Being a Total Asshole .