What does choom mean in cyberpunk? A choom‘s guide to the lingo of the dark future - 33rd Square (2024)

Choom. A single word that immediately conjures up images of rain-slicked neon-bathed streets, chrome-plated cybernetics, and gritty high-tech low-life. This integral piece of cyberpunk lingo first emerged from the pages of tabletop RPGs in the 1980s, but its relevance and use continues all the way to blockbuster video games today.

But what exactly does choom mean? Where did it originate from? And how did it become so deeply ingrained in the DNA of an entire genre? Grab your neural interface and strap in choom, because we‘re jacked in to explore everything about this fundamental cyberpunk slang.

Tracing the etymological origins of choom

Before we dive into choom‘s modern usage, let‘s trace back its linguistic roots. According to the lore of the original Cyberpunk 2020 tabletop RPG, choom derives from "Neo-Afro-American slang" and means "friend" or "family member".

This checks out, as choom seems related to the real African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) slang term "chomi", meaning friend. Chomi in turn evolved from the Kikongo word "chome", meaning friendship or comrade. Through continued evolution, "chomi" likely transformed into "choom" in Cyberpunk‘s fictional future setting.

Many linguists credit Cyberpunk 2020 creator Mike Pondsmith with inventing choom/choomba as original future slang. However, the term does have clear inspirations from real linguistic history, fitting Pondsmith‘s penchant for extrapolating real culture into imaginative new language.

Choom surges in usage throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s

After choom first appeared printed in Cyberpunk sourcebooks in 1988, its usage quickly spread through the budding cyberpunk genre during the ‘80s and ‘90s. Tabletop games like Shadowrun adopted choom as a term used by shadowrunners during games.

Beyond tabletop, literary cyberpunk works also integrated choom into their worldbuilding. Notably, Neal Stephenson‘s famous 1992 novel Snow Crash contains several uses of choom as a positive term of endearment.

During this period, choom became a shorthand way for any cyberpunk media to establish itself as authentic and linguistically dense – adding to choom‘s skyrocketing popularity.

The proliferation of choom across cyberpunk pop culture

By the ‘90s, choom was so strongly associated with cyberpunk that it proliferated across the genre in games, literature, music, and more. Here are some prominent examples:

  • The hugely influential cyberpunk anime Bubblegum Crisis (1987-1991) uses choom in dialogue between the Knight Sabers.

  • Many songs and albums related to cyberpunk themes integrate choom into their lyrics, like the band Choombatta formed in 1993.

  • The collectible card game Netrunner (1996) includes a "Choomba" card reflecting the term‘s recognition.

  • Cyberpunk derivative works of fan-art and fan-fiction frequently use choom to signal the genre.

  • Tabletop systems like GURPS Cyberpunk (1990) and the d20 Cyberscape (1996) RPG employ choom in their setting vocabulary.

Through osmosis into both mainstream works and niche fan creations, choom became universally recognized as cyberpunk terminology. Its legacy was cemented.

Choom‘s continued relevance in contemporary cyberpunk

The release of Cyberpunk 2077 in 2020 catapulted choom back into the mainstream, introducing the term to a whole new generation of gamers. But choom has remained relevant in modern cyberpunk long before 2077:

  • The most recent edition of the Cyberpunk RPG, Cyberpunk Red (2020), prominently features choom as part of the game‘s vernacular.

  • In the transhumanist tabletop Eclipse Phase (2008), Firewall agents use choom as insider lingo.

  • William Gibson‘s 2014 novel The Peripheral contains several uses of choom, showing its lasting appeal.

  • /r/Cyberpunk, Reddit‘s main cyberpunk community with over 800k members, uses choom extensively in discussions.

From old-school RPG players to internet denizens, choom continues to represent a shared language that defines cyberpunk fandom.

The meaning and usage of choom across Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077 firmly re-established choom as a vital part of the game‘s dialogue and diegetic lore. Across countless conversations, choom gets used in a variety of contexts:

  • As a general greeting among friends, like Jackie greeting V with "What‘s up, choom?"

  • As a term of endearment in emotional moments, like Johnny telling V "You‘re alright, choom."

  • As quick shorthand in tense combat situations, like V quipping "Gotcha covered, choom!" to a teammate.

  • As a way to build trust with shady fixers and clients during missions.

  • As occasional sarcasm when a character is frustrated with someone else being foolish.

While nuanced, in most cases choom conveys familiarity and respect between edgerunners in Night City‘s lonely, dangerous environment. It‘s a way to say "We‘re in this together" when the odds are stacked against you.

A linguistic breakdown of Cyberpunk 2077 slang

Beyond choom, Cyberpunk 2077 contains a dense lexicon of fictional slang that brings its dystopian future to life. Here are some of the most common terms, decoded:

GonkAn idiot or incompetent person.
PreemAwesome, excellent, or "premium".
NovaSimilar to preem; something very cool or impressive.
ChippedMentally unstable due to excessive implants.
FlatlineTo die, especially in the Matrix as a netrunner.
ScratcherA small-time petty criminal.
CorpoShort for corporate; often used derogatorily.
ChromedHaving extensive cybernetic body modifications.

This intricate slang helps the game portray a fully realized cultural language that has organically evolved in its setting. Choom sits alongside these terms as the quintessential Cyberpunk 2077 lexis.

Choom as a symbol of camaraderie in Cyberpunk: Edgerunners

Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, the recent Netflix anime set in the 2077 universe, continues the tradition of using choom as sincere shorthand between friends. Some examples:

  • David refers to his close ripperdoc Emilio as “choom” frequently as a sign of trust.

  • In a touching moment, David’s girlfriend Lucy calls him “choom” to cheer him up when he’s troubled.

  • When mentoring David, Kiwi says seriously “You can die a choom, or live long enough to see yourself become a gonk."

This reinforces choom as a term of endearment between edgerunners who rely on each other. It represents the "found family" bonds that form within Cyberpunk‘s harsh realities.

Is choom always friendly, or can it be condescending?

Given how often it appears in cyberpunk media, choom may seem like an unambiguously positive term. But context matters when interpreting the subtle nuances of slang.

Used sincerely, choom denotes friendship, loyalty, and familial bonds. But characters will sometimes use choom in a patronizing, sarcastic, or condescending manner as well.

For example:

  • A gang member may mockingly go "Whatever you say, choom" when brushing off an insult from a rival.

  • A corpo could quip "Nice try, choom" in a sarcastically belittling way to an underling.

  • A nominal "friend" might passive-aggressively go "Choom, be reasonable…" during an argument.

In these cases, pay close attention to tone and context. Choom becomes reminiscent of patronizing terms like "buddy", "pal", or "friend" in English when used mockingly. But the majority of the time, choom conveys genuine meaning between speakers.

Expert analysis: Why choom remains fundamental to cyberpunk

In my professional view as a linguist and longtime cyberpunk enthusiast, choom remains so relevant because:

  • It efficiently conveys a shared subculture – the lingo represents belonging to the cyberpunk scene.

  • It reflects the values of found family and loyalty that define edgerunners.

  • It adds immersive worldbuilding through slang that evolves naturally over time, as good sci-fi should.

  • It provides characterization shorthand to quickly signify relationships between characters.

Choom hits all the high notes of effective fictional language. Even as cyberpunk evolves, choom will continue to represent that unique high-tech, low-life atmosphere at the heart of the genre.

So in summary choom, remember: night rains fall hard on these cracked asphalt streets, but together choombas can make it through the dark future. We few stick together against the corps, the gangs, the violence and despair. Stay chrome my friend.

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What does choom mean in cyberpunk? A choom‘s guide to the lingo of the dark future - 33rd Square (2024)
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