How did the word "nerf" develop to its current meaning in MMO/multiplayer games?

I can remember seeing it for a long time to have the same or similar meaning, even before the explosion of MMOs that happened with World of Warcraft.

(I used the terminology tag, as it seemed the closest fit, though I'm not actually asking what the word means.)


4 Answers 4


Nerf has it's own wiktionary entry (with the meaning "to water down, dumb down or especially weaken, particularly in the context of weapons in video games").

Etymology From the Nerf brand of toys designed as non-dangerous counterparts of existing things, such as sports balls and guns.

Once powerful skills, tactics or strategies that have been rendered significantly less effective by changes in game mechanics are said to be "nerfed", as these once potent weapons have since been rendered as powerful as the foam toys.


The word nerf is simply applying the proper noun of the company and product "NERF", which makes and sells air and spring powered guns using foam ammo.

So by saying a stat or character was "Nerfed" you're saying it has been given the same soft, less deadly "foam" coating as NERF applied to guns and ammo.

I'm not sure when it was first used, but it's origins have always been the NERF product.

  • Don't forget the foam swords and other melee weapons they have now. Apr 4, 2012 at 16:18

Nerf was introduced as a trademark name for toys made of foam-like material for indoor play in 1970 (Nerf ball).

The following Wikipedia entry gives info about the term regarding computer gaming:

In video gaming a nerf is a change to a game that reduces the desirability or effectiveness of a particular game element. The term is also used as a verb for the act of making such a change.The opposite of nerf is buff (in one of that term's two usages).

The term originated with Ultima Online, and refers to the Nerf brand of toys which are soft and less likely to cause serious injury. It is used in the context of virtual worlds such as MMORPGs (like UO) and MUDs, but has become a part of the general vocabulary of gamer slang and can be found in various places where adjustment of power levels from one version of a game to the next is relevant.


Nerf bars in offroading came first. They called the foam padding 'nerf' before nerf was a brand. Non Expanding Recreational Foam is one offering for what NERF may actually mean.

  • 3
    Can you cite a source for nerf bars predating the nerf toys? Jun 30, 2021 at 19:41
  • > “Parker Brothers decided to name the balls NERF after the foam padding that off-road enthusiasts wrapped around their roll-bars.” - (some interview the NERF Gun creators gave)[web.archive.org/web/20141103181756fw_/http://www.wedwabbit.com/…
    – user228576
    Jul 1, 2021 at 2:13
  • @RoddyoftheFrozenPeas, the context is all over the place. The statement is accurate - the creators said so in an interview. But this is about the actual NERF guns, not the word 'nerf' used in video games.
    – user228576
    Jul 1, 2021 at 2:14
  • True but if you're tracing the history of a term you don't just give the last part, but start as far back as you can. Thanks for the link tho, i wasn't able to find anything when i googled nerf bars. Jul 1, 2021 at 14:20

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