F is for flame. This is common currency on the Internet. It can be either a noun or a verb. People will "flame" someone on the Net's newsgroups if they judge them to have written something inordinately foolish, unsupported by reason or facts, or because they don't like something about the other person's name, Internet address, time of posting, spelling or choice of software.

A typical exchange might go: "Hello, this is my first time on the Internet. Where can I find out more about interesting Usegroups [sic]?" - person@unknown.com.

REPLY: "It always amazes me why you losers from unknown.com even bother to breathe; you're such a waste of space. Do me a favour and STOP RIGHT NOW!!" - dolt@timewaster.gov

Flames are often more elegantly delivered (not always), but the effect is the same. Insults are delivered with an impunity that would be unthinkable anywhere but a hot Friday night after throwing-out time. However, unlike Friday nights, most of the participants never meet, so they have no reason to hold back. A "flame war" can ensue, lasting weeks or months, but usually fizzling out with nothing proved. Apologies are rare.

The term's origin is unclear. Maybe such messages were described as inflammatory, or their subtlety likened to a flamethrower's.

With flaming so common, some people amuse themselves by starting "flame wars" with postings calculated to annoy a newsgroup's regulars. An example would be "Feminism is just an excuse for women who are bad cooks" in, say, alt.political-correctness. This is called "trolling" - and to flame a troll is considered the biggest social boob on the Net. Just remember that before you flame.