Quick, how many cubes can you rotate in your brain? If you’re struggling to even form the image of a cube in your mind, let alone rotate it, then I’m sorry to say that you’re not a shape rotator. You are, in fact, probably a wordcel. If you have no idea what wordcel and shape rotators are, I will explain it to you, and I’m sorry your curiosity has brought you to this article.
At its base, the dichotomy is simple. Wordcels are people who are good with words. Shape rotators are people who are good with math and abstract thought. Use of the terms has skyrocketed online in the past few months, and especially in the last few days.
The term shape rotator has been floating around online for a few years now. The term wordcel has been around less than a year. You’re hearing about them now thanks to a venture capitalist and a Washington Post reporter.
On Feb. 2, Netscape co-founder turned venture capitalist Marc Andreessen tweeted what was, to most, incomprehensible gibberish.
Washington Post technology and culture columnist Taylor Lorenz screencapped Andreessen’s tweet and shared it with her followers. This set off a chain reaction that elevated the terms “wordcel” and “shape rotator” into the mainstream, elevating an extremely online dichotomy into a confusing and terrible new front in our horrifying culture wars.
Much of America’s culture war can be cynically flattened and viewed through the lens of these two words; “woke” wordcels live in the land of philosophy and books and liberal colleges, clinging to ideals espoused in their precious books, tweeting about Wordle, while shape rotators are out here coding, building businesses, doing engineering, etc. etc.
Pretty soon, Jordan Peterson was getting in on the action.
The terms connote more than their simple definitions. The suffix -cel comes from “incel,” and is meant to imply that the person described is a stifled loser. (A gymcel, for example, is an incel who takes solace in constantly working out.) But wordcel has no relation to sex, like other -cel. According to its supposed creator, however, it is meant as a slur or insult against people who are good with words.
In a long essay about the origins of the terms, the prolific Twitter shitposter roon claimed to have invented the term wordcel on in October of 2021 while engaging in a discourse battle online.
“To the best of my knowledge, I coined the word in the heat of battle with another prodigious schizoposter (Mr. @Logo_Daedalus, whom I feel no animosity towards), and he became a kind of ur-example archetypal figure in the wordcel sphere,” roon said in their essay. “A deep yet largely unintelligible expert in the humanities, history and philosophy, his verbal abstractions have led him quite far from the base reality we share. While some of these types will become presidents, poets, priests, the vast majority will live and die producing little value, chasing down rhetorical dead-ends, with their scholarship forgotten. This is the central tragedy of the wordcel.”
The shape rotator, too, is a common archetype of the online world. This is a person who can do their taxes in a breezy afternoon but struggles to make eye contact during dinner. “They may be very good at details and bad at seeing the bigger picture,” roon wrote. “The demarcation isn’t just between STEM and humanities—you will absolutely find wordcels in the STEM domain—rather, it’s about modes of thinking. It’s about realism, thing-orientation over people-orientation, and investigative grounding in the tangible world.”
The etymology of “shape rotator” has to do with cognitive tests that feature 3D objects and ask the test taker to rotate them. These kinds of tests were popularized in the 1970s and some researchers believed the results could help predict intelligence and certain cognitive abilities. Basically, if you could quickly rotate shapes, you were probably smart and good at math according to some shape rotators in the 1970s.
And thus a new thing for people to fight about online was born. According to roon, shape rotators like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg have recently gained historical power and are changing the world. The wordcels are pissed about it and struggling to maintain their own relevancy as the world changes around them.
That’s the other important part of understanding wordcels and shape rotators. Look back at the Andreessen tweet that kicked off this fresh round of interest. Look at how roon described the formation of wordcel as a “slur” created in the “heat of battle.” This isn’t just about categorizing people, it’s about war.
People love to sort everything into categories and then fight over the imagined differences. That is a driving factor in the use of shape rotator and wordcel. The Andreessen tweet imagined a conflict between the two factions and said the outcome was predetermined, calling the wordcel’s use of language “asymmetric hybrid warfare.”
This is an old beef, really. This is about science versus the humanities. It’s about whether or not kids should focus on STEM or reading Shakespeare. It’s an argument that’s been playing out in academia for decades. The only difference is that it’s been upgraded with fancy new terms meant to appeal to the terminally online. Nerds invented a new way to measure their dicks online.
So who is winning the war, the wordcels or the shape rotators? First, culture wars aren’t meant to be won but to be fought continuously. But let me ask you this: Why are they shape rotators and not, say, mathcels or STEMcels? The shape rotators, going against type, have won a victory just by naming their opponents wordcels.