In any online forum, the act of being an active reader, but not much of a speaker. Contrast the Real World equivalent synonymous with hiding.

Rather than 'hiding' irl, I think it would be better to associate it with eavesdropping. There are various methods of lurking. Specifically to IRC, you can lurk off channel or on channel. Using the +i mode, you can be invisible to all but server operators while you sit in *, which means to say you'll not have joined any channel. Nobody will be aware of your presence online unless you specifically chatted to them. In this way you avoid most online friends but chat only to the ones you really want to chat to. To lurk on channel is much less surreptitious, since you can be seen, but you remain quiet and maybe say hello in greeting back somebody who greets you on the channel.

You can also do it in ICQ by changing to Private status, or even lurk for a while on E2 before your nick is shown in the Other Users box. Heck, you can lurk pretty much on any online chat system on which the status of members or users can be viewed and/or hidden.

Lurk (?), v. i. [imp. & p. p. Lurked (?); p. pr. & vb. n. Lurking.] [OE. lurken, lorken, prob. a dim. from the source of E. lower to frown. See Lower, and cf. Lurch, a sudden roll, Lurch to lurk.]

1.

To lie hid; to lie in wait.

Like wild beasts, lurking in loathsome den. Spenser.

Let us . . . lurk privily for the innocent. Prov. i. 11.

2.

To keep out of sight.

The defendant lurks and wanders about in Berks. Blackstone.

 

© Webster 1913.

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