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Being a beginner is a condition of a single NetHack character. Characters that have never achieved 2000 score points (or 1000 if a wizard) are classified as beginners. Being a beginner causes otherwise unique messages given by scrolls, spells, and potions to default to "You have a strange feeling for a moment, then it passes" ("normal feeling" if hallucinating), which hampers their identification.
Note that this is a condition experienced by all players; each character (regardless of a player's history) is initially a beginner.