English Teacher Article Leetspeak- 4 wr1tt3n 4nt1-l4ngu4g3

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Leet (also called 1337, leetspeak, leetspeek, l33t5p34k, 133t, or l33t) is derived from the word 'elite' and is defined by Wikipedia as a 'form of written slang or street talk for the information highway', which had a twofold purpose: 'to create group identity and to obscure meaning from outsiders'. Used as a way of getting past word filters on BBSs and forums, so that they could discuss topics that were banned or censored, like software piracy, hacks and cracks, it is a written anti-language, a way of communicating within a language that excludes outsiders.

MAK Halliday, the linguist who created the term, suggests that anti-languages have this dual function, that they have a need for over-lexicalisation in order to restrict outsiders' comprehension, an idea embodied in the very name Leet, and to generate a new reality through contrast with the language of the mainstream. Instead of over-lexicalisation, there are increasing degrees of masking in Leetspeak through more and more complex substitutes, including some that often bear little resemblance to the original letter they represent. It has now lost much of its original purpose as it has become too well known, and is often used ironically- '31337 hax0r' (elite hacker) is a phrase used sarcistically in many places.

Most anti-languages are spoken, though early Christians used symbols like the fish as a code, Leet shows that the same concepts can be seen in a written anti-language as in a spoken one, though the changes are in symbols for letters in stead of changing words. Underneath, it is still using the larger language of the speech community, but making it unrecognisable; here is the first paragraph of the Gettysburg Address with increasing degrees of Leetspeak applied:

10% Leetification

Fourscor3 and s3v3n y3ars ago our fath3rs brought forth on this contin3nt a n3w nation, conc3iv3d in lib3rty and d3dicat3d to th3 proposition that all m3n ar3 cr3at3d 3qual.

50% Leetification

ƒ0µr$(0r3 4n�? $3v3n ¥34r$ 490 0µr ƒ47h3r$ br0µ9h7 ƒ0r7h 0n 7h1$ (0n71n3n7 4 n3w n4710n, (0n(31v3�? 1n £1b3r7¥ 4n�? �?3�?1(473�? 70 7h3 pr0p0$1710n 7h47 4££ m3n 4r3 (r3473�? 3qµ4£.

100% Leetification
ƒ0µ®$(0®3 4|\|�? $3\/3|\| ¥34®$ 490 0µ® ƒ47|-|3®$ ß®0µ9|-|7 ƒ0®7|-| 0|\| 7|-|1$ (0|\|71|\|3|\|7 4 |\|3\/\/ |\|4710|\|, (0|\|(31\/3�? 1|\| £1ß3®7¥ 4|\|�? �?3�?1(473�? 70 7|-|3 p®0p0$1710|\| 7|-|47 4££ |\/|3|\| 4®3 (®3473�? 3¶µ4£.

(Translations made using the AlibinoBlackSheep.com Leet Translator)

At 10%, it merely resembles the kind of text commonly used in chat, like capitalising every other letter, or all consonants, and other scripts that many find tedious and annoying. At 50%, the original text can be seen poking through and it is just about possible to decifer it. However, at 100% percent, it has become utterly unrecognisable to me- the only word I can make out without concentration is proposition- p®0p0$1710|\|. It is interesting that a written anti-language seems to display the same characteristics seen in spoken ones, a "conscious counter-reality not a subcultural variant."

Categories: General


This is the first time I've become aware of "leetspeak", so it's either not that prevalent, or I'm just not looking in the "right" places. All code speaking and writing, such as pig Latin, slangs and jargons can be decoded (viz. your "Leet translator"), if we are really motivated to spend time in decoding. Therefore the purpose for its existence and use is not a true barrier to "outsiders", since it is easy to crack the code if you really want to.
Your comment about it being a "counter cultural reality rather than a subculture" intrigued me because if so we can't equate it with pig Latin or any of the thousands of "in" slangs or codes recognizable sometimes even to family members, friends and no one else.
"A counter cultural reality" : can you expand on that please, Tdol?

Sorry, I wrote "cultural" instead of "conscious".
"Conscious" makes it even more intriguing;-)

You might not be aware of it simply because you don't spend much time in the circles in which it is used. Also, as it is is meant to be for a closed minority group, it shouldn't really advertise itself. However, Google carries 617,000 entries for Leet, though when you start moving in to terms like 'hax0r', the numbers drop drastically.

Cracking it isn't that easy- you can get leetification tools very easily, but thet only do it from English into Leet. You'd have to decipher a Leet text yourself, which is the whole point.

Anti-languages are counter cultures because they deliberately set out to build an alternative reality, where the group can exist, not just be a bit different. Cockney Rhyming Slang isn't just a question of throwing in some slang to confuse outsiders, it becomes a vehicle for self-identifiaction through the distance between it and the standard forms it has departed from.

Thanks for clarifying Leetspeak and showing that it is harder to crack than I initially thought. Yes, I understand that anti-languages are a vehicle for a culture's self-identification. But which came first, the chicken or the egg? Can "alternative realities" be deliberately built, just like that? Doesn't any alternative reality not just need time to evolve, but a reason for existence? The foundation stones for a counter culture must surely be in place, before being refined into elitism. Then, who or what mechanism decides that a "counter culture" is deviant? "We create our own reality", wrote Kurt Vonnegut, so an anti-language such as Leetspeak would not be viewed as "anti" by a Leetspeaker? Or would a counter culture welcome the description "anti" as acceptable "proof" that the counter culture was recognized as having deviated from standard forms?

The foundation stone will be in some way the culture it runs against. With Leet, there was a need to circumvent word filters to talk freely on BBS and forums, which means that the groups were there and had the need to communicate, however, having started, they developed something that went far beyond the word filter needs, and as such it becomes a counter reality. If all you need do is avoid being caught talking about software piracy, there would be easier ways of doing it, like calling software 'cheese'.


This may sound silly, but if you're a leetspeaker who's really "into " it, i.e. a highly proficient leetspeaker who spends his time leetspeaking/writing with other leetspeakers, might you not then lose the ability to speak in your L1? To take it to its farthest extreme, then Leetspeak or others of its ilk would then become a language and not an anti-language.Alternatively, you could be proficient in both, so would you then be bilingual?
When does a means of communication become a language?
If Leetspeakers themselves say it's an anti-language (because they're trying to hide behind a numerical scrambler, and the term anti-language therefore appeals) is it really not a language? It's a vehicle of communication, after all, and the "anti" part could reflect the pride of Leetspeakers in being deviant and outfoxing people.( Sorry, I'm not trying to drive you up a wall!). We/they might say it's an anti-language because we need such terminology to describe it, and separate it as a counter reality, but is it not really a language?

It might be possible to break away completely and become a fully fledged language, but the normal pattern is to remain within the language.

Robert Caponi

Hey, I just happened across this, so my apologies for its untimeliness...

L33T-speak is more than character-for-character substitutions or word-for-word substitutions, although I'm unaware of it varying with English at all in syntax. I guess it's a loosely-bound set of rules for representing the same words in many different variants, while at the same time always remaining recognizable.

"HaXx0ring" means "hacking", and somehow this morphology carried over into other unrelated but phonetically similar words-- "RoXX0RZZ" means "rocks!" and "SeXx0ring" means to have sex with.

Needless to say, there can be as many 'X's as one pleases, capitalized as one pleases, the 'A's can be represented by '4's, the ''G's by '9's, etc. I take issue with using a registered superscript character for an 'R' though, I don't think it's typical for Hax0r speak to use anything other than 7-bit ASCII characters.

And try this one on for size...


This is a very common expression, especially for gamers, meaning "humiliated in defeat" or "whipped like a rented mule", typically said by the victor to the defeated. At one point it was simply "Own3D!!1" as in "I own your ass," but through vowel drift the 'O' became a 'P'(!) Naturally, this would be completely inpenetrable to outsiders.

Also, do a Google search for "B1FF" (nb the '1' for an 'I') for more info.

IMO, In an age where one typically gets six viruses in one's inbox daily and WaR3z (pirated software) sites are paid by links to premium porn websites, L33T-speak has become a form of self-satire for the disabused H4X0R community. It's an outwardly self-conscious mode of expression used to deflect self-consciousness.

If you really want to de-l33t my message, try and see how well you know l33t speak. Good byezorz
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Zach, I don't claim to |{|\|0\/\/ £337 $p34|{, but was interested that is in some ways $0|\/|7|-|1|\|9 (0|\/|p£373£¥ �?1ƒƒ3®3|\|7, but that it also displays characteristics found in other antilanguages, even though it exists as a written language.

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Hi. I am here to say that i found a good website for you tdol. Leetspeaker.com is a kewl place to learn how to talk leet, but if you don't like that, you can also play games. Just check it out.

And heres me thinking it was used by pre-pubescent rpg players who think overuse of an outdated hacker language is cool!

937 4 l1f3 or whatever!

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