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Leetspeak: A parent's primer to computer slang

Understand how your kids communicate online

Published: March 7, 2006
Graphic of computer slang characters

Leetspeak, or leet for short, is a specific type of computer slang in which a user replaces regular letters with other keyboard characters to form words phonetically. Though it was originally used by computer hackers and online gamers ("leet" is a vernacular form of "elite"), leet has moved into the Internet mainstream. Your kids might use it online for fun, and you might even have seen a word or two used by your own friends and associates online.

Leet words can be expressed in hundreds of ways, using different substitutions and combinations. Nearly all characters are formed as phonemes and symbols, so with a bit of practice leet can be fairly easy to translate. However, leet is not a formal or regional dialect; any given word can be interpreted differently by different groups of people. The following serves as a brief (and by no means definitive) introduction to leetspeak.

Key points for interpreting leetspeek

Numbers and symbols often replace the letters that they resemble. The term "leetspeak" could be written as "!337$p34k". The character "!" replaces the letter L, "3" poses as a backwards letter E, and "7" is the letter T, and so on. Other examples of character/letter replacement include using "8" for the letter B, "9" for G, and the number 0 for the letter O. The substitution is limited only by the leetspeaker's creativity.

Letters can be substituted for other letters that might sound alike. For example, the letter Z can replace the final letter S in the word "skillz". With the letter X replacing the letter C or K, the example becomes "sxillz". Then using numbers and symbols, leetspeakers might refer to their computer skills as "5x1llz".

Rules of standard English style are rarely obeyed. Some leetspeakers capitalize every letter except for vowels (LiKe THiS), or drop vowels from words (such as converting "very" to "vry"). Leetspeakers might also reject conventional writing style and grammar.

Mistakes are often left uncorrected. Common typing errors such as "teh" instead of "the" are left uncorrected or sometimes deliberately adopted to replace the correct spelling.

Non-alphanumeric characters may be combined to form letters. For example, leetspeakers use backward and forward slashes to create this shape "/\/\" to stand for the letter M. Two pipe symbols combined with a hyphen ("|-|") can be used in place of the letter H. So for example, by adding a character/letter replacement of the number 4 for the letter A, the leetspeaker might form the word "harm" as "|-|4r/\/\."

The suffix "0rz" is often appended to words for emphasis or to make them plural. For example, "h4xx0rz" or "sk1llz0rz," are plural or emphasized versions (or both) of hacks or skills.

The culture of leetspeak encourages new forms, and users award individual creativity. The result is a dynamic written language that eludes conformity or consistency. However, there are a few standard terms. The following is a sample of key words that are still used and haven't changed fundamentally (although variations occur) since the invention of leetspeak.

Common leet words

d00d: Replaces "dude" and its variety of uses.

joo and u: Used instead of "you." Also written as "j00" or "_|00."

kewl: A derivation of "cool."

m4d sk1llz or mad skills: Refers to one's own talent. "m4d" itself is often used for emphasis.

n00b, noob, newbie, or newb: Combinations synonymous with new user. Some leetspeakers view "n00b" as an insult and "newbie" as an affectionate term for new users.

ph: Often transposed with "f." For example, leetspeakers might use the spelling "phear" for "fear" ("ph34r my l33t skillz") or spell "phonetic" as "f0|\|371(." New illegal Internet activities, such as phishing and pharming, are often named using this convention.

pr0n: An anagram of "porn," short for pornography.

pwn: A typo-deliberate version of "own," a slang term often used to express superiority over others, for example, "\/\/3 pw|\|3d _|00" (we own you).

roxx0rs: Used in place of "rocks," typically to describe something impressive.

sploitz (short for "exploits"): Vulnerabilities in computer software used by hackers.

warez or w4r3z: Illegally copied software available for download.

w00t: A celebratory cheer similar to "yay" or "woo-hoo!"


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