A guide to leetspeak

The internet has its own culture. The way internet users communicate with each other and share ideas and thoughts follows certain rules and behavioral patterns. New aspects of internet culture often emerge organically. One of these cultural characteristics of the internet includes leetspeak. With this type of written communication, letters are replaced by numbers or other symbols.

The similarity between the letters and corresponding numbers is key. With a little imagination, for example, a 3 looks like a mirrored E. The number 7 also bears some resemblance to the letter T. This way, internet users are easily able to understand “1337 5P34K” as “leetspeak”. But what exactly does “1337” or “leet” mean and how did this online code develop? Find out more in this article. We’ll also give you a handy leet alphabet.

Where does “leet” come from and what does 1337 mean?

Even in the early days of the internet, users often communicated with each other on message and bulletin boards. These early websites were divided into certain sections. Users could exchange files in some areas, communicate via chat in others, and read public entries, messages or posts in news sections. The users of these bulletin boards received user rights depending on their activities. What a user could do on a board, which chat rooms they could access and whether they could share files largely depended on their status. Users with elite status had access to all board features.

The tradition of assigning elite status to particularly active and experienced internet users was adopted by programmers, coders, and hackers with a certain degree of humor. To differentiate themselves from other internet users, the “leet” notation caught on as an abbreviation and distortion of the word “elite”. The spelling using double “e” can be seen as a parody of the word by the creators of leetspeak.

On early messaging boards, filters were often used by administrators in order to ban the use of certain words. For example, if users in chat rooms wrote about “hacking” or “cracking”, the filters would block the content. However, the “elite” of internet users – comprising programmers and coders – were interested in discussing these exact topics. To circumvent the filters, users developed leetspeak by replacing letters with similar-looking numbers and characters. Filters were able to easily detect and block banned words like “hacker” or “ass”, but they had difficulty identifying “H4x0r” or “@$$”.

So, what about the numbers 1337? If each of the numbers were mirrored along the vertical axis, you could easily imagine reading the word “LEET”.

Want to see leetspeak for yourself? Google offers a rather amusing leet version of its search engine. Here, the button “I am feeling lucky” is changed to “EyE Am ph33|1n6 |u(ky”. It also allows users to search for “Images” and “Videos”. In Google’s leet version, these buttons are called “Im4635” and “v1D302”.

Different forms of leetspeak

Originally, the advantage of the notation was that filter systems could no longer detect banned words. Initiated users could communicate in their own code without word filters understanding the content. Although it takes a while to get used to, leetspeak can be quickly understood by people, while it’s often illegible for machines.

Previously, leetspeak was used mainly by hackers, coders, scripters, and programmers. The informal internet language has since reached broad swathes of society through the gaming scene. Its use today is largely ironic. Leetspeak is especially popular for personalizing online nicknames in forums or multiplayer online games. Various forms of leetspeak have emerged over the years. Some forms only use numbers and letters, while others use all sorts of special characters.

Type

Explanation

Example

1337

This is the purest form of leetspeak; it primarily uses numbers and only a few special characters.

“Beginner” is “8391NN32”

UCE

The abbreviation for unsolicited commercial email; it was originally used in spam emails to circumvent trigger words in spam filters.

“Absolute” is

“/-\|3$0|_\_/']['€”

Ultra 1337

Comprises almost exclusively special characters and is extremely difficult to read; outsiders can’t understand Ultra 1337.

“Expert” is “£}{|²3®´][´”

The leet alphabet

Although there are some formalized grammar rules in leetspeak, users ultimately have a lot of scope for individual ways of writing. Each letter of the alphabet has a whole host of counterparts in the form of numbers or special characters. Try it out for yourself:

Letter

Possible counterparts

A

4 , @ , /\ , /-\ , ? , ^ , α , λ

B

8 , |3 , ß , l³ , 13 , I3 , J3

C

( , [ , < , © , ¢

D

|) , |] , Ð , đ , 1)

E

3 , € , & , £ , ε

F

|= , PH , |*|-| , |" , ƒ , l²

G

6 , & , 9

H

# , 4 , |-| , }{ , ]-[ , /-/ , )-(

I

! , 1 , | , ][ , ỉ

J

_| , ¿

K

|< , |{ , |( , X

L

1 , |_ , £ , | , ][_

M

/\/\ , /v\ , |V| , ]V[ , |\/| , AA , []V[] , |11 , /|\ , ^^ , (V) , |Y| , !\/!

N

|\| , /\/ , /V , |V , /\\/ , |1 , 2 , ? , (\) , 11 , r , !\!

O

0 , 9 , () , [] , * , ° , <> , ø , {[]}

P

9 , |° , p , |> , |* , []D , ][D , |² , |? , |D

Q

0_ , 0,

R

2 , |2 , 1² , ® , ? , я , 12 , .-

S

5 , $ , § , ? , ŝ , ş

T

7 , + , † , '][' , |

U

|_| , µ , [_] , v

V

\/ , |/ , \| , \'

W

\/\/ , VV , \A/ , \\' , uu , \^/ , \|/ , uJ

X

>< , )( , }{ , % , ? , × , ][

Y

`/ , °/ , ¥

Z

z , 2 , "/_


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