What Is '1337 Leet?' How Do You Spell In 'Leet Speak'?

Grey hat hackers: a mix of good and evil
Grey hat hackers: a mix of good and evil. Peoplemages / Getty

Question: What Is '1337 Leet' and What Is 'Leet Speak'?

Answer: '1337' means 'elite', or just 'leet' for short. This is a stylistic jargon term from the 1990's that describes someone with very high-end computer and gaming skills. 

'Leet speak' predates 1337 culture; leet speak ('elite speak') is a stylistic way of spelling English letters by using numbers and special ASCII characters on your keyboard. This is a cultural expressiveness that spawned when 1980's hackers wanted to cloak their websites and online conversations from being found.

Leet speak commonly uses the following numbers and characters to replace the English alphabet:

(The vertical | symbol is called 'pipe', and can be found near your backspace key. As people become lazy, they will sometimes swap in regular English letters instead of these pure leet speak characters)

 

A = 4 
B = |3 
C =
D = |) 
E = 3 
F = |= 
G = 6 
H = |-| 
I = | 
J = 9 
K = |< 
L = 1 
M = |v
N = |/| (yes, the slash is purposely reversed) 
O = 0 (number zero) 
P = |* 
Q = 0, 
R = |2 
S = 5 
T = 7 
U = |_| 
V = |/ 
W = |/|/ 
X = >< 
Y = `/ 
Z = 2 

 

Examples of leet speak word spellings:

'leet' ('elite') = 1337

'cat' = (47

'hacker' = |-|4(|<3|2 

'firewall; = |=||2|/|/411

'love' = 10|/3

'execute' = 3><3( |_| 73

'porn' = |* |2  0  |/| (also spelled as Pr0n)

 

Origins of Leet Speak

Before the launch of the World Wide Web in 1989 (when HTML pages became the foundation of online culture), online communities revolved around BBS sites (bulletin board systems).

These BBS sites were found via Wildcat, Telnet, and Gopherspace technology.

Leet speak spawned during this 1980's BBS time as a type of online slang, and simultaneously as a technique for concealing online conversations from the early search engines of the time. Tech-savvy users would use leet speak to distinguish themselves by being 'elite' users ('leet') who were not only knowledgeable, but also had earned special access to private community areas online.

By using leet speak spelling, these tech-savvy users could also identify themselves to other serious users of early internet technology.  

Today, leet speak has faded in its novelty as there is now widespread knowledge of the leet speak approach to spelling. Accordingly, people today will use leet speak more as a joke than an actual way to have secret communications. 

The recent popularity of the television series 'Mr. Robot' has reinvigorated interest in the leet speak slang. Episodes of the Mr. Robot series use leet speak to name their episodes. 

Example Mr. Robot episode names:

  • 3xpl0its
  • m1rr0r1ng
  • m4ster-s1ave
  • unm4sk
  • d3bug
  • br4ve-trave1er

Leet speak expressions, like many other Internet expressions, are a part of online conversation culture. Like any human group behavior, speech and language expressions are used to build cultural identity through customized language and unique conversational expressions.

 

The Story Behind '1337 Leet'

In the days of Windows 95, a group of infamous hackers named 'Cult of the Dead Cow' used to take remote control of Windows 95 machines. They used a nasty software package called Back Orifice, and used the network port 31337 to take over thousands of Win95 computers worldwide.

Their purposeful misspelling of the world ;elite' as 'leet' or '1337' was a way to bypass censorship programs.

Years later, the Dead Cow Cult influence has morphed into a subculture of jargon and power user language. People who speak "leet" today are not malicious hackers. Instead leetspeak is often the trademark of serious Internet gamers and people who pride themselves on being technically savvy. Related terms to leet: hax0rchixor, 3ber, epeen, r0x0r. These hacker-type terms were originally purposely spelled with numbers to avoid censorship programs. 

 

Read more Internet abbreviations and shorthand expressions...

 

Related Articles: