Leet speak orginally had a real purpose, other than the use by hacker/cracker wannabe's as we see today. Leet speak is a bastardization of the roman character set developed by crackers to foil automated packet sniffers looking for certain words. The idea was to produce a string of text that is significantly different from the intended message, but was still readable by humans.

"Leet speak" works by switching between upper and lower case and replacing numbers for letters (0 -> 'o', 4 -> 'A', 3 -> 'e', etc.). This produces text that is still (somewhat) readable by humans (you do have to get used to it), but is extremely difficult for automated programs to determine the contents.

For example, take the text "leet speak is used by elite crackers". If you were to write this as leet speak, it would look like:

l33t $P34K !5 Us3D bY 31337 cR4x0rs

If you look real hard, you can see the message. However, to an automated program, the normal word "speak" looks like this:

and the leet speak version ("$P34K") looks like:

Computers only see numbers, and to a computer, they are nothing alike.

You will also note that the number '5' was not always used as a replacement for 'S'. This slight variance in style makes it nearly impossible for an automated program to determine the message, yet a human would have little difficulty in decoding it.

Leet speak is basically a weak form of encryption. I think the concept is nifty, but I still find its use annoying. Jeez, if your messages are that secretive, use PGP or something...


To address the "it just ain't so"...

Back in the time before the "internet" became mainstream (read early/mid 80's), there existed another type of system called a BBS. This is where this style writing came from. Most BBS's where connected in some way to exchange info. If you where on one BBS, you could send "mail" to another individual on another BBS. Back then, a surprisingly large portion of the talk on a lot of these BBS's where cracking. Specifically how to hack into an external system. Before the internet, all you needed was a company's dial-in phone number and you were at the login prompt. No firewalls, nothing.

The crackers figured that BBS's have thousands and thousands of messages. The only way "the authorities" would ever be able to track the cracker's activity was by automated search programs. So, to foil these search programs they came up with a way of obfuscating their messages.

Soon after, the WaReZ d00dZ on the BBS's picked up on this code and just assumed that it was the cool thing to do.

4N x-10-d3d X4mP13:

1+ $k4r3z m3 +h4+ 1 k4N R34d +h15!!!!! 1 m34N, mj g0D, M 1 50 14m3 +h4+ 1 n0 +h15 (r4p?!?!?! K1|_|_ M3 N0\/\/!!!!!!! 1F j00 |<4N r34D +h1$ 2, j00r 4z 14M3 4z 1 M!!!!! \/\/1+(H !z m4yB n0+ 7h47 B4d 4f+3R 411?!?!? B-51D3z, +h1$ 100X L1k3 1!N3 N0!z, & |1n3 n01Z 1z k-r4d!!!!

5kR3\/\/ 1+, 1 k4N 4f0Rd 2 |_00z 5Um 3k$-P. 1 0Wn j00!!!! 1337-5p34K 4-3\/3R!!!! H0+ GR1+5!!! ;)

Leet speak is often used by otherwise non-lamers for sarcasm and humor. This is because 1337 sp43k 15 1nh3r3n7133 hum0r0u5 (leet speak is inherently humorous). It's also kind of fun to type when bored, as it gives one cheap laughs.

Also, leet speak for porn (pr0n) has become somewhat mainstream. It even appears in the Jargon File.
I've been on IRC for a while and some of the terms these script kiddies come up with are quite ammusing:





Elite varients:

The x0r's:

English: "Greetings, and well met, strangers!"
1n 1337: "<rAbIeZ> ph33r m3 d4 m4d d4wG 1z 1n t0wN w0rd"

English: "Hello, sir! I must admit, I do not know your face!"
1n 1337: "<deathNITE> y0 w04D uP dAwG wh0 dA fuX0r aR3 j00"

English: "I saw an excellent film at the cinema tonight!"
1n 1337: "<rAbIeZ> 1 5aW 1n dA wA5H 17 wA5 dA 5h17"

English: "I must disagree! I found the film to be most uncultured and base!"
1n 1337: "<deathNITE> FUXOR j00 B17CH 1 D0N7 WAN7 1AM3 5H17 1n My CH4N J00 R A FUXING a0L fUX0r!!!!!!"

English: "Kindly sir! I cannot tolerate such rude words! If you shall not retract them, then I challenge you to a duel!"
1n 1337: "<rAbIeZ> cHi11 d3wD j00 g07z PM5 0r 50m3 5h17 wHa73v34 j00 cAn7 d0 5h17 1 aM a FuX0r1ng HaX0r G0D 1 hAx0r3d whitehouse.gov & NA5A & M1cr0s0f7 1 pU7 pr0n 0n 7h3i4 fR0n7 pAg3 LOL 1ll k1Ck j00r A55"

English "Then have at you, knave!"
In 1337: "<deathNITE> @@@@@@@@kA0s 666 wAr SkRiPt FoR mIrC ARMED AND READY@@@@@@@@"

English "Gentlemen! There is no need for this. It would be a tragedy for the world to lose even one man of your caliber!"
In 1337: "<d00mZdAy> y0 d00dZ j00 wI11 bR3aK 3y3-Ar3-533 cHi11 oU7 j00r b07h 31337!!!! 50 jU57 cHI11 0u7"

English "*sighs* I suppose you are right. This conflict is meaningless. Let us be friends!"
In 1337: "<rAbIeZ> LOL j00r r1Gh7 137z 137 dA p30nZ cHa7 w/0u7 b43aK1nG d31r 53rv34z LOL wAnNa DD05 a DALN37 53rV34"

English "Indeed! Our friend is correct. I apologize for my brash actions, sir."
In 1337: "<deathNITE> LOL k"

English: "Say, can anyone point me to some gentlemanly entertainment?"
1n 1337: "<d00mZdAy> n3-1 g07 aN aDu17 cH3cK 1D 0r a pr0n 53rv3r 1 cAn 133cH??????"

English: "Well, I must retire for the evening. It was lovely conversing with all of you!"
1n 1337: "<d00mZdAy> fUx! fUx1ng pAr3n7z & th3r3 fUx1ng b3d71m3z"

50! j00 \\/4n7 70 |34|5n 1337 5[]D3|<3, 3h¿

|7'5 |\|07 45 [)||=|=|(u17 45 `/0u (V)19h7 7h1|\||<.

|=0|2 7h3 (V)057 []D4|27, 0n3 5|(V)[]D1`/ h45 70 134|2n 4 |=3\\/ |345|( 13773|2 5u|357|7u7|0|\|5 4n[) \\/0|2|< 0u7 7h3 |2357 0|= 7h3 \\/0|2[). []Dh0|\|37|( |23[]D14(3(V)3|\|7 50(V)37|(V)35 4150 0((u|25, |3u7 7h|5 |5 u5u411`/ |=4||21`/ |24|23. 7h3|23 4|23, 0|= (0u|253, []D|208|24(V)5 4\/4|14|313 7h47 (14|(V) 70 4u70(V)47|(411`/ (0|\|\/3|27 `/0u|2 73><7 57|234(V) ||\|70 1337-57`/133 5`/(V)|3015, |3u7 7|2u1`/ 0|3|=u5(473[) 73><7 |23c|u||235 7h3 (|2055 (0|\||\|3(73[) ||\|73|2[]D0147|0|\| 0|\|1`/ []D055||313 \\/|7h 4 |2341 ]-[u(V)4|\| (V)1|\|[) 47 7h3 (0|\|7|2015. []D1u5 |7 5h0u1[) |\|07 |33 0\/3|2100|<3[) 7h47 7h3 4|3|1|7`/ 70 7`/[]D3 1337 5[]D3|<3 47 4 |\|0|2(V)41 |2473 |5 |\|07 4|\| 345`/ 745|<. \\/h|13 70741 531|= (0|\|5|573|\|(`/ 15 |\|07 |23c|u|53[) {||\| |=4(7 a 1|77|3 (0|2|2u[]D7|0|\| (V)4|<35 7h||\|65 (V)0|23 ||\|74|2357||\|9} |7 5h0u1[), 47 13457, |33 4 (V)1|\|0|2 904|.

7|24|\|5|47|0|\| 0|= 7h3 4|30\/3 70 |=0||o\\/...

So! You want to learn elite speak, eh?

It's not as difficult as you might think.

For the most part, one simply has to learn a few basic letter substitutions and work out the rest of the word. Phonetic replacement sometimes also occurs, but this is usually fairly rare. There are, of course, programs available that claim to automatically convert your text stream into elite-style symbols, but truly obfuscated text requires the cross connected interpolation only possible with a real human mind at the controls. Plus, it should not be overlooked that the ability to type elite speak at a normal rate is not an easy task. While total self consistency is not required (in fact a little corruption makes things more interesting) it should, at least, be a minor goal.

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