Leetspeak, or l33tsp431< in it’s pure form, refers to an alternative language generally associated with hackers and the internet. The trend began in the 1980’s as a cult-like language . It’s general purpose was to prevent hackers from being search engine indexed by simple key words. It works through substituting characters from the traditional spelling of a word with others, including numbers. This is done in a way which plays on the structure of the glyphs of those characters to create words which are visually similar. For example, the term ‘leet’ could be spelt either 1337 or l33t. Deliberate misspellings are also used in leetspeak, as is phonetic language, abbreviations and slang (see image below). Or, as urban dictionary suggests, you could just bang your head against the keyboard and hope for the best. There is no formal translation; rather there are multiple ‘spellings’ for different words. This helps to maximise the untraceable attribute of Leetspeak. Messages are designed to be decoded only by those they are targeted at.
The word ‘leet’ is derived from ‘elite’; which was adopted by computer hackers to represent their abundance of skill. The Cult of the Dead Cow, a hacktivist community, was credited with coining the term ‘leet’ and are one of several pioneers of hacker subculture. Hacker subculture is made up of multiple subgroups, including that of the hacktivist. A hacktivist is a hacker who utilises their skills in technology to push a social or political movement. The appeal of leetspeak is that in undertaking hacktivism, the codes are generally able to be decoded by humans, but not by computer systems. This makes it relatively easier for hackers to bypass security systems and content filters.
For example, if one really and truly desired the above username on barbie.com, they could bypass the filter by adopting leetspeak. Try @n@153x, or 4n4ls3><. Go on, I dare you.
Mainstream examples of leetspeak include ‘kewl’, a leet version of ‘cool’, and ‘noob’, which is derived from the slang ‘newbie’ and is often used as a means of segregating new or unintelligent users from the ‘elite’ members of the group or forum. In the early days of the internet, leetspeak was pretty much essential to belonging and operating in the hacking community. Nowadays it is seen as more juvenile and is often used as a means to insult wannabe hackers. It is also used in online gaming communities such as minecraft , in which typing takes ‘too much time’.
P.S. Check out this l33tspeak converter!