l337 l

Shiaw-Ling likes to use Leet, a curious way of writing which requires you to replace Latin alphabetical characters with the non-alphabetical characters whenever possible. A typical example sentence looks like this: 7|-|3 [,]|_|1(|< |3|20//|| |=0>< ]|_|//|?5 0/3|2 7|-|3 |_42`/ [)09.

To my complete embarrassment, I could never figure out what she wrote. I can’t tell you how incredibly uncool this made me feel. With a grammar book and a dictionary, I can suss out obscure languages with unique alphabets; I love deciphering non-mathematical codes; and I can place pretty good guesses on the meanings of hieroglyphs and pictograms if I treat them like a complex game of Pictionary. Heck, I can even struggle through standard text message abbreviations, the closest form of communication to Leet.

To make things even worse, Leet is idiosyncratic to its own user. Some users will try replacing a single character with another single character, forcing them to say, type “k” when other Leetspeakers will write “l<” while others will ban all alphabetic characters from their writing completely, so “w” is “//.” There is no capitalization or punctuation, and the use of slang, alternative spellings and text message abbreviations is almost required, so something that appeals to a West Coast Leetspeaker is “l<3//l” while to the East Coast Leetspeaker it’s “//1l<1(]”. There’s no standards for transposition of the letters to Leet, so g might be 9 or 8, or 6. I didn’t understand it, and couldn’t no matter how hard I tried. I though my language skills had dried up, and I might just as well turn in my language nerd credentials now and go back to making grammar trees in standard American English.

Just before I made that decision, though, Peter found a reference to a Mozilla browser add-on. LeetKey, as it’s called, can turn your text into Leet, and translate messages from Leet at least half way into standard Latin characters. That’s good enough to get Leetspeakers to think I’m one of their own (even if my Leet does look a little like it was generated by a computer), and for me to understand what they’re saying. It may not be as good as actually learning the language, but it’s good enough to save face.