"relax we understand j00"


James Andrew Rome
December 18, 2001


ENGL 379 - Semiotics
Professor Todd Oakley

 

 

“relax, we understand j00”

The present digital age has expanded the utility of computers in ways that both confound former predictions and build on past expectations. Computers were once relegated to military compounds and research institutions. They have now become a part of everyday life for countless people. Luddites preached that the computer could never handle the complexities of human interaction, but as technology has developed, electronic communication has flourished. Many forms of computer-mediated communication (CMC) have developed, including email, Internet Relay Chat (IRC), various message services, multiplayer gaming, and online message forums. These relatively new channels for interaction have developed highly specialized vocabularies, largely trying to reproduce conventional verbal conversation.

The fundamental difficulty in converting verbal conversation typed communication comes from the limitations of both mediums. Language is first acquired verbally and is then paired with kinesthetic expression. The kinesthetic aspects have been removed from the telephone as well, the dominant form of long-range communication, but telephones rely on vocal inflection to imply subtlety. The internet actually harks back to when letter writing was the only form of long-range communication, isolating the text as the vehicle of meaning.

But CMC departs from the earlier writing conventions by altering standards of temporality and linearity. Email maintains normal linearity, used in this context to mean that one message responds to and logically follows the previous. Email is temporally uncertain, depending on how often a person checks their mail, which may vary from a number of hours to a number of weeks. IRC, however, is immediate, allowing people around the globe to read and write messages in a scrolling display available to all by a central server. Multiple users will log on to a channel, or room, of a server at once and will hold many different conversations simultaneously, disrupting the linearity of any single conversation. Message services like America Online Instant Messenger and ICQ limit conversations to pairs of users, and offer a similar degree of immediacy. Message boards and forums function keep immediate posting but are used over a longer time period (days) to deliver longer more composed messages, which may or may not be linearly linked. Many of these services now include the ability to send pictures and sound as well as text, but their primary usage remains text based.

Despite impressive advances in technology improving the speed of the connection and the volume of information transmitted, online communication is still constrained by the interface. The physical act of typing a message into one computer and then sending it to a central server to be displayed with a series of previous messages carries with it certain limitations. The message must be composed before sending and is thus delivered in fragmented units. The receiving party is aware of the inherent delay of composition and conversation loses its spontaneous quality.

Despite the shifting temporality, linearity, and spontaneity of CMC, users still try to reproduce the effects of verbal conversation in textual, online conversation. Richard C. MacKinnon examined Usenet, an early forum for CMC, and found that “lacking physical reality, Usenet users must create an explicit, written language to convey meaning as well as emotion, physical qualities, and action” (MacKinnon 114). Special vocabularies, abbreviations, and grammatical conventions have developed for this purpose. While the standard grammar of English certainly allows for a full range of expression, following these conventions adds to composition time and further hampers the spontaneity of conversation. Actions are denoted by framing the description of the action in asterisks, as in “*grins*” or “*leaves to eat lunch*”. Laughing is produced by abbreviation, as “lol” means “laughing out loud” and “rofl” means “rolling on the floor laughing”, or by transcribing the sound of laughter, as in “hehehe.” Emotions are converted into emoticons, creative usages of punctuation, letters and special keyboard characters to iconically represent facial expressions. Happiness is “:-)”, sadness is “:-(”, and “;-)” shows sarcasm or some duplicity in the message (Baym 151-153). Punctuation is exaggerated, with multiple exclamation points and question marks, and extended use of ellipsis. Computer specific vocabulary developed, referring to computer operations. F-disk, a computer term for permanently erasing a hard drive, can be extended to mean damaging anything. Multiplayer gaming forums have their own vocabulary, where to kill something is to “frag” it, and other words, like “camping” and “llama” have new non-standard meanings.

I. The Phenomenon: What is l33t?

The landscape of online language is highly variable, unbound by rules of standard English, written or spoken. It evolves at an accelerated rate and is open to individual variation. But it does obey the fundamental structure of standard English by separating words with spaces and separating ideas with sentences, and it can be translated or converted into standard verbal English. It is this environment that allowed l33t to develop.

L33t is a permutation of the word elite. It is pronounced “leet.” It is one spelling of the name for an dialect that has developed on various online mediums. It involves character substitution, as in 3 equals E, and its own vocabulary that draws from many sources. Writing in l33t is constructing a code with a dynamic and individualized key, a key that the recipient does not necessarily have. The complexity of the code varies with the expertise and the intentions of the author. This code can be translated into standard English and is, on one level, meant to be, but on another level is meant to be gibberish. Translating can be difficult for there are no hard and fast rules, but possible reasonings behind the code can be found.

The basic form of l33t is created by simple character substitution. In Charles Pierce’s classification scheme, these substitutions started as iconic representations, with the l33t letter showing a visual similarity to the original. By reversing a capital “E” and curving the lines that compose it, a “3” is produced. Similarly, “4” looks like the capital “A”, although slightly slanted and missing a leg. The number “1” is very similar to a lowercase “L” and is slightly similar to a capital “I”. Character substitutions can either be single or multiple character, as in “|\|” replacing “N” or “|{“ replacing “K”. A chart of common basic character substitutions is included as Appendix I.

Visual similarity is not the only iconic possibility, however, as many character substitutions are based on phonetic similarity. “F” is often replaced with “ph” and “ph” is replaced with “f ”. The phonetic substitution extends beyond characters as entire words are replaced with homonyms. The word “I” can be replaced with “eye,” which would then be encoded as “3y3.” The word “you” could be replaced with “ewe,” and encoded as “3\/\/3”. The conventional capitalization is dropped, as some characters can only be converted into upper or lowercase representations, and capitalization is intentionally varied. Substitutions are not consistent for individual authors or even in single messages. The word “ill” could be represented “111” or “!11” or “1||”.

As the dialect developed, messages such as “1 4|v| |)0|\|3,” (I am done), could be read fluently. Immediate understanding, even by those well-versed in l33t, meant that further development had to take place. Here the iconic representation changed to symbolic representation, as substitutions became more and more elaborate. The capital “M” represented with a “|v|” is easily decipherable, and can thus be further changed. The “v” part of it resembles a “u”, so “M” can be extended to “|u|”. Furthermore, “W” upside down is “M” and “n” is “u” upside down, so “W” can be represented “|n|”.

While “|n|” does maintain a slight visual similarity to “W”, Pierce would now classify it as a symbolic argument. This is because the author constructs the code based on prior, understood codes, and the reader deciphers the code by knowing prior variations and knowing possible encoding strategies. These encoding strategies include substitution by visual and phonetic similarity, and the extension and inversion of these initial similarities. There are usually several strategies employed simultaneously, as in “3y3”, which first replaces “e” with “3”, and then bears a phonetic resemblance to the word “I”. Another tendency of l33t is to create words that are visually arresting, such as “o|ooo|”. Converting “dude” into “o|ooo|” uses the spelling “dood” but instead of converting “o” to “0” it creates the entire word by using just two different characters. Complex character substitutions alone can make l33t almost entirely unreadable.

While the character substitutions were developing, a special vocabulary developed as well. The l33t vocabulary is derived from abbreviations, acronyms, misspelled approximations and borrowed words. Abbreviations from other forms of CMC are used, but are encoded into the l33t dialect. Words are borrowed from a variety of sources that serve to partially characterize those who speak l33t. In the C++ computer programming language, “||” means “OR” in a Boolean logic statement, and is now sometimes used in l33t as well. Other words are borrowed from computer game jargon, such as “fragging”. Others are from technical computer terms, and still others come from verbal slang, such as “yo” is turned into “jo”. Profanity is very common. Words with a “ck” sound are changed, the most common being “hack”, “fuck”, “rock” and “suck”. “Suck” is changed to “suxxor”, and can then be manipulated as a normal English word adding endings or changing tense. “L33t” itself is a very common adjective meaning elite, good, cool, or pertaining to the dialect.

The largest source of words for l33t comes from “hacker” terminology. Hackers, who are alternately referred to as the best or worst aspect of the computer revolution, developed their own highly stylized and obscure dialect, compiled by Eric Raymond in The New Hacker Dictionary. This is not exactly what l33t draws from. Hackers do not speak l33t, except in ironic derision, and l33t merely uses words that sound like hacker words. The word “hacker” is turned into some form of “haxxor” and the abilities of a hacker are called “skilz”. Examining the relationship between l33t speakers and hackers can shed some light on who uses l33t and what it actually means.

The Hacker Dictionary gives its example of l33t in the entry for “Jeff K.” a fictional “sixteen-year-old suburbanite who fancies himself a “l33t haX0r”, although his knowledge of computers seems to be limited to the procedure for getting Quake up and running.” It further derides Jeff K. for his missspellings, character substitutions, non-standard use of capitalization, and, above all else, his pretension. Hackers do not like Jeff K. because he pretends to have the skills that hackers actually do possess, and by his inherant ignorance he gives hackers a bad name. Other groups also recognize and resent this assumed superiority, and associate l33t with a superior stupidity. Those groups will then use l33t sarcasticlly, for humor, or to reference the concept of embodied in Jeff K.

II. The Problem: What does it |v|34|\| ?

The advent of the internet and CMC promised a boom in communication, and the forms developed for CMC, including forums, bulletin boards, and IRC, have found a way of communicating that approaches, or attempts to approach, the complexity of verbal conversation. L33t contradicts this trend. Those who write in l33t go to great trouble to make their messages unintelligible to the majority of online readers. They use a variety of different codes, give the intended reader no key for decryption, and then post to a message board available to the public. They have used structures set up for computer-mediated communication, which evolved in order to increase the ease and frequency of interpersonal interaction on the internet, and changed them to post messages that try not to be understood. How this perversion of communication systems occurs is relatively clear, but why it developed originally and what effects l33t has is not.

What is the function of a form of communication that does not communicate? Or more specifically, what is the function of a dialect that usually fails to communicate the literal explicit message that it contains. L33t places a great deal of mental maneuvering and semiotic effort between the signifying word and the literal meaning of it, and most readers do not have the tools or the desire to decode it. When the literal meaning of language is lost, or coded beyond recognition, what properties does the language retain?

III. Theory & Method: }{ow |)03s ¡+ \/\/0r|< ¿

One productive way to analyze l33t is through blending theory (Coulson and Oakley). Blending theory developed to explain how the conceptual integration of multiple inputs, both perceptual and mental, constructs interpretations of phenomenon. The various inputs come from mental spaces constructed for concepts and perceptions by an individual. A mental space is a set of limitations or conceptual boundaries that define a mental image of something. A mental space defines what something is and what it is not. As a relatively simple example, the difference between a rectangle and a line segment is an arbitrary difference of thickness, but it is usually easy to tell the difference between them because we have defined mental boundaries that separate them. If however, a rectangle is used in a manner that a line would be, that is, if there is a combination of their attributes, a blended space is then constructed. But the mental space of a line does not stand alone; it is itself a blend of various line attributes, including shape, purpose, and context. Looking at the blend of rectangle and line then shows not a simple blending of two concepts but a network of mental spaces and blended spaces.

The purpose and effect of l33t can be looked at as the conceptual blend for it have developed and changed. For the purpose of analyzing l33t, we will look at how the blends have changed as l33t has developed, and how this has affected the meaning of it. We will divide the l33t development into several stages. First, an author writes something in l33t, has an internal interpretation of it, and expects the reader to share that interpretation. Second, a reader receives the message in l33t and interprets it. The condition of the reader changes with the degree of knowledge they have about l33t, and that reader then becomes a writer of l33t in a third possibility.

Looking at the blends in these three situations will show why l33t is used, what the effects of l33t are, and how l33t has developed. Looking at the effects of l33t should yield an answer to the question posed earlier, “when the literal meaning of language is lost, or coded beyond recognition, what properties does the language retain?” The analysis of l33t, while somewhat removed from its advocates, will draw some validity from the perceptions of those familiar with it. An online comic strip MegaTokyo, available at http://www.megatokyo.com, boasts a blend of animae, computer gaming, Japanese culture, and l33t. It also hosts a web forum and an IRC channel. I posted questions asking for perceptions of l33t on the forum, and will use the responses to augment and justify my conclusions from looking at the blends.

IV. Semiotic Analysis: W}{¥ o|o35 17 w0|2|< ¿

The first situation, an author writing a post in l33t who is not using l33t sarcastically or ironically, can be shown by looking at the guest book of a site called “L33T-SP34K G3N3RAT0R!!!!### ”. One post by user “SuP4H L337 HaX0R” makes the claim, “eYe aM $0 L337 HaX0R eYe HaX0R http://stileproject.com !!!!!!!!!!!!!1111111111111”. The username translates to “super elite hacker” and the message becomes “I am so elite [a] hacker I hack[ed] http://stileproject.com!” From the context of the site, which translates English into l33t, I will assume that this author is being serious. We can construct a possible mental space and blending network for the author, and use that to decide the motivations of the post.

One mental space input is for LSG’s perception of “hackers.” The functional definition of a hacker that is pertinent to l33t is rather limited, and does not actually characterize hackers. Hackers are perceived to have a great deal of knowledge about computers and they are able to use this knowledge to control their computers and the computers of others. Hackers make viruses that create havoc worldwide. A hacker does this by writing malicious code, made to trick people into running it and then controlling their computer for whatever uses the hacker sees fit. Because of the power that a hacker potentially has other people will fear or respect the hacker. This description sets up a network of spaces that can be simplified to “hackers”, and the activity of hackers, “coding”. The code requires a great deal of specific knowledge and time to develop and use, and therefore most people do not understand it. So coding produces confusion, and hackers produce respect.

People who write in l33t explicitly try to imitate and pretend to be hackers. The website http://www.wtfiml33t.com has posted “The Etymology of l33t,” which states, “Of course if you really were a good hacker, you wouldn’t have to call yourself elite, but the whole point was they weren’t” (Stephan). The second clause claims the point of l33t is to make those who are not “good hackers” appear to be so. The very name that “SuP4H L337 HaX0R” has chosen shows that connection. The action this user describes, hacking stileproject.com, a pornographic website, as contingent on being a “L337 HaX0R”. The ambiguity in the message is whether the ability to hack the website is because the author is “such an elite hacker,” or “so elite a hacker.” But either way, the ability to hack, or control the website, is caused by l33t in some form. The author expects that blending l33t with the mental space for hackers will, transfer the product of hackers as well, that is, fear and respect. To accomplish this blend, and convince others of it as well, writers of l33t emulate the mental spaces associate with hacking. Writing in l33t takes a standard text message and encodes it. This encoding procedure takes a small amount of time to learn, but produces messages indecipherable to most people. This coding of the message or purpose of text is the most direct claim that l33t has on hacking. The effect of the coding is also the same as hacking, as the layperson would not understand either. By emulating the actions of a hacker in an altered form, “SuP4H L337 HaX0R” is trying to create a blend that combines himself or herself with a hacker and thus with the respect a hacker earns.

This is the blend that the “l33t haxxor” wants to present to those who read the message. All that is presented to the reader is the coded form of the message, but “l33t haxxor” expects that the reader will reconstruct the same interpretation that it was written with. “L33t haxxor” expects that the reader will be unable to understand the message, but will recognize it as complex computer jargon that must have meaning. The reader should think that anyone having mastery of such arcane jargon must be someone who knows more about computers than themselves.

These expectations do make some sense as there is a natural tendency for everyone to try to make themselves appear as intelligent as possible. As people see something they don’t understand and label it as something unintelligent, they are saying they do not even understand simplistic things. So readers of l33t have two interpretation options open to them, the message in l33t is either nonsense or it is impressive and is to be respected. While l33t may sometimes appear to be gibberish, it is highly organized gibberish that maintains the form of language. It appears in the place of language as a post on a forum or on an IRC channel, and includes all the normal spacing and characters of sensible language, which makes l33t seem less like nonsense and more like a complex and meaningful code.

Some people do share the intended interpretation. People who are aware of l33t, the methods and codes used in it, and are aware of the intended effect will respond as the l33t author wants them to. They will flatter the author by imitation, writing another message in l33t. The second message would try to maintain the form of the first, but to maintain the effect of the coding, creating confusion, the second message would have to outdo the first. It is this constant effort to exceed the complexity of other messages is what has made l33t develop from simple character substitutions to multiple phonetic and visual word play. This contest for supremacy is one reason people use l33t. But the contest for supremacy does not require two people to use l33t. If someone fails to understand the message, they obviously are inferior and thus the author can feel superior.

As stated by Slab64, on the MegaTokyo forum, “I think that l33t is neat because it was relatively obscure (and still is, to a greater extent), and it's always fun to have an inside joke to share with people.” This supports the idea that l33t is about a group of people writing l33t to impress each other. A gaming website, Turkey Manor Design posted a tongue-in-cheek guide to l33t as part of a “l33t W33k.” This tutorial, “How to Speak Like a Cyber Freak,” explicitly states that l33t is “about the superior feeling you get when posting on a forum that you are the only person who knows what you've written” (Rio). This supports the idea that l33t is an individual phenomenon, not requiring input or understanding from a reader.

This is not the only interpretation for a reader to have, nor is it the most common one. When given the option of judging a message in l33t to be either nonsense or impressive, many readers will decide that it is nonsense. Instead of judging the l33t post by its form, which may actually be an impressive coding job, they will judge the post by its content and by the demands it makes on the reader. The demands on the readers are very extensive, as they must decode something purposefully obfuscated without a key and with no standard usage. Cronopio, a user on MegaTokyo, criticizes an earlier posting in l33t, “This is not legible, you cant "get" the joke if it takes you 3 minutes to decipher each word and even then a lot of it is guess work.” Another user, Delum, states, “1337 gets annoying i dont [sic] even bother trying to read a whole message in it.” This is not the message that the author tried to send.

The reader confounds the author’s expectations by drawing an interpretation from different mental spaces than it was composed with. The reader is confronted with a post written in l33t and needs to come to an interpretation of it. We will assume that this reader is savvy enough to recognize l33t as a coded message. The reader’s interpretation of it will be formed from the message and the network of spaces created by it, the primary space being the coding\decoding procedure. For the author, the coding procedure is primarily blended with the concept of hackers. For the readers, however, the most salient feature of the coding is the implicit demand of it to be decoded. This is a demand of time for the reader that overshadows an association with hacking, perhaps because it is personally relevant or because the reader is familiar enough with l33t to know that “real” hackers do not use l33t.

A reader’s interpretation that is based on the effective demand of the message is likely to be one of resentment. People do not like being told that how to use their time, nor do they like their time to be wasted. Because of the expanse of information that CMC makes possible, there is great deal of text available for an individual to read. No one can possibly read all of it, so must instead then look for the most valuable text according to whatever standards he or she sets. If a short message in l33t takes several minutes to read, it should have a great deal of content value, or the time spent decoding it will have been wasted. Unfortunately, those writing in l33t are not trying to communicate something profound, but are instead trying to establish their own greatness. This tends to annoy a great many people who see l33t used excessively.

Excessive l33t can be defined as l33t that requires so much decoding by the reader that the message derived from it is not worth the time. For some, this is the primary problem associated with l33t, but it is a problem that can be solved. The MegaTokyo Fan Network has posted a guide to “The Correct Uses of L33t” which contains four rules. They are “1. L33t is not a language. 2. L33t is not to be used for whole sentences. 3. L33t shall not be used ALL the time. 4. L33t is for exclamations, and point making” (Jester). These rules seem to have been created to prevent the use of excessive l33t, by limiting its usage to very specific conditions. If l33t is only used for exclamations, it should not take too long to decode. By following these rules, and recognizing that l33t can be used to have an “inside joke” without trying to show how great one is, l33t came to a variety of new uses.

Megatokyo seems to support this expansion of l33t in the forum, in the Fan Network rules, and in the comic itself. The slogans of the site, on the clothing they sell are in l33t, as “relax we understand j00,” “j00 d34d f00,” and “PH34R MY L33T N3KKID SKILLZ!!!” These phrases all use l33t but do so in moderation and are quickly understood by someone only slightly familiar with l33t. Slab64 posted, “I think a lot of different people use l33t, but in different ways,” to the forum, affirming that l33t has grown to a variety of uses. Axmanmkii posted, “I only use l337 to censor my self like ‘ @$$|-|()|_£’,” to the forum, giving a another accepted use for l33t. When l33t does not contain an implicit message that tries to assert the author’s superiority, it becomes acceptable to many more people.

Removing the exclusivity requirement for l33t and only using l33t that people can understand, significantly changes the reasons that l33t is used from its original uses. The original interpretation blend for l33t defined the effect of coding as producing confusion, which has changed for these new uses of l33t. Using l33t that people can understand maintains only the illusion of being confusing, or makes the in-group large enough that only a rare unknowing reader is claimed dominance over. Phrases like those used on the MegaTokyo merchandise such as “relax we understand j00” are clear to people with no exposure to l33t. But to maintain the impression of an inside joke, and the sense of community that creates, some group must be put down. On the MegaTokyo forum Lamoorn complains of “l33t h4x0r5” who use l33t all the time, and then tells of an acceptable way to use l33t. He wrote “But then again, writing in l33t on the chalkboards at school is a fun.. cuz the teachers come in and get confused, and it's just funny to watch….” By using an out-group far removed from the MegaTokyo forum, Lamoorn keeps the exclusivity of l33t, but only for an audience that would not read the forum. For l33t to become acceptable, the function of the coding must retain an appearance of exclusivity but not an effect of exclusion.

Some l33t that is used for humor or exclamation is not immediately understandable to the general reader. While it may be accessible to those within a certain group, it is still excludes some people. This partial exclusion may be to define what the boundaries of the group are. Nessim Watson explores the concept of community in a 1997 article, “Why We Argue About Virtual Community,” and shows how difficult it is to define a virtual community. Watson states that the influx of more and more people to internet groups and CMC has created a need to define who is in the community and who is not. If the use of l33t implicitly defines those inside and those outside a group, it may be used to define acceptable members of the group and to exclude those who are not willing to make the slight time commitment needed to understand l33t. To use l33t to define the community is to use it as much for inclusion as exclusion, making it distinct from the earlier use by “l33t haxors” who try to exclude everyone.

A third use of l33t comes from someone inside the community defined by basic l33t understanding and from someone who rejects the pretentious l33t of “l33t haxors.” This group creates their interpretation and use of l33t from knowledge of the reasoning behind the original use of l33t by “l33t haxors.” For them, l33t is linked to people trying to be hackers by using a complex but inane code to hide self-propagating messages. Their interpretation includes an input space for how l33t was used before and for the self-importance of would-be hackers. While they reject the use of l33t as stupid, they will also use it themselves to reference the ideas of a l33t haxor.

This interpretation of l33t is currently the most common, and many MegaTokyo users posted instructions on how to use l33t in this way. Armitage wrote, “I would only recommend using l33t to exaggerate things like ph33r or f34l. Just don’t use it to be "cool" it is not and probably will never be again.” Armitage states that it can only be used for exaggeration, and that it cannot be used seriously. Slab64 wrote, “I either use it to mock lamers, or just with certain h4xx0r-related subjects.” Only in mockery or mimicry can one use l33t, and “h4xx0r-related subjects” should be spoken about in this tone. Some users reject l33t so much that even using it for humor or as a reference is wrong. Prophet scolds black_mage for using l33t in a post that said complained about the novelty of l33t wearing off. Prophet wrote, “black_mage: *points at fire of eternal torture* look, 1337phile is speaking in normal english now and people are listening to what he has to say.” Even an ironic critical use of l33t will annoy some readers who interpret it as placing undue demands on the reader. Using l33t in this manner creates an in-group defined by those who do not understand or do not want to understand excessive l33t, and derides those who insist on using it.

V. Discussion: 15 71-115 9188312151-1¿

L33t has developed several different interpretations and uses, with differences based on differing perceptions of the effect of coding. One group thought that encoding a message would create awe and respect, because of the difficulty and skill required to encode and then decode the message. Another group found this pretentious, as it placed large demands on the reader to construct the author’s speech. One group simplified the code and expanded the l33t literate group, using it to define the community. And yet another group uses the code sarcastically to show how little they think of it. The difference between all these groups is the interpretation of coding. The similarity in all these groups is that the coding is used to exclude some group. Coding, in any form, is a process of exclusion.

L33t, when used “excessively,” effectively obsucred the literal meaning of the text. The message retained the form of meaning, and actually emphasized the form by its peculularity, but lost all of its literal meaning. What remains to language that is form without meaning? In the case of l33t, the message remains somewhat unchanged. Readers of l33t know that the purpose of l33t is self-advancement, or the advancement of the group, and do not need the literal meaning to tell them so.

Kenneth Chastain concludes in his article, “Knowledge, language, and communication” that “The purpose of language is communication. Communication involves meaning, function, and use.” Chastain also notes that “the form of the words is also a factor in communication” but that he does not examine it (Chastain 594). L33t remains a form of language and is then, by Chastain’s standards, for communication, which it does by form and function. The form of l33t and the function, or what it does to the reader, show l33t to be about self-advancement. The misunderstanding of those writing in l33t lies in an assumption that the use of l33t will carry the interpretation. The author of l33t tries to use it to win respect from both an ingroup and insult an out-group, but fails to account for the other aspect of communication in the interpretation intended for others.

To refine Chastain’s definition of communication, l33t shows that all four aspects of communication, meaning, function, use and form, are not necessary. At least the meaning of the words can be removed, and the message will still communicate. Furthermore, communication should be a transfer of information or ideas from one party to another, rather than the presentation of a message to be interpreted by another party as indicitive of the author’s character. For communication to occur between two parties the values for the elements of communication must be mutually defined, and the author must write with that mutual definition in mind. The differing interpretations of coding in l33t show that when the definition of communication elements are not agreeded upon, the author and reader can be easily set against each other. Computer-mediated communication, like l33t, has made it easier to analyse conversational forms, as it provides a written record of all aspects of the interaction. By looking at language use and communication through this limited scope, it may be possible to construct a more accurate model of the language system and better understand what the elements of language represent.


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Appendix I:

L33t Character Conversion Charts

a 4 @ 4 4 @ @ 4 4 4 or @ or /-\
b |3 b 8 8 B |3 8 8 8 or |3
c C c c k C ( < < (
d |) |) D d D |) D c| |)
e 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3
f |>|-| f ph F F |[ F |= |= or pH
g 6 G g 9 6 6 6 6 9
h |-| |-| H |-| H |{ H |-| |-| or #
i 1 1 i 1 ! | 1 ][ or 1 1 or | or !
j _| j j j J _| J _] J
k |< |< k |< K |< [< |< |{ or |<
l |_ 1 1 1 1 |_ |- 1 or | or [ or |_ |_ or []_
m |\/| |\/| M /\/\ M |V| M |\/| |\/|
n |\| |\| n |\| N |\| N |\| |\| or /\/
o 0 o o 0 0 0 0 0 0
p |> p P p P |o P |> |>
q Q q Q q Q O, Q 0 Q
r |2 r R |2 R |)\ R |2 |2
s 5 5 s 5 5 5 $ 5 or Z 5
t 7 + + 7 7 7 7 7 or + + or 7
u |_| u u u U |_| U |_| |_| or \_/
v \/ v V \/ V \/ V \/ \/
w \/\/ \/\/ W \/\/ W |/\| W \/\/ \/\/
x >< >< X >< X X >< X
y `/ Y y '/ Y \/
| Y j or J or `/ Y
z Z z Z z 2 -\_ Z 5 Z



1 http://home.olemiss.edu/~dpark/l33t.html

2 http://www.geocities.com/mnstr_2000/translate.html

3 http://www.geocities.com/mnstr_2000/translate.html (“advanced”)

4 http://www.planetquake.com/turkey/l33translate.htm

5 http://www.cscentral.com/features/l33t/ (“Light”)

6 http://www.cscentral.com/features/l33t/ (“Hardcore”)

7 http://www.stud.uni-hamburg.de/users/lennart/l33t/

8 http://www.mtfn.net/faqpage.asp?sec=3

9 http://sekt.bwrebirth.com/dictionary.html


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Works Cited

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Coulson, Seana and Todd Oakley. “Blending Basics.” Cognitive Linguistics. 11 3/4. (2000) 175-196.

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Stephan. “The Etymology of l33t.” WTF I’m l33t. http://www.wtfiml33t.com/viewarticle.php?artid=102. Last accessed 12-18-1.

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