From 1337 to Leet: The Evolution of Leetspeak

Words by
Jackie Baucom

MAY 16, 2023

From 1337 to Leet: The Evolution of Leetspeak

Sometimes we know what something is, but have never considered what it’s called. That’s Leetspeak in a nutshell. It may be a new term for you, but it’s something you’ve seen (and maybe even used) often.

leetspeak 1337

What is Leetspeak?

Leetspeak is a system of modified spellings using numbers and symbols in place of letters.

It’s been around since the 1980s, when users of computer Bulletin Board Systems (a computerized system used to exchange public messages or files prior to the advent of the World Wide Web) would abbreviate words for convenience. 

Kids, especially gamers, still use this system today. It’s also known as algospeak and symbology.

“Leet speak” is often written out with numbers: 1337 5P34K.

From this example we can see that the number 1 is used for an L, 3 is used in place of an E, and 7 represents a T. Vowels are often the letters replaced with symbols, but it’s not uncommon to see consonants changed as well.

Leetspeak Alphabet and Decoder

There are some common alphanumerical replacements for the Roman Alphabet. Decode leetspeak using the translator below:

Misspellings Used to Circumvent Filters

While Leetspeak may seem benign, some kids and content creators use this system to circumvent website filters that would otherwise flag the content as inappropriate, or block it. 

Social media platforms often try to stop harmful or explicit hashtags from being shared, which is why users become masters of creative spelling.

Leetspeak is used on all websites and apps including Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, Roblox, and more. However, it is particularly prominent on TikTok where words such as ki11er (killer), seggs (sex), bewbs (boobs), and an0r3xia (anorexia) are commonly used.

Examples of leetspeak on social media

ki11er – killer

murd3red – murdered

cadav3r – cadaver 

de@th – death

an0rexi@ – anorexia 

Weap0ns – weapons

Sh0t – shot

dismemb3red – dismembered

r@pe – rape

S3x – sex

Bewbs – boobs

Substituting safe words for flagged words

Commonly used words are often used online by kids to trick filters into thinking the post is harmless.

For example, talking about sex workers on social media can cause the content to be blocked, which is one reason why kids have taken to calling them “accountants” instead. 

When Roe v. Wade was overturned, the word abortion was quickly banned on platforms as a way to avoid misinformation from spreading. Teens in turn started referring to getting an abortion as “camping.”

Open Communication Can Deter Leetspeak

mother and daughter looking at cellphone and laughing

Parents can be mindful of these tactics used by kids to outsmart filters. We can encourage our children to respect filters which are there to keep them safe and away from misleading or harmful content.

We can assure our children that when they want to learn about something, they can come to us for accurate information. We can help them understand that information found online is not always true or unbiased. 

Kids want to be able to express their opinions. By listening and talking about their thoughts and ideas, even if we don’t agree or understand, we show respect and love. Our children will then know that they don’t have to hide behind Leetspeak or other tricky maneuvers to be heard.

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