This is actually a fairly interesting branch from the English language, from a perspective of someone who is continually fascinated by the various intricacies of linguistics. Having dabbled in the "underground" computer scene in the early 90's, I ran into this phenomenon and was, for a short period of time, intrigued by it.

It is, at its face, a simple system of transliteration, with some basic rules, and certain other minor variances, which, like individual dialects of a language, seem to differ by geography. This was, at least, the case during my days of BBSing. For the most part, things are as follows:

E = 3

L = 1

O = 0

T = 7 or T = +

This is just the basic list. The letter "A" is often expressed as "4" or "@", while G is sometimes, though very rarely, substituted as a "6". The thing that really makes things confusing is the fact that words are frequently spelled phonetically, such as typing "3y3" instead of simply "I", the personal pronoun. This is done so that more symbols can be fit into a sentence or expression, for the most part. The more complicated and obfuscated the expression, the more "1337" you are.

More recently, there has been a further complication introduced. Instead of being happy with ending certain words with "3r" or "3d", the tradition of adding "x0r" has become quite popular. Instead of someone saying they are a "hacker", they say "hax0r". Past tense verbs are similarly changed, so now you have not been "hacked", you have been "hax0red". The letter "Y" has been replaced with a lower case "j". "You" is now expressed as "j00", and the rather popular greeting of "Yo" is now "j0". 1337 is a difficult language to keep track of, as it seems to go through modifications like this on a pretty regular basis.

It should also be noted that, as someone has already said, real "hackers" don't use this. This is a phenomenon that seems to be strictly reserved for script kiddies, web page defacers, and other lower forms of life in the computer underground.
Born in 1337: Died in 1337: Events of 1337:
  • English King Edward III controls most of France, having inherited it through his mother (aunt of French King Philip VI and two of his predecessors).   Edward claims the throne of France, and Philip attacks one of the English fiefs, Guyenne.  This is the start of the Hundred Years' War.
  • Edward III raises Cornwall to a duchy, with the provision that it be the possession of the heir to the English throne.
  • Anavota Reddy throws off the suzerainty of Muhammad-Bin-Tughlaq, sultan of Delhi, whose army had been wiped out by plague in 1334.
  • A large comet is observed over Europe.  Edmund Halley later shows that this comet returns every 76 years or so.
  • Parliament passes an act limiting the wearing of furs to persons of "gentle birth", defined as having an annual income of 100 pounds or more.
  • Famine kills 4,000,000 in China.
  • The Visconti Archbishop of Milan conquers Brescia.
  • The Scali bank of Florence fails, creating a financial panic.

1336 - 1337 - 1338

sp34k1n6 1n l33t i5 r34lly 34sy 1f j00 kn0 w#@t j00r d01n6.

The thing about l33t is, there's no set alphabet standard. This means that pretty much everybody has their own personal l33t dialect, some more understandable than others. I, for example, when I must stoop to speaking to script kiddies and the like in their own language, tend to intersperse regular English letters, as you can see above. This is mostly because I'm too lazy to make the three keystrokes necessary for '/\/' instead of just one for 'n.' It's also much faster, and unlike script kiddies I actually take the time to spell things properly in l33t. That said: herein follows a transcription of English letters --> l33t characters. j00z d1s w1s3l33, 6r4s5h0pp3r.

A = @, 4, occasionally /\
B = 8, sometimes |3 although this can be confused for 'le'
C = ( (left parenthesis mark), sometimes © (ALT + 0169)
D = |) or |>
E = 3
F = |=
G = 6
H = # or |-|
I = 1 or |
J = J does not seem to have a l33t analog, although it is used in the construction of words such as j00 (you)
K = |<
L = 1 (you can usually tell if it's an L or an I from context), occasionally |_
M = /\/\
N = /\/
O = 0 (zero)
P = |¤ (ALT + 0164), other variations on this theme
Q = I have occasionally seen Q written as 9, although script kiddies are just as likely to use 'kw' for the sound
R = |2 or 2
S = $ or 5
T = 7 or +
U = I usually write 'u' as a capital V
V = \/
W = \/\/ (for clarity \ / \ / )
X = ><
Y = ¥ (ALT + 0165), although as noted above 'J' is frequently used as well
Z = 2 (can usually be spotted from context)

lan3y messaged me later with the following: "i have a couple of additions to your 'l33t' w/u. I have seen _| used for j on occasion. also |^ has been used for r as well." Thank you!

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