What Is '1337 Leet' How Do You Spell In 'Leet Speak'?

It's not quite a new language, but it looks like one

Young man in hooded sweatshirt appearing to hack a computer

Peoplemages / Getty Images

"1337" means "elite," or just "leet" for short. Leet is a stylistic jargon term from the 1990s that describes someone with very high-end computer and gaming skills.

"Leet speak" predates 1337 culture; leetspeak ("elite speak") is a stylistic way of spelling English letters by using numbers and special ASCII characters on your keyboard. It's a cultural expressiveness that spawned when 1980s hackers wanted to cloak their websites and online conversations from being found.

Leetspeak commonly uses the following numbers and characters to replace the English alphabet:

The vertical | symbol is called it's near the backspace key. As people become lazy, they will sometimes swap in regular English letters instead of pure leet speak characters.

A = 4
B = |3 
C =
D = |) 
E = 3
F = |=
G = 6
H = |-| 
I = |
J = 9
K = |<
L = 1
M = |v|
N = |/|
O = 0 (number zero)
P = |* 
Q = 0, 
R = |2 
S = 5
T = 7
U = |_| 
V = |/
W = |/|/ 
X = >< 
Y = `/
Z = 2 

Examples of Leet Speak Word Spellings

"leet" ("elite") = 1337

"cat" = (47

"hacker" = |-|4(|<3|2 

"firewall" = |=||2|/|/411

"love" = 10|/3

"execute" = 3><3( |_| 73

"porn" = |* |2 0  |/| (also spelled as Pr0n)

Origins of Leet Speak

Before the launch of the World Wide Web in 1989 (when HTML pages became the foundation of online culture), online communities revolved around BBS sites (bulletin board systems). These BBS sites were found via Wildcat, Telnet, and Gopherspace technology.

Leetspeak spawned during this '80s BBS time as a type of online slang and simultaneously as a technique for concealing online conversations from the early search engines of the time. Tech-savvy users would use leet speak to distinguish themselves by being "elite" users ("leet") who were not only knowledgeable but also had earned special access to private community areas online.

By using leetspeak spelling, these tech-savvy users could also identify themselves to other serious users of early internet technology. 

Today, leet speak has faded in its novelty as there is now widespread knowledge of the leet-speak approach to spelling. Accordingly, today people use leet speak more often as a joke than an actual way to communicate secretly. 

The recent popularity of the television series Mr. Robot has reinvigorated interest in the leetspeak slang. Episodes of Mr. Robot use leetspeak to name their episodes. Some examples include "3xpl0its," "m1rr0r1ng," "m4ster-s1ave," "unm4sk," "d3bug," and "br4ve-trave1er."

Leetspeak expressions, like many other Internet slang, are a part of online conversation culture. Like any human group behavior, people use speech and language expressions to build cultural identity through customized language and unique conversational expressions.

The Story Behind '1337 Leet'

In the days of Windows 95, a group of infamous hackers named "Cult of the Dead Cow" used to take remote control of Windows 95 machines. They used a nasty software package called Back Orifice and used the network port 31337 to take over thousands of Win95 computers worldwide. Their purposeful misspelling of the word "elite" as "leet" or "1337" let them bypass censorship programs.

Years later, the Dead Cow Cult influence has morphed into a subculture of jargon and power user language. People who speak "leet" today are not malicious hackers. Instead, leetspeak is often the trademark of serious Internet gamers and people who pride themselves on being technically savvy. Related terms to leet: hax0r, chixor, 3ber, epeen, r0x0r.