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Scott Wahle describes the "secret" language known as L33t5p34k, and gets it all wrong.
Is it just shoddy reporting or a case of technical incompetence?
I'm going to say both.

Mainstream news media outlets are balancing precariously between the need to report on technology whilst maintaining traditional requirements for its profession. Scott Wahle's report on "leetspeak" is a beautiful example of how these needs clash, usually to the detriment of the truth. Scott writes in his article that Leetspeak, the secret code of numbers and letters, is changing and Internet safety experts want to warn parents about it.

Scott! Wake up! First of all, it's 1337, not leet, which is a shortened form of "elite", taken from the hacker jargon of the 80's and 90's and which means exactly what it implies: eliteness, greatness, the highest of all ranks.

Second of all, 1337 is a cipher. In fact, it's one of the simplest, and yet difficult, ciphers in existence. 1337 is essentially a replacement cipher, exchanging numbers and symbols for traditional alphabetic characters. That's fairly simple to understand. The problem is that there are multiple variations on that theme, and given the nearly anarchic nature of hackers in the first place, it's not always a given that two 1337 h4x0rs will use exactly the same replacement cipher.

Scott implies that TLAs and common abbreviations, i.e. BRB, TTYL, L8R, AFK, etc... are 1337. Nothing could be further from the truth. They are what they are - abbreviations and acronyms used since the early days of BBS' that found their way into more common usage during the early reign of Compuserve and AOL. A language all its own that has come into favor with youth today, most likely because it's easier to type "ROTFL" as a text message on a cellular phone than it is "Rolling on the floor laughing." And in some cases, less expensive, as well. 1337 is more likely to found on #hack than it is on an AOL chat or IM session. And if you don't know where to find #hack, Scott, you really need to stop reporting on tech issues.

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