14 April 2009

Language for the e-Leet

I didn't think to write a blog on the use of language over the internet. I don't know why it didn't come to mind. I have to give credit where it's due. My friend Scott gave me the idea. It's almost a given that i should write on this. After all, this is a blog on language; what's a more natural fit than to talk about the use of language on the internet than a blog? So thank you, Scott, for the idea. Don't know why i didn't think of it myself.

As a quick background, there are different sorts of people online, and each of them fall within a range of understandability.

There are those like myself who (for the most part) write as if i was writing formally. I occasionally toss in some acronyms like 'lol,' 'brb,' or 'ttyl.' I use smilies to convey emotion where there is not enough room to convey it with words. Overall, i'd say people can understand what i'm saying pretty easily.

Next up are the folks who substitute letters and alternate spellings for words. It wud not b od 2 c this sentence n a chatroom online. For those unaccustomed to the use of substitutes, it gets difficult reading. For people like me who don't type this way, it becomes a burden more than a help. The Sub method of writing online is best used among those with limited typing skills, or those who learned Sub speak before learning how to type.

At the top, or bottom, of the list is leet, or l33t, or 1337. If you couldn't figure out by the alternative 'spellings,' this style of writing using not just alternate letters and spellings, it uses every symbol on the keyboard to change whatever letter you can into something else. It gets rather difficult to read, and even harder to type for someone of my 'noob' status, but here goes: L337 $P34|< 15 7+3 (00|357! Even here, the generator i used mixed it up a bit from what i've seen before (you think i'd actually know how to write leet?); that's the versatility of it. There are certain basics that are firm, but everything else is constantly changing, allowing each person to create their own exact method.

(By the way, there is even a leet speak version of Google: http://www.google.com/intl/xx-hacker/. I'm pretty sure it's not official Google.)

A lot of people have yelled loudly about how the internet has desecrated our beloved English language, that every time we substitute a 'c' for 'see' we rape her. The same can be said of texting, but the attack is generally leveled against the all-encompassing internet, proabably because texting is person-to-person and the internet is splayed out for everyone to see. Even six years ago, the New York Times was telling us how crucial it is for teens to learn how to spell correctly, and how frustrating is for teachers now. This article was written even before leet speak was well known among the media. It was already widespread, but it stayed entirely underground for at least a decade.

As much as it seems like i should want to see the internet's effects on language to disappear, since i am concerning with the weakening of the English language, i don't think it's the monstrosity it's often made out to be. Maybe it's my own personal experience blinding me.

When i first began to be heavily involved with the online world, it was mainly through the IM communities. Seeing the language around me, i emulated and used my fair share of Sub speak. Once i got involved with message boards and other places more writing intensive, i dropped it. It became too difficult to write out paragraphs at a time, and just as difficult for me to read other people's posts, even when though i knew the writing. It required more thinking to read. So i dropped it.

Here is my prediction: Even though the next generation has absorbed this more fully than mine did, i don't think it will continue upward. I see it as one of those things that will fade with time; not a collective fade, as Latin has, but a personal forgetting, as it becomes easier to communicate what you want through the standard language usage.

These shortcut 'dialects' are only so useful. The emotional range they can wield is narrow. Even in our culture of shortcuts and microwaves, we find it necessary to do things the more conventional way. The English language as we know it is not dying because of the internet, nor is it being raped; it will change, but it's still too soon to know what kind of change it will bring about.

For the in-between time, we should encourage those who use Leet Speak or Sub Speak to use it where appropriate, when you need to use short bits of writing, like a text or an IM. I won't be joining them in using it, but so long as it stays where it's useful, it won't be the bane many fear it will.

*That sentence reads 'leet speak is the coolest.'


  1. I use short hand speak in a text message.

    "cu l8r" is much shorter than see you later. And since we pay something like $0.20 for 190 characters, I want to make the most of those 190!

    When I first started message boards I also used shorthand speak. But similar to you once I was discussing more serious topics (In Mars Hill for example) txt talk couldn't cut it.

    Now I play World of Warcraft. My Guild has some 200 people from all across europe. Clarity is essential. So short hand got mostly dropped in favour of proper spelling and grammar. Well, I say proper, but really I mean 'proper' as I know and understand it and I failed high school English soooo...

    Short speech I would regularly use is things like 'lol' 'w00t!' or 'rofl'. You know the most basic of things?

    Unfortunately due to play wow I've picked up some bad habits.

    ofc - Of Course
    tbh - To be honest

    But I suppose they're closer to acronyms than l33t.

  2. I also picked up internet short hand briefly in my "younger" days. I never really used it heavily and it usually only would come out when i was conversing with someone else who was using it. Nowadays i hardly ever use it, opting for a more formal writing style, if only sometimes just to keep myself practicing.

    I do understand "skynes" reasoning for text messages and the benefits of shortening words to prevent paying more money, but i only do this when absolutely necessary, even waiting to abbreviate "okay" until i run out of characters. The example of "cu l8r" being much shorter than "see you later", though, i would never even consider by itself because it's no where near the maximum 190 or however many characters whoever's plan allows.

    What scares me is when I see these internet communication "tools" start to leak out into the "real world". I fear that younger generations will legitimately think that "stuft" is currect thanks to Taco Bell. I cringe when I see billboards that read "Unlimited 'Where u at's?'". It's even gone so far as the fact that the broom in my house is called a "Proformer". These things start out as marketing ploys to get your attention, but what happens when they become common place? It's okay for us, because they came about after we already knew what these words were replacing, but what about the children who will grow up not knowing that these grammar and spelling changes are even changes at all? Is it worth the one less letter to spell "nite" instead of "night" for the damage that it's causing?

    Sorry. : / I guess I went on a little tangent outside the world of language over the internet. Thanks for the blog Mike!