Netspeak, L33t, Internet and IM Languages Legitimized

leet l337 speak 5p3@k
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It came from the Internet and, some say, is going to destroy modern civilization as we know it. No, it’s not spam. It’s Netspeak. Also known in some circles as “L33t speak”. Of course, not all people think that Netspeak or L33t is going to destroy the world, although many think that it is rotting the brain of the millions of young (and not so young) people who are “speaking” it. But no longer a passing fad, some experts say that L33t (or “l33tspeak”) netspeak is here to stay.

Like so many other things accused of corrupting the mind, you’ll know it when you see it. And you’ve probably already seen Netspeak – in an email, coming across your cellphone, or in an IM. In fact, “IM” itself is a good example, being Netspeak for “instant message”, or “Internet message”. Often these “words” mutate from one type of word to another, as well – IM is now not only a noun, but a verb – I often IM my husband, for example (but never in public).

Borne of the desire for brevity (or perhaps laziness), Netspeak became a way to send quick messages while not having to type too much – hey, typing at the speed of speech isn’t always easy. Thus evolved such “words” as “CU” for “see you”, “BRB” for “be right back”, “TTYL” for “talk to you later”, “LOL” for “laughing out loud”, “ROFL” for “rolling on floor laughing”, “ROFLMAO” get the idea.

And then there’s “pwn” or “pwned”, pronounced “pone” or “poned”, respectively. So why is ‘pwn’ pronounced ‘pone’?

Generally it is believed that the term ‘to pwn’ was originally a perversion (or typo) of the term ‘to own’ something (after all the P is right next to the O on your keyboard). Or perhaps it also has to do with how one treats a pawn (as in the chess piece – someone you control). However it originated, to pwn something or someone is now a thing, and it means to own or control someone or something, or, to put it less delicately, to ‘make it your bitch’.

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The term “L33t” itself is said to have originated specifically in the online gaming forums, where gamers fancied themselves “elite” for being able to understand their new language which replaced vowels with numbers. Hence “l33t”, as in el33t – elite.

Of course, this “language” wasn’t new at all. People with numeric pagers (that’s “beepers” for you young’uns) had been doing number-spelling for years. Even before that, I remember the joke which lead to your calculator spelling “SHELL OIL” (that’s the number 710 77345, turned upside down).

Whatever you call it, Netspeak, L33t speak, or just plain baffling, experts are now legitimizing it and saying that it’s not so bad. Says David Crystal, a language historian at the University of Wales, “Rather than condemning it, we should be exulting in the fact that the Internet is allowing us to once more explore the power of the written language in a creative way”, explaining that the Internet “is fostering new kinds of creativity through language. It’s the beginning of a new stage in the evolution of the written language and a new motivation for child and adult literacy.”

Or, perhaps, the beginning of the end of modern civilization as we know it.

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6 thoughts on “Netspeak, L33t, Internet and IM Languages Legitimized

  1. sms language posible for quick communication equal to modern communication technology but must use for informal matter .For formal matter necessary to use full abbreviation .The language still not damaged if no SMS language interrupt of our formal language .

  2. I use netspeak all the time… nothing wrong with that. A normal mind is completely capable of distinguishing between proper text and 1337 speak.

  3. Um, yeah. Or not.

    Netspeak isn’t cool. Leetspeak isn’t cool. Only stupid skiddies (That’s script kiddies to the uninitiated) talk like that.

    I may just be a kid, but I know that there’s nothing cool about ‘tlKiN lyKe dIs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’


    – Sarah

  4. Cyberlingo. CB buzz. Klingon. Shorthand. English as the Universal language for international business and flights. Valley Girl chatter. Pidgin English. Hip Hop. Wing Dings. Jive. Esperanza. Navajo Wind Speakers. Horse Whisperers. Sign language. Each language application or adaptation has fostered communication within significant groups, clans, secret societies, insiders and those who in the know. But can they communicate among themselves?

    Netspeak? “Nitspeak”. Holy decoder ring, Batman! Is the Internet destined to become the cybertower of babble (Babel)? Blogs will become bogs. Search engines will become clueless (Valley Girls rule, again). Verbal abuse takes on a whole new meaning.

    Now the sermon. The Internet once had the noble purpose of expanding knowledge and understanding. Open-source methodology, intelligent beings writing (yes, writing!) intelligibly, publicly and privately funded web sites, intuitive software, voice recognition, character recognition…the list goes on…have enabled everyman and, to be pc, everywoman, access to the riches formerly available only to the gifted wealthy and educated. What gives? Netspeak may be satisfying to those who use it, however, they may as well place a barrel over their heads to capture the magic of their empty thoughts. Lost in translation, eh? It’s ironical that the language historian at the University of Wales is a stong advocate of Netspeak, in view of Microsoft finally embracing Welsh in its language database coding. Robby the Robot once memorably said, “It does not compute.”


    Richard H. Klawitter

  5. With every new concept or invention, words have flowed into the language and people have memoaned the situation every time. English is possibly the most dynamic and accepting language in the world. What would we ever do without
    E.T.s, SUV’s, and PC’s?

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