Rhodri Marsden: Cyberclinic

What do these strange web words mean?


DECIPHERING HACKER SLANG

Q. If I communicate online with anyone under the age of 25, I'm confronted by words and phrases that mean nothing to me. N00b? OMG? What on Earth is going on?

A. This question prompted Michael Jerome to e-mail in immediately. "|\/|0$7 p3op13," he painstakingly wrote, "\/\/1|_ |_ B3 (_)|\|4B|_3 70 R34D S3|\|73|\|(3$ L11k T|-|3s3." I couldn't agree more, Michael. The impenetrable cipher of Leet (short for elite, and more commonly written as L33t or, at its most obtuse, 31337) is the online code that teenagers lapse into when they want to confuse and irritate anyone outside their peer group. To the uninitiated, Michael's sentence is meaningless drivel, but it actually reads: "Most people will be unable to read sentences like these." Any attempt to explain L33t will make me feel extremely old and look like an idiot, but here goes.

It has its origins in the world of online hacking and software piracy. By substituting numbers and symbols for the letters they resemble, hackers could use phrases that might be banned on messageboards - so, for example, "porn" picked up a zero to become "p0rn" and, as the messageboard admins wised up, evolved further into "pr0n". L33t is littered with these misspellings - along with acronyms, transposed letters and dubious grammar - in order to render it as meaningless as possible to anyone stumbling across it. The actual language used tends to be derived from online gaming scenarios, where, according to reader Emma Brett, "achieving the objective of blasting your opponent to pieces will provoke the exclamation 'OMG i pwnd j00 n00b!'" (Translation: Good heavens, I beat you comprehensively at a game that you are obviously unfamiliar with.)

The older internet user in search of enlightenment could turn to Microsoft's wonderfully naïve "Parent's primer to computer slang", or perhaps the humourless analysis of Wikipedia, eg: "'Teh' is sometimes used in front of a verb in a novel form of gerund. Thus, 'this sucks' becomes 'this is teh suck', or, declinated further, 'teh suXX0rs'". Google, being slightly more with it, thoughtfully offers a L33t search engine at www.google.com/intl/xx-hacker. The kids who actually use L33t, of course, laugh themselves silly at these attempts to translate it; it owes its development to umpteen layers of irony, humour and sarcasm, and should be imagined as being delivered by a sneering youth to get the full effect.

Meanwhile, new and increasingly impenetrable variants will continue to appear in order to, well, pwn n00bs - or, if you prefer, make the rest of us feel stupid. Of course, there is a serious side to the subject of L33t. Not really! LOL! PWND!!111 U r teh suXX0r! I need a lie down.

Diagnosis required

Next week's question comes from Glen Pearson: "There seems to be a huge disparity in the various prices companies charge to host a website. What actually represents a good deal?" Any comments, and new questions for the Cyberclinic, should be e-mailed to cyberclinic@independent.co.uk.

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