Dig literacy, not leetspeak

The Internet can be truly wonderful, whether you’re on Wikileaks or Youporn. We can all agree that it is one of the most powerful and empowering things to ever happen to the modern world. Need evidence to explain the web’s influence? Look no further than the thousands of videos uploaded by Iranians in the wake of post-election violence that hit their country last year.

On the flip side, the World Wide Web can also be a pretty infuriating place to be, and not so much because of the millions of advertisements that pester our browsing. What makes the web a true blood boiler is – sadly and ironically – the masses of people that it empowers. I am talking abt ppl hoo lyke 2 tipe on der comp00ter like dis.

Some call it “leetspeak,” others say “abbreviations.” Personally, I like to call it “idiocy.” Spelling mistakes are tolerable, as are the occasional blast of typos. But da reezon dat itz so st00pid 2 rite like dis is the fact that it is an absolute waste of time. If you’ve been using a computer all your life, and if you’re constantly writing in “One-Three-Three-Seven-Speak,” odds are, you’re quite young and have clearly used this method for a while.

If you’ve grown up using computers, you must be a pretty damn fast typist, too, probably because you’ve had to use computers to punch up an innumerable number of homework assignments rather than the old time method of pen and paper. The hand, like every other part of the body, has a memory. After a dozen papers on the French Revolution and the like, your hands obviously have quite an impressive memory of the keyboard, and you can write pretty fast with minimal errors without having to resort to redundant “abbreviations.” If anything, writing like an absolute tool will take you longer than using proper English. So why do people doo dis?

Seriously, how much time is saved in typing “da” instead of “the,” or hitting the key with the number “2” on it rather than the keys that it takes to spell out the words “to” or “too?” How about “u” and “you,” or “c” and “see?” I could go on, but I’m sure the point is taken.

Obviously, people use leetspeak for no practical purpose. And for the record, the grumpy-asshole side of the spectrum (hello) doesn’t think it’s cute, cool, or funny. So knock it off, plz.

The universally acknowledged acronym “LOL,” seemingly as old as the Internet itself, is also quite stupid. Ninety-nine out of 100 times that a reply consists of “LOL” it general means one thing: “I don’t care.” It’s nearly as bad as replying in “k” (short for “ok,” another  redundancy worthy of inclusion in the previous paragraph). So when a friend is bothering you with videos of fat people falling off of chairs, don’t respond with “LOL.” Respond with “I’m busy,” or “I don’t care.”

Of course, what you do in your instant messages with friends is your own business, but know that you are not fooling anyone. And don’t slow down Youtube for everyone else by posting replies consisting only of said acronym. God knows how many Terabytes of space have been wasted by pinheads and their Loads Of Laughter. Just for the record, that’s what “LOL” stands for.

If people who seem to type with their elbows are pre-teens, then whatever. But nine-year-olds don’t comment on the Guardian’s website, so obviously post-pubescent people, adults if you will, are guilty here. If u type like dis in n ironyc wai, so be it. I’ve even done it myself (!). Who among gamers can ever forget the legendary “pwned?” On Facebook and the like, smiley faces and words like “gonna” are probably not going to cause your literacy too much shame.

Just never, ever go to the comments section on a website of a serious news agency and express yourself through leetspeak. Don’t even try it in the gossip column, because even tabloid writers know how use a keyboard (although I wish they couldn’t). If you want to be taken seriously and retain any integrity you might have had before Internet abbreviations took over, just avoid leetspeak all together. Remember, muscle memory applies to the fingers you type with, too.

Written by Federico Pieracci.

Photo by the prodigal untitled13

Next Great Posts labeled as Next Great are generally submissions by various contributors, whose information can be found within the text of the article. Next Great posts without author information are the collective effort of the editorial staff: Christine Peterson, Alex Pearlman and Edward Boches.

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5 Responses to “Dig literacy, not leetspeak”

  1. edward boches

    About time we got some defense of literacy in the digital age. As someone who great up with AP and NY Time Stylebook, EB White’s Elements of Style and an appreciation for language, I couldn’t agree more. However, I admit to the occasional U or 2. But know that it’s only because Twitter and sometimes texting platforms allow to few words and characters. Otherwise I’m striving to keep the language alive, even fighting for the correct use of fewer when most default to the incorrect less.

  2. Kathy Condon


    As a Baby Boomer, and a user of Social Media, wanted you to know that I appreciate your blog. I cannot imagine what it is like to be a person learning English as his second language, then watching us use “leetspeak” (thanks for introducing that word–haven’t heard of it before).

    When I won an award for my book, I thought back and wondered what was the real reason I drew the attention of the reviewers. The conclusion I came down to is that I used very simple, correct English language…people could read the chapters quickly and get the point.

    Time saved by leetspeak? Perhaps, a few key strokes. However, let us get our ideas out so people can grasp our thoughts and learnings by simple clear language.


  3. Mark

    “Obviously, people use leetspeak for no practical purpose”

    Back in the late 1980′s and early 90′s the internet faced the same sorts of censorship it faces today. Usenet style BBS’s, MUDs and IRC were often subject to text-filtering to keep people from talking about undesirable subjects, such as hacking. The filters would either block the word completely or allow a moderator to easily find and remove offending posts. To skirt this measure, people began to come up with creative ways to spell words, for example hacks became haxx.

    This continues to be a practical use for leetspeak – it does have its place.

    On the other hand, this does not excuse Youtube comments.

  4. twiddle

    What you are talking about is not “leetspeak” but just common laziness. “1337″ is using numbers and symbols to represent letters. 7|-|15 \/\/0|_|1|) 83 4|\| 3><4|\/|p13 (Translation: This would be an example). An easier to understand kind of 1337 does not try as hard to make letters of characters. 17'5 m0r3 l1k3 7h15 (Translation: It's more like this).

    I'm all for literacy and grammar, but leetspeak is more of a joke amongst gamers and geeks. People who abbreviate the way you describe are unbearable enough to ruin the internet, but leetspeak does not deserve to be denigrated for their shortcomings.

    Also, where did you hear that LOL stands for lot's of laughs? "Laughing out loud" or more obscurely "lot's of love" but I have never heard "lot's of laughs".


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