Twitter, texting and leet speak: What it all means for the future of communication

First aired on Babel (2/7/12)


Kids these days, they use the darndest terms. CUL8R? BRB? 459? What does it all mean? And what are we supposed to do about it?

Erin Jansen, the founder of online dictionary thinks we should encourage it. The use of Twitter and text messaging means that we are communicating more than ever, which is good. But to make the most of these mediums, we need to take shortcuts to maximize space. And Jansen sees nothing wrong with that. "It's a way for people to communicate more and be creative in the ways they are communicating," she said to Babel host Mariel Borelli in a recent interview. "If that gets [students] writing their first draft or communicating with friends or parents more, I'm all for it."

While the terms spring from individual creativity, they become part of the bigger digital picture thanks to conventional use. Most of these terms originate from hacking culture, gaming culture and internet culture. Jansen says these terms are considered a new lexicon called "leet speak" which is short for elite speak. "it originates from using numbers and symbols in place of letters," Jansen explained. "It's actually burgeoning a whole new lexicon."


In leet speak, 143 means "I love you," which each number corresponding to the number of letters in each word. "I hate you" on the other hand, is represented by 182 because the oration of these numbers is similar to "I hate you." And "9" means somebody is watching. "H9" means your husband is watching, "W9" means your wife is watching and "99" means they are no longer watching. POTATO stands for "people over thirty acting twenty-one." There's not a lot of logic behind how leet speak terms originate or how they enter regular use. "You really do need a translator to encrypt some of this lingo."

If this makes you nervous, don't worry, Jansen says. You don't need to know leet speak to make use of these new communication tools. She thinks that while we need to take advantage of the technology out there, it's not a replacement for IRL (in real life) communication. "[With], I'm also very much on the watch to make sure people aren't tethered to their devices."

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