Messaging has long gone to code.
From "LOL" (laughing out loud) on instant messenger services to "C U L8r" (see you later) on cell phones, it's nothing new to see shortened words and phrases in the technologically advanced communications of teens. To the untrained eye, it might look like code. But to those who use it regularly, it's no big deal.
"It's like our own secret slang," said LaKeva Dunn, 17, who has perfected the cell phone text-messaging capabilities that surprise adults and seem commonplace among teens. "You can say a lot with a little bit of words. It just saves time."
Yet even as she litters her text messages and e-mails with 8s and Us, she knows she's not up on the latest incarnation of tech talk.
"Just like with regular words, it changes," the Lucy C. Laney High School senior said. "They're always inventing new stuff."
In the case of Leet-speak, (think the numbers 1337 on a screen) the messaging system has moved from being the domain of online gamers to a wider crowd.
"Leet-speak, it's this organized set of numbers and symbols that you can use to talk to (online video) gamers," said Jeffrey Cunningham, 14, a John S. Davidson Fine Arts School freshman who learned from his friend Aaron Chestnut, 14, to use the combination that relies more on creating the look of letters than typing real letters.
"The No. 1 can represent the letter 'L," Jeffrey said. "And forward slash, back slash, forward slash, is an 'N.'"
So why not just type the "N"?
"It's just pretty fun to see if you can keep up with the action going on (in the game) and type up all these crazy, fun things," Jeffrey said.
It doesn't hurt that Leet-speak and other text-messaging lingo look like meaningless keystrokes to the untrained eye.
"For people who can understand it, it's kind of fun to write it, and it's kind of funny for the people who don't understand it," said Elaine Espiritu, 14, who reads and types Leet-speak with Jeffrey and Aaron.
A lot of that enjoyment and laughter goes back to the fun of having a secret language, Aaron said.
"With it (Leet-speak), it's a way of talking to somebody and nobody else knows what you're talking about," he said. "You could say something in front of everybody and nobody would know because they don't understand."
Those who use Leet-speak said they do it not so much to have private conversations, but to express themselves creatively.
"It is like a way of interacting with other people in a code," Elaine said. "And codes are always fun."
It's like operating in an entirely new language, they said.
"It's like learning a new language, but you're still inside your own language," Aaron said.
As someone who was introduced to Leet-speak when he was 7 and can now create the complex lines with ease, Aaron said his fluency is advanced but he hasn't mastered the system.
"You can get really advanced to where you're changing every letter into something else," he said. "Even today I'm still finding other ways to type letters."
That's something Jeffrey appreciates about Leet-speak.
"The first year is you learning the basics and then it keeps expanding," he said. "You come up with different words like an etymology."
Like any other language, Leet-speak is expanding beyond native "speakers."
"People are e-mailing it, too," Jeffrey said. "My little sister, she's started using it in her e-mails, and I know a couple of people who use it in text messaging."
Elaine's seen it, too. A gamer, she said she uses Leet-speak most with Counterstrike 1.6, but it's creeping up in other places.
That's not a bad - or surprising - development, she said.
"It's just the whole communication thing. It's just kind of cool and fun. People enjoy doing it, they enjoy saying, 'Oh, do you understand this?'"
Teen Board member Brandi Freeman contributed to this report.
Reach Kamille Bostick at (706) 823-3223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
C4/\/ U R34D 7|-|1$? (can you read this?)
No. 0 = the letter "0"
1 = L
2 = Z
3 = E
4 = A
5 = S
7 = T
You can use different combinations of backward slash/forward slash to make an "N" or an "M." For example: forward slash, back slash and forward slash together: /\/.
Leet-speak: H1, my n4m3 1s
Translation: Hi, my name is
Leet-speak: H3 t0t4lly r0cKS
Translation: He totally rocks
Leet-speak: 1 4/\/\ |234DY
Translation: I am ready
Leet-speak: 49$74, 930914
Translation: Augusta, Georgia
Leet-speak: 7|-|1$ 1$ 3\/3/\/3'$ 4\/0173 (4$$
Translation: This is everyone's favorite class
Source: Jeffrey Cunningham, Elaine Espiritu and Aaron Chestnut