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Coder Talkers

Code talker ( is a name given to military personnel who used a “little-known” language to communicate secretly. While the name is most closely associated with the Navajo Codetalkers who served with the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II, code talkers were deployed during World War I as well, and included speakers of several other languages.

In the current day, however, this use of a natural language which is not familiar to enemy forces is probably no longer really a viable strategy, as the enemy would simply record the communication and would almost certainly be able to quickly identify and translate it using modern technology and the vast amount of information now available about almost all human languages.

As I’ve noted before (, communication is a vital part of pretty much everything, and language is the main tool humans use for accomplishing it.

And while I’m interested in programming languages (, it’s also interesting to look at programmer language, and on how technology influences language.

Programmer language? What’s that?

I just watched an amusing video which tried to explain some so-called “Internet slang” terms such as “ROFL” and “pwn” and “n00b”. The video described the source of many such terms as being World of Warcraft (“WoW”, which is an MMORPG (Massively-Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) released in 2004.

Disclaimer: Not relevant to the points I’m making, but I’ve never actually played WoW, though I did play the original Warcraft, which was a single-player PC game from the 1990’s.

In any case, the amusing part of the video was that the poster described WoW as the origin for most of these terms, even though the actual origins predates WoW by a generation or more.

Which brings us to what I have decided to call “Coder Talking”, such as leet (, also known as “1337”, “eleet”, and “leetspeak”. This dated from the BBS (Bulletin Board System) days of the 1980s, where many of the current “OG” ( technologists got their start. (I did a bit of playing on BBS systems, but only in the late 1980’s, and never in a big way)

There are a number of theories about the evolution of Leetspeak, and there is probably some truth in most of them. These theories include simple short-forms (eg, “LOL” = “Laughing Out Loud”), slang terms originating with the hacker community (eg, “phreaking” = phone hacking), attempts to evade simple text-filters by replacing letters with numbers or by deliberately misspelling words (“pr0n” = “pornography”), or combinations of different things (eg, “newcomer” -> “newby” -> “noob” -> “n00b”)

From such beginnings came many of the terms now used in the broader community as “Internet Slang”, and the broad use of text messaging and mobile devices encourages short-forms and abbreviations, and appears to be accelerating these trends.


Sample Text:

I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.

1 kn0w y0u b3l13v3 y0u und3r574nd wh47 y0u 7h1nk 1 541d, bu7 1 4m n07 5ur3 y0u r34l1z3 7h47 wh47 y0u h34rd 15 n07 wh47 1 m34n7.

“Ultra” Leet (, where multiple ASCII characters are used to create the “shapes” of the letters desired.

| ]{/\/()\/\/ `/()|_| l331|3\/3 `/()|_| |_|/\/])3|25+/-\/\/]) \/\/|-|/-\+ `/()|_| +|-||/\/]{ | 5/-\|]), l3|_|+ | /-\/\/\ /\/()+ 5|_||23 `/()|_| |23/-\1|7_3 +|-|/-\+ \/\/|-|/-\+ `/()|_| |-|3/-\|2]) |5 /\/()+ \/\/|-|/-\+ | /\/\3/-\/\/+.

“Glyphtech” Leet (, where non-English glyphs are used to replace English letters of similar shape.

ᵻ Ꝅ₪ɵꟺ ¥ɵƱ ߀£ᵻ€√€ ¥ɵƱ Ʊ₪ↁ€Я§ꝉɅ₪ↁ ꟺƕɅꝉ ¥ɵƱ ꝉƕᵻ₪Ꝅ ᵻ §Ʌᵻↁ, ßƱꝉ ᵻ Ʌɱ ₪ɵꝉ §ƱЯ€ ¥ɵƱ Я€Ʌ£ᵻƧ€ ꝉƕɅꝉ ꟺƕɅꝉ ¥ɵƱ ƕ€ɅЯↁ ᵻ§ ₪ɵꝉ ꟺƕɅꝉ ᵻ ɱ€Ʌ₪ꝉ.

All of this, of course, leads one to endless other translations available on the Web, including Klingon, Elvish (several dialects), Dothraki, and:

Iz knoe u bleev u understand wut u finks Iz seds, but Iz not suer u realiez dat wut u herd iz not wut Iz meant.

I think my current favourite, though, is Groot (

I am groot.

The fascinating question, though, is around how these “dialects” might develop, and whether some will evolve into true languages. Historically, most languages were regional, but these new languages would develop out of social media and shared online experiences, which are less and less dependent on geographic proximity, and more a function of personal choice.

A key factor in this development is context in which terms are used. The same terms can easily be used in different communities and have vastly different interpretations. In linguistics, denotation refers to the literal meaning of a word, while the connotation refers to the cultural or emotional associations tied to a word. These associations can vary widely across different groups, so a word or phrase which is perceived as neutral to one group can be strongly negative or positive to other groups.

There are already online communities with their own developing customs and jargon, and many of those terms “leak” into the broader community, but it’s very difficult to estimate the actual impact of these factors. For one thing, the presence of “translators” such as the ones noted above can be viewed as attempts to “standardize” the “language”, or simply the work of pretentious skids (“script kiddies”) trying to look 1337. (It’s interesting to note that most of the translators simply replace letters with alternatives, rather than actually “translating”. As an example, most of the translators I found translated the word “hacker” simply as “h4ck3r”, though I did also see “h4x0r”)

Interestingly, most of the original Leetspeak “speakers” drifted away from it over time, suggesting it was mainly the slang used by a particular group of young people at a particular time, rather than the birth of a new language.

Still, the explosive growth in social media, online gaming, instant messaging, and mobile devices suggest that at least the short-forms will continue and expand over time, which will have very interesting implications on future communication. For my own part, I often use emojis and such in text messaging, but don’t generally like using mobile devices – I think it’s because I type quickly enough that I can handle multiple dialogues simultaneously on my desktop, while I struggle to approach comparable speed on a mobile device.

I realize that some people can type very quickly on mobile devices, and that swipe-typing has a lot of potential (I do it sometimes, though relatively slowly), but I also think the practical limits of speed on mobile devices is lower than that of a desktop. I suspect that point might be controversial, though, so perhaps a topic for future investigation.

For now, though, I am groot!



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