Originating in the early 1980's, leet speak was first used by hackers as a way to prevent their websites/newsgroups from being found by simple keyword searches.
Leet speak grew and became popular in online games such as Doom in the early 1990's as a way of suggesting that you were a hacker (h4x0r), and therefore to be feared.
Leet, or 1337, is a short form of "elite," commonly used by video gamers to suggest that they are skilled.
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