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Strange but true: Geeks master online speekin’

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Question:If you don't know about "leetspeek" you're probably not "speekin'" it. Who is, and what's the point of 133t5p33k, a k a !337$p34k?

Answer: For starts, it's found in IM, chat, Usenet, but not the Web, says University of Michigan linguist John Lawler. It's a nonce phenomenon, like jazz or rap, but it isn't spoken: The "speek" part is a joke. It's strictly written, a way of using ASCII characters — the ones found on every keyboard — to sound out words and make up abbreviations, such as "133t5p33k" (elite speech) where 1 stands for L, 3 for E, 5 for S, and so on. Get it?

So why do it? It's great for teenage chat-room geeks, gamers and wannabe h4x0r5 (hackers), answers columnist Cecil Adams. It has its roots in the same kind of necessities as telegraphic prose and Net abbreviations — bandwidth, says Lawler: If it takes a minute to type out and send all the letters of a properly spelled phrase at 300 baud, abbreviations make sense. Then these get stylized fast.

And once you've gotten in the habit, it functions also as an ingroup identifier: If only the hip can figure out what you mean, you can dump the uncool folks fast, just as with teenagers using slang, adds Lawler. And that's what leetspeekers are doing— being cool and keeping their parents (or anybody else looking over their shoulder) guessing.

Other Leet words (from Microsoft.com): d00d, joo or u, n00b or newb, phear as in "ph34r my l33t skillz," and w00t ("we own the other team" = we're victors). Kewl!

Question:Did stupidity really do-in the dodo bird?

Answer: Too much trust maybe, but why wouldn't it have become trusting on the Galapagos archipelago, where it had had no natural enemies for thousands of years and thus lost its wings, says Richard Dawkins in "The Ancestor's Tale." So when the Portuguese sailors (and later Dutch) arrived on Mauritius in 1507, the abundant dodos were completely tame and defenseless and easily clubbed to death for sport (even though they were deemed "unpalatable"). Other factors too helped bring about their extinction in just a few centuries.

Yet the larger tale here is that something similar has happened to other birds on islands all over the world, to which they fly, settle, then evolve there into flightless forms. The heartening sequel to the dodo's story is that scientists who DNA-sampled a few remaining bones determined that dodos were modified pigeons and are nested deep inside the pigeon family tree — closer in fact to some of today's flying pigeons than these are to other flying pigeons!

Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@compuserve.com