Chapter 9. Crackers, Phreaks, and Lamers

From the early 1980s onward, a flourishing culture of local, MS-DOS-based bulletin boards developed separately from Internet hackerdom. The BBS culture has, as its seamy underside, a stratum of ‘pirate boards’ inhabited by crackers, phone phreaks, and warez d00dz. These people (mostly teenagers running IBM-PC clones from their bedrooms) have developed their own characteristic jargon, heavily influenced by skateboard lingo and underground-rock slang. While BBS technology essentially died out after the Great Internet Explosion, the cracker culture moved to IRC and other Internet-based network channels and maintained a semi-underground existence.

Though crackers often call themselves ‘hackers’, they aren't (they typically have neither significant programming ability, nor Internet expertise, nor experience with UNIX or other true multi-user systems). Their vocabulary has little overlap with hackerdom's, and hackers regard them with varying degrees of contempt. But ten years on the brightest crackers tend to become hackers, and sometimes to recall their origins by using cracker slang in a marked and heavily ironic way.

This lexicon covers much of cracker slang (which is often called “leet-speak”) so the reader will be able to understand both what leaks out of the cracker underground and the occasional ironic use by hackers.

Here is a brief guide to cracker and warez d00dz usage:

  • Misspell frequently. The substitutions phone → fone and freak → phreak are obligatory.

  • Always substitute ‘z’s for ‘s’s. (i.e. “codes” → “codez”). The substitution of ‘z’ for ‘s’ has evolved so that a ‘z’ is now systematically put at the end of words to denote an illegal or cracking connection. Examples : Appz, passwordz, passez, utilz, MP3z, distroz, pornz, sitez, gamez, crackz, serialz, downloadz, FTPz, etc.

  • Type random emphasis characters after a post line (i.e. “Hey Dudes!#!$#$!#!$”).

  • Use the emphatic ‘k’ prefix (“k-kool”, “k-rad”, “k-awesome”) frequently.

  • Abbreviate compulsively (“I got lotsa warez w/ docs”).


The following letter substitutions are common:

    a → 4
    e → 3
    f → ph
    i → 1 or |
    l → | or 1
    m → |\/|
    n → |\|
    o → 0
    s → 5
    t → 7 or +

Thus, “elite” comes out “31337” and “all your base are belong to us” becomes “4ll y0ur b4s3 4r3 b3l0ng t0 us”, Other less common substitutions include:

    b → 8
    c → ( or k or |< or /<
    d → <|
    g → 6 or 9
    h → |-|
    k → |< or /<
    p → |2
    u → |_|
    v → / or \/
    w → // or \/\/
    x → ><
    y → '/

The word “cool” is spelled “kewl” and normally used ironically; when crackers really want to praise something they use the prefix “uber” (from German) which comes out “ub3r” or even “|_|83r

These traits are similar to those of B1FF, who originated as a parody of naive BBS users; also of his latter-day equivalent Jeff K.. Occasionally, this sort of distortion may be used as heavy sarcasm or ironically by a real hacker, as in:

    > I got X Windows running under Linux!

    d00d!  u R an 31337 hax0r

The words “hax0r” for “hacker” and “sux0r” for “sucks” are the most common references; more generally, to mark a term as cracker-speak one may add “0r” or “xor”. Examples:

    “The nightly build is sux0r today.
    “Gotta go reboot those b0x0rz.
    “Man, I really ought to fix0r my .fetchmailrc.
    “Yeah, well he's a 'leet VMS operat0r now, so he's too good for us.

The only practice resembling this in native hacker usage is the substitution of a dollar sign of ‘s’ in names of products or service felt to be excessively expensive, e.g. Compu$erve, Micro$oft.

For further discussion of the pirate-board subculture, see lamer, elite, leech, poser, cracker, and especially warez d00dz, banner site, ratio site, leech mode.