lolz. this is teh l33t. im in ur langwidj eating ur wordz. lolspeak: ur doin it rite. all ur teh are belong to us!!111! i can has noms now?

If you don’t grok the above, I suggest you spend several hours on icanhascheezburger.com, after which you will be laughing too hard to care. And then Google leet.

But what is teh? Oh, come on. You’ve typed it a squillion times. Yes, it’s when your left hand follows the t of the with the e before your right hand can get the h in.

“Pshaw! It’s not a word! It’s just a typo!” you object. And this was true for a long time. People have been typing teh for as long as there have been qwerty keyboards, after all. Blame Christopher Sholes, who devised the qwerty layout (which was later modified by Remington) to prevent typewriters from jamming – it moved apart some pairs of letters frequently typed together.

But now, though not in formal English, teh has taken on a special valence and even, in some versions of typed slang, some extra functions. It all proceeds, certainly, from teh being a typo, one typically made when typing quickly or carelessly. From that it can be a mark of a self-consciously “sloppy” or “incorrect” way of typing.

In lolcat speak – the deliberately “incorrect” usages attributed to cats in those funny captioned pictures (as on icanhascheezburger.com) – it displays the imperfect English use that is yet another endearing feature of our furry oral-retentive friends (so focused on getting their noms – meaning food, because when you eat it you go “nom nom nom nom”).

In leet, an in-group type-based argot favoured by those who wish to claim an elite level of tech savvy, it is a winking in-group usage, like pwn (for own, which in this case is a verb meaning “defeat, dominate, perhaps humiliate”) and typing 1 in place of ! and 7 in place of &. (Leet also does other deliberate substitutions, for instance numbers in place of certain letters – leet can be written l33t or even 1337 – and novel morphology, such as xor, an agentive noun suffix that can also be verbed.)

But in leet, teh can also be used to make the following word a superlative adjective without further inflection, even if the word is a verb (ur teh lame would mean “you’re the lamest”; this is teh rock could mean “this really rocks,” although one might more likely see further modifications to make it, for instance, this is teh r0xx0rz). And because of its self-consciousness, it can add extra ostension and possibly irony to the noun it specifies (you’re teh boss).

So teh has become something on the order of ain’t in its effect as a register marker. And because written language always begs for a way to be said – since the spoken form is the primary form of language and the written form’s first purpose is to represent it – it needs a pronunciation. Teh is usually pronounced just as it looks, but generally with the h silent, and perhaps with the vowel reduced so it’s like the but with a voiceless stop rather than a voiced fricative.

This word also has other little overtones and notes that can be found beyond its rather layered usage implications. For one, since it is a rearrangement of the letters of a word, other rearrangements also play in, notably het, which is one of the Dutch equivalents of “the” (the other is de; het can also mean “it”), and eth, not just an archaic inflectional ending (he maketh; he shibboleth; he smiteth) but a long-disused character in English which could, if it were still in use, prevent the typo that gave rise to this word in the first place by allowing us to write the word with it in place of the th (ðe). (Actually, the was formerly written with a thorn (þ), not an eth, and when both of those characters were dropped because they weren’t in the type sets brought over from the continent, thorn was sometimes represented with a y, giving us ye – still pronounced as “the” and usually written with superscript e – for þe, i.e., the.)

And teh also happens to be the Yale transliteration of the Mandarin Chinese word now (in pinyin) written de, as in Dao De Jing, best known in its Wade-Giles version, Tao Te Ching, but in Yale rendered Tao Teh King. And what is this teh? Virtue, also described as strength, power, integrity, etc. If u has virtue, ur not just teh king, ur teh l33t!

One response to “teh

  1. Pingback: lede « Sesquiotica

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