Taken 3 or Tak3n? Switching letters for numbers
The latest (and presumably last) installment of the Taken series, starring Liam Neeson, highlights an interesting trend in the language of media branding. Although the film’s title is officially Taken 3, the film has often been stylized in advertisements as Tak3n, with the ‘e’ replaced by a ‘3’. It’s worth noting, of course, that this ‘respelling’ seems to be more of a marketing strategy than an official titling; the film also appears as ‘Taken 3’ in advertisements.
This type of substitution is most closely associated with leetspeak, a contraction of ‘elite speak’, a type of writing that developed online amongst developers and gamers. Leetspeak, or leet, replaces letters of the Roman alphabet with symbols and numbers. (In case you were wondering, leet is often respelled as 1337.) Another association in the world of computing is probably with your passwords. Many people (including myself) love to mix and match characters within passwords, swapping out ‘e’ for ‘3’ and ‘l’ for ‘1’.
The world of video games, in particular, has glommed onto this linguistic playfulness, especially when it comes to the third entry, including games such as F.3.A.R., Driv3r, and Wip3out.
The best-known film example of a visual substitution of letters for numbers is probably David Fincher’s 1995 film Se7en, which was frequently stylized by swapping the ‘v’ for a ‘7’. Another notable ‘7’ substitution is the 2006 film Lucky Number S7evin, where ‘l’ is substituted for ‘7’. (The main character’s name is ‘Slevin’, and the title plays on the idea of seven as a lucky number.)
It’s easy to see why marketers are attracted to this titling tactic; it’s a fun and engaging way to highlight a film, song, video game, or other piece of media. How much cooler does Se7en look as opposed to the tentative Seven? And while a video game titled F.3.A.R. may not inspire more terror than on branded as F.E.A.R., it certainly catches the eye when scanning through a blog post.
Because they both mix letters and numbers, visual substitutions appear very similar to more phonetic substitutions, though they work in a different way. Relating to the sound of the letters that are being replaced – phonetic refers to the sounds of words – phonetic substitution swaps numbers in for words or parts of words that sound similar rather than just numbers that look similar to letters.
For example, take a look at the title of Avril Lavigne’s 2002 hit song “Sk8er Boi”. Overlooking the unconventional respelling of ‘boy’, the title respells ‘skater’ as ‘sk8er’, effectively swapping the ‘at’ (/āt/) for its phonetic equivalent, the number ‘eight’. In contrast, Se7en simply swaps out the ‘v’ for the similar-looking ‘7’. You would obviously not pronounce ‘Se7en’ as ‘Se-seven-en’.
While we’ve got Avril at hand, it’s worth noting that the world of pop music is rife with this sort of playful phonetics. Prince, in particular, seems enamored with this sort of number-swapping, with songs like “I Would Die 4 U”, “4 the Tears in Your Eyes”, “Nothing Compares 2 U”, and “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night”. Anyone who sends and receives text messages knows that Prince is onto something here; the words ‘for’ and ‘to’ are very conveniently subbed out for ‘4’ and ‘2’.
The temptation to swap in numbers is especially understandable in sequels, where the producers are interested in signaling the entry number. The best-known example might be the second entry in the Fast and Furious series, titled 2 Fast 2 Furious. A similar but more inventive example appears with the film Step Up 2: The Streets. If that subtitle looks odd, then forget the colon and read the title straight through.
What are your favorite visual or phonetic substitutions in titles? Tell us in the comments below!