Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Ask Slashdot: Another Word for "Hacker"?

Cliff posted more than 15 years ago | from the hacker-vs-cracker dept.

News 564

mhiller asks this interesting question: "When those of us who code refer to ourselves as 'hackers' in mixed company, we always have to explain exactly what we mean by that - that we're not trying to crack into NORAD computers with our machines or anything else like that. Experience has shown that it's hard for a smaller group of peopleto act against the forces of linguistic change in the larger world. This is particularly true in the case of pejoration; when a word acquires a negative or taboo meaning it tends to stick. For this reason, I feel that our best efforts may not be enough to shake off the definition of 'hacker' that the public has largely locked on to. Perhaps we should promote the use of a different term instead." I've always been one for educating people on the proper terms, but with the media still largely not-getting-it, would we be better off finding another group moniker? There's more. Click the link if you're interested.mhiller had more to say. Here's the last bit:

"The confusion stems from the fact that we're using the term 'hacker' in its earlier, non-pejorative sense, but that's not the meaning it's taken on in the popular imagination. To Random Joe on the street, the term 'hacker' means what we call a 'cracker'.

Being a dabbler in linguistics, I can tell you that this isn't a unique process. When a formerly positive or benign word starts taking on a negative connotation, linguists call it pejoration. For example, the term 'villain' originally meant 'belonging to the villa', and referred to people now usually called peasants.

The best thing I could come up with was the term 'white-knight hacker', which isn't very good. So I ask Slashdot: What might be a better (or at least less confusing) way for us to refer to ourselves?"

cancel ×


Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Hacker (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1865062)

How about "programmer"?

Re:Hacker (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1865063)

No. One can be a prorgammer without being a hacker.

hacker has always been perjorative (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1865064)

As an engineer, I have always used hacker in the perjorative sense.
When I see someone band-aid a problem instead of getting to the root of it, or otherwise doing sloppy work, I think 'what a hack(er)'


Wanking? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1865065)





Or, since the media has appropriated hacker, why not repurpose cracker for our own uses.

Oversimplifying Linguistic Change (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1865066)

It's quite possible to reverse the pejorative
sense of a word, or at least make people
aware that there's a non-pejorative possible

"Queer" and "gay" are interesting examples (though
not exactly analagous, because the referential content of the word is not in dispute, only the "connotation").

The best way to fix a word is to use it pointedly and often, in public.

How about just accepting... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1865067)

That you might be the ones who came up with the new definition. As early as I can remember (from the early 80s) the term "Hacker" has had the pejorative context that it has now. Certainly, among programming circles, the definition has the one most /.ers seem to insist upon, but for the media as a whole, the definition has never changed - the Internet has just brought it back to life.

phacker?!?!?!?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1865068)


crackers.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1865069)

i always thought crackers were the guys who "cracked" programs... hackers hacked banks, and hackers wrote code... it just seems to stand for someone who is good with computers... i don't see why one has to fear being labed a hacker..


Hmm? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1865070)

Nah, sounds really stupid.
Maybe we should just leave hacker as a double meaning?
You can usually tell which kind of hacker/cracker that people are talking about anyway.

Re:hacker has always been perjorative (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1865071)

This is another interesting definition of "hacker". It seems to exist mostly among electrical and mechanical engineers and technicians. It is almost unheard of in the software world, though. A software hacker's "hacks" are elegant solutions. Quite the opposite of the engineer's meaning.

paai (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1865072)

Who cares... Words do have different meanings
in different cultures. I am content to be a member
of the culture where the word hacker came from
in the first place. And I do not mind if in a
different culture it has a different meaning,

Re:How about just accepting... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1865073)

Nope. The positive meaning goes back to the earliest days of the MIT labs. The negative meaning didn't come about until personal computers and modems became available and crackers started calling themselves "hackers." That is the real problem. The media is just calling crackers what they call themselves.

gweep! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1865074)

Instead of trying to make up new words or terms,
use something that's already in the Jargon File...
gweep. It may be WPI's only claim to fame in the
Hacker's Dictionary, and if nothing else the
CS and ECE majors at WPI know what you're talking

Re:hacker has always been perjorative (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1865075)

A hacker (good) hacks (good) but usually avoids hacks (bad). Hacks (bad) don't hack (good) but their code is full of hacks (bad). A hacker can't hack hacks. ;)

Re:Never Geek (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1865076)

I think "coder" sounds too mechanical, even worse than "programmer". "Nerd" isn't too bad, as long as it's clear that doesn't mean you're some kind of a wimp.

Re:Wanking? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1865077)

Huh, so I must be a Wanker then?


And what are the plural for a group of Hackers...Wankii?


It's all over folks. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1865078)

The term "hacker" is gone. It will =never= change back to its original meaning. The reason is that crackers call themselves hackers. As long as they do that, the media will not call them anything else. Personally, I'd really like it if we called crackers what they really are ... criminals.

Re:How about just accepting... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1865079) gofHack.html

Re:paai (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1865080)


Re:Geek (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1865081)

I use computer geek, most of the guys I know use computer geek
Remeber a hacker is not necessarily a code whore (programmer)

One word: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1865082)


Re:Wanking? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1865083)

Wankii? Only if the singular is Wankus. he he...

Re:Geek (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1865084)

I thought a geek was someone who eats raw flesh...

Re:How about just accepting... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1865085)

well, were they crackers calling themselves hackers, or hackers doing some cracking?

Re:hacker has always been perjorative (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1865201)

I'll have to agree that it has always meant "tinkerer": one who enjoys fiddling around endlessly with something for amusement as opposed to someone more serious and less colorful.

If you do write some interesting code and call it a "neat hack", that has always been self-deprecating, as in "no big deal, certainly nothing of professional quality, but still kinda neat all the same...." Calling someone else's code a "hack" hasn't been a compliment since I started coding in the '70s. Calling it a "neat hack" is an understated, almost pretending to be begrudging, compliment.

It's only among those who think hacking is "cool" (pretty much all of us who would spend any time at Slashdot), who think that "hacker" is something good. Like "nerd" and "geek", or "queer" for homosexual, or "gangsta" for thugs, "hacker" has never been a compliment, even if the target community chooses to treat it as a badge of honor. Unfortunately for us hackers.

Sounds like "recovering alcoholic" (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1865202)

...or something equally flattering. Saying it that way makes it sound as though "hacker" by itself is bad and you've created an oxymoron to make it less bad. "I may be a member of a bad group, but I'm not as bad as most...."

No thanks.

My Choice (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1865203)

01001000 01000001 01000011 01001011 01000101 01010010

Hackers, not crackers... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1865204)

As I understand it, the term "hack" was used to and still is used to describe someone very skilled in his/her particular field. A computer hacker, therefore, is someone extremely skilled at programming. J. Carmack would be a hacker. Linus would be a hacker. Hack also seems to have the connotation of someone very clueless about his/her field, similar to a quack.

Modern crackers are very distinct from crackers of old. Modern crackers tend to be immature teens and pre-teens who use the tools of others to do stupid security tricks. The crackers of old were, of course, also hackers, who were expert programmers that intimately knew what they were doing. I suppose the stupid young crackers thought they were hackers, too, since they accessed foreign systems, like true "cracker-hackers", and took for themselves.

Geek (1)

Pasc (59) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865209)

Why not just the old favorite computer geek?

People ask me what I do/am and I usually just say I'm a computer geek and they get the picture. The term hacker causes confusion in most peoples' minds.

Some people refer to me as a computer guru, but I don't think it fits as well. (Plus I think the term guru implies extremely vast knowledge, which would be inappropriate for me.)

Re:Never Geek (1)

Pasc (59) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865210)

> 'Geek' is highly pejorative -- it describes a physical and mental disability.

In my experience, 'geek' is understood much better than 'hacker'. Maybe I'd just rather have somebody think of me as inept than as a bad guy. Ah well...

I agree that 'hacker' would be best if mainstream culture used it correctly, but I don't see that hapening.

Re:Sounds like "recovering alcoholic" (1)

Pasc (59) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865211)

I agree. Use of the term 'ethical hacker' just makes it seem more like the term 'hacker' has something unethical associated with it.

I don't think I'd like it if my parents introduced my sister as their 'mentally stable child'... it would be implying that I'm not mentally stable. (Though I wouldn't entirely discount that possibility.)

Nonmalicious hacker (1)

kovacsp (113) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865212)

If you're in mixed company, just refer to yourself as a nonmalicious hacker. After all, alot of hackers like you and me have tried, however slightly, to break into a system that wasn't ours :)

It doesn't involve that much of a change, and gets the point across.

coder.. codee? (1)

Fict (475) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865218)

how about coder, or codee? I've always liked the two.


Re:Depends (1)

Trepidity (597) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865219)

What's wrong with just plain "coder"? Or you could use "programmer," a term that everybody understands.

Re:Good Point! (1)

Trepidity (597) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865220)

phacker? This may leave the wrong impression, especially if slightly mispronounced.

Re:Oversimplifying Linguistic Change (1)

Trepidity (597) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865221)

I don't see how your examples give any hope for restoring "hacker" to its original meaning. Despite this awareness you speak of, I still do not hear anybody saying "I am gay today," as a synonym for "I am happy today," or "That guy is queer," when they mean "That guy is a bit odd."

Re:How about just accepting... (3)

Trepidity (597) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865226)

The problem is that a negative definition of "hacker" wasn't really erroneously created. Many of the early system intruders (those who slashdotters like to call "crackers") were indeed hackers, who came up with clever ways to bypass security. When not doing that, they were often writing innovative new programs in a variety of fields. These people, while they broke into systems, were legitimately hackers, by any definition of the term.

The problem is that the media has expanded this to cover anybody who breaks into systems. While some people who break into systems are hackers, not all are, just like while some hackers break into systems, not all do. System intruders (or "crackers," if you prefer), and "hackers," are neither synonymous or mutally inclusive (as the media erroneously assumes), or mutally exclusive (as many slashdotters erroneously assume).

That's the problem. Some hackers are crackers, and some crackers are hackers. However, some crackers are not hackers, and some hackers are not crackers. You cannot say "all hackers are crackers," (what the media and people like IBM's security guru say), but you also can't say "no crackers can be considered hackers," as many slashdotters say.

That's a problem because it's subjective. How do you decide if somebody is worthy of being considered a "hacker"? It's much easier (but wrong) to classify one based on whether they break into systems or not, an erroneous oversimplification of which both the media and slashdotters (and things such as ESR's jargon file) are guilty.

Re:Depends (1)

ry4an (1568) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865247)

The problem with foobar is it's root in FUBAR an acronym many people know means Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition.

Never Geek (1)

William Tanksley (1752) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865248)

'Geek' is highly pejorative -- it describes a physical and mental disability.

'Nerd' is better, although it still fails to do what 'Hacker' does so well: describe the fact that we're hackers because we hack, not because we were born into a social group.

If we can't use 'hacker' -- which would be a pity -- perhaps 'coder' is okay. I hate it, though; it's not meaningful.


'Coder' (1)

ChrisRijk (1818) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865249)

I normally refer to myself as a coder or programmer, not a hacker.

Put some suggestions in a poll...

Re:borrowing from the past (1)

Jason Earl (1894) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865250)

I suppose Wizard would be good, if I get to be a Wizard too. In my mind Wizard has always been reserved for people like Linus Torvalds or Alan Cox. I like to think that I am at the very least an aspiring hacker, but a Wizard. Maybe in my next lifetime.

I would certainly agree that we need to come up with some sort of a moniker, however. Nothing personal to RMS or any of the other Free Software Folk, but hacker needs a replacement for much the same reason that Free Software needed the alternate Open Source title.

It's all about marketing.

It is all right to refer to yourself as a hacker when you are among hackers, but it takes too long to explain when the boss or a customer is around.

Got a few (1)

dangermouse (2242) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865257)

These are a couple that I've heard bouncing around, that tend to be more specific than "hacker":

Cowboy - someone who risks a jury-rigged solution for lack of other options, or comes up with a creative solution to a problem that others wouldn't have thought of.

ninja - usually preceded by a skill. For example, "database ninja" or "Perl ninja". Describes a truly hardcore specialist, someone with mad skill in a particular area.

Re:Depends (1)

tile (2495) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865262)

Nah 'foobar' is too similar to FUBAR which means Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition. I can't really think of a replacement other than 'code pimp' or 'code guru', anyone else have an idea?

how about this? (0)

jjoyce (4103) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865278)

Most geeks I know have trouble with about "whackers"?

Re:borrowing from the past (1)

RLWatkins (4205) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865279)

When asked for a brief description of what I do for a living, I say "professional computer wizard". Most understand, then some say with unintended irony "Oh. Can you stop hackers?"

Re:Wanking? (1)

sellout (4894) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865283)

Wouldn't that be if the singular was "wankius". The plural of "wankus" would be "wankes".

Well, after reviewing the previous statements, I'm obviously a wanker.

My take . . . (1)

sellout (4894) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865284)

Well, I've always liked "hacker". And I don't have a problem using it.

I don't call criminals "crackers", I call them "lusers" -- you know how it's pronounced. A "cracker" is a poor southerner -- like the guys in the band.

"Wizard" is cool, but I agree that it's reserved for people hackers idolize (e.g. Linux and Cox). "Wizard" works fine when hackers are talking about other hackers, but to the general public it sounds like Dungeons and Dragons.

"McGyver" is cool, but I think implies someone who is just intuitive about how things work -- it can't be compressed into just programming or anything else. You have to be a SEAL or something to be called "McGyver".

Here's my submission (actually, my girlfriend's). She has no logic behind it, but she's pretty sure no other group is using it. Here is goes: "Jujabu". I might start using it.

Re:Hacker (1)

PD (9577) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865317)

I usually say that I'm a programmer, but I don't know COBOL. It's not perfect, but if I say that to COBOL-only programmers they understand what I am perfectly. :-)

Re:Bithead (1)

PD (9577) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865318)

I've used the term "gearhead" to describe myself and my affinity for computers.

But, I like the term bithead a lot. Bithead, bytehead, diskhead, CPU-head, nethead, webhead, codehead, OOPhead, Javahead all could be possibilities. Maybe codehead would be good.

It would be nice to make a term that obviously applied to free software fans, but not to MS-Access drudgers.

Linuxhead? GNU-head? Penguin head? Devil head? Daemon head? Tuxamaniac?

Just a little brainstorming here...

We Dare Defend Our Name! (1)

kzinti (9651) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865319)

We shouldn't come up with a new term and we shouldn't give up on educating people about the cracker/hacker distinction.

Don't think that public perceptions and language can't be changed. Where we once had "colored" and "black" people, we now have "people of color" and "African-Americans. Where we once had "American Indians", we now have "Native Americans". Why shouldn't hackers be allowed a slice of the PC pie?

I personally resent like hell the fact that journalists in the popular press have misused our term and I don't think we should give up on reclaiming it. Instead of trying to find a new term, we should be trying to map out a new strategy. Maybe I'm being naive, but I'd rather fight than switch!


Another option... (1)

esper (11644) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865334)

The standard most of the people I knew in college went by was:

If you're a geek too, call me a "geek". If you're not, call me a "techno-weenie".

Harnesing the Slashdot effect (1)

Hai-Etlik (11767) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865335)

If using the term hacker incorrectly means getting your e-mail server swamped I think there will be some insentive for thease people to get a clue.

Linuxers in general? (1) (12496) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865338)

how about "the bird herd"? ;-)

Re:crackers.. (1)

Grifter (12763) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865344)

well... i always though of it this way!

crackers: the ones who took the password protection off my video games.

hackers: the ones who wrote code and broke into computer systems.

It seems like you've got to be both anyways, they kinda go hand in hand... but the Media blows it all out of proportion. A true hacker is one who NEVER destroys data, on gathers, not for personal gain but for knowledge!

Tough. I'm a geek. Live with it. (1)

Parity (12797) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865345)

I've never heard geek used to describe a mental or physical inability. Perjoritavely, I hear it used the same way as nerd, except maybe a bit stronger. 'Geeking' is an increasingly frequently used verb in my circles, used to describe the act of waxing passionate about linux, IPv6, crypto regulations, or other typical /. subjects.

In my mind, the only difference between nerd and geek is that the latter -must- where glasses, and it's optional for the former. Since I wear glasses... 8-)

Besides, I don't see why we should 'reclaim' the word geek any less than the word nerd - both are gradeschool/highschool terms to describe the a subset of the population that most of us belonged to.

Re:We misuse the term Cracker too (1)

Parity (12797) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865346)

That usage of 'cracker' is about analogous to 'darkie' to refer to a black person. The origin is 'white as a [georgia] cracker.' I'm sure that the rural southerners who get labeled with that appelation would be just as happy for the meaning to be diluted.

Re:Got a few (1)

Parity (12797) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865347)

I have to admit that I like cowboy a bit. Shades of Neuromancer. Of course, he was a cracker, not a hacker - but still...
And I think the term cowboy in neuromancer included all the 'net pros, not just the crackers, but the corporate security teams and the coders and basically everyone but the netcops. But maybe I'm wrong, or forgetful, and you probably weren't thinking of that anyway.

Re:How about just accepting... (1)

gergo (13664) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865356)

Hacker is the original meaning. The pejorative use was created by a newspaper aricle back in the 70s, IIRC, and it stuck.
See the Jargon File for a long discussion of this issue.


Re:how about this? (1)

gergo (13664) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865357)

Whacker is already taken, and it isn't very flattering. See the Jargon File.


Re:Throw out 'Hacker'? I don't think so... (1)

gergo (13664) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865358)

That's a good idea. I agree that Slashdot should provide such a feature. Could anyone hack some Perl to do this and send it to Rob?


Re:Hacker (1)

crispy (14415) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865364)

Programmer... now that's not glamorous enough. We
want to make people think it's cool to sit in a dark room coding away for 15 hours at a time. How about "coder" or we could just stick with the word we all know and love: Nerd.

Embrace geekdom! (1)

Mark Gordon (14545) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865366)

According to my dictionary, it is "orig. echoic of unintelligible cries", with the implication from later meanings that the geek had some mental disability. We use enough technical jargon that we're still unintelligible to many, so perhaps that's appropriate! ;-) Regardless, before it got to English, it came to have a meaning more akin to "fool", with a certain vulgar theatrical connotation. Since in English it came to describe a vocation, it seems appropriate to us. The negative connotation mostly has to do with the low social status of geeks, and despite Bill Joy's Ferrari, that hasn't changed much; we're still pariahs as far as mainstream society is concerned.

"Geek" is a title I have embraced firmly. Notice that Copyleft has "geek" t-shirts. (I own one, but I'm currently wearing a GNU shirt). As more and more people embrace the term, it comes to describe someone who is technically knowledgeable and skilled. I think we're taking back the term, and I don't take it as an insult. "Nerd" doesn't yet imply any sort of technical skill, so I haven't embraced it as fully. If "geek" remains in some ways perjorative, it's because mainstream society does not sufficiently appreciate those with technical skills.

I also consider myself a hacker, but I don't use the term among people who don't know me well. Even then, I tend to qualify myself: "I'm going to go home and do some Perl hacking", or "I'm going to hack together a program to...". I don't put "hacker" on my tax forms as my occupation. I particularly expect the government to misunderstand. Then again, most crackers describe themselves as hackers, which is the real root of the problem. The media can only be condemned for failing to get independent confirmation of this. ("He's no hacker! He's just a script kiddie!")

Hauer? (1)

Mark Gordon (14545) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865367)

German, close to equivalent in literal meaning (hewer). Anyone in Germany care to comment?

(I may be biased; my grandmother was a Hauer)

Otherwise, I'm content with geek. ;-)

Re:Geek (1)

Steelehead (14790) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865369)

Geek works for me. My brother, a mechanic, calls me a Geek.
My dad, who taught me about computers, calls me a Geek.
My wife calls me a Geek. She doesn't understand computers all that well but knows I have a life outside the machine, and don't break in to DOJ systems. But I like computers, write programs [if ya count 'hello, world' - baby steps, man], read Linux Journal and all ways fsck with the computer settings.
Geek. It fits.

Re:hacker has always been perjorative (1)

X-Type (15655) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865375)

No, that is haudg-podg

I say stick to "Hacker" (2)

webslacker (15723) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865376)

If people ask you if you break into white house computers, it's a good way to start some conversation about what you do and clear up the misconception at the same time.

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em (1)

eyeball (17206) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865382)

Like the subject says... If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

Re:We Dare Defend Our Name! (1)

Pyr (18277) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865393)

Yeah, but the problem is there wasn't a bunch of African-American people running around calling themselves niggers, blacks, or colored. We *do* have a bunch of people running around and calling themselves hackers. They're not all script kiddies either, there's plenty of white, grey, and black hat hackers (Think l0pht, cDc, and the people at who are very talented, intelligent, and respected who *do* break into machines (with or without permission) who call themselves hackers.

If you're just a programmer, you should be ready to explain yourself when you call yourself a hacker, or else get used to people thinking you're breaking into the FBI website for fun, because it's not going to change no matter how much you guys whine about it.

In my 1962 Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary it lists a "hacker" as someone who either cuts down trees or works with horse and carriages. To me, programmers trying to change the meaning of the word back to what it was is as silly as the woodcutters and horsemen trying to change the word back to what it was in 1962.

The meaning has changed. Get over it.

Interesting Topic (0)

mbrod (19122) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865398)

I don't think this will be easy to fix. Unless we advertise the correct definitions on Jerry Sprin*er or the Super Bowl the average computer user and the media won't change over easily to the correct definition.

After reading a few posts, I think we need to have us e-mail all the main news organizations and tell them. We need to put something about who we are in the e-mail to give it some credibility. Whether you are a Software Engineer, Admin, just love coding and do not not topple governments computer systems, etc.

Maybe we could put a list of VIP's up that we could e-mail and then all at once we could send them professionally written explanations of what the terms mean and see if that helps.

I still refer to myself as a Hacker around my IS colleagues but refrain from saying it around upper management and the average Joe due to the way it might be taken. As a solution to that problem, I do not believe it can be done with a new word. It will probably just take a long time.

It does not really bother me having to refrain from using the word "Hacker" around certain individuals. In my profession, I have to change the way I talk to explain very technical things to non-technical people all the time.


rant about hackers (1)

noom (22944) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865419)

I'm not sure what kind of engineer you are, but software engineers (the type of people who are always ranting about how cool OOP is and who would never dare to write code in C) probably share your connotation of the word "hack."

The reason hackers think differently is because the reason that "clever hacks" are cool is that they are tend to be anything other than obvious and probably take a bit of thought to understand what's going on and why it works so well. Of course, software engineers don't give such code much respect because of the fact that their workings aren't completely transparent; this makes it more difficult to maintain because your average "programmer drone" isn't going to be able to comprehend it.

On the other hand, lots of hacks do sometimes tend to be overly specific. For instance, someone might write a program that's blazingly fast, full of lots of extremely cleverly written code. But, if they eventually want to add a new feature, it could involve a total rewrite.

Has anyone else noticed the animosity between hackers and engineers? Hackers typically value being able to sit down and code anything -- QUICKLY. Engineers value being able to stand up at a whiteboard and diagram and make EXTREMYLY insightful design choices. Hackers typically hate people who think about coding more than they actually code. Engineers tend to hate hackers who will code for days without thinking about how it fits into a project or how it will be maintained after they leave. (anyone who has tried to add features to 10 year old code written by an especially brilliant hacker has probably felt the pain of realizing that all those clever hacks are useless since everything will need to be rewritten to make it work with more modern systems.)

Anyhow, that rant was probably off topic -- we were talking about whether or not to dump the word hacker in favor of a newer term. I think not. Hacking is a very important part of our folklore. Also, although most people who call themselves hackers these days are nothing but "script kiddies," hackers have also always been interested in getting around obsticles. There will always be a (small) subset of true hackers who also happen to bend a few laws every now and then.

By the way, is there anyone here who think that the kind of person who will spend his/her free time trying to break copy protection schemes really has much in common with a w4r3z d00d? Back in the day (remember BBSes?) it was rare to find a person who ran a w4r3z board who also knew how to get around copy protection. The "crackers" who could do this were usually far more interested in the challenge of the crack than the game itself. I used to crack alot of games, but the only reason I even dealt with w4r3z d00ds was so that I could get my hands on the newest games so that I could be the first to figure out how to crack it. Hell, cracking a game is much more fun than actually playing them :)

Anyhow, I guess my point is mainly that the media's depiction of hackers isn't entirely incorrect. Hackers will always be people who enjoy solving difficult problems and getting rid of limitations. I, for one, would be pretty upset of the word "hacker" was thrown out. (wouldn't that kind of like that cliche having to do with a baby and some bath water?)

What to be called? (1)

ALIENHANDS (23054) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865420)

Well I am 16 and get ribbed for being a "Computer Nerd." I tell them that I am "not goofy, dweeby looking guy who sits with pocket protectors and taped glasses." And that they should "stop judgin people with 2-deminsional terms." So I go for the term "Guy who knows coding, computers, and loves it, but isn't involved with illegal crud." Seems a little long, but there's no way the media can screw THAT up.

We misuse the term Cracker too (1)

Periwinkle (23090) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865421)

It used to be that a cracker was some white poor person living in the south. This is no more. Now it's used among the geek community as a term for a Techno-ish Criminal! Hicks can no longer hold thier heads high... *sniff*

Re:Oversimplifying Linguistic Change (1)

delmoi (26744) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865437)

I think what the guy had in mind was calling someone "gay" or more particularly "queer" to denote homosexuality could have good or bad connotations. They could be an insult, or just an observation.
Chad Okere

Wizard ? (1)

fizzz (30154) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865480)

doesn't that sound a tab bit arrogant ?

I mean, calling myself a part-time hacker is something that every body could potentially understand. I part-time wizard seems a bit too similar to "god" or "All powerful"...

Depends (1)

ryanr (30917) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865486)

Depends on which field of "hacking" you're trying to get a word for.

If you're doing legitimate security review, "white hat hacker" has gotten popular.

If you're referring to coding, how about "foobar".

Re:Depends (1)

ryanr (30917) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865487)

Oh, I'm aware of where foobar comes from.

I think it fits the tradition.

When we say hacker, we know what we mean. (1)

Petor (36998) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865521)

I refuse to admit that 'hacker' is a lost cause. While we all love the mystique surrouning that term, it has reached the point where it has been bandied about by the media so much that it no longer has any clear meaning.

In fact, I recently visited a site that distributed cracks, and it explained to me that they were 'crackers', not those 'hackers' that broke into people's sites and broke things.

The ubequitous 'nerd' and 'geek' do not suffice to fully describe the hacker mentality. I find I often have to resort to referring to myself as an 'old school hacker', as opposed to 'those punks', but this too is no longer enough.

Perhaps we need a new term that sums up the whole of hackerdom, from the late nights spent coding, to the clever fixes of your OS that come so naturally to us, but seem like magic to the uneducated.

The term hack used to mean 'clever solution'. You hack that bug in your code, you had a great idea for a hack that would restructure modern society, but it was so simple you forgot to write it down, and now you can't remember it.

Now, hack means to intrude, to destroy. People who refer to themselves as hackers to anyone but other Digirati are either laughed at, or feared.

We are the ones who built the systems that everyone uses, we live in them, work in them, play in them.

And now, piece by piece, they are taking that away from us.

So we have to fight back - but not by becoming what they see us as, but by showing them just who we are, and what we do.

A new name would take us away from the media's evil eye for a while, but in the end, the undesirables will just follow us there, and begin referring to themselves as '3133+' and we'll be back to square one.


hacking and cracking (1)

tono (38883) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865526)

How about we as hackers, email every news organization in the country that we can find and explain to them in a well written (read: I'm not writing this letter) letter the subtle and not so subtle differences between the two. Perhaps if enough people mail them it could make the news. The "new/old" politically correct term for computer geeks and crackers.

Re:Coder seems the most obvious, doesn't it? (1)

tono (38883) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865527)

hacking does not necessarily involve coding, as some previous poster pointed out, the "hack" on the MIT dome. Also, coding does not necessarily involve hacking. Hacking is more of a knowledge of computers and their inner workings or anything else computer related. Coder is too restrictive.

Re:My take . . . (1)

tono (38883) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865528)

>>"McGyver" is cool, but I think implies someone who is just intuitive about how things work -- it can't be >>compressed into just programming or anything else. You have to be a SEAL or something to be called "McGyver".

Once again, hacking is not limited to programming. McGyvering would be spiffy.

As for "Jujabu", please feel free to mentally scar your girlfriend for life.. hehe

another idea (2)

tono (38883) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865531)

Perhaps we should retain hacker, and call the crackers L33T H@x0rz because the crackers are obviously more knowledgable than we are

Don't give up just yet... (1)

Sun Tzu (41522) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865541)

Recently, media usage of the word "hacker" -- in the traditional sense -- has started to appear. I've seen several articles about Alan Cox, Linus, etc, where hacker was used correctly. This trend can only grow with the expansion of open source software. I think we should continue to use the term hacker just like we always have and see how far the open source wave will take us and our terminology.

Ethical Hacker (1)

unyun (45048) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865554)

I've been using the term "ethical hacker" when talking to ... less enlightened individuals. I saw it in IBM's ads touting their e-business or whatever. I thought it gave a lot better feeling off than just "hacker". It brings across all the "oh he's a computer genius and can do anything" associated with hacker, yet adds the respect that someone who is "ethical" would receive.


now that you mention it (1)

unyun (45048) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865555)

It does seem to come across that way.
And the reply about the mentally stable child is also good.
Guess "ethical hacker" is out. :-)


Time to properly co-opt "guru" (1)

droleary (47999) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865564)

Although I tend to call myself a computer geek (in the positive sense as given in the Jargon File), I don't think that'll ever get the media's attention in that sense, so neither it nor "nerd" are worthy of a fight. It is reasonable to assume that any positive role model that is "worthy of mention" in traditional media is bound to be someone of guru-level skills, so that's where I'm casting my vote.

Re:hacker has always been perjorative (1)

Mindcrym (52114) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865574)

No, what you're talking about is a "kludge."

borrowing from the past (1)

defenestrators (52630) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865577)

How about borrowing from another well-established term that already has a positive connotation? That would make it more difficult to corrupt.

I like 'wizard' and it has been used in this sense before anyway. Heck, it even makes sense. What is a wizard but someone proficient at something another does not understand?


Who Cares? ( about the mainstream ) (1)

oratam (52858) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865578)

I personaly don't care about the opinions of the mainstream press. If you are a hacker, and I am not, then anyone who's opinion counts understands what you do.

Conformity is not the nature of hackers. Should the desire for acceptence cause the word itself to change? I say no.

The mainstream is beginning to accept the idea of open source. Either "hacker" will or won't eventualy take on the meaning it has in the programing world, but I'll be dammed if I change one thing I do because of the opiniton of the mainstream.

Re:Wanking? (1)

alphamale (53715) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865583)

"Repurposing cracker" would be an even worse situation. What we have right now is the media having turned a single word around. If we take that word's logical opposition (cracker) and start using it to denote the very thing which it was created to distinguish from (hacker) then no one will ever understand what anyone else is saying.

I must agree that "programmer" is a good moniker.

Re:Programmer vs Hacker (Was: Wanking?) (1)

alphamale (53715) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865584)

This is certainly true. However, the current definition of programmer is closer than the misunderstood definition of hacker, so at least it'd be a start. Perhaps there should be two standards (as there currently are): terms used amongst geeks, as hacker/cracker currently are, and those in common use, as programmer/hacker are.

As someone else mentioned in a different thread, it's like the gay/queer thing. Once it is used enough internally, it may make its way into common, correct usage.

Throw out 'Hacker'? I don't think so... (1)

Javert42 (55387) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865590)

This might sound really lame to some people, but here it goes: The term 'hacker' has great significance to computer nostalgia and history. The title of 'hacker' really says something about a person. Me thinks that the media just needs to get a clue, and who better to pass the word along than faithful Slashdot readers?
Solution: Everytime an article is published misusing the term 'hacker', any Slashdot reader could type his name and email address into a couple text boxes, and exectute a short perl script, and a general letter explaining the actual meaning of the term 'hacker' would be sent off to the offending party. This might tick off the people that have to read the email, but it would definately get a point across. Well, there's my two cents, I would be very happy to see some implementation.....

Re:borrowing from the past (1)

ashton (56953) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865593)

Daemons and Wizards and Beastiaries! Oh, My!

A fine suggestion that has some shelf space already ...
Where Wizards Stay Up Late, The Origins of the Internet
Steve Wozniak, A Wizard Called Woz

Besides tying right in with the BSD, Red Sysadmin and Aho/Ullman covers.

It might even let the newshounds have some linguistic fun of their own!

Re:Oversimplifying Linguistic Change (1)

ashton (56953) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865594)

The witches appear to have won their recontexting of the word. However, they remain very vigilant of the use and continue to froth when someone crosses them ... taking on the Keeper of Encarta, for example.

Fostering 'correct' use by giving the Dead Tree People something to use, such as ESR's work, and screaming bloody murder (in a chillingly organized way) would have to be among our many weapons.

Does not 'hacker' have a similar mixed meaning in golf?

Bithead (1)

Edison Noside (57220) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865596)

"Bithead" is to computers as "Deadhead" is to the Grateful Dead, or "gearhead" is to cars. Not to be confused with the rock group Motorhead.

Good Point! (1)

ufdraco (78193) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865608)

That's a really good question, and I admit I too have a hard time thinking of something because "hacker" seems quite positive to me as well.

How about:

  • grokker That's somewhat similar in meaning, albeit perhaps a tad strong?
  • fracker or phacker? Something similar but totally distinct? (I know, they sound silly to me too)

You don't do much of this, do you? (1)

ufdraco (78193) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865609)

Bad Idea:
  • Wanking??? I don't know exactly what that is, but it's not complimentary if I understand correctly
  • Managing would be a slap in the face to most hackers.
  • Kludging is considered a bad thing, an ineligant hack.
  • Cracker would never sound good...just think about it! It's either a type of food or a person who breaks into stuff. I can't imagine any other interpretation.
Good Idea:
  • McGyvering. This actually sounds pretty good IMHO.

Programmer vs Hacker (Was: Wanking?) (1)

ufdraco (78193) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865610)

I must agree that "programmer" is a good moniker.

This is true, but there is distinction between "programmer" and "hacker."

A hacker is more than just a programmer. A hacker is a person that enjoys making things work that supposedly shouldn't. An example: the dressing of the MIT dome this year to look like R2D2 was called a "hack" but there was no programming involved. It was just a really cool trick that took a lot of thought and planning and was something that a lot of people would probably scoff at--until it happened. A hacker (in programming) not only programs, but takes the additional effort to know all he/she can about the system so as to write the best code possible for the platform. To a certain extent, an average programmer is just another user. But a hacker actually controls the system by comparison.

At least, that's how I understand it.

Oops! (1)

ufdraco (78193) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865611)

Too true. For the record: I was only thinking of phat and so on... /me shudders and recants!!

Latin Plurals (1)

ufdraco (78193) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865612)

if the noun is second declension then:
wankius -> wankii
wankus -> wanki

wankes can be the plural if "wanker" were a 3rd declension latin noun of the form wanker, wankis. Then wanker -> wankes. If you prefer wankus as the singular nominative form, go ahead, but it isn't necessary.

I am cursed by 4 years of HS latin 8-)

Coder seems the most obvious, doesn't it? (1)

ryand (82763) | more than 15 years ago | (#1865616)

I would think that being known as a Coder would be the most obvious choice.
Heck, we even founded a club based on the name at our university ( [] ).

Calling yourself a :
Programmer is a too uptight and restricting,
Software Engineer now leaves you open to legal action,
Hacker - not everyone gets it,
cracker - just plain wrong.

Unless you venture into the 2-word descriptions which in my opinion don't cut it.
Who wants to be known as a computer scientist?

I call myself a software developer, because it looks much better on a resume than "coder" or "hacker" which mean pretty much the same to me with the exception that hackers still have have that negative connotation of being 'disorganized non-structured people inappropiate for professional application development'.

Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>