First Graf(s): The New Hacker’s Dictionary

THE DEFINITION OF “HACKER” HEREIN is “a person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and how to stretch their capabilities, as opposed to most users, who prefer to learn only the minimum necessary.” In 2019, we have all sorts of hackers — computer hackers, life hackers, biohackers, mindhackers — all trying to understand, implement, and twiddle with hidden qualities and little-known or -understood features of whatever it is they’re hacking.

The New Hacker’s Dictionary, adapted from and AKA “The Jargon File,” got its start in 1975 as a text file (accessible by what your Grandpa used to call “FTP“) shared over networks by the original (computer) hackers. It is still available as a text file; the trade-paperback edition in my library dates from 1991. Much of the language in the Dictionary has, at present, entered the mainstream lexicon, although large parts of it remain pretty obscure. Why does it exist? Let’s let editor Eric Raymond tell us, in his Introduction:

This document is a collection of slang terms used by various subcultures of computer hackers. Though some technical material is included for background and flavor, it is not a technical dictionary; what we describe here is the language hackers use among themselves for fun, social communication and technical debate.

The ‘hacker culture’ is actually a loosely networked collection of subcultures that is nevertheless conscious of some important shared experiences, shared roots, and shared values. It has its own myths, heroes, villains, folk epics, in-jokes and dreams. Because hackers as a group are particularly creative people who define themselves partly by rejection of ‘normal’ values and working habits, it has unusually rich and conscious traditions for an intentional culture less than 35 years old.

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