Re: PEDANTRY: Hackers/Crackers

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Thu, 01 Jul 1999 14:55:38 -0500

Lee Daniel Crocker wrote:
> > > You're hanging onto the past, Eliezer...
> > No he isn't = he is defending the noble present
> >
> > read <> and see
> > if you all can step up to the mark.
> Unfortunately, this document is meaningless, being nothing but the
> assembled culture of a small segment of society with little direct
> influence on the culture as a whole (but of course great indirect
> influence by what they produce).

Times change. From cracker to hacker, and then, we hope, back to cracker again. Eric S. Raymond is a minor celebrity, now. Perhaps the media will repent of their linguistic folly.

> Language, unlike reality, is a matter of consensus. There are
> no central authorities and no testable theories. No matter how
> many times you may protest that "gay" means "joyful", the fact is
> that when the word is encountered by a typical English-speaking
> reader, the first meaning that jumps to mind is "homosexual". As
> much as we want "hacker" to keep its original meaning as someone
> who pushes limits and explores possibilities, the simple fact is
> that 99% of English-speaking readers who encounter the word think
> about teenagers breaking into computers illegally. Merriam-Webster
> includes both senses of the word, no doubt because computer geeks
> pestered them into including the original usage, but there is no
> doubt that writers and editors in the real world use only the
> commonly understood meaning--what we would call a "cracker" (a
> term used by absolutely no one but those still clinging to the
> past glory of the word "hacker").

Right, but using the term marks us as being part of said subculture and therefore worth a much higher salary.

> I too lament the loss of a good word. But it /is/ lost, and it's
> time to just get over it.

The problem is that nobody has proposed an adequate replacement which could be adopted in a synchronized way. The best suggestion I've heard is "wizard", and that doesn't have the same connotations yet. Until then:

Eliezer Yudkowsky, Hacker.