RE: PEDANTRY: Hackers/Crackers

O'Regan, Emlyn (
Fri, 2 Jul 1999 15:52:14 +1000

> > > 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).
> 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").
> I too lament the loss of a good word. But it /is/ lost, and it's
> time to just get over it.
Oddly enough, I disagree. I think if you support the cracker/hacker distinction, push it and it may gain popularity. People in general are increasingly familiar with computers and the net, going beyond the hype because of their own, direct experience. I think that the world is ready for a general purpose term for "computer wizards", as a distinction from vandals, and might quite like the words hacker and cracker in this configuration.

Interestingly, my strongest experience of the word hacker in the computing world has been in contexts such as "Harry the hacker" - derogatory, closer to the literary "hack", meaning that one is untrained, unprofessional, and of possessing limited gifts. Exactly the opposite meaning to that proposed in the hacker/cracker distinction, and different from hacker as vandal.

This meaning comes across in computer science texts and the academic world, and in the business IT world (a horrible place to be sure).

Emlyn, computer whacker