We need a new word for 'hacker'

Posted 8 May 2000 at 15:37 UTC by faassen Share This

The words 'hack' and 'hacker' are very nice, but they're hopelessly confused with 'crack' and 'cracker'. Let's face that.

I don't want to go into a discussion on whose fault this may be, but it's clear we can't do much about this use of 'hacker' by the mainstream. Even crackers call themselves hackers. So I propose we give it up. Give up the word 'hacker'.

We can't change the way 'hacker' is used. We can start to use another word for ourselves. We would give up a precious word with lots of interesting connotations, but:

  • The word can still be used when talking to other hackers.
  • We'll get used to the new word.
  • It'll help people to finally grasp the concept of 'hacker' without confusion.
  • It'd be a good linguistic hack.

Note that something similar was done by the introduction of the term 'open source'. Suddenly it cleared up a lot of confusion between 'Free Software' and 'freeware'. We still understand the term 'Free Software' and its connotations, perhaps even better than before, and we can talk to the mainstream media without lots of references to beer and speech.

It's unlikely that this new word will then suddenly be adopted by the media instead of 'hacker' to describe the crackers. The 'hacker' word is far too well entrenched for that.

Now we only need a new word. Note that we don't want a word that sounds too much like hacker! Some quick ideas which are probably not the right ones:

  • mage
  • mancer
  • tinkerer
  • deeper
  • crafter
I'll leave you all to discuss whether a new word is wise, and if so, which one it should be. And finally, how to introduce it to everybody else.

Open source cleared nothing up, posted 8 May 2000 at 16:10 UTC by AlanShutko » (Journeyer)

If we find a new word for hacker, let's try to find something a little less ambiguous than "open source". Open source has been just as misunderstood as "free software". Right now, any company which lets you download the source is calling themselves "open source" or associating themselves with it. Take a look at Sun, for instance. The SCSL doesn't meet the Open Source Definition (last I checked), yet SCSL licensed things get confused with open source.

I vote zimkler., posted 8 May 2000 at 16:38 UTC by chbm » (Journeyer)

Don't like it ? Too bad. I'm gonna call you zimkler from now on.

The media will still refer to crackers as hackers, people will still don't know the diference and you'll look dumb going on tv saying "I'm a Zimkler. i'm not called an hacker any more cause people confused me with crackers."

suck.com humour apart, the change won't do much efect. Imagine we move to "tinkler". Then when some l33t cracker d00d gets interviewed he'll say "i tinkle with other people's stuff". What do we do then ? Move to a new name ?

it's *not* a red queen situation, posted 8 May 2000 at 16:56 UTC by faassen » (Master)

It's not a red queen situation; we don't have to run to new names to stay in the same place. I'll demonstrate:

d00d: hah im a tinkler and i broke into ur computer!!!!1

Media: 'evil hacker broke into computer!'

d00d: im not a cracker im a tinkler!!!1

Media: 'hacker defaced website'

d00d: tinkler!!!!1 its tinkler not hacker, ur confusing it!!!!1

Media: 'hackers steal credit card information'

d00d: but im a tinkler!!!!!!11 why dont u stupids li$ten!! i never had this problem before...

Media: 'hacker insults media'


Conclusion: the media won't suddenly start calling crackers tinklers, even if they ask for it. Really, you know the media better than that, don't you? The crackers will have the same problem that hackers are having now. The word 'hacker' is just too well established for the media to give it up. It was unfortunate that the word hacker went mainstream when it did, when the distinction between hacker and cracker wasn't so clear yet. But we're stuck this use of 'hacker' now. Better do something about it.

zimkle, posted 8 May 2000 at 18:01 UTC by pvg » (Journeyer)

There is a desparate need for such a word - a void was left in our vocabularies after we chose to endorse the 'bad' meaning of hacker. What do you mean you didn't endorse that? Didn't you read Advogato mission statement? You were probably too busy zimkling.

"What makes the system interesting is that it's attack resistant. If a bunch of attackers were to create lots of accounts and mutually certify each other, only a very few would be accepted by the trust metric, assuming there were only a few certificates from legitimate members to the hackers."

Open Source vs Free Software (idealism alert), posted 8 May 2000 at 19:20 UTC by sneakums » (Journeyer)

Open Source and Free Software are two different things.

"Open Source" was born when some people noticed that, for some reason, free software was in many cases of higher quality than many commercial offerings. These same people then designed a development methodology based upon many programmers looking at (and fixing, with any luck) the code and all users having free access to the code. The freedom of the users is only a secondary effect that is maintained by the "Open Source License Definition". In fact, many of the vaunted benfits of "Open Source" do not in reality require that users be allowed to redistribute changes or new versions at all. It could all be done using a central CVS repository. Real freedom is not required.

Free software has existed from the beginning of the hacker culture, but was formally solidified not into a development methodology, but a new way of looking at software; what it is and why it should not be owned. The availability of source was a requirement, given that users must be free to use, modify and distribute software as they see fit.

Richard Stallman wrote the GNU General Public License in order to preserve these rights. Software licensed under that license can never be taken back; while the copyright holder can relicense the software under a more restrictive license, that is their right under copyright law.

You will notice that the concept of "ownership" rears its head here. This would seem to be a result of the copyright system, which requires protected material to have an "owner". If there is no owner, it is public domain.

"Open Source" is a necessary evil if you want to get your managers to give something back to the community; it has all the buzzwords and justifications you will ever need. Free software is why we are even here in the first place having these discussions.

Open Source versus Free Software, posted 8 May 2000 at 19:30 UTC by faassen » (Master)

Yeah, I know all about how open source is not necessarily Free Software. I wasn't equating them anywhere either. I just said that the invention of the new term helped. Both in understanding what the term Free Software means and in talking to outsiders. Unless you don't agree that 'open source' was the right term at the right time and was something we couldn't express easily before. Idealistic Free Software advocates must agree with this, as they're the ones who see the distinction between 'open source' and 'free software' most clearly. :)

Similarly, currently the word 'hacker' is even more seriously confused and confusing than Free Software used to be with freeware. I think the analogy applies quite well, though of course this is a different situation. We need a new word for 'hacker'.

random musings, posted 8 May 2000 at 19:43 UTC by Talin » (Journeyer)

I often find mythology to be a useful source when meme-crafting. Thus, the first term that came to mind is nocker, a type of faery reputed to like tinkering. However, when you actually look at the source legends of "Cornish Knockers" (and not just modern interpretations in role-playing games), it turns out that nockers aren't particularly pleasant people. Besides, I know a lot of hackers that could more accurately be described as satyrs or sidhe :-)

Both Daedalus and Hephaestus qualify as hacker types, but unfortunately neither of those names can be pluralized in a way that trips off the tongue.

So, instead, my best suggestion is a historical, rather than a mythological one. The technical wizards in Britain who invented radar were known colloquially as boffins.

Coder, posted 8 May 2000 at 20:17 UTC by Iain » (Master)

Yeah, it might sound pretty dull and boring, but think back to all the cool Amiga demos from demo coders.

See, it's lots more exciting now (unless you chose to remember crap boring demos, and not the classics like Jesus on Es)

1 vote for "boffin", posted 8 May 2000 at 21:40 UTC by amk » (Master)

Readers of "New Scientist" will be familiar with "boffin", which is a Briticism for "scientist". A relevant definition, which I think dates back to the WWII origin of the term:

Boffin: A Puffin, a bird with a mournful cry, got crossed with a Baffin, a mercifully obsolete Fleet Air Arm aircraft. Their offspring was a Boffin, a bird of astonishingly queer appearance, bursting with weird and sometimes inopportune ideas, but possessed of staggering inventiveness, analytical powers and persistence. Its ideas, like its eggs, were conical and unbreakable. You push the unwanted ones away, and they just roll back.

George Philip Chamberlain

Keep hacker, it's fine. Multiple meanings, deal with it., posted 8 May 2000 at 22:21 UTC by sness » (Journeyer)

I don't see the big deal. As the CBC article said, there are lots of contradictory defintions for words out there already (I liked the "fast" vs. "fast" example). There's already lots of "in use" meanings for hacker already, there are 7 just in the Jargon file alone. There's white hats, grey hats, hardware hackers, lock hackers, building hackers, and many types of software hackers. The problem is that we like things to be so precise in programs, and we sometimes want the real world to be that precise, but it ain't... Deal with it.

those who want to keep the word hacker..., posted 8 May 2000 at 22:32 UTC by faassen » (Master)

...can't then proceed to complain about misuse of the word in the media, and must promise to stop 'correcting' people. No complaints about the confusion with cracker, etc. Right?

Of course you can still continue to persist, but at least realize you're fighting an unwinnable battle that does not even have the appeal of noble goals and tragedy associated with it. :)

Boffin is cute, though might not have the right high-tech glamour. Hard to say, especially because I'm not a native speaker.

```Hacker' considered harmful'' considered harmful, posted 8 May 2000 at 23:10 UTC by decklin » (Master)

I think we forgot to ask an important question here.

Why do crackers want to be called hackers?

I think it's simple. They want to be perceived as being just as skilled as us. If we go and call ourselves $OTHER_NAME, so will the crackers. If they didn't care about this, they would have started off with ``tinkler'' or whatever in the beginning.

I don't want to give up ``hacker''. Sometimes, a seemingly ambiguous phrase can be more valuable than harmful, because it's an opportunity to educate people. ``Free software'', for instance. You can't explain what the ``free'' part means if you never bring it up. Likewise, you can't tell people about what happened to the word ``hacker'' if you shun it.

I think it's very important to say to people, hey, wake up, the media is distorting things. Far too many people these days are completely uncritical of what they see and read.

We will win the word back in the long term., posted 9 May 2000 at 04:38 UTC by chema » (Master)

When our software becomes used more in the mainstream world, we will win the word hacker back. Plus I don't believe that we are going to be able to change it, no matter how hard we try. It's just a matter of time .... they will open the about box and they will see a label "$PROGRAM hackers : " before the authors name. The meaning for HACKER will be learned once they start using our software, don't worry.

memes, posted 9 May 2000 at 05:43 UTC by lkcl » (Master)

hey, guys, you can't fight memes except with mind control and genocide. oh, and religion [e.g revelations and the torah are self-protecting memes].

Re: ```Hacker' considered harmful'' considered harmful,, posted 9 May 2000 at 10:01 UTC by faassen » (Master)

It is not a red queen situation. I thought I effectively refuted the "if we call ourselves foos the crackers will follow us and we're still stuck in the same situation" suggestions. They can try, but the media will simply persist in calling them hackers.

I'm far less confident that "eventually we'll win the term back"; the term 'hacker' is far too entrenched now as 'someone who breaks into computers'.

We need a new word for hacker, or we need to stop complaining. I'm fine if we all decide to stick with hacker and stop complaining about its 'misuse'. Do realize that this is the rational choice now. Language is extremely unlikely to go to another use of 'hacker' now. This isn't some kind of noble effort in the defense of freedom either, it's about a word; and as you all should know, it's hard to change a keyword after a language becomes established. It's even hard to add one, but it's still a heck of a lot easier than changing one.

Honers & Forgers, posted 9 May 2000 at 12:54 UTC by listen » (Journeyer)

In the Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson, there are two terms, honers & forgers.

Forgers start up ("forge") the new projects with new ideas, and honers "hone" them.

The problem with forger is that it sounds like fraudster or something...

I like honer better, but I still prefer hacker...


mancer? tinkerer? deeper? nocker?, posted 10 May 2000 at 17:19 UTC by zoot » (Apprentice)

Does nobody have a working sense double entendre?

double entrendre, posted 10 May 2000 at 22:11 UTC by faassen » (Master)

You obviously do. I didn't say any of the words I came up with were any good. I also think just about any word has a double entendre. :)

How about:, posted 11 May 2000 at 10:30 UTC by davidw » (Master)

"Software Engineering Professional"

names, posted 14 May 2000 at 06:26 UTC by thunder » (Journeyer)

Well, I thought I'd propose a few names not actually related to anything (and therefore less prone to confusion). I don't actually expect anyone to like them. In fact, I don't think we should even be discussing this; I'm tired of hearing this argument. But anyhoo:

thunder@majikthise:~$ pwgen 8 10

Ridiculous, isn't it? Yes, I really have better things to do too. Like drinking beer.

The problem with Cracker is that it already has a meaning, posted 15 May 2000 at 17:56 UTC by andreas » (Master)

There already is a group of people calling themselves "crackers". It's those people who remove copy protection from programs, which is indeed a skill you have to work hard at.

There is another term usually used for those "crash other people's computers" folks: script kiddies.

Now both script kiddies and crackers have a chance to become hackers in the traditional sense. All three are based on the fascination with computers and the sense of power of doing what no one has done before, and what was thought to be impossible to do, as well as a general belief in the freedom of information and that software should be free (in a lot of senses, including freedom and beer).

The difference lies not only in the technical skills, but in the recognition of moral values. It's not ok to steal other people's software, but it's ok to make the self-written software available to everybody. It's not ok to root other people's boxes, but it's ok to find out where software is vulnerable and tell everybody about it, in order to increase the security in the Internet.

The word seems not dying so easily!, posted 5 Aug 2009 at 15:33 UTC by audriusa » (Journeyer)

The negative meaning of the word seems not taking the absolute dominance. Currently there are lots and lots of texts and websites that try to explain that the hacker is and it seems that they all tend to say something like "ye, there is a new nasty interpretation of this word but there was and still exists the alternative meaning also". Providing only one meaning seems looking as a sign of incomplete understanding, lack of the competence, something that no mass media author can risk.

I would say, it may be ok to go on explaining these two meanings and where do they come from. Various proposed replacements do not sound well at the moment; if some word would really become popular at one time it is likely to be highjacked as well.

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