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Ask Slashdot: Another Word for "Hacker"? 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?"

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Ask Slashdot: Another Word for "Hacker"?

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    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.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    ...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.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    01001000 01000001 01000011 01001011 01000101 01010010

  • by Anonymous Coward
    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.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I think the average reporter will never figure out the difference between hacker and cracker. I advise to give it up.

    Now volunteer, that's a word with cachet. Every reporter knows about volunteers and the good work they do at the Red Cross, Habitat, etal. I've been recruiting and working with volunteers for a decade now, take it from me, volunteer has no negative connotations.

    And programmer, you mean you know computers and internet and stuff? Computers are hard, liberal arts majors regard legitimate programmers as gods.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Excellent word play, though I know that the term hacker has not always been pejorative.

    Language is mutable, for better or worse. The word disinterested just meant without bias, impartial. Now most people think it means not interested.

    At one time the word inflammable was emblazoned conspicuously on fuel carrying vehicles. So many people thought that the word was synonymous with nonflammable, that it was replaced with plain old flammable. That's one case where a misunderstood word could easily lead to trajedy.

    The unfortunate choice of the word cracker has certainly muddied the waters in the eyes of the public. Instead of seeking to replace the widely used term hacker (in its correct, positive connotation), I propose we should replace the more obscure term cracker with miscreant, or some other clearly pejorative term.

    Leave the word hacker alone. Go after cracker instead. And don't make it rhyme with hacker.

    Admiral Yamamoto [mailto]

  • by Anonymous Coward
    i don't see what everyone's complaining about:
    we've all been using a perfect alternative for years....

    "geek" has already come to mean what
    hacker once did.

  • by drendite ( 3 )
    Hey, I heard someone mention this earlier..

    "Effer". (Said "F'er")

    I mean, come on.. How many of you haven't effed up something on a computer before (;
  • by Pasc ( 59 )
    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.)

  • > '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.

  • 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.)

  • 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.
  • I've always liked "code monkey" as an alternate term to programmer, of course I only use it when talking to other programmers though.
  • Well, I've seen Alan Cox post here within the last few days, so I wouldn't be saying that.
  • I prefer:

    'White hat hacker' : good hacker
    'Grey hat hacker'
    'Black hat hacker' : evil hacker ('cracker')
    'h4x0r' or '5kr1p+ k1dd13' : evil, but not a hacker
  • Okay, so anyway, talk to a few engineers who think that computer science is pulling people away from really LEARNING about the problem before writing any software, and you will quickly pick up that they like to use the words "bit twiddlers." I kind of find this funny.

    Oh yeah, I also vote for "toolers" -- in honor of MIT's "tooling."
  • Often when I'm hanging around fellow computer-knowledgable friends I might say something about how I should hack such-and-such together over the weekend for a personal project or school. But I never call myself a hacker - definatly not in the presence of non-computer people. It's a stupid term that means many different things. Not just coding. I call myself a coder.

    Hacking has gathered different meanings over time. It could refer to coding (even bad coding! "I just hacked this crap together last night at 3 am"), or building hardware, or pulling of an awesome prank, or - I daresay - breaking into a computer system. I know that I personally have called computer criminals hackers. Why shouldn't I? People know what I'm talking about, and there is no confusion. Even with my computer-knowledgable friends - it's taken in context.

    My point is that it's not worth fighting for. Live with it.

    P.S. some computer criminals hate being called crackers. Crackers, in their view, are people who crack software.

    P.S.S. I am not a computer criminal.
  • how about coder, or codee? I've always liked the two.

  • What's wrong with just plain "coder"? Or you could use "programmer," a term that everybody understands.
  • phacker? This may leave the wrong impression, especially if slightly mispronounced.
  • 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."
  • Well, that's more analogous to calling somebody a "hacker" as a term of respect (i.e. "that guy hacked into the NSA") or an insult ("those delinquent hackers need to be prosecuted"). Getting people to use the original "programming" definition of hacker would be about as easy as getting people to go back to using "gay" as a synonym for happy. I don't envision either happening anytime soon.
  • Yeah, that'll happen right about the same time that hackers/geeks/nerds/coders/etc. gets classed as a protected minority under hate crimes legislation :P
  • Read a history book again. Since the majority of "purists" claim the MIT origins of the word "hacker" as a reason it should refer to programmers, you should also note that *every* system intruder of the 1960s could legitimately be called a "hacker," because nobody else even knew how to work a computer, much less break into one.
  • That's the same problem again. You're trying to class "hackers" based on what you view as ethics, while the term is one describing skill.
  • 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.
  • Posted by TK427:

    It has to be admitted that Jon Katz is right in this case.

    We should be more worried about the plight of those who aren't crackers, or those who are but are smart enough to say they are hackers, who, like Kevin Mitnick are rotting in jail without even having a fair bail hearing and others who are being raided by the FBI and demonized in the press for fairly innocent manipulations of data that caused no harm and were only rooted in the deep seated desire for knowledge that is within every true hacker who ever walked the face of the earth. We need to unseat from power those who plagiarize words, as though it is those who speak who can define their meaning, and tear down this system that is dragging us to the ground and our hacker brothers with us, and cracker alike.

    Long live the war of words that will drag its wards into the eternal misery of linguistic squabbling!

    The above comments are protected under the APSL, violation of which will result in revoking of all privileges attached thereto.

    TK427 - Do you copy?
  • Posted by frogbert:

    People would remember you if you called yerself a nuclear terrorist.
  • Posted by Denium:

    What do you think?

  • Posted by Tomble:

    Well, personally I still like the term hacker, but yeah it does cause a lot of confusion.If a new term is really what we're after, something someone mentioned in a comment (which I now can't find) inspired a little idea in me...

    The consensus of opinion from a few people seemed to be that using an old term might be a good idea, so how about something we see reasonably often in using Linux (even if it doesn't need to run), something that has already made its way into slang, something that can sum up the idea of poking about with something to get it working.
    ...If that's awkward to say, either because of formal company or whatever, or just because of linguisticyness, you could perhaps pronounce it
    or something. Just a thought, anyhoo. I like it...

    As I say, I still like the term hacker. Would starting to use a new term necessarily make the old one void? Or would we be using both depending on company?
    BTW-When I said about seeing it often in Linux, I wasn't trying to say I think it's unstable, because I know it isn't, too.

  • Posted by judabenhammer:

    I always used the term hacking when trying to get something to work they way I want it to work.

    getting the server to send audio messages to my cell phone. (hacking the pbx or emmail client)

    uising the VCR to backup computer data.(hacking the VCR)
  • by gavinhall ( 33 )
    Posted by _DogShu_:

    We already use geek somewhat interchangeably with hacker.

    As one word is changed to have negative connotations, perhaps another can be changed to have positive.
  • Posted by DaoniX:

    If Code Warrior wasn't taken by a windoze app (ported to Linux, but still), I'd select that

    Interestingly enough, computer, up until the 20th century and for the early part up till, meant one (an individual humanoid) who computes--such as one who manually computed firing tables for heavy WW1 and WW2 artillery...during the end of world war 2, the old ENIAC was conceptualized and constructed as a way to quickly and accurately compute these firing tables. Today, we know computer as that wonderful little box.

    I guess, for the most part, definitions need to be updated as time progresses--unfortunately the old meaning of hacker has been obsoletized by modern mass media. :( The need for a new word is more than evident.
  • Posted by Foochre:

    Hackers have always been called hackers.. It would be an insult to our ancestors to rename ourselves. Journalists _can_ be educated, you know..
  • Posted by Hk_Silver:

    hyuck hyuck... I kill me. alright now that I had my fun I'll leave.
  • Posted by godfreynix:

    Guru was used over 300 years ago, by the Sikh
    community in India, and still (at least in my English dictionary) means -

    revered leader, spiritual guide
  • Posted by A.W.O.L.:

    Well there you have it then:

    If you're not a coder, which would you rather be called, a geek or a hack?

    I don't code but PCs are likewise my life too. Once word travels that the label "hack" means computer enthusiast, and not "hacker", we're set.

    I call myself a hack right now and intend to spread the above definition.
  • ** Right now I'm leaning towards writing something in perl to put together phonics and see what that can come up with. **

    Actually, I have already written one in C++, and have the source code available on my home page.

    You can get the source code at:

    http://ww e-0.1.2.tar.gz []

    I have written this using the Standard Template library, and GNU glibc/libstd++. Hopefully, it can be compiled on any system.

    In any case, my choices for the concept would include Code Caster, and Cybrid.

  • This is more from someone that has a lot of time on his hands, but I think this might help some people grasp the enormity of the situation facting all hackers and the public in general today.
    First, I will say that Hacker is no longer a simple term to describe one type of person. It's now a blanket that sadly covers all computer-savvy individuals. This is because, following the invention of the Personal Computer by Woz, the archetype split into several major categories.
    The first, and currently the most persecuted archetype, is the True Hacker, commonly referenced by the titles of magi (Acolytes to Wizards/Gurus). These are commonly programmers and power users. They have a social structure that is now heavily intwined with the Free Software/Open Source communities, and is referenced entirely on how much is given to the support of all. This could be interpreted as a new and more successful form of Socialism, without the inherant flaws of the government-controlled form used in the olde Soviet Union. In this respect, the most valued members of this community are seen with awe, simply because their givts are among the most ubiquitous. The GNU tools, Linux, and Perl are the most obvious examples.
    The original split was two-way: The True Hackers previously mentioned, and the Dark Hackers. Dark Hackers are the original programmers of the newly-developed personal computers. Because of the cramped conditions of those computers at the time, these programmers mastered the use of machine code and assembly language. Due to the concept of a "Software Licence" at the time, these hackers followed a path that was deemed illegal by software companies... breaking copy protection. The practice was personal; the dark hackers did not practice simply to redistribute the software; the Warez Doods, which came after, did this. Dark Hackers actually found the task challenging, almost like a strategy game against the companies; they develop protection, the hackers found ways to circumvent them.
    Following the Dark Hackers came three new types, which exist to this day: Warez Doodz, Script Kiddies, and Criminal Hackers.
    Warez Doodz were often the siblings/friends/associates of these Dark Hackers. Warez Doodz had one remarkable hack of their own; they developed the distribution networks throughout the countries that delivered the freshly-cracked software to millions of people worldwide, and was able to exist, regardless of the legal actions to prevent them. The infrastructure was mostly destroyed by the Crackdown of 1988 (or was it 86?), and still managed to rebuild itself to this point, where Clinton now is effecting a second crackdown.
    Script Kiddies are the most common type of break-in artist of the digital era. They use software developed by the Dark Hackers to break into other computers. They do not know how to program, and commonly don't know what to do with the information when they get it, but they continue to practice their activites, while commonly answering to a society of their own, whose most revered members commonly refer to themselves as the "3733+" (eleet). This structure is a hierarchy, where the requirements for reaching a new level is to break higher security. Kevin Mitnick is considered among the higher ranks of this hierarchy; since I don't frequent this society, I can't really tell for sure.
    Criminal Hackers are just scary. These are the computer-savvy individuals who knowingly commit crimes using computers. The crimes are not computer-related; basically theft, sabotage, threats, even espionage (sanctioned by some government or not).
    Many of the reformed Dark Hackers now frequent a new category: the Sceners are the least-noticed of the Hacker Hierarchy. Sceners' only crime is simply nostalgia. The sceners maintain an ever-growing collection of hacks, information, and ideas for the platforms long since rendered obsolete by today's standards. It could be said that sceners are the most resourceful hackers in history, since their own hacks must, by design, be integrated with systems that cannot ordinarily be hacked; the Commodores and Apples of yesteryear definately apply here. Sceners are also the most ignored of the entire collective; they are considered by many as to be as obsolete as the machines they work with.
    It is now said that the media has picked the Script Kiddies, the Dark Hackers, and the Criminal Hackers as the scapegoats for the name "Hacker." This is because these groups produce more news in a week than True Hackers produce in a year. (Well, sensational news, anyways). It would be a good idea to keep the moniker of "Hacker," just to remain in the hierarchy, but it's time to define our branch as it should be. Okay, we ARE hackers. But in a single word: What kind are we?

  • You cannot justify breaking a law. Breaking into someone's system is a computer crime. If you think the law is unjust, _CHANGE_ it. Isn't that what's so great about America? We have freedoms, that includes the freedom to change an unjust law. The problem is it won't get changed.. Because it would open a million loop holes for script kiddies.

    Justifying breaking a law is just as complex as justifying creating the law in the first place.

    Law is applied and enforced opinion. Nothing more.

    It comes down to this: if you are going to break the law, are you going to do it for ethical, or unethical reasons. If ethical, what is your motivation for calling said action ethical?

    If you can do that, then by all means break every law you can apply it to.

    "Hackers solve problems, crackers create them"

    Crackers find problems, not create them. Someone has to have a hole in their code so that a cracker can exploit it. If you want to get really technical, the hackers themselves create the same problems they fix.

    So many people seem to think that getting root on someone else's computer just to "explore the system" or "gain information" or "gain expirience/education) is OK. There's no harm done in exploring the system, but if you want to do that, ask the sys admin nicely. If he still doesn't let you then too bad. Explore your own system.

    While this was not the case 10 years ago, I agree, in today's technological society cracking root on another system is not really needed to learn about a system.

    But it should also be noted that a lot of older sysadmins would be making hamburgers at McDonalds if they didn't do just that. College isn't for everyone, some people actually enjoy learning by example and creating their own solutions, instead of doing what professor joe tells you is correct.

    And before I conclude, it should be noted that no duty to privacy will ever conquer the curious mind. :) Hackers are curious computer enthusiasts. Nothing more, nothing less. They enjoy finding out the hard way, instead of being told that's the way things are.

    After all, wasn't it curiosity and a drive to investigate that turned you on to Linux? (if you are a linux user)

  • xyz-Guru is fine, if you need a specific term, as in UNIX-Guru or similar. It fails as a general label, though. How about the Babylon-5ish "Technomage", or the more cyberpunkish "Technomancer"? I think they both have white meaning and they are more in-style then "Whiz-Kid" or "Whiz-xyz"...
  • 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...

    ...if there were no complaints to this address yet (in the last 24 hours or so), the letter is mailed and the address recorded. If there has already been a complaint to that address, no mail is sent...

    First offenders should get the nice version (just the definitions. etc.).

    For repeat offenders, try to take advantage of the liberal press's penchant for political correctness: make it clear to them that they are using hate speech every bit as offensive as "nigger."

  • Daniel P. Moloney, Associate Editor of the theology/philosophy journal First Things wrote an article [] in february about the Yale Eight, coed bathrooms, and "ubiquitous sexualization of the environment." He received a response from a CalTechie about its open-door/closed-door protocol for dealing with the coed-bathroom occupancy problem. Dr. Moloney's response []:

    Roy Koczela and his Caltech fellows deserve credit for finding a hack to solve the problem of co-ed bathrooms... [emphasis mine]

    If a theologian can understand that part of the language, why the [deleted] can't a journalist?

  • Mel, from the Jargon File..

  • Of course your kidding. Hacker is a subset of programmers and coders. A guy who writes OnMouse events in javascript for webpages is not a hacker. Wizard and guru two words that have often been used, but these are on the other extreme. These are hackers that are better than your average hacker. I think we all need to come over the jargon file and see if we can resurect some less used word, with a little background, instead of inventing new terms.
  • The problem with foobar is it's root in FUBAR an acronym many people know means Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition.
  • '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.

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

    Put some suggestions in a poll...

  • 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.
  • Hacker \Hack"er\, n. One who, or that which, hacks. Specifically: A cutting instrument for making notches; esp., one used for notching pine trees in collecting turpentine; a hack.

    I'm no coder .. but computers are my life ...
    I'm a hacker .. and if you dare say that that because I cannot code like Alan Cox or Linux etc etc ... I dare you to troubleshoot hardware or software problems like I can

  • A worker of magic? ;)
  • Perhaps as "Sourceror." I like "TechnoMage" but
    then I'm a B5 fan. I like the earlier "Code Poet"
    designation as well. Maybe TechnoMage could
    cover hard/soft/wetware and Sourceror could more
    specifically address coders. Regardless,
    I think we must cede hacker as a casualty
    of the culture wars. Maybe we
    can reinforce the terms with pointy propeller
    hats and robes with pocket protectors..
  • Perhaps spread the habit of making the word `hacker' a link to a correct definition. Here on /. it may link to everything, and elsewhere to any definition - an article on the same site, or everything, or the jargon file.
  • I agree... when I refer to the programs that I am writing, I call the text code. Thus, when I am working on code, I am a coder.

    This, however, is quite different than the idea of hacking, or mucking about a system. This seems to come from the idea that you are not really coding, but more often "hacking" other code that already exists.

    I still vote for "script-kiddie" for all of the people who exploit security holes to put up new web pages.

    IMHO, the people at the front lines recieving all of the media attention are typically the most radical of those that they claim to represent. More often than not, they only damage the reputation and the goals of the larger organization.
  • How about 'Darth Hacker'?

  • 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.
  • Wah. The connotations are of mad skill.

    It's in use anyway, just not as broad a term as "hacker" (and I didn't mean to imply that it should be.

    At any rate, I think this whole debate is highly amusing... People have been trying to force appropriate usage of "hacker" for years. What makes them think they can get everyone to stop using it in its original sense?
  • No no, that's niggas', not "niggers". Theres an important difference.
  • Yes. This will be an article about Hackers, Crackers, Linux and GNU/Linux. First I nead to tell you of an aparently unrelated incident. "Carl Johnson" is a DJ with thew stage name "Profesor Nuts". He is quite good ( Think "Wierd Al" or Marty Robins with a strong base line ).

    Back to the insident at hand. He walks into the bank with a cheque writen in the name of "Carl Nuts". There is of course no such person. However the bank accepted it. His drivers license and other ID say otherwise, but this didn't bother them much. Common Law ( A British Comonwelth concept ) is that a name is valid if most people use it, regardles of what official documents say.

    This brings us back to Hackers and Crackers. Back when I was yung ( early teans ) and kept tabs on the script kiddy sean I learned that a Cracker is a person who modifys binary software ( to remove shareware limits forinstance ) and opens encripted files. A Hacker was the goy who breaks into computer systems. After I grew up and got involved with Linux and real work I found out a Hacker was originaly the solver of unique problems. A position of high esteam among the technicaly aware. Onfortunatly most of the media dosn't know this. The children don't know it either ( except for the few who are involved in real net building stoff ). In short we are outnumberd and only a tiny fraction of the world know of and accept the true meaning of "Hacker".

    So what shuld we the hacker comunity do about this ? Shold we fight it at every step of the way ? Shuld we demand that the word Hacker only be used in an apropriate context ? In my opinion we shuld just give it up. Find another name for ourselvs and let life continue. An example of this is with the term "Gay". This once ment happy and cherfull. If I was around in the 50s I wold have been proud of the title. These days everyone thinks Gay means Homosexual so I am caling myself a Player :). How about if Hackers called themselvs "Techies", "Nerds", "Computer Geaks", "Internetworkers" or soch ?

    With GNU/Linux There is another levle to the complication. RedHat and SuSE sell Linux distributions while Debian and Stampead sell GNU/Linux distributions. Technicaly they are all the same and RedHat eaven included more GNU software in the production base system than Debian at one point ( Gnome ). However they chuse to call the whole package "Linux". Is this an isue ? To some members of the GNU project it is. To others it isn't. Linus T dosn't eaven want to discus it these days ( Some excuse about a Kernel to work on :).

    To make matters worse, Once Hurd is compleat there will be a full GNU OS out there. ( Yes Hurd will be finished... Eventualy... I think ). So what wold They sell it as if it became popular ?

    SuSE Hurd V-9.1

  • I don't know what we should call ourselves, but one thing that annoys the heck out of me is when people call me a "hacker" meaning the cracking of systems, just because they know I am involved with computers. It really is one of my pet peeves. I'll keep watching to see if there will be any results of this question.
  • 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 acolyte?

    I liked the idea of an acolyte being sort of one who is in training and always learning. It kind of fits doesn't it? Check out the Jargon File [] for the "official" definition.


    "Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds." - Albert Einstein
  • That's not likely to help. The people most likely to read the RedHat Linux Bible are people who already know the correct definitions.
  • For most of my expereince, the word "Hacker" can be equated to Coder in the majority of situations. But this leaves out the hackers who don't really code much, but still qualify as hackers (ie network hackers, admins etc). Perhaps this means that coder is a subset of hacker. which isn't nescesairly true as I've been so rudely reminded by people who are coders but say they are too elegant to be hackers.

    Geek might work, but lets face it, most of don't want to be confused with half-life geeks. So although I can take pride in the fact that I am a geek, I don't want my business card to say geek on it, although hacker or coder would work well.

    Also, despite the fact that most of us like having the word pimp in our names (code pimp, web pimp, system pimp, crypto pimp), I don't think it would be the best choice for a change. Could you imagine CNN referring to Linus Torvalds as a Kernel Pimp and Rasterman as a Desktop Pimp?

    Wizard and Guru seem a little arrogant and will disturb the suits and subsuits that most of us are forced to work with. They seem to have a hard enough fact calling us geeks, calling us a name that makes us sound rightfully superior will crush their fragile egos.

    The problem is that we are searching for an exact synonym where none exists. Thus loyal /. readers we are forced to come up with a new word to add the english language. Preferably it should be something not in other languages so it can be universal. My first thought was for Quizibou, but then I was reminded that according the Book of Groening (Season 2, Episode 3 I believe) that it is a big fat dumb bald North American Ape who is quick to anger.

    My other choice for a hacker synonym would be "snergle" (which is the name of my junk variables while coding), however a friend quickly informed me that snergle sounds way to much like fraggle. And while the fragles were cool and jolly, we don't want to be confused with them. So I'm willing to take suggestions. I need to get business cards printed up soon and the head boss isn't thrilled about me wanting hacker on my cards (I didn't even ask about "k-r4d 3733+ haX0r"). Right now I'm leaning towards writing something in perl to put together phonics and see what that can come up with.
  • Just goes to show how most people think on /.

    For all those people that are complaining about the rest of the world misunderstanding them,
    I suggest that they realize that golfers used the terms "hacker" and "hack" long before computer

    Computer hackers are already guilty of misusing the word as much as the media.
    What goes around, comes around...

    -slew (computer -and- golf hacker)
  • Tinkers were also the early traveling "consultants" who could and would fix or build just about anything.

    Always thought that Tinker was far more approriate than "hacker" with all the lugauge that the term carries nowdays.

  • I don't think we should ever give up telling people about what we mean when we say hacker. It's a perfect word for what we mean by it.

    You can see from the other posts that there are several meanings for 'hacker' that have nothing to do with computer software, so what the hell? If we choose another term, aren't we just admitting defeat to the ignorant media forces?

    By the way, I have been using the term 'we' loosely. One of the reasons hacker is perfect and 'geek' or 'nerd' isn't, is that I qualify for geek or nerd (I have a 4 node network at home with a Mac, a Linux server and two dual-boot Debian/Win98 computers) but I don't qualify for hacker, since I have no programming skills.

    Keep using the term hacker, keep educating people as to *our* meaning for it. Besides, don't tell me you don't get at least a little enjoyment from the looks on people's faces when you tell them you're a 'hacker'?

  • Uh, I think Gary Gnu was part of the "Great Space Coaster" show, not the Muppets.
  • The word "hacker" may have a negative ring to it to the general populace, and so you might think of inserting the term "good hacker"...

    The same thing is happening in other things too. Witches and satanists are coping with the same problems. Some witches call themselves "white witches" to discern themselves from the stereotypical witch, as some hackers might call themselves "good hackers" to discern themselves from the stereotypical hacker. But that's not the solution. I know. I'm a witch, and I'm a hacker.

    Yes, some would call me a white witch. Yes, some would call me a good hacker. But I'm just a witch, just a hacker. Even though the general populace holds negative images regarding those words, I prefer to call myself a plain witch, a plain hacker, a plain nerd.

    A real witch knows there is no such thing as good or bad witches. A real hacker knows there is no such thing as good or bad hackers. There are just witches, and just hackers. Who cares what the general populace thinks.

    the Gods have a sense of humor,
  • Bingo. That is THE way to solve such a problem. I'm a witch, so I'm seeing the same thing in another area aswell. The general people at large have no idea what exactly witches are and what they do, so they kind of stick to the stereotypes of the Wicked Witch of the West... Just like they stick to l337 hax0rz when they see the word "hacker".

    The way to dispel such ignorance is through information. Tell them what you do and what you don't do. Teach them what your ways are. And slowly but steadily the general idea will start to change, and the mainstream media will start to catch on. Just about now we witches are finally starting to break through the problem in the US, after half a century. In Europe we still have a long way to go.

    Hackers probably won't effect a change much faster... Count on at least few decennia before the word hacker is finally used correctly by mainstream media. But it'll get there.

    the Gods have a sense of humor,
  • exactly. that too is why I prefer to call myself a witch and not a white witch, because the term "white witch" implies that other witches are bad.

    the Gods have a sense of humor,
  • However most witches, decided that "witch" was bad PR, so their religion is now called Wikken (sp?).

    that's Wicca... and though Wicca and Witchcraft do have a large common area, they're not the same. most Wiccans are Witches, but by far not all Witches are Wiccans... I for example am a Witch, but I do not adhere as strictly to the Wiccan Rede as would a Wiccan, so I feel I don't really qualify as a Wiccan.

    as for names with a bad connotation... yes, one way is to invent a new term. Wicca was coined first in the '50s by Gerald Gardner for probably exactly that reason. but all Witches bear the name Witch with honor and dignity as all Hackers bear the name Hacker with honor and dignity.

    see, witches and hackers have yet another thing in common. we don't really care what the outside world thinks. :-)

    the Gods have a sense of humor,
  • changing the meaning of one word (guru) to fix bad usage of another word (hacker) is IMHO not that good idea.

    it reminds me how those famous windows bugs, problems, shortcommings, ... are solved (ussualy renamed to "feature" and then another "features" are made to overstep previous ones).

  • We know what the words mean. Who cares what the uninitiated think?
  • Granted, it's currently used to refer to Unix sysadmins more than programmers, but there's a pretty big overlap between the two groups.
  • "Code whore"?! Talk about pajorative word use. As a programmer, I'm going to have to take offense to that one (ya foul-mouthed li'l prick! ;)

    Seriously though, this whole discussion is about removing a negative context from a word that "we" feel applies to "us". I think you'll find that "programmer" applies to many people in this forum as well. And then you come along and whip out "code whore".

    Colorful though, it has a definite ring to it.
  • 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?"
  • exactly.. what is wrong with "coder"?

    what is to say that any person is just one of these things too?

    when you are coding, are you not a coder?
    when you are hacking at code, are you not a hacker?
    when you are cracking (your own site, ofcourse) are you not a cracker?

    How's about the origin of the word's derigotorialness (is that a word?)..

    when you take your slaves out and give them a good beating with your bull whip, are you again not a cracker?

    if you prick me, do I not leak beer?

    someone borrowed my two cents...

    Marques Johansson
  • hows about Code Jedi? or Codi Knight? or Code at Night, for that matter?

    Hacker Plus? Real Hacker? Hacker 2000?
    maybe Call the H6x0rz - L77Ti35 (pardon my french - Leeties)

    or for the really good ones: Kung-Fu Hackers/Crackers?
    Magi Crack/Hack?

    or we can just jive the press into believing in th unicracker? mad cracker? damn cracker? gram cracker? grand master hacker? bran muffin?

    Marques Johansson
  • ...we have a perfectly nice one, we just need to steal it back. I think there is far to much meaning imbued in the term "hacker" to replace it easily. Much like other marginalized communities have taken derogitory labels and reappropriated them as a badge of pride (I'll let you think of your own examples here), we should do the same. Of course we have the advantage that the label "hacker" was a badge of pride to begin with :)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • by Penguin ( 4919 )
    I know the common computernerd-difference between cracker and hacker.

    But somehow, I am sorry to admit that I prefer the term "hacker" as a network intruder (in the public media) and a computer-guru (in the nerd-media).

    By using the term "Cracker" as a "network intruder" (silly name, okay!), I feel that we give some disrespect to the guys in the C64-culture, that cracked a lot of games, and maybe has about nothing in common with what-we-usually-call-"cracker-not-hacker".

    Just my 0.02$ worth of why not to call a current cracker for a cracker. Don't forget the C64-crackers!
  • The term geek is still taken to be a demeaning term for intelligent outcast (nerd has worse connotations but that doesn't matter) . This is bad. I, although a general social outcast, do not get beaten up or anything jocks are seen to do geeks (these are the first images people think of). I am accepted. Why should I demean myself by referring to my self as a geek when I am really a hacker(more of a script kiddie but that term just plain sounds dumb.)
  • Twenty-four hours is a long time. One hour might be better with out swamping them and would help to better achive our point. Recieving one hundred sixity-eight protests representing thirty thousand people in a week is a lot better than thirty thousand protests but still gets a big point across.

    Another interesting Slashdot feature concerning this would be to have an option in your preferences to automatically protest everyone in a database of misusers managed by Slashdot itself. Of course all submitions would have to be verified but how hard can that be?
  • Whether it's pejorative or not, I've always heard "geek" used as a physical description. Recently, it's been used as a synonym for "nerd" by the media ignoranti, but I've never heard it that way in person. The use of geek tends toward ungainly males in general. Bonus points for glasses, a distant stare, pale skin, a rumpled t-shirt, unkempt hair, sandals, or acne. In any case, geekiness is a purely physical quality.

    Speaking of "nerd," it's increasingly being used as a whimsical synonym for a hardcore enthusiast. For example, someone who's had their picture taken with the Stanley Cup and can name the last five Selke Trophy winners would be described as a "hockey nerd."

  • Don't know, and this is just as I've heard it applied: mainly whether someone is ungainly, i.e. physically misproportioned, and to a lesser degree disheveled. No, you wouldn't get many bonus points for sandals. =^) Maybe geek has a social aspect in other places but I've always heard it used as a physical description.
  • and vice-versa
    Christopher A. Bohn
  • Although it could spark a divisionary pretitle thingy, what if we were to take a word such as Da'Shain (from the Wheel of Time series) and prefix hacker to it, to to emphasize the intended usage of the word. Although you could just say "I am the White Hacker of the North" or something I guess. I find a particular intrest in this however. There are many different kinds of people who can be classified as hackers, in different fields and different styles, under different pretexts, etc. So, saying that you're say, a "Da'Shain Security Hacker" would be like saying "I'm one of those guys that beats the shit out of my own systems to try and make sure I can't beat the shit out of it". It's close to what alot of people I know of do, they say they "benevolently hack" or something that only the most media-worshiping mind could mistake as sarcastic irony.

    I notice that alot of people don't seem to assosiate the cracker definition of hacker when people say they are art hackers, or automobile hackers, or that they hack around with . It's only when used in the digital sense that they find this queer idea. These same people also tend to get nervous when they see these people who present themselves and nice -and indeed kickass- people get near a computer of some sorts.

    I believe I may take psycology courses in college. If I do I will probably try to attempt the biggest mindfuck hack the world has ever seen to fix a few million people's heads.
  • You obviously aren't a hacker.

  • Oooo-kay.

    The way I see it, a typical title for this scene has to have one pun in it, whether good or bad (eg WINE, Pine, and all the rest..)

    So how about;


    Obviously, it's a play on source, but it also is analogous to "wizard", as suggested earlier; and sorceror has overtones of creation-of-things rather than destruction, making it more clear what we are on about.

    Might be a bit too Tolkienesque, but I'd like to hear what people think!

  • Don't bother telling 'them' anything. What is a 'computer nerd' anyway? Someone smarter than the average joe who knows his way around computers. This is something to be ashamed of? 'Computer nerd' is just a perjorative version of the 'computer genius' that computing-challenged mothers, S.O.'s, assorted friends and relatives like to throw around when they're bragging.

    Same meaning, different implications - but y'know, I think that anyone who thinks that being smart is something to be ashamed if is a someone who's opinion is not worth worrying about.

    (And yeah, I know, it's easier to say than to do with shifts in internal reactions to things like that, but just try telling yourself, every time you hear that, 'nerd==genius => he just complimented me, but thinks he insulted me.' I think it'll help.)

  • by fdicostanzo ( 14394 ) on Saturday June 05, 1999 @04:24PM (#1865363)
    i've had Code Poet on my business cards for 3 years now.
  • 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.
  • Saga is also a WPIism.

    The term "gweep" has staged a recovery around WPI in the 90's (as opposed to the original set of the 70's). For more information, go here []. Though I don't believe my name is listed there, I am still an "official" WPI gweep. While we feel we "own" the name (more of an academic birthright than anything else), anyone who is truly a hacker should feel free to call themselves a gweep.

    Fortunately, gweeps and gweeping have never taken on the meanings of crackers and cracking. And an even better feature: it's a syllable shorter than "hacker".

  • Well, I was recently contracted to write the security chapter in the upcoming RedHat Linux Bible. Proper definitions of hacker and cracker were the first things I covered. Hopefully it will help the situation a little.



  • That's not likely to help. The people most likely to read the RedHat Linux Bible are people who already know

    Actually, I was told by the publisher that they are aiming it at people with computer experience but not necessarily any Linux or UNIX experience. I interpreted that as "Windows Jocky" and adjusted my writing style accordingly. :-)


  • by Restil ( 31903 ) on Saturday June 05, 1999 @01:27PM (#1865497) Homepage
    Right now, the public may think of "hackers" as the way the media presents them. However, consider this: There have been revolutionaires in the past that at the time were looked at as violent, dangerous people who had no good intentions at all (at least from the perspective of the "other side"). However, if those revolutionaires win the war they are fighting, then looking back, people tend to see the losing party as the "evil ones". That's how history works. It won't be over night, but it can be done.

    So what should we do to preserve our name? I have a few sugguestions. First of all, any time a cracker makes the media cut, its important to make sure that news is reported properly. The mainstream isn't going to get it right for a while, but if a large number of supplentry articles show up with a different set of terminology, then those phrases will start to catch on, and the media will start using those instead.

    It also might be a good idea to stray away from the term "cracker" and create a new term such as "computer vandal". Cracker and hacker sound too much alike and are unlikely to sway the population.

    Also, any time a "white hat hacker" makes the news, it is important to use the word "hacker" in a white light. Don't go out of your way to dispell the notition that just because he's a hacker he's not automatically bad, but write it in such a way that it is automatically assumed that hackers are already good and its only the few bad seeds that give the bad names to a community.

  • Perhaps we should retain hacker, and call the crackers L33T H@x0rz because the crackers are obviously more knowledgable than we are
  • I've never liked the term 'cracker', for several reasons. First, it already has several meanings, such as something you eat with cheese, or as already mentioned a po'white Southerner. I dislike using 'cracker' in a computing sense mainly because it only makes sense in comparison to hacker, and that is precisely the behavior we are trying to change. No newspaper is going to use a headline like "FBI traces origin of cracker", because it sounds like they're investigating saltines or something. So, the editor thinks, "what rhymes with cracker?" and comes up with "hacker".

    To change people's behavior, we should think of a catchy term that the media will prefer to use rather than hacker. The best way to do this is to find a term that so-called crackers will use to identify themselves, rather than calling themselves hackers. Obviously, "luser" and "script kiddie" won't work, even if they are accurate descriptions. The term must be kewl, but unambiguous, obviously relating to breaking in to computer systems.

    How about e-bandit, webjacker, or net outlaw? I know, those all suck, but maybe someone else can think of something better.

The last thing one knows in constructing a work is what to put first. -- Blaise Pascal