The hacker sits comfortably on an office chair facing a terminal table, or perhaps it's just a pile of old listings as tall as a terminal table. He is typing madly, using just two fingers, but achieves speeds that typists using all ten fingers only dream of. He is apparently debugging a large assembly language program, as the screen of his terminal looks like a spray of completely random characters. The hacker is dressed in blue jeans, an old work shirt, and what might once have been running shoes. Hanging from his belt is an enormous ring of keys. He is in need of a bath.

(From Lurking Horror, an Infocom game)

I immediately recognized myself from the picture - except that I don't carry a big keyring and I use a way much more advanced version of two-finger system (sometimes even utilizing six or even eight fingers at time). Also, the random jumble of letters on the screen would obviously be Perl, not assembly. Then again, I'm not exactly competent enough to be a hacker - I suck at LISP =)

Ack! Nononono!

You are perpetuating those misconceptions you rail against! You hack a problem, you crack a password or system, and you pirate software.

It might take a krufty hack to crack the password, but cracking is cracking and makes you a cracker.

BTW There is no sole illegal purpose to the hardware hack you describe. My Playstation mod allows me to play my backups:)

Hackers are children at heart. They can't forget the beauty of playing with things, the joy of creation, of making their ideas real. They are mappers (in the sense from The Programmer's Stone), they hate conformism and rules, and exhibit highly logical thinking. Many like science, and admire the way great scientists think. (Richard Feynman's memories, "Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman" is one of my favorite books) They are overly confident in themselves; as Yoda put it, "Try not. Do or do not. There is no try." They learn by doing, and any other way of learning seems artificial. You don't first learn and then apply your knowledge; you learn by sinking yourself in the deep shit and then getting out. Quite often, they are regarded by friends (if they have them...) as either outcasts or geniuses.

I know you nerds think you own this term. But golfers have been using this term since before the first electric typewriter was produced, let alone this godawful code-driven world of pinguins and perls and windows and URLs.

A hacker is one who cannot play golf well enough to suit the folks on the course who can. This harsh judgement can be assessed at various levels. For instance, if you were to play with Tiger Woods and shoot ten over par for 18 holes (a feat which less than 3% of regular golfers in the world can accomplish), he would silently think to himself, "Hacker."

On the other hand, if you were in a group of folks who had fairly low handicaps and shot anything around 100 for 18 holes, they would all look at each other with the same thought in mind.

The problem with hackers on the golf course is not so much the scores they shoot. As with most things in life, the problem is more in the lack of trying to understand the big picture. Like here on this web site, eh? You don't mind so much when folks read the FAQ and poke around and then post stuff that sucks, as long as they're trying. It's when they fail to do any grunt work and just jump in with both feet, damn the consequences, and node crap that pisses you off. Am I right?

Hackers do this on the golf course. They have nary a clue about the etiquette of the game. They rattle around in their bag while you're trying to hit. They don't fix their ball marks on the greens. They don't understand the order of who hits first on the next tee. They don't understand the rules. And when they bet, they will cheat when they are getting the crap beaten out of them.

Bill Clinton was the best example of a hacker of any POTUS in my lifetime.

hacked up = H = hacker ethic

hacker n.

[originally, someone who makes furniture with an axe] 1. 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. 2. One who programs enthusiastically (even obsessively) or who enjoys programming rather than just theorizing about programming. 3. A person capable of appreciating hack value. 4. A person who is good at programming quickly. 5. An expert at a particular program, or one who frequently does work using it or on it; as in `a Unix hacker'. (Definitions 1 through 5 are correlated, and people who fit them congregate.) 6. An expert or enthusiast of any kind. One might be an astronomy hacker, for example. 7. One who enjoys the intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming or circumventing limitations. 8. [deprecated] A malicious meddler who tries to discover sensitive information by poking around. Hence `password hacker', `network hacker'. The correct term for this sense is cracker.

The term `hacker' also tends to connote membership in the global community defined by the net (see the network and Internet address). For discussion of some of the basics of this culture, see the How To Become A Hacker FAQ. It also implies that the person described is seen to subscribe to some version of the hacker ethic (see hacker ethic).

It is better to be described as a hacker by others than to describe oneself that way. Hackers consider themselves something of an elite (a meritocracy based on ability), though one to which new members are gladly welcome. There is thus a certain ego satisfaction to be had in identifying yourself as a hacker (but if you claim to be one and are not, you'll quickly be labeled bogus). See also geek, wannabee.

This term seems to have been first adopted as a badge in the 1960s by the hacker culture surrounding TMRC and the MIT AI Lab. We have a report that it was used in a sense close to this entry's by teenage radio hams and electronics tinkerers in the mid-1950s.

--The Jargon File version 4.3.1, ed. ESR, autonoded by rescdsk.

Two games published by Activision on the C64, Hacker and Hacker II. Both are meant to simulate remote terminal 'hacking'. The first game originally began as a robot driving through underground tunnels, delivering mail. Of course that would not make a very fun game. So you are not told what is happening at all. No clues, No instructions apart from a little bit of background.

Completing this game requires a lot of patience (less now, what with fast emulators of course, but back then this game took a large chunk out of your time), educated guesses, and a bit of trial and error.

Of course even with the large amount of patience requires, the game needs less than what it is attempting to simulate.

This game is a pure lesson in learning. Play it once if only to see what learning is like.

It has now been converted to a windows game on the 'Activision C64 15 Pack'.

The best definition of a hacker that I have ever seen is due to Bruce Schneier, in his book, Secrets and Lies: Digital Security in a Networked World. He states in Chapter 4:

I define a hacker as an individual who experiments with the limitations of systems for intellectual curiosity or sheer pleasure; the word describes a person with a particular set of skills and not a particular set of morals.

Admittedly this sounds a lot like the way Beauvoir describes Bobby Newmark in William Gibson's Count Zero: someone who is interested in systems, how they work, and what their limits are. The term given in this definition describes some script kiddies and crackers as much as it describes the people described in the entry for "Hacker" in the New Hacker's Dictionary. And more than that as well. Ultimately, this drive to exploration, discovery, and the quest for knowledge is what makes a hacker a hacker. From the previous definitions given, dwyn's definition comes closest.

The phone phreaks of yore were true hackers in this sense; they didn't do the things they did just to annoy the telco or make free 8-hour phone calls to Manila or some random place somewhere in the world. For most of them, what they wanted was secret knowledge, understanding the esoteric knowledge of the phone system better than its designers did.

Virus writers, the designers of DDoS techniques, and crackers can also sometimes be described as hackers; for some of them probably the testing of the limits of the systems they are exploiting and knowledge of their security weaknesses are the things they are after. The fact that they usually destroy or ruin the systems they interact with they consider as the price of their knowledge. The pursuit of knowledge does not always lead to beneficial ends. Which is why this group are sometimes referred to as Dark Side hackers.

The same definition also covers the programmers who program for the sheer joy of programming. Once again, their prize is knowledge; the knowledge of how computer systems work, how computers can be used, controlled, and manipulated. It is through people like these that we have better systems today than yesterday, as they constantly test the limits of computer systems.

Many of the great scientists of the past and present can also be described with this term. They strive to understand the workings of that greatest system of all: the universe itself, what laws it obeys, how it is built, and what its limits are. They strive to know the mind of God, the greatest hacker of them all.


I'm talking to you, hacker. Did you know that that moniker you wear with pride comes from a legacy owed to many a tired prostitute? Or, that they took it over from excessively used nags that should have long been put out to pasture? This is a quick little story about the adventures of a word. Try to hold off any knee-jerk reactions until the end.

Hackney was once a quaint village with plenty of pastoral land northeast of London. Before it was just another part of the English capital, Hackney was known for its riding horsesa (circa 1300), so much so that hackney became a term to refer to the horses themselves. The people of Hackney were no village idiots, and decided to make some money by renting these choice horses out to any rider looking for a joyride. Soon hackney didn't refer to a fine riding horse, but instead a horse that you could "rent." But forget the horses. Words need not kowtow to their origins. Hackney ditched the association with horses during the age of the automobile and lent its descriptive might to the hired vehicle, specifically the hackney coach or carriage. Today, even London's black taxis are referred to this way.

That's all well and good, you say, but what about the aforementioned prostitutes? Hold your horses and keep reading.

While Hackney first enjoyed the association of being a village with fine horses, it fell prey to overuse. More specifically, its horses got worn the hell out by all their temporary owners. Just think of a rental car, or to bring the comparison closer to home, think about the last time you drove a rental car. You didn't necessarily treat it the same as your baby, now did you? Applying the same thinking to a working girl (or boy) doesn't paint a pretty picture, but it does tie-up the whole prostitute thing as promised. By the start of the 18th century hackney was abbreviated to hack and referred to any stale piece of work, with special attention given to the literary world. This is where we get the term, hack writer. Please feel free to fling it about the world of journalism with great abandon.

Now, I told you that little story just to share this definition, reputedly from MIT, 1976b:


One who works like a hack at writing and experimenting with software, one who enjoys computer programming for its own sake.

Hacker is h4x0r3d.

a  So great was the reputation of Hackney that the French borrowed the word to refer to an 'ambling horse': haquenée
b  I was able to find many online sources for this definition, as well as good old book sources. That being said, as with most things, you may want to take it with a grain of salt.

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.


© Webster 1913.

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