HACK: “1. informal An act of computer hacking; 2. a piece of computer code providing a quick or inelegant solution to a particular problem” —Oxford American Dictionary

25 Life Hacks to Make Life More Livable!

88 Useful Hacks to Get Better Gas Mileage!

1500 Best Disneyworld Hacks!

Please stop. And by “please” I mean “unless you want to see what comes out of this rifled barrel.” Seriously, where did this use of hack for tip come from? These aren’t hacks. They are helpful hints (Notice Heloise has not changed her column to Hacks from Heloise). Everyone knows darn tootin’ well that true hacks require a computer, possibly a modem, and maybe also a voice synthesizer. You can hack NORAD. You cannot hack your dryer.

So how did clickbait writers come up with hack as a trendy synonym for suggestion? As with so many other terms, it’s probably because we crave secret knowledge or membership in some exclusive club – something hackers have enjoyed (or at least fancied themselves enjoying) since the term came into being. Breaking into mail servers requires skill and knowledge, while placing a dryer sheet on your air conditioner requires – well, none. But if you think of it as a hack, you can pretend you’re Kevin Mitnick instead of a marketing assistant wasting your B.A. in creative writing on web copy for cloud solutions.

In other words, a hack.

Otto E. Mezzo

P.S. By the way, a hack requires a computer or computer analog, otherwise it isn’t a hack. So says Adam Penenberg.

P.P.S. Not every corporate copywriter is a hack. See: Thomas Pynchon, Dana Gioia, Otto E. Mezzo. Don’t be one.


2 thoughts on “Hack”

  1. Sorry, no. Not at all. Actually *read* that article you link to in your PPS, the one that mentions the Jargon File, and you’ll see the term existed at least a decade before computers were popular. Read the definition that Eric has curated in the Jargon File (otherwise known as the New Hacker’s Dictionary) for about 20 years now.

    You’ll see that the meaning of the word–traced down in etymology from those who *created* it in the technical context–never specifically applied it to computers. Ironically, that’s what the media–the people described by the *other* meaning of hack–have done since computers became a thing. Hacking has never had anything to do with computers except insofar as computers are more amenable to creating hacks than any other technology.

    1. Thanks for your comment, and thank you also for the smug, self-assured way you start it off. We tend to *read* here at Lexicide, as well, which is why we write a blog about words, but whatev. It’s the internet, right?
      Referring to both the New Yorker article and The Jargon File article referred within, while you speak truth that hack pre-dates computers, it is not the “fiddling with machines” definition that Life Hackers channel. Clearly, they are co-opting computer hacking as their model. Just because that definition did exist (and I would argue it’s well out of use), it doesn’t excuse this misuse after the fact. (We made this argument before with fulsome.)
      What’s more, of The Jargon File’s eight definitions for hacker, fully half refer to computer programs. So we’re straining to see how you can say hacking “has never had anything to do with computers.” Sorry, no. Not at all.

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