Alex Goldman is a producer for On the Media. One time he got run over by a car.
The Jargon File - The Hacker's Dictionary
Thursday, September 22, 2011 - 01:15 PM
Think you're 31337? Ever produce a hamster, or are you only producing crock? Do you have any idea what I'm talking about? If the answer's yes, then you're probably familiar with the dictionary of hacker slang called The Jargon File.
All week we've been obliquely referencing what author Steven Levy calls "the hacker ethic" - the notion that information wants to be free, and the more information sharing, the better. This concept covers not only programs and ideas, it covers lingo. Enter the Rosetta Stone of the hacker world: The Jargon File.
gedanken: /g@�dahn�kn/, adj.
Ungrounded; impractical; not well-thought-out; untried; untested.
The Hacker's Dictionary is now in its third edition, but rather than being on the forefront of the hacker slang vanguard, it feels more like a time capsule of the burgeoning
The Jargon File began as just a couple of pages of definitions, compiled by a computer scientist named Raphael Finkel at SAIL, the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in 1975. At the time, there existed a kind of proto-internet called ARPANET that primarily connected research universities and a few tech companies. Hacking luminaries of the era like Richard Stallman and Tim Anderson contributed definitions to the file in its early years.
As the hacker community grew, The Jargon File made its way to numerous other universities and institutions, and the number of definitions in the jargon file exploded. By 1983, there were enough definitions and enough interest to publish The Jargon File in book form. For print, it was edited by a hacker named Guy Steele, rechristened The Hacker's Dictionary, and published by MIT Press.
monkey up: vt.
Even though The Jargon File was and remains a collaborative effort, a custodian was needed to seed the file with the latest terms and definitions. Between 1983 and 1990, the rate at which definitions were added slowed considerably. At least until a hacker named Eric Raymond took over the maintenance of The Jargon File in 1990.
"I got interested, I started making changes, and the previous editor handed me the baton," says Raymond. "That's how it works in the hacker culture - authority follows from accepting responsibility." One of his first moves as editor was to open the jargon file to everyone, which resulted in an influx of hundreds of new contributions.
[Usenet; common] The sound of coffee (or other beverage) hitting the monitor and/or keyboard after being forced out of the mouth via the nose. It usually follows an unexpectedly funny thing in a Usenet post. Compare snarf.
The Hacker's Dictionary is now in its third edition, but rather than being on the forefront of the hacker slang vanguard, it feels more like a time capsule of the burgeoning hacker world. Raymond says the sheer volume of niche cultures on the internet has made The Jargon File somewhat obsolete. "I think this is because as the Internet has gone mainstream, most of the jargon formation associated with it is no longer being done by people inside the hacker culture," says Raymond. "Rather, you get lots of little subcultures - *on* the Internet, but not *of* it - forming their own memes."
However, Raymond points out that The Jargon File was invaluable in making hacker culture accessible to those on the outside. "By showing people that the native culture of the Internet's engineers is benign and playful, I think it helped us head off some pretty serious threats to electronic civil liberties," says Raymond. "It had another effect I didn't really anticipate, which was to enable the hacker culture to acculturate newbies at a tremendously increased rate. This might not sound very important to someone who's not inside that culture already, but the second-order effects included the rise of the open-source software movement, and everything that proceeded from that."