January 10, 2019 11:15 AM   Subscribe

The Original Hacker's Dictionary - "pretty much the original, snarfed from MIT-AI around 1988."
posted by the man of twists and turns (24 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Delightful. That was super-nostalgic for me, thanks for posting.
posted by ZakDaddy at 11:27 AM on January 10

I bought this in paperback form back in the 1990s. It's a really great snapshot of that time. It also includes the Crunchly* cartoons next to relevant entries.

* one of the earliest geek cartoons
posted by JoeZydeco at 11:33 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]

It’s nice to see this without all of ESR’s additions and bloviating.
posted by murphy slaw at 11:47 AM on January 10 [44 favorites]


It looks like there have been no updates since 2003 to the Official Jargon File. Every once in a while I think about trying to kick it off--get rid of the aforementioned ESRisms. The trick, I think, would be to segregate general internet culture (LOLSpeak, etc.) from actual hacking. That said, with the Maker Movement of the last 10 years or so, I think there would be some rich culture to capture.
posted by MrGuilt at 11:56 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]

Forgot REM. Instead of deleting lines of code or a process, one could REM it out so it stayed in the program, but never executed. In effect, it stayed there but was ignored.

This segued to other instances e.g., if someone was bloviating and spouting nonsense, someone might suggest "Just REM that guy."
posted by CrowGoat at 12:09 PM on January 10

Now the fortune file!

(Reading this one, which antedates my stumbling onto the Internet but not by much, gives me such weird feelings. On the one hand, 90% white dudes! On the other hand, 90% of those dudes were at least competent, and working on stuff that it made some kind of sense to be working on!)
posted by praemunire at 12:14 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]

... wow, never actually read the original or ESRs' before - I was aware that they existed, but... am amazed at how many of these terms are actually in my normal, day-to-day vocabulary... in their original meanings as well... yikes
posted by jkaczor at 12:18 PM on January 10 [3 favorites]

Along these lines, does anyone have a good source for the AI Koans? All I’ve seen are fragments.
posted by tommasz at 12:34 PM on January 10

Now the fortune file!

Be careful what you wish for. I set up a Linux screensaver to display fortune output a while back and immediately had to go scrub the fortune files because they were full of sexist/racist garbage and non worksafe jokes. The assumption is still that everyone reading these is an economically comfortable white male engineer in the 1970s.
posted by benzenedream at 12:46 PM on January 10 [5 favorites]

tommasz, I found these. I don't know that I've seen more than these anywhere.
posted by cgc373 at 12:47 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]

Reminds me of reading 2600 Magazine in the 80's
posted by ShakeyJake at 1:30 PM on January 10

There was a paperback edition of it some time in the mid 1980's - possibly as early as 1984 or so - that I remember having. Not sure what happened to it. I kept my copy of the Fortran Coloring Book, but I may have let that copy of the dictionary go in a book purge.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:35 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]

Canonical? Maybe not... I had it in the summer of '86 on dot-matrix fan-fold paper from (long story redacted). It was a prized possession along with a bunch of 100 question purity tests from various places. All mostly lost to web searches. Maybe somebody will find a backup tape one day (and find a way to read it).

So this version is a couple of years out of date depending on revisions and such. It is the closest I've found that doesn't make me go very "that's not what I remember it being".
posted by zengargoyle at 2:22 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]

I've only just noticed that at some point during my life, people stopped saying "lossage".
posted by sfenders at 2:45 PM on January 10 [4 favorites]

I found the ESR-maintained jargon file in the early 90s some time, and bought the printed New Hacker's Dictionary and used it as idle reading for a long time. It felt like a primary document taking me back to Levy's Hackers book.

But when I searched for it online, I found ESR's site complete with these bizarre rebuttals to tiny complaints people had made about his edition. I never saw the complaints themselves, just his defensive essays on why he was perfectly suited to take this over and don't you dare question his classic 1960s nerd-cred dammit.

Later in that decade I'd come to meet him, and hang out in the same spaces when he visited the Bay Area. He and I progressed a running joke together online for a bit, before I twigged that I may have inadvertently collided with a horrible racist dogwhistle I hadn't been able to hear and wiped the whole thing. ESR was unfathomably disgusting in a horrible entitled-white-guy way to people I care very much about. A friend of mine is still friends with ESR, though I've come to find just about everything about the man repugnant.

But every scale that fell from my eyes made me think back to those defensive essays he wrote about the people complaining he'd appropriated their subculture, and the negative space left thereby fits perfectly with what I'd expect him to do. I've never read these original accusations, but I am inclined to believe every one.

Thank you for posting this version of the Jargon File. I have no illusions that its creators were role models I'd wish to follow, but at least they weren't ESR fer krissakes!
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 3:19 PM on January 10 [15 favorites]

Heh, there's that PHASE entry that burned itself into my brain as a teen when I read it on a local BBS and stuck with me through college. I still think in terms of changing my sleep cycle the hard/easy way.
posted by Avelwood at 3:59 PM on January 10

My undergrad computer science club had a copy of the ESR-edited paperback in its library in the early nineties and I enjoyed it enough to go out and buy my own copy. It sat on my nightstand as idle reading material for a long time. I get the complaints about the Unix-centric additions but at the same time, it made for interesting reading so as a third party, I'm not really bummed at it or anything.

(I never met the man but I kind of admired him back in the day from his online writings and work with the OSI. I haven't checked in on him in decades, though; I get the sense that he's seasteading in an ocean of crazy these days.)
posted by suetanvil at 5:29 PM on January 10

The last time I saw the word 'snarf' was in the video mode of the Johnny Mnemonic pinball machine, so it checks out.
posted by BiggerJ at 5:42 PM on January 10

Wow, did not know that Michael Shamos was involved in that culture. He's notorious among Pennsylvania's voting machine reform community for certifying the paperless DRE voting machines many of our counties are stuck using.

Gubbish - I believe that is from a Philip K. Dick book.

Twiddle - Later made into a Magic Card, with exactly the same meaning
posted by M-x shell at 10:48 PM on January 10

I basically memorized the Jargon File as a middle schooler in 1998. My day-to-day at the time was about a million miles from "hacker culture" but I was desperate to move it closer. It's amazing to see this original source material without all ESR's editorializing, because I remember the editorialized bits so well.

The first time I heard someone other than myself use the word "cruft" IRL I got...really, really emotional? To be honest, I'm reading it now and having a very hard time figuring out which words are in common use by non-CS types nowadays and which are just used by my friends and colleagues and wouldn't be readily understood by people not steeped in this culture I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm living my thirteen-year-old dreams in so many ways and thanks for posting this and reminding me :)
posted by potrzebie at 10:57 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]

> posted by potrzebie

I recoginzed that reference.
posted by RedOrGreen at 8:09 AM on January 11

Gubbish - I believe that is from a Philip K. Dick book.

Yeah, it's from Martian Time Slip. It's basically a stand in for all the things in normal life that the protagonist can't handle.

Though, that may be the alien laser changing the memories in my brain in realtime.
posted by lumpenprole at 2:00 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]

My memory was that the actual dissociative timeslip descriptions in that book were often obscured by words like "gubble" and "gubbish" until the experience finally resolved into a focused memory or experience. I always interpreted it as a representation of the haze of schizophrenic thought, but I don't really know enough about that topic to actually argue for it.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 3:24 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]

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