A collection of words and phrases, and their meaning when I used them. The purpose of this list is partly to minimize misunderstandings of me and partly to clarify misconceptions in general.


A peculiar esoteric programming language consisting of only eight commands, in extreme minimalism. It’s not sexual penetration of ones brain, although looking at the code might feel like it.


One who breaks security on a system. Coined ca. 1985 by hackers in defense against journalistic misuse of hacker (q.v., sense 8). While it is expected that any real hacker will have done some playful cracking and knows many of the basic techniques, anyone past larval stage is expected to have outgrown the desire to do so except for immediate, benign, practical reasons (for example, if it’s necessary to get around some security in order to get some work done).

Thus, there is far less overlap between hackerdom and crackerdom than the mundane reader misled by sensationalistic journalism might expect. Crackers tend to gather in small, tight-knit, very secretive groups that have little overlap with the huge, open poly-culture this lexicon describes; though crackers often like to describe themselves as hackers, most true hackers consider them a separate and lower form of life. See jargon file.


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. RFC1392, the Internet Users’ Glossary, usefully amplifies this as: A person who delights in having an intimate understanding of the internal workings of a system, computers and computer networks in particular. See jargon file.

The focus on security is a more recent development in the hacker culture. Initially, hackers focused on exploring and understanding the capabilities and limitations of computer systems, and pushing the boundaries of what was possible with technology. Over time, as the importance of computer security became more apparent, many hackers turned their attention to security-related issues, and the term "hacker" came to be associated more with those who sought to find vulnerabilities in computer systems in order to improve security, rather than those who simply enjoyed exploring technology. However, the hacker culture remains centered around the idea of using creative problem-solving and a deep understanding of technology to push the boundaries of what is possible.

Media’s portrayal of the stereotypical hacker as a criminal has led to a misconception of what hacking really means. Hacking is not inherently criminal, and hackers can be individuals who explore and experiment with technology in a creative and ethical way. What hacking is used for is determined by the individual, and do not forget, what is deemed criminal is determined by those who exert power. By allowing a community to define itself rather than being defined by outsiders, we can foster a culture of autonomy and respect. This applies not only to the hacker community but to all communities. Allowing individuals to define themselves promotes diversity and a deeper understanding of different cultures, as well as promoting self-expression and autonomy.

hacker ethic:

The hacker ethic is centered around passion, hard work, creativity and joy of creating software (Himanen, 2001). Levy describes the following core principles to the hacker ethic:

  • Sharing – improvement of yours and others public creations.
  • Openness – all information should be free.
  • Decentralization – mistrust authority & promote decentralization. Hackers are encouraged to think critically and to challenge the status quo. Promoting decentralization dilutes the concentration of power and redistributes the power among the many.
  • Access to computers, and anything which might teach you something about the way the world works, should be unlimited and total. Always yield to the Hands-On Imperative!
  • World Improvement (foremost, upholding democracy and the fundamental laws we all live by, as a society)
  • Meritocracy – hackers should be judged by their hacking, not bogus criteria such as degrees, age, race, or position
  • You can create art and beauty on a computer.
  • Computers can change your life for the better (Levy, 2010).

The hacker ethic and its wider context can be associated with liberalism and anarchism (see for example, Hacking Culture: a radical challenge to Capitalism, not its offspring).


A system in which advancement is based on individual ability or achievement. Inherent to the hacker ethic is a meritocratic system where superficiality is disregarded in esteem of skill, and "hackers should be judged by their hacking, not bogus criteria such as degrees, age, race, or position" (Levy, 2010).

In hacker ethic meritocracy is not meant as a form of social system in which power goes to those with superior intellects, or the belief that rulers should be chosen for their superior abilities and not because of their wealth or birth.

NOTE: Then again, even if meritocracy in the sense of hacking doesn’t refer to some sort of superiority, who determines what is good hacking and what is not? Though I agree that hackers should not be judged based on bogus criteria such as degrees, age, race, or position, if hacking can be performed for the sake of hacking without the need to be particularly useful, what is the determining factor for it to be judged, and is it even necessary to be judged at all?


Himanen, Pekka (2001). The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age. New York: Random House.

Levy, Steven (2010). Hackers – Heroes of the computer revolution. Sebastopol, Calif: O’Reilly Media.