The Jargon File
Various authors. Maintained by Eric S. Raymond

The Jargon File is a long-running dictionary of hacker slang continuously contributed by hackers, which provides an insight into hacker and thus software culture. ("Hacker" in this context refers not to people who break into computers, but to devoted programming enthusiasts.) The Jargon File also includes chapters analyzing hacker Jargon construction by identifying characteristics such as "anthropomorphization" and "spoken inarticulation". Several appendices address various aspects of hacker culture outside of jargon including "Hacker Folklore" and a subcategorized "Portrait of J. Random Hacker," which is well known in its own right.

From the Jargon File introduction:

"This document is a collection of slang terms used by various subcultures of computer hackers. Though some technical material is included for background and flavor, it is not a technical dictionary; what we describe here is the language hackers use among themselves for fun, social communication, and technical debate.

The ‘hacker culture’ is actually a loosely networked collection of subcultures that is nevertheless conscious of some important shared experiences, shared roots, and shared values. It has its own myths, heroes, villains, folk epics, in-jokes, taboos, and dreams. Because hackers as a group are particularly creative people who define themselves partly by rejection of ‘normal’ values and working habits, it has unusually rich and conscious traditions for an intentional culture less than 50 years old.

As usual with slang, the special vocabulary of hackers helps hold places in the community and expresses shared values and experiences. Also as usual, not knowing the slang (or using it inappropriately) defines one as an outsider, a mundane, or (worst of all in hackish vocabulary) possibly even a suit. All human cultures use slang in this threefold way — as a tool of communication, and of inclusion, and of exclusion.

Among hackers, though, slang has a subtler aspect, paralleled perhaps in the slang of jazz musicians and some kinds of fine artists but hard to detect in most technical or scientific cultures; parts of it are code for shared states of consciousness. There is a whole range of altered states and problem-solving mental stances basic to high-level hacking which don't fit into conventional linguistic reality any better than a Coltrane solo or one of Maurits Escher's surreal trompe l'oeil compositions (Escher is a favorite of hackers), and hacker slang encodes these subtleties in many unobvious ways. As a simple example, take the distinction between a kluge and an elegant solution, and the differing connotations attached to each. The distinction is not only of engineering significance; it reaches right back into the nature of the generative processes in program design and asserts something important about two different kinds of relationship between the hacker and the hack. Hacker slang is unusually rich in implications of this kind, of overtones and undertones that illuminate the hackish psyche."


feature about this project: The Jargon File

project homepage:
keywords: information-educational-subjectivity-hackerly-countercultural-
historical-semantic software for the Internet
category: text - software art related/cultural critique of software
uploaded by amy, 27 Sep 2003

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