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  • Jargon Hacker's Dictionary (How he works)

    How Jargon Works

    Jargon Construction

    There are some standard methods of jargonification that became
    established quite early (i.e., before 1970), spreading from such sources
    as the Tech Model Railroad Club, the PDP-1 SPACEWAR hackers, and John
    McCarthy's original crew of LISPers.  These include the following:

    :Verb Doubling: --------------- A standard construction in English is to
    double a verb and use it as an exclamation, such as "Bang, bang!" or
    "Quack, quack!".  Most of these are names for noises.  Hackers also
    double verbs as a concise, sometimes sarcastic comment on what the
    implied subject does.  Also, a doubled verb is often used to terminate a
    conversation, in the process remarking on the current state of affairs
    or what the speaker intends to do next.  Typical examples involve {win},
    {lose}, {hack}, {flame}, {barf}, {chomp}:

         "The disk heads just crashed."  "Lose, lose."
         "Mostly he talked about his latest crock.  Flame, flame."
         "Boy, what a bagbiter!  Chomp, chomp!"

    Some verb-doubled constructions have special meanings not immediately
    obvious from the verb.  These have their own listings in the lexicon.

    The USENET culture has one *tripling* convention unrelated to this; the
    names of `joke' topic groups often have a tripled last element.  The
    first and paradigmatic example was alt.swedish.chef.bork.bork.bork (a
    "Muppet Show" reference); other classics include
    alt.french.captain.borg.borg.borg, alt.wesley.crusher.die.die.die,
    sci.physics.edward.teller.boom.boom.boom, and

    :Soundalike slang: ------------------ Hackers will often make rhymes or
    puns in order to convert an ordinary word or phrase into something more
    interesting.  It is considered particularly {flavorful} if the phrase is
    bent so as to include some other jargon word; thus the computer hobbyist
    magazine `Dr. Dobb's Journal' is almost always referred to among hackers
    as `Dr. Frob's Journal' or simply `Dr. Frob's'.  Terms of this kind that
    have been in fairly wide use include names for newspapers:

         Boston Herald => Horrid (or Harried)
         Boston Globe => Boston Glob
         Houston (or San Francisco) Chronicle
                => the Crocknicle (or the Comical)
         New York Times => New York Slime

    However, terms like these are often made up on the spur of the moment.
    Standard examples include:

         Data General => Dirty Genitals
         IBM 360 => IBM Three-Sickly
         Government Property --- Do Not Duplicate (on keys)
                => Government Duplicity --- Do Not Propagate
         for historical reasons => for hysterical raisins
         Margaret Jacks Hall (the CS building at Stanford)
                => Marginal Hacks Hall

    This is not really similar to the Cockney rhyming slang it has been
    compared to in the past, because Cockney substitutions are opaque
    whereas hacker punning jargon is intentionally transparent.

    :The `-P' convention: --------------------- Turning a word into a
    question by appending the syllable `P'; from the LISP convention of
    appending the letter `P' to denote a predicate (a boolean-valued
    function).  The question should expect a yes/no answer, though it
    needn't.  (See {T} and {NIL}.)

         At dinnertime:
               Q: "Foodp?"
               A: "Yeah, I'm pretty hungry." or "T!"

         At any time:
               Q: "State-of-the-world-P?"
               A: (Straight) "I'm about to go home."
               A: (Humorous) "Yes, the world has a state."

         On the phone to Florida:
               Q: "State-p Florida?"
               A: "Been reading JARGON.TXT again, eh?"

    [One of the best of these is a {Gosperism}.  Once, when we were at a
    Chinese restaurant, Bill Gosper wanted to know whether someone would
    like to share with him a two-person-sized bowl of soup.  His inquiry
    was: "Split-p soup?" --- GLS]

    :Overgeneralization: -------------------- A very conspicuous feature of
    jargon is the frequency with which techspeak items such as names of
    program tools, command language primitives, and even assembler opcodes
    are applied to contexts outside of computing wherever hackers find
    amusing analogies to them.  Thus (to cite one of the best-known
    examples) UNIX hackers often {grep} for things rather than searching for
    them.  Many of the lexicon entries are generalizations of exactly this

    Hackers enjoy overgeneralization on the grammatical level as well.  Many
    hackers love to take various words and add the wrong endings to them to
    make nouns and verbs, often by extending a standard rule to nonuniform
    cases (or vice versa).  For example, because

         porous => porosity
         generous => generosity

    hackers happily generalize:

         mysterious => mysteriosity
         ferrous => ferrosity
         obvious => obviosity
         dubious => dubiosity

    Also, note that all nouns can be verbed.  E.g.: "All nouns can be
    verbed", "I'll mouse it up", "Hang on while I clipboard it over", "I'm
    grepping the files".  English as a whole is already heading in this
    direction (towards pure-positional grammar like Chinese); hackers are
    simply a bit ahead of the curve.

    However, note that hackers avoid the unimaginative verb-making
    techniques characteristic of marketroids, bean-counters, and the
    Pentagon; a hacker would never, for example, `productize', `prioritize',
    or `securitize' things.  Hackers have a strong aversion to bureaucratic
    bafflegab and regard those who use it with contempt.

    Similarly, all verbs can be nouned.  This is only a slight
    overgeneralization in modern English; in hackish, however, it is good
    form to mark them in some standard nonstandard way.  Thus:

         win => winnitude, winnage
         disgust => disgustitude
         hack => hackification

    Further, note the prevalence of certain kinds of nonstandard plural
    forms.  Some of these go back quite a ways; the TMRC Dictionary noted
    that the defined plural of `caboose' is `cabeese', and includes an entry
    which implies that the plural of `mouse' is {meeces}.  On a similarly
    Anglo-Saxon note, almost anything ending in `x' may form plurals in
    `-xen' (see {VAXen} and {boxen} in the main text).  Even words ending in
    phonetic /k/ alone are sometimes treated this way; e.g., `soxen' for a
    bunch of socks.  Other funny plurals are `frobbotzim' for the plural of
    `frobbozz' (see {frobnitz}) and `Unices' and `Twenices' (rather than
    `Unixes' and `Twenexes'; see {UNIX}, {TWENEX} in main text).  But note
    that `Unixen' and `Twenexen' are never used; it has been suggested that
    this is because `-ix' and `-ex' are Latin singular endings that attract
    a Latinate plural.  Finally, it has been suggested to general approval
    that the plural of `mongoose' ought to be `polygoose'.

    The pattern here, as with other hackish grammatical quirks, is
    generalization of an inflectional rule that in English is either an
    import or a fossil (such as the Hebrew plural ending `-im', or the
    Anglo-Saxon plural suffix `-en') to cases where it isn't normally
    considered to apply.

    This is not `poor grammar', as hackers are generally quite well aware of
    what they are doing when they distort the language.  It is grammatical
    creativity, a form of playfulness.  It is done not to impress but to
    amuse, and never at the expense of clarity.

    :Spoken inarticulations: ------------------------ Words such as
    `mumble', `sigh', and `groan' are spoken in places where their referent
    might more naturally be used.  It has been suggested that this usage
    derives from the impossibility of representing such noises on a comm
    link or in electronic mail (interestingly, the same sorts of
    constructions have been showing up with increasing frequency in comic
    strips).  Another expression sometimes heard is "Complain!", meaning "I
    have a complaint!"

    :Anthromorphization: -------------------- Semantically, one rich source
    of jargon constructions is the hackish tendency to anthropomorphize
    hardware and software.  This isn't done in a na"ive way; hackers don't
    personalize their stuff in the sense of feeling empathy with it, nor do
    they mystically believe that the things they work on every day are
    `alive'.  What *is* common is to hear hardware or software talked about
    as though it has homunculi talking to each other inside it, with
    intentions and desires.  Thus, one hears "The protocol handler got
    confused", or that programs "are trying" to do things, or one may say of
    a routine that "its goal in life is to X".  One even hears explanations
    like "...  and its poor little brain couldn't understand X, and it
    died."  Sometimes modelling things this way actually seems to make them
    easier to understand, perhaps because it's instinctively natural to
    think of anything with a really complex behavioral repertoire as `like a
    person' rather than `like a thing'.

    Of the six listed constructions, verb doubling, peculiar noun
    formations, anthromorphization, and (especially) spoken inarticulations
    have become quite general; but punning jargon is still largely confined
    to MIT and other large universities, and the `-P' convention is found
    only where LISPers flourish.

    Finally, note that many words in hacker jargon have to be understood as
    members of sets of comparatives.  This is especially true of the
    adjectives and nouns used to describe the beauty and functional quality
    of code.  Here is an approximately correct spectrum:

         monstrosity  brain-damage  screw  bug  lose  misfeature
         crock  kluge  hack  win  feature  elegance  perfection

    The last is spoken of as a mythical absolute, approximated but never
    actually attained.  Another similar scale is used for describing the
    reliability of software:

         broken  flaky  dodgy  fragile  brittle
         solid  robust  bulletproof  armor-plated

    Note, however, that `dodgy' is primarily Commonwealth hackish (it is
    rare in the U.S.) and may change places with `flaky' for some speakers.

    Coinages for describing {lossage} seem to call forth the very finest in
    hackish linguistic inventiveness; it has been truly said that hackers
    have even more words for equipment failures than Yiddish has for
    obnoxious people.

    Credits to Jargon