Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Hacks Hacking Hacks

As I am bemused by the attempts to use the term ALPHA to apply to rootless, drunken misanthropes, roaming around fucking drunk sluts and supporting themselves with dodgy internet ventures, so am I equally beginning to be amused by the attempts to use the term HACK to denote a superior way of accomplishing things. "Life Hacks" "Travel Hacks" "Hacking Your Job" "Hacking Ukrainian Babes" and so forth.

This usage seems to have originated with Mr. 4-Hour Work Week -- when I was a kid we just called it cheating, but there you go -- I understand that it's supposed in this case to mean something like an easy shortcut to productivity.

But again, did anybody bother to look in the dictionary?  Apart from idea of using a computer to gain unauthorized access, and the idea of cutting, chopping or slicing crudely, we have some of the following definitions of it as a verb:

to damage or injure by crude, harsh, or insensitive treatment; mutilate; mangle: The editor hacked the story to bits.

to reduce or cut ruthlessly; trim: The Senate hacked the budget severely before returning it to the House.

More damning, using it as a noun gives us some of the following wonderfully on-the-nose definitions:

a person, as an artist or writer, who exploits, for money, his or her creative ability or training in the production of dull, unimaginative, and trite work; one who produces banal and mediocre  work in the hope of gaining commercial success in the arts: As a painter, he was little more than a hack.

a professional who renounces or surrenders individual independence, integrity, belief, etc., in return for money or other reward in the performance of a task normally thought of as involving a strong personal commitment: a political hack.

an old or worn-out horse; a jade

A few other definitions of interest as verbs:

to make trite or stale by frequent use (as in hackneyed)

to take a poor, awkward or ineffective swing at the ball (especially in tennis) 

and of course:

to cough harshly in short, repeated spasms

Just a little semantic thought-of-the-day from ETX. Now if you'll excuse me, I'll get back to my hack writing projects.


Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure that you know this, but I believe that it refers to hack when it is used in the context of "computer hack" which is synonymous with "crack" as in "cracking the code". It refers to achieving something by a method that is more efficient than was previously known, achieving something (previously unachievable) by a newly discovered method, or achieving the same thing by a cheaper method. No reduction in quality of the achievement is necessarily inferred. But, again, I think that you were just being coy and knew that :-)

I agree with the de-facto foreign hooker, dodgy internet scheme, alpha paradox. I think the guys assigning them that designation just operate inside their own bubble. If they had to be judged by the standards of normal people they'd be "fringe class" (thanks Danny DeVito) which is pretty much outside of any type of classification scheme. They're sort of the new millennium lumpenproles, only with jobs that aren't illegal. Socially normal alphas would designate them losers. If you were going by how many poor people or hookers they impregnate (spreading genes as a measure of alpha) then they could be alpha by that Darwinian measurement. Most don't go around with that goal, though, I think.

English Teacher X said...

Well, second paragraph I thought I covered the 4-Hour Work Week usage; it never seems to be about achieving something previously unachievable, it always just seems to be about a shortcut. i.e.

Twenty said...

Ok, I guess it falls to me to be the resident linguistic bore on this subject.

Anon@6:48 is mostly right, in that "hack" in this context does come from the computer world, and does refer to doing something clever. ("Hacker News, q.v." being the usual cite here.) It is *not* related to, and certainly not synonymous with, "crack", which refers to breaking security. (Mitnick wasn't a hacker, he was a cracker", &c.)

But the usage has gotten way, way, way out of hand.

English Teacher X said...

Jesus Christ, I know the term originally came from the computer world. Third paragraph!

Twenty said...


English Teacher X said...


Jesse said...

Along the same lines is the idea of branding oneself, becoming a brand.

Branding was once a painful event reserved for domesticated animals to confer ownership. Now its something the internet alphas and entrepreneurs try to do to themselves.

Anonymous said...

Great Point. There are so many bandwagon terms out there.

Hack. Cloud. Granular.

It is easy to skim over them and forget how annoying they are.

I guess people in general think that when they are brain hacking or housework hacking or whatever, they are coming up with a clever new way to save time or effort to so some old thing. So it kind of deserves the term hack in the old school sense.

But, as you are correctly and hilariously pointing out, most people aren't clever or diligent enough to truly hack anything, so what they are really doing is what the 4 hour work week guy is doing:

Winning some sporting event by exploiting a technicality. Gaining more free time by hiring underpaid people in India.

So instead of saying manipulating or gaming the system, they find a term they can live with better.

Made me laugh though. Not just the overuse of hack, but tying it in to Tim Ferris and other posers trying to dress up nothing with fancy language.