• hacker •
Pronunciation: hæ-kêr • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A computer programmer, a computer buff. 2. Someone who gains unauthorized access to a computer or computer system. 3. Someone who enthusiastically pursues a game or sport: a weekend tennis hacker.
Notes: We are ignoring the common meaning of this word, "someone who chops (irregularly)", for the more recent senses. Hacker is derived from hack "to write computer programs" or "play golf or tennis poorly".
In Play: A hacker can be just a computer programmer: "Wiley Fox will hack you out a search code for your database. He's a world-class hacker." These days, however, a hacker is often someone who uses his computer skills to access accounts that belong to others: "Some hacker broke into Manley Guy's Facebook page and made him out to be a girl!"
Word History: The first report of today's Good Word in its latest sense in print by the Oxford English Dictionary is 1976. It may be simply a semantic extension of hacker "amateurish or inept golfer or tennis player", who simply hacks at the ball, not knowing what he or she is doing. The extension to a computer programmer was via the observation of programmers chopping away at a keyboard. The history of this word was certainly influenced by hack "amateurish, inept worker at any job", a shortened form of hackney. A hackneyed phrase is one that has been worn out, heard many, many times before. Hackney originally referred to a horse that pulled a carriage for hire or taxi. When they were sold, they tended to be worn out or broken down. (Marilyn Beckman didn't have to hack our e-mail—thank heaven—in order to recommend today's Good Word. Double thanks, Marilyn.)