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Jargon File (New Hacker's Dictionary)

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

The Jargon File is a compilation of computer-related terminology that was first developed in 1975 by Raphael Finkel at Stanford University from sources including the Stanford and MIT AI Labs, Carnegie Mellon University and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

The oldest terms in the Jargon File may have originated in the late 1950s or early 1960s in the Tech Model Railroad Club at MIT. Richard Stallman, founder of the GNU project and the Free Software Foundation (FSF), is among the prominent and prolific contributors to the Jargon File.

In 1978, software developer and author Eric S. Raymond compiled and published a print version of the Jargon File, The New Hacker's Dictionary. The third edition was published in 1996.

Here's a sampling of terms from The New Hacker's Dictionary:

A one-banana problem is an issue that can be easily resolved in a system where trained monkeys might be paid with bananas.

NHD: At mainframe shops, where the computers have operators for routine administrivia, the programmers and hardware people tend to look down on the operators and claim that a trained monkey could do their job… A one-banana problem is simple; hence, "It's only a one-banana job at the most; what's taking them so long?"

A propeller head is jargon for someone who is exceptionally, perhaps weirdly bright or knowledgeable, especially in some technical field.

NHD: The term 'prophead' is a holdover from the days when the nerd kids on the block wore caps with little propellers on top. This fashion gave way to the pencil pocket protector.

The descriptor weenie, among the "hackerdom" that Raymond chronicles, can be ascribed respectfully to someone who is highly knowledgeable, intensely committed to, or even just employed on a particular endeavor or in a particular operating system culture.

NHD: A weenie doesn't even use a regular keyboard, just a little one with two keys: 1 and 0. Weenies talk among themselves in continuous data streams, which sound to mortal ears like a modem logging on.

To munge is to transform data imperfectly; as a noun it means a comprehensive rewrite of a data structure, routine or program.

NHD: MUNG (variant: MUNGE) Recursive acronym for Mung Until No Good. 1. v. To make changes to a file, often large-scale, usually irrevocable. Occasionally accidental. See "blt". 2. v. To destroy.

 

 

This was last updated in December 2015

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Jargon is fine when we're talking among ourselves, but it severely limits any communication to the outside world.

I'm frequently brought in he help companies strip the jargon in their communications. No easy task. But anything distributed to the outside world, the muggles, if you will, should be as jargon free as possible.

Here's a simple guide. If any outside communications include any uncommon word or phrase that's in the New Hacker's Dictionary, take it out (or be sure to add a translation). But best to take it out and speak English.
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