Jargon File

This is a reprint of the infamous Jargon File (1990 version). For those who are unfamiliar with the Jargon File (also known as the Hacker's Dictionary), make sure to read the introduction below.

I've reproduced the file in its entirety and with a TOC for quick lookup. The file itself is quite long, but I've kept it all on a single page for easy downloading and off-line reading.

By the way, in the html-ization of the original file, some of the characters, such as <: and >: may not have come through. If you find any major problems due to this, please bring it to my attention so it can be fixed.

Check the end of this document for more contact information.



Jargon Notes

# A , B , C , D , E , F , G , H , I , J , K , L , M , N , O , P , Q , R , S , T , U , V , W , X , Y , Z

Appendix A: Mabel, A Cautionary Tale, Appendix B: Obselete Terms , Mail Info and Comments


This `jargon file' is a collection of slang terms used by various
subcultures of computer hackers.

The original `jargon file' was a collection of hacker slang from
technical cultures including 1) the MIT AI Lab, 2) the Stanford
AI lab, 3) the old ARPANET AI/LISP/PDP-10 communities, 3) Carnegie-
Mellon University, 4) Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Some entries
dated back to the early 1970s. This version was published as _The_
Hacker's_Dictionary_ in 1983.

This new version casts a wider net than the old jargon file;
its aim is to cover not just AI but all the technical computing
cultures wherein the true hacker-nature is manifested. More than
half of the entries now derive from USENET and the C and UNIX

The present maintainers of the jargon file are Guy L. Steele
(gls@think.com) and Eric S. Raymond (eric@snark.uu.net). Send
all additions, corrections and correspondence relating to the
jargon file to jargon@think.com.

The original jargon file was compiled by Guy L. Steele Jr., Raphael
Finkel, Don Woods, and Mark Crispin, with assistance from the MIT and
Stanford AI communities and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
Some contributions were submitted via the ARPAnet from miscellaneous
sites. The `old' jargon file was last revised in 1983; its revisions
are all un-numbered and may be collectively considered `Version 1'.

Version 2.1: the jargon file reorganization and massive additions
were by Eric S. Raymond, approved by Guy Steele. Many items of UNIX,
C, USENET and microcomputer-based slang were added at that time (as
well as Appendix A, The Untimely Demise of Mabel The Monkey). Some
obsolescent usages (mostly PDP-10 derived) were moved to appendix B.

Our thanks to all the USENETters who contributed entries and
encouragement. Special thanks to our Scandinavian correspondent Per
Lindberg (per@front.se), author of the remarkable Swedish language
'zine _Hackerbladet_, for bring FOO! comics to our attention and
smuggling the IBM hacker underground's own baby jargon file out to
us. Also special gratitude to ace hacker/linguist Joe Keane
(jkg@osc.osc.com) for helping us improve the pronunciation guides.

Try to conform to the format already being used -- 70 character
lines, 3-character indentations, pronunciations in parentheses,
etymologies in brackets, single-space after def'n numbers and word
classes, etc. Stick to the standard ASCII character set.

We are looking to expand the file's range of technical specialties
covered. There are doubtless rich veins of jargon yet untapped in the
scientific computing, graphics, and networking hacker communities;
also in numerical analysis, computer architectures and VLSI design,
language design, and many other related fields. Send us your slang!

We are *not* interested in straight technical terms explained by
textbooks or technical dictionaries unless an entry illuminates
"underground" meanings or aspects not covered by official histories.
We are also not interested in "joke" entries -- there is a lot of
humor in the file but it must flow naturally out of the explanations
of what hackers do and how they think.

It is OK to submit items of slang you have originated if they
have spread to the point of being used by people who are not
personally acquainted with you. We prefer items to be attested by
independent submission from two different sites.

The slang file will be regularly maintained and re-posted from
now on and will include a version number. Read it, pass it around,
contribute -- this is *your* monument!

Back to Top

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

Verb doubling: a standard construction is to double a verb and use it
as a comment on what the implied subject does. Often used to
terminate a conversation. Typical examples involve WIN, LOSE,
"The disk heads just crashed." "Lose, lose."
"Mostly he just talked about his @#!!$% crock. Flame, flame."
"Boy, what a bagbiter! Chomp, chomp!"

Soundalike slang: similar to Cockney rhyming slang. Often made up on
the spur of the moment. Standard examples:
Boston Globe => Boston Glob
Herald American => Horrid (Harried) American
New York Times => New York Slime
Prime Time => Slime Time
government property - do not duplicate (seen on keys)
=> government duplicity - do not propagate
Often the substitution will be made in such a way as to slip in
a standard jargon word:
Dr. Dobb's Journal => Dr. Frob's Journal
Margaret Jacks Hall => Marginal Hacks Hall
Data General => Dirty Genitals

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: "Foodp?" "Yeah, I'm pretty hungry." or "T!"
"State-of-the-world-P?" (Straight) "I'm about to go home."
(Humorous) "Yes, the world has a state."
[One of the best of these is a Gosperism (i.e., due to Bill
Gosper). When we were at a Chinese restaurant, he 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]

Peculiar nouns: MIT AI 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. Examples:
porous => porosity
generous => generosity
Ergo: mysterious => mysteriosity
ferrous => ferrocity

Other examples: winnitude, disgustitude, hackification.

Also, note that all nouns can be verbed. eg: "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.

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 in a com link. Another
expression sometimes heard is "complain!", meaning "I have a

Hacker speech style: Features extremely precise diction, careful
word choice, a relatively large working vocabulary, and relatively
little use of contractions or "street slang". Dry humor, irony,
puns, and a mildly flippant attitude are highly valued -- but an
underlying seriousness and intelligence is essential. One should
use just enough jargon to communicate precisely and identify
oneself as "in the culture"; overuse and a breathless, excessively
gung-ho attitude are considered tacky and the mark of a loser.

Hacker speech style (a variety of the precisionist English normally
spoken by scientists, design engineers, and academics in technical
fields) is fairly constant everywhere. Of the four other listed
constructions, verb doubling and peculiar noun formations have become
quite general; but rhyming slang is still largely confined to MIT and
other large universities, and the P convention is found only where
LISPers flourish.

One final note. 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:


The last is never actually attained.


The pronunciation keys in the jargon listing use the following
simple system:

1) Syllables are hyphen-separated, except that an apostrophe
or back-apostrophe follows each accented syllable (the
back apostrophe marks a secondary accent in some words of
four or more syllables).

2) Consonants are pronounced as in American English. The letter
"g" is always hard (as in "got" rather than "giant"); "ch"
is soft ("church" rather than "chemist"). The letter "j" is
the sound that occurs twice in "judge". The letter "s" is
always as in "pass", never a z sound (but it is sometimes
doubled at the end of syllables to emphasize this). The
digraph `dh' is the th of `these clothes', not of `thick'.

3) Vowels are represented as follows:

a back, that
ah father, palm
ar far, mark
aw flaw, caught
ay bake, rain
e less, men
ee easy, ski
eir their, software
i trip, hit
ie life, sky
o cot, top
oh flow, sew
oo loot, through
or more, door
ow out, how
oy boy, coin
uh but, some
u put, foot
y yet
yoo few
[y]oo oo with optional `fronting' as in `news' (noos or nyoos).

An at-sign is used for the "schwa" sound of unstressed or occluded vowels (the
one that is often written with an upside-down "e"). The schwa vowel is
omitted in syllables containing vocalic r, l, m or n; that is, "kitten" and
"color" would be rendered "kit'n" and "kul'r".

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= =

@BEGIN [primarily CMU] with @End, used humorously in writing to
indicate a context or to remark on the surrounded text. From
the SCRIBE command of the same name. For example:
Predicate logic is the only good programming language.
Anyone who would use anything else is an idiot. Also,
computers should be tredecimal instead of binary.
On USENET, this construct would more frequently be rendered as
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= A =

ABEND (ab'end) n. Abnormal termination (of software); crash; lossage.
Derives from an error message on the IBM 360, but has passed into
more general use.

ACK (ak) interj. 1. [from the ASCII mnemonic for 000110] Acknowledge.
Used to register one's presence (compare mainstream "Yo!"). An
appropriate response to PING. 2. [prob. from _Bloom_County_] An
exclamation of surprised disgust, esp. in "Oop ack!".

ADGER (adj'r) [UCLA] v. To make a bonehead move that could have been
forseen with a slight amount of mental effort, i.e., "He started
removing files and promptly adgered the whole project".

AD-HOCKERY (ad-hok'@r-ee) [Purdue] n. Gratuitous assumptions made
inside certain programs, esp. expert systems, which lead to the
appearance of semi-intelligent behavior, but are in fact entirely

ADVENT (ad'vent) n. The prototypical computer adventure game, first
implemented on the PDP-10 by MIT hackers Dave Lebling, Mark Blank
and Don R. Woods as a demo for a natural-language parser they were
hacking on at the time. Now better known as Adventure, but the
TOPS-10 operating system only permitted 6-letter filenames. "A huge
green fierce snake bars the way!"

ALIASING SCREW (ayl'ee-@-sing) [C programmers] n. A class of subtle
programming errors which can arise in code that does dynamic
allocation via malloc(3). If more than one pointer addresses
('aliases for') a given hunk of storage, it may happen that the
storage is freed through one alias and then referenced through
another, leading to subtle (and possibly intermittent) lossage
depending on the state and the allocation history of the malloc
ARENA. Avoidable by use of allocation strategies that never alias
allocated core. See also PRECEDENCE SCREW, SMASH THE STACK,

ALT BIT (ahlt bit) [from alternate?] adj. See META BIT.

ANGLE BRACKETS (ang'@l brak'@ts) [primarily MIT] n. Either of the
characters "<" and ">". See BROKET.

APP (ap) n. Short for `application program', as opposed to a systems
program. What systems vendors are forever chasing developers to do
for their environments so they can sell more boxes. Hackers tend
not to think of the things they themselves run as apps; thus, in
hacker parlance the term excludes compilers, program editors,
games, and messaging systems, though a user would consider all
those apps. Oppose TOOL, OPERATING SYSTEM.

ARENA (a-ree'nuh) [UNIX] n. The area of memory attached to a process by
brk(2) and sbrk(2) and used by malloc(3) as dynamic storage. So
named from a semi-mythical "malloc: corrupt arena" message
supposedly emitted when some early versions became terminally

ARG (arg) n. Abbreviation for "argument" (to a function), used so
often as to have become a new word. Compare PARAM, VAR.

ASBESTOS LONGJOHNS (as-bes't@s long'jons), UNDIES (uhn'dees), or
OVERCOAT (o'vr-koht) n. Metaphoric garments often donned by USENET
posters just before emitting a remark they expect will elicit

ASCII (as'kee) Common slang names for ASCII characters are collected
here. See individual entries for BANG, CLOSE, EXCL, OPEN, QUES,
This list is snarfed from USENET circa 1983. Single characters are
listed in ASCII order, followed by multiples. For each character,
"official" names appear first, then others in order of popularity
(more or less).

! exclamation point, exclamation, bang, factorial, excl, ball-bat,
smash, shriek, cuss, wow, hey
" double quote, quote, dirk, literal mark, rabbit ears
# pound sign, number sign, sharp, crunch, mesh, hex, hash,
flash, grid, pig-pen, tictactoe, scratchmark, octothorp (from
Bell System)
$ dollar sign, currency symbol, buck, cash, string (from BASIC),
escape (from TOPS-10), ding, big-money
% percent sign, percent, mod, double-oh-seven
& ampersand, amper, and, address (from C), andpersand
' apostrophe, single quote, quote, prime, tick, irk, pop, spark
() open/close parenthesis, left/right parenthesis, paren/thesis,
parenthisey, unparenthisey, open/close round bracket, ears,
so/already, wax/wane
* asterisk, star, splat, wildcard, gear, dingle, mult ("multiply")
+ plus sign, plus, add, cross, intersection
, comma, tail
- hyphen, dash, minus sign, worm
. period, dot, decimal point, radix point, point, full stop, spot
/ virgule, slash, stroke, slant, diagonal, solidus, over, slat
: colon, two-spot
; semicolon, semi, hybrid
<> angle brackets, brokets, left/right angle, less/greater than,
read from/write to, from/into, from/toward, in/out, comesfrom/
gozinta (all from UNIX), funnel, brokets, crunch/zap, suck/blow
= equal sign, equals, quadrathorp, gets, half-mesh
? question mark, whatmark, what, wildchar, ques, huh, quark
@ at sign, at, each, vortex, whorl, whirlpool, cyclone, snail,
ape, cat
V vee, book
[] square brackets, left/right bracket, bracket/unbracket, bra/ket,
square/unsquare, U turns
\ reversed virgule, backslash, bash, backslant, backwhack, backslat,
escape (from UNIX)
^ circumflex, caret, uparrow, hat, chevron, sharkfin, to ("to
the power of"), fang
_ underscore, underline, underbar, under, score, backarrow, flatworm
` grave accent, grave, backquote, left quote, open quote, backprime,
unapostrophe, backspark, birk, blugle, back tick, push
{} open/close brace, left/right brace, brace/unbrace, curly bracket,
curly/uncurly, leftit/rytit, embrace/bracelet
| vertical bar, bar, or, v-bar, spike, pipe, gozinta, thru,
pipesinta (last four from UNIX)
~ tilde, squiggle, approx, wiggle, twiddle, swung dash, enyay

ASSEMBLER (as'em-bler) 1. A program translator that allows human
beings to generate machine code using mnemonics and symbolic names
for memory locations rather than raw binary; distinguished from an
HLL (q.v.) by the fact that a single assembler step generally maps
to a single machine instruction (see also LANGUAGES OF CHOICE). 2.A
NANOBOT which is a physical REPLICATOR. (This is the "official"
term, coined by Eric Drexler; see NANOTECHNOLOGY).

AUTOMAGICALLY (aw-toh-maj'i-klee, aw-toh-maj'i-kl-ee) adv.
Automatically, but in a way which, for some reason (typically
because it is too complicated, or too ugly, or perhaps even too
trivial), I don't feel like explaining to you. See MAGIC.
Example: Some programs which produce XGP output files spool them
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= B =

BACKBONE CABAL (bak'bohn k@-bawl') n. Semi-mythical group of
large-site administrators who pushed through the GREAT RENAMING and
reined in the chaos of USENET during most of the 1980s. The cabal
mailing list disbanded in late 1988 after a bitter internal
catfight, but the net hardly noticed.

BACK DOOR (bak dor) n. A hole in the security of a system deliberately
left in place by designers or maintainers. The motivation for this
is not always sinister; some operating systems, for example, come
out of the box with privileged accounts intended for use by field
service or the vendor's maintenance programmers. Historically, back
doors have often lurked in systems longer than any one expected or
planned, and a few have become widely known. The famous RTM worm of
late 1988, for example, used a back door in the BSD UNIX
sendmail(1) utility. See also IRON BOX, CRACKER, WORM, LOGIC BOMB.

BACKGROUND (bak'grownd) v.,adj. A task running in background is
detached from the terminal where it was started and running at a
lower priority (oppose FOREGROUND). Nowadays this term is primarily
associated with UNIX, but it was appears first to have been used in
this sense on OS/360. By extension, to do a task "in background" is
to do it whenever FOREGROUND matters are not claiming your
undivided attention, and "to background" something means to
relegate it to a lower priority. Compare SLOPSUCKER.

BAD THING (bad thing) n. Something which can't possibly result in
improvement of the subject. This term is always capitalized, as in
"Replacing all of the 9600 baud modems with bicycle couriers would
be a Bad Thing." Oppose GOOD THING.

BAGBITER (bag'biet-@r) 1. n. Equipment or program that fails, usually
intermittently. 2. BAGBITING: adj. Failing hardware or software.
"This bagbiting system won't let me get out of SPACEWAR." Usage:
verges on obscenity. Grammatically separable; one may speak of
"biting the bag". Synonyms: LOSER, LOSING, CRETINOUS, BLETCHEROUS,

BAMF (bamf) [from comix] interj. Notional sound made by a person or
object teleporting in or out of the hearer's vicinity. Often used
in VIRTUAL REALITY (q.v.) electronic fora when a character wishes
to make a dramatic entrance or exit.

BANG (bang) 1. n. Common alternate name for EXCL (q.v.), especially at
CMU and when used in pronouncing a BANG PATH (q.v.) in spoken
hackish. See SHRIEK. 2. interj. An exclamation signifying roughly
"I have achieved enlightenment!" or "The dynamite has cleared out
my brain!". Often used to acknowledge that one has perpetrated a
THINKO immediately after one has been called on it.

BANG PATH (bang path) n. An old-style UUCP electronic-mail address
specifying hops to get from some assumed-reachable location to the
addressee, so called because each hop is signified by a BANG sign.
Thus the path "...!bigsite!foovax!barbox!me" directs correspondents
to route their mail to machine bigsite (presumably a well-known
location accessible to everybody) and from there through the
machine "foovax" to the account of user "me" on "barbox". See

BAR (bar) 1. The second metasyntactic variable, after FOO and before
BAZ. "Suppose we have two functions FOO and BAR. FOO calls
BAR..." 2. Often appended to FOO to produce FOOBAR.

BARF (barf) [from the "layman" slang, meaning "vomit"] 1. interj. Term
of disgust. See BLETCH. 2. v. Choke, as on input. May mean to
give an error message. "The function `=' compares two fixnums or
two flonums, and barfs on anything else." 3. BARFULOUS,
BARFUCIOUS: adj. Said of something which would make anyone barf, if
only for aesthetic reasons. See CHOKE, GAG.

BAUD BARF (bawd barf) n. The garbage one gets on the monitor when
using a modem connection with some protocol setting (esp. line
speed) incorrect, or when someone picks up a voice extension on the
same line, or when really bad line noise disrupts the connection.

BAZ (baz) 1. The third metasyntactic variable, after FOO and BAR and
before QUX. "Suppose we have three functions FOO, BAR, and BAZ.
FOO calls BAR, which calls BAZ..." 2. Occasionally appended to FOO
to produce FOOBAZ.

BELLS AND WHISTLES (belz and hwis'@lz) [by analogy with locomotives]
n. Features added to a program or system to make it more FLAVORFUL
from a hacker's point of view, without necessarily adding to its
utility for its primary function. Distinguished from CHROME which
is intended to attract users.

BENCHMARK (bench'mark) n. An inaccurate measure of computer
performance. As in "In the computer industry, there are three
kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and benchmarks."

BERKLIX (ber'kliks) n.,adj. Contraction of Berkeley UNIX. See BSD. Not
used at Berkeley itself. [This one, in my experience, is more
common among suit-wearers attempting to sound "hip" than hackers --

BERZERKELY (b@r-zer'klee) [from the name of a now-deceased record
label] n. Humorous, often-used distortion of "Berkeley" used esp.
to refer to the practices or products of the BSD UNIX hackers.

BIG-ENDIAN (big'-en-di-@n) adj. Describes a computer architecture in
which, within a given 16- or 32-bit word, lower byte addresses have
higher significance (the word is stored `big-end-first'). Most
processors including the IBM 370 family and the PDP-10 and the
Intel and Motorola microprocessor families and the various RISC
designs current in 1990 are big-endian. See LITTLE-ENDIAN.

BIG IRON (big ie'@rn) n. Large, expensive, ultra-fast computers. Used
generally of number crunching supercomputers such as Crays, but can
include more conventional big commercial IBMish mainframes.
Believed to have originated in the title of a paper given at a
Usenix, "Unix on Big Iron". Term of approval, compare DINOSAUR.

BIG RED SWITCH (big red swich) [IBM] n. The power switch on a
computer, esp. on an IBM-PC where it really is large and red. As in
"This !@%$% BITTY BOX is hung again, time to hit the big red

BIGNUMS (big'nuhms) [from Macsyma] n. 1. In backgammon, large numbers
on the dice. 2. Multiple-precision (sometimes infinitely
extendable) integers and, through analogy, any very large numbers.
3. EL CAMINO BIGNUM: El Camino Real, a street through the San
Francisco peninsula that originally extended (and still appears in
places) all the way to Mexico City. It was termed "El Camino
Double Precision" when someone noted it was a very long street, and
then "El Camino Bignum" when it was pointed out that it was
hundreds of miles long.

BINARY (bie'na-ree) n. The object code for a program.

BIT BANG (bit bang) n. Transmission of data on a serial line
accomplished by rapidly tweaking a single output bit at the
appropriate times (popular on certain early models of PRIME
computers, presumably when UARTs were too expensive; and on archaic
Z-80 micros with a Zilog PIO but no SIO). The technique is a simple
loop with eight OUT, SHIFT, OUT etc for each byte. Input is more
interesting. And full duplex (doing input and output at the same
time) is one way to separate the real hackers from the wannabees.

BIT BUCKET (bit buhk'@t) n. The great data sink in the sky. Data that
is discarded is said to "go to the bit bucket". On UNIX, often used
for /dev/null. Sometimes amplified as THE GREAT BIT BUCKET IN THE

BIT DECAY (bit d@-kay') n. See SOFTWARE ROT. People with a physics
background tend to prefer this one for the analogy with particle

BIT ROT (bit rot) n. See SOFTWARE ROT.

BITBLT (bit'blit, bit'belt) n. [from BLT, q.v.] 1. One of a closely
related family of algorithms for moving and copying rectangles of
bits between main and display memory on a bit-mapped device, or
between two areas of either main or display memory (the requirement
to do the right thing in the case of overlapping source and
destination rectangles is what makes BitBlt tricky). 2. An early
experimental bit-mapped terminal at Bell Labs, later commercialized
as the AT&T 5620.

BITTY BOX (bit'ee boks) n. 1. A computer sufficiently small, primitive
or incapable as to cause a hacker acute claustrophobia at the
thought of developing for it. Especially used of small,
obsolescent, single-tasking-only personal machines like the Atari
800X, Osborne, Sinclair, VIC-20, or TRS-80. 2. More generally, the
opposite of `real computer' (see GET A REAL COMPUTER). Pejorative.
See also MESS-DOS, TOASTER, and TOY.

BIXIE (biks'ee) n. Synonym for EMOTICON used on BIX (the Byte
Information Exchange); BIXers believe the emoticon was invented

BLAST (blast) v.,n. Synonym for BLT (q.v.), used esp. for large data
sends over a network or comm line. Opposite of SNARF. Usage:

BLAZER (blay'zr) n. Nickname for the Telebit Trailblazer, an expensive
but extremely reliable and effective high-speed modem, popular at
UNIX sites that pass large volumes of EMAIL and USENET news.

BLETCH (blech) [from German "brechen", to vomit (?)] 1. interj. Term
of disgust. 2. BLETCHEROUS: adj. Disgusting in design or function.
"This keyboard is bletcherous!" Usage: slightly comic.

BLINKENLIGHTS (blink'@n-lietz) n. Front-panel diagnostic lights on a
mainframe CPU. Derives from the last word of the famous
blackletter-Gothic "ACHTUNG! ALLES LOOKENSPEEPERS!" notice in
mangled pseudo-German that once graced about half the computer
rooms in the English-speaking world. The following text ran: "Das
computermachine ist nicht fur gefingerpoken und mittengrabben. Ist
easy schnappen der springenwerk, blowenfusen und poppencorken mit
spitzensparken. Ist nicht fur gewerken bei das dumpkopfen. Das
rubbernecken sichtseeren keepen hans in das pockets muss; relaxen
und watch das blinkenlichten." This silliness dates back at least
as far as the London University ATLAS site in the 1960s, but
(judging by the idioms) was probably composed by an American at
some still-earlier date.

BLOCK (blok) [From computer science usage] 1. vi. To delay while
waiting for something. "We're blocking until everyone gets here."
2. in BLOCK ON vt. To block, waiting for (something). "Lunch is
blocked on Phil's arrival."

BLOCK TRANSFER COMPUTATIONS (blok trans'fer kom-pyoo-tay'shns) n.
From the Dr. Who television series: in the show, it referred to
computations so fiendishly subtle and complex that they could not
be performed by machines. Used to refer to any task that should be
expressible as an algorithm in theory, but isn't.

BLOW AWAY (bloh @-way') v. To remove files and directories from
permanant storage with extreme prejudice, generally by accident.
Oppose NUKE.

BLOW OUT (bloh owt) v. Of software, to fail spectacularly; almost as

BLOW PAST (bloh past) v. To BLOW OUT despite a safeguard. "The server
blew past the 5K reserve buffer."

BLT (blit, belt [very rarely]) v. To transfer a large contiguous package
of information from one place to another. This usage has outlasted
the PDP-10 BLock Transfer instruction for which it derives. See
DD, CAT, BLAST, SNARF, Appendix B.

BLUE GLUE (bloo gloo) [IBM] n. IBM's SNA (Systems Network
Architecture) an incredibly losing and bletcherous protocol suite
widely favored at commercial shops that don't know any better.

BLUE GOO (bloo goo) n. Term for "police" NANOBOTS intended to prevent
GRAY GOO (q.v.), denature hazardous waste, destroy pollution, put
ozone back into the stratosphere, prevent halitosis, and to promote
truth, justice, and the American way, etc., etc. See

BNF (bee-en-ef) n. Hacker acronym for `Backus-Naur Form', a
metasyntactic notation used to specify the syntax of programming
languages, command sets and the like. Widely used for language
descriptions but seldom documented anywhere, so that it must
usually be learned by osmosis from other hackers. Consider this BNF
for a postal address:

   <postal-address> ::= <name-part> <street-address> <zip-part>

   <name-part> ::= <first-name> [<middle-part>] <last-name>

   <middle-part> ::= <middle-name>
                  |  <middle-initial> "."

   <street-address> ::= [<apt>] <street-number> <street-name>

   <zip-part> ::= <town-name> "," <state-code> <zip-code>

This translates into English as: A postal-address consists of
a name-part, followed by a street-address part, followed by a
zip-code part. A name-part consists of a first-name followed
by an optional middle-part followed by a last-name. A middle-part
consists of either a middle name or a middle initial followed
by a dot. A street address consists of an optional apartment
specifier followed by a street number, followed by a street name.
A zip-part consts of a town-name, followed by a state code,
followed by a zip code. Note that many things such as the format
of a first-name, apartment specifier or zip-code are left
unspecified. These are presumed to be obvious from context or
detailed in another part of the specification the BNF is part of.

BOA (bo'uh) [IBM] n. Any one of the fat cables that lurk under the
floor in DINOSAUR PENS. It is rumored within IBM that 370 channel
cables are limited to 200 feet because beyond that length the
boas get dangerous...

BOAT ANCHOR (boht an'kr) n. Like DOORSTOP (q.v.) but more severe,
implies that the offending hardware is irreversibly dead or

BOGOMETER (boh-goh'm@-tr) n. An instrument to measure BOGOSITY,
generally a conversational device, as in "my bogometer is reading
in the red on that idea" or "I think you just bent the needle on my

BOGON (bo'gon) [by analogy with proton/electron/neutron, but
doubtless reinforced by the similarity to "Vogon"] n. 1. The
elementary particle of bogosity (see QUANTUM BOGODYNAMICS). For
instance, "the ethernet is emitting bogons again," meaning that it
is broken or acting in an erratic or bogus fashion. 2. A query
packet sent from a TCP/IP domain resolver to a root server, having
the reply bit set instead of the query bit. 3. Any bogus or
incorrectly formed packet sent on a network. 4. By extension, used
to refer metasyntactically to any bogus thing, such as "I'd like to
go to lunch with you but I've got to go to the weekly staff bogon."

BOGON FILTER (bo'gon fil'tr) n. Any device, software or hardware,
which limits or suppresses the flow and/or emission of bogons.
Example: "Engineering hacked a bogon filter between the Cray and
the VAXen and now we're getting fewer dropped packets."

BOGOSITY (boh-gos-@-tee) n. 1. The degree to which something is BOGUS
(q.v.). At CMU, bogosity is measured with a bogometer; typical
use: in a seminar, when a speaker says something bogus, a listener
might raise his hand and say, "My bogometer just triggered." The
agreed-upon unit of bogosity is the microLenat (uL). 2. The
potential field generated by a bogon flux; see QUANTUM

BOGUS (boh'guhs) [WPI, Yale, Stanford] adj. 1. Non-functional. "Your
patches are bogus." 2. Useless. "OPCON is a bogus program." 3.
False. "Your arguments are bogus." 4. Incorrect. "That algorithm
is bogus." 5. Silly. "Stop writing those bogus sagas." (This
word seems to have some, but not all, of the connotations of
RANDOM.) [Etymological note from Lehman/Reid at CMU: "Bogus" was
originally used (in this sense) at Princeton, in the late 60s. It
was used not particularly in the CS department, but all over
campus. It came to Yale, where one of us (Lehman) was an
undergraduate, and (we assume) elsewhere through the efforts of
Princeton alumni who brought the word with them from their alma
mater. In the Yale case, the alumnus is Michael Shamos, who was a
graduate student at Yale and is now a faculty member here. A
glossary of bogus words was compiled at Yale when the word was
first popularized (e.g., autobogophobia: the fear of becoming

BOHR BUG (bor buhg) [from quantum physics] n. A repeatable BUG; one
which manifests reliably under a possibly unknown but well-defined
set of conditions. Antonym of HEISENBUG.

BOINK (boynk) [USENET] 1. To have sex with; compare BOUNCE, sense #3.
2. After the original Peter Korn "Boinkcon" USENET parties, used
for almost any net social gathering, e.g. Miniboink, a small boink
held by Nancy Gillett in 1988; Minniboink, a Boinkcon in Minnesota
in 1989; Humpdayboinks, Wednesday get-togethers held in the San
Francisco Bay Area.

BONDAGE-AND-DISCIPLINE LANGUAGE (bon'd@j @n dis'@-plin lang'w@j) A
language such as Pascal, APL, or Prolog that, though ostensibly
general-purpose, is designed so as to enforce an author's theory of
"right programming" even though said theory is demonstrably
inadequate for systems or even vanilla general-purpose programming.

BOOT (boot) [from "by one's bootstraps"] v.,n. To load and initialize
the operating system on a machine. This usage is no longer slang
(having become jargon in the strict sense), but the following
variants still are. COLD BOOT: a boot from a power- off condition.
WARM BOOT: a reboot with the CPU and all devices already powered
up, as after a hardware reset or software crash.

BOTTLENECKED (bot'l-nekt) adj. 1. Used by hackers specifically to
describe hardware under which performance is usually limited by
contention for one particular resource (such as disk, memory or
processor CLOCKS); see BALANCED. 2. Less often, applied to the
software analogue of sense #1, a slow code section or algorithm
through which all computation must pass (see also HOT SPOT).

BOUNCE (bowns) v. 1. [UNIX] An electronic mail message which is
undeliverable and returns an error notification to the sender is
said to `bounce'. See also BOUNCE MESSAGE. 2. [Stanford] To play
volleyball. "Bounce, bounce! Stop wasting time on the computer and
get out to the court!" 3. To engage in sexual intercourse.

BOUNCE MESSAGE (bowns mes'@j) [UNIX] n. Notification message returned
to sender by a site unable to relay EMAIL to the intended INTERNET
ADDRESS recipient or the next link in a BANG PATH (see BOUNCE).
Reasons might include a nonexistent or misspelled username or a
down relay site. Bounce messages can themselves fail, with
occasionally ugly results; see SORCERER'S APPRENTICE MODE.

BOXEN (bok'sn) pl n. [back-formation from VAXEN] Fanciful plural of
`box' often encountered in the phrase `UNIX boxen', used to
describe commodity UNIX hardware. The implication is that any two
UNIX boxen are interchangeable.

BRAIN-DAMAGED (brayn'dam-@jd) [generalization of "Honeywell Brain
Damage" (HBD), a theoretical disease invented to explain certain
utter cretinisms in MULTICS] adj. Obviously wrong; CRETINOUS;
DEMENTED. There is an implication that the person responsible must
have suffered brain damage, because he should have known better.
Calling something brain-damaged is really bad; it also implies it
is unusable.

BRANCH TO FISHKILL (branch to fish'kill) [IBM, from the location of
one of their facilities] n. Any unexpected jump in a program that
produces catastrophic or just plain weird results. See HYPERSPACE.

BREAK (brayk) v. 1. To cause to be broken (in any sense). "Your
latest patch to the system broke the TELNET server." 2. (of a
program) To stop temporarily, so that it may be examined for
debugging purposes. The place where it stops is a BREAKPOINT.

BREAKAGE (brayk'@j) [IBM] n. The extra people that must be added to an
organization because its master plan has changed; used esp. of
software and hardware development teams.

BRITTLE (bri'tl) adj. Said of software that's easily broken. Often
describes the results of a research effort that were never intended
to be robust, but equally can apply commercially developed

BROADCAST STORM (brod'kast storm) n. An incorrect packet broadcast
on a network that causes most hosts to respond all at once,
typically with wrong answers that start the process over again.

BROKEN (broh'kn) adj. 1. Not working properly (of programs). 2.
Behaving strangely; especially (of people), exhibiting extreme

BROKET (broh'k@t, broh'ket) [by analogy with "bracket": a "broken
bracket"] (primarily Stanford) n. Either of the characters "<" and
">". (At MIT, and apparently in THE REAL WORLD (q.v.) as well,
these are usually called ANGLE BRACKETS.)

BRUTE FORCE AND IGNORANCE (broot fohrs @nd ig'nohr-ans) n. A popular
design technique at many software houses. Dogmatic adherence to
design methodologies tends to encourage it. Characteristic of early
LARVAL STAGE programming; unfortunately, many never outgrow it.
Often abbreviated BFI, as in: "Gak, they used a bubble sort! That's
strictly from BFI." Compare BOGOSITY.

BSD (bee-ess-dee) n. [acronym for Berkeley System Distribution] a
family of UNIX versions for the DEC VAX developed
by Bill Joy and
others at UC Berkeley starting around 1980, incorporating TCP/IP
networking enhancements and many other features. The BSD versions
(4.1, 4.2, and 4.3) and commercial versions derived from them
(SunOS and Mt. Xinu) held the technical lead in the UNIX world
until AT&T's successful standardization efforts after about 1986,
and are still widely popular. See UNIX, USG UNIX.

BUCKY BITS (buh'kee bits) [primarily Stanford] n. The bits produced by
the CTRL and META shift keys on a Stanford (or Knight) keyboard. It
is rumored that these were in fact named for Buckminster Fuller
during a period when he was consulting at Stanford. Unfortunately,
legend also has it that "Bucky" was Niklaus Wirth's nickname when
*he* was consulting at Stanford and that he first suggested the
idea of the meta key, so its bit was named after him. DOUBLE BUCKY:
adj. Using both the CTRL and META keys. "The command to burn all
LEDs is double bucky F." See also META BIT, COKEBOTTLE.

BUFFER OVERFLOW (buhf'r oh'vr-floh) n. What typically happens when an
OS or application is fed data faster than it can buffer and process
it. Used metaphorically of human mental processes. Ex. "Sorry, I
got four phone calls in three minutes last night and lost your
message to a buffer overflow."

BUG (buhg) [from telephone terminology, "bugs in a telephone cable",
blamed for noisy lines] n. An unwanted and unintended property of a
program, esp. one which causes it to malfunction. See FEATURE.

BULLETPROOF (bul'@t-proof) adj. Used of an algorithm or implementation
considered extremely robust; lossage-resistant; capable of
correctly recovering from any imaginable exception condition. This
is a rare and valued quality.

BUM (buhm) 1. v. To make highly efficient, either in time or space,
often at the expense of clarity. "I managed to bum three more
instructions." 2. n. A small change to an algorithm to make it
more efficient. Usage: somewhat rare. See TUNE.

BUMP (buhmp) v. Synonym for increment. Has the same meaning as C's ++
operator. Used esp. of counter variables, pointers (see POINTER
ARITHMETIC) and index dummies in for, while, and do-until loops.

BURBLE (ber'bl) v. Like FLAME, but connotes that the source is truly
clueless and ineffectual (mere flamers can be competent). A term of
deep contempt.

BUSY-WAIT (bi'zee-wayt) v. To wait on an event by SPINning through a
tight or timed-delay loop that checks for the event on each pass,
as opposed to setting up an interrupt handler and continuing
execution on another part of the task. A wasteful technique, best
avoided on time-sharing systems where a busy-waiting program may
hog the processor.

BUZZ (buhz) v. To run in a very tight loop, perhaps without guarantee
of getting out. See SPIN.

BWQ [bee duhb'l-yoo kyoo) [IBM] n. Buzz Word Quotient. Usually roughly
proportional to BOGOSITY. See TLA.

BYTESEXUAL (biet-seks'u-@l) adj. Said of hardware, denotes
willingness to compute or pass data in either BIG ENDIAN or LITTLE
ENDIAN format (depending, presumably, on a mode bit somewhere).
Back to Top

= C =

C (see) n. 1. The third letter of the Latin alphabet. 2. The name of a
programming language designed by Dennis Ritchie during the early
1970s and first used to implement UNIX (q.v.). So called because
many features derived from an earlier interpreter named `B' in
commemoration of *its* parent, BCPL; before Bjarne Stroustrup
settled the question by designing C++, there was a humorous debate
over whether C's successor should be named `D' or `P'. C became
immensely popular outside Bell Labs after about 1980 and is now the
dominant language in systems and microcomputer applications
programming. See LANGUAGES OF CHOICE.

CAMBRIDGE NOTATION (kaym'brij no-ta'shn) [LISP] n. The now-standard
way of writing LISP expressions as nested lists, with parens and
spaces; as opposed to the earlier and technically purer practice of
writing full S-expressions with cons dots. Supposedly invented as a
KLUGE because a full parser for S-expressions would have been
harder to write.

CAN (can) v. To abort a job on a time-sharing system. Used esp. when
the person doing the deed is an operator, as in CANNED FROM THE
CONSOLE. Frequently used in an imperative sense, as in "Can that
print job, the LPT just popped a sprocket!". Synymous with GUN.

CANONICAL (k@-nahn'i-kl) adj. The usual or standard state or manner
of something. A true story: One Bob Sjoberg, new at the MIT AI
Lab, expressed some annoyance at the use of jargon. Over his loud
objections, we made a point of using jargon as much as possible in
his presence, and eventually it began to sink in. Finally, in one
conversation, he used the word "canonical" in jargon-like fashion
without thinking. Steele: "Aha! We've finally got you talking
jargon too!" Stallman: "What did he say?" Steele: "He just used
`canonical' in the canonical way."

CASTERS UP MODE (cas'trz uhp mohd) [IBM] n. Yet another synonym for
`broken' or `down'.

CAT (cat) [from UNIX cat(1)] v. To spew an entire (notionally large)
file to the screen or some other output sink without pause; by
extension, to dump large amounts of data at an unprepared target or
with no intention of browsing it carefully. Usage: considered
silly. Rare outside UNIX sites. See also DD, BLT.

CATATONIA (kat-@-toh'nee-uh) n. A condition of suspended animation
in which the system is in a wedged (CATATONIC) state.

CDR (ku'dr) [from LISP] v. With "down", to trace down a list of
elements. "Shall we cdr down the agenda?" Usage: silly.

CELL-REPAIR MACHINES (sel r:-peir' m:-sheens') n. An often-discussed
probable consequence of NANOTECHNOLOGY; NANOBOTS specifically
programmed to repair tissue at the cellular level. Possible uses
include reversing freezing damage from CRYONICS procedures and
correction of mutagen-damaged DNA (including eradication of
retrovirii and oncogenes).

CHAD (chad) n. 1. The perforated edge strips on printer paper, after
they have been separated from the printed portion. Also called
SELVAGE and PERF. 2. obs. the confetti-like paper bits punched out
of cards or paper tape; this was also called `chaff'.

CHAIN (chayn) [orig. from BASIC's CHAIN statement] v. When used of
programming languages, refers to a statement that allows a parent
executable to hand off execution to a child without going through
the OS command interpreter. The state of the parent program is lost
and there is no returning to it. Though this facility used to be
common on memory-limited micros and is still widely supported for
backward compatibility, the jargon usage is semi-obsolescent; in
particular most UNIX programmers will think of this as an EXEC.
Oppose the more modern SUBSHELL.

CHAR (keir; [rarely] char) n. Shorthand for `character'. Esp. used by
C programmers, as `char' is C's typename for character data.

CHASE POINTERS (chays uh poyn'tr) v. To go through multiple levels of
indirection, as in traversing a linked list or graph structure.
Used esp. by programmers in C, where explicit pointers are a very
common data type.

CHERNOBYL PACKET (cher-no'b@l pa'k@t) n. An IP Ethergram with both
source and destination Ether and IP address set as the respective
broadcast address. So called because it induces NETWORK MELTDOWN.

CHINESE RAVS (chie'neez ravs) [MIT] n. Pot-stickers. Kuo-teh. Gyoza.
Oriental dumplings, especially when pan-fried rather than steamed.
A favorite hacker appetizer. See ORIENTAL FOOD, STIR-FRIED RANDOM.

CHOKE (chohk) vi. To reject input, often ungracefully. Examples: "I
tried building X, but cpp choked on all those #define's." See BARF,

CHOMP (chomp) v. To lose; to chew on something of which more was
bitten off than one can. Probably related to gnashing of teeth.
See BAGBITER. A hand gesture commonly accompanies this, consisting
of the four fingers held together as if in a mitten or hand puppet,
and the fingers and thumb open and close rapidly to illustrate a
biting action. The gesture alone means CHOMP CHOMP (see Verb

CHRISTMAS TREE PACKET (krist'm@s tree pa'k@t) n. A packet with every
single option set for whatever protocol is in use.

CHROME (krohm) [from automotive slang via wargaming] n. Showy features
added to attract users, but which contribute little or nothing to
the power of a system. "The 3D icons in Motif are just chrome!"
Distinguished from BELLS AND WHISTLES by the fact that the former
are usually added to gratify developers' own desires for

CHURCH OF THE SUB-GENIUS (cherch @v dh@ suhb-gee'-ny@s) A mutant
offshoot of DISCORDIANISM launched in 1981 as a spoof of
fundamentalist Christianity by the "Rev." Ivan Stang, a brilliant
satirist with a gift for promotion. Popular among hackers as a rich
source of bizarre imagery and references such as: "Bob" the divine
drilling-equipment salesman, the Benevolent Space Xists and the
Stark Fist of Removal. Much Sub-Genius theory is concerned with the
acquisition of the mystical substance or quality of "slack".

CLASSIC C (klas'ik see) n. The C programming language as defined in
the first edition of the book ``The C Programming Language'' by
``Brian W. Kernighan and Dennis M. Ritchie'' with some small
additions. It is also known as ``K & R C.'' The name came into
use during the standardisation process for C by the ANSI X3J11

CLOCKS (kloks) n. Processor logic cycles, so called because each
generally corresponds to one clock pulse in the processor's timing.
The relative execution times of instructions on a machine are
usually discussed in `clocks' rather than absolute fractions of a

CLONE (klohn) n. 1. An exact duplicate, as in "our product is a clone
of their product." 2. A shoddy, spurious copy, as in "their
product is a clone of our product." 3. A PC-BUS/ISA or
EISA-compatible 80x86 based microcomputer (in-context shorthand for
"PC clone"). 3. In the construction UNIX CLONE: An OS designed to
deliver a UNIX-lookalike environment sans UNIX license fees, or
with additional "mission-critical" features such as support for
real-time programming.

CLOSE (klohz) n. Abbreviation for "close (or right) parenthesis", used
when necessary to eliminate oral ambiguity. See OPEN.

CLUSTERGEEKING (kluh'ster-gee'king) [CMU] n. An activity defined by
spending more time at a computer cluster doing CS homework than
most people spend breathing.

COBOL FINGERS (koh'bol fing'grs) n. Reported from Sweden, a
(hypothetical) disease one might get from programming in COBOL. The
language requires extremely voluminous code. Programming too much
in COBOL causes the fingers to wear down (by endless typing), until
short stubs remain. This malformity is called COBOL FINGERS. "I
refuse to type in all that source code again, it will give me cobol

CODE GRINDER (kohd grien'dr) n. 1. A SUIT-wearing minion of the sort
hired in legion strength by banks and insurance companies to
implement payroll packages in RPG and other such unspeakable
horrors. This is about as far from hackerdom as you can get and
still touch a computer. Connotes pity. See REAL WORLD. 2. Used of
or to a hacker, a really serious slur on the person's creative
ability; connotes a design style characterized by primitive
technique, rule-boundedness, and utter lack of imagination.

CODE POLICE (kohd p@-lees') [by analogy with "thought police"] n. A
mythical team of Gestapo-like storm troopers that might burst into
one's office and arrest one for violating style rules. May be used
either "seriously" (to underline a claim that a particular style
violation is dangerous) or (more often) ironically (to suggest that
the practice under discussion is condemned mainly by anal-retentive

CODEWALKER (kohd'wok-r) n. A program component that traverses other
programs for a living. Compilers have codewalkers in their front
ends; so do cross-reference generators and some database
front-ends. As in "This language extension would require a
codewalker to implement."

COKEBOTTLE (kohk'bot-l) n. Any very unusual character. MIT people
used to complain about the "control-meta-cokebottle" commands at
SAIL, and SAIL people complained right back about the
"altmode-altmode-cokebottle" commands at MIT. Since the demise of
the SPACE-CADET KEYBOARD this is no longer a serious usage, but may
be invoked humorously to describe an (unspecified) weird or
non-intuitive keystroke command.

COME FROM (kuhm fruhm) n. A semi-mythical language construct dual to
the `go to'; COME FROM
Back to Top

= D =

DAEMON (day'mun, dee'mun) [archaic form of "demon", which has slightly
different connotations (q.v.)] n. A program which is not invoked
explicitly, but which lays dormant waiting for some condition(s) to
occur. The idea is that the perpetrator of the condition need not
be aware that a daemon is lurking (though often a program will
commit an action only because it knows that it will implicitly
invoke a daemon). For example, writing a file on the lpt spooler's
directory will invoke the spooling daemon, which prints the file.
The advantage is that programs which want (in this example) files
printed need not compete for access to the lpt. They simply enter
their implicit requests and let the daemon decide what to do with
them. Daemons are usually spawned automatically by the system, and
may either live forever or be regenerated at intervals. Usage:
DAEMON and DEMON (q.v.) are often used interchangeably, but seem to
have distinct connotations. DAEMON was introduced to computing by
CTSS people (who pronounced it dee'mon) and used it to refer to
what is now called a DRAGON or PHANTOM (q.v.). The meaning and
pronunciation have drifted, and we think this glossary reflects
current usage.

DAY MODE (day mohd) See PHASE (of people).

DD (dee-dee) [from archaic UNIX dd(1)] v. Equivalent to CAT or BLT.
Very rare outside UNIX sites and now nearly obsolescent even there,
as dd(1) has been DEPRECATED for a long time. Replaced by BLT or
simple English `copy'.

DEADLOCK (ded'lok) n. A situation wherein two or more processes are
unable to proceed because each is waiting for another to do
something. A common example is a program communicating to a PTY or
STY, which may find itself waiting for output from the PTY/STY
before sending anything more to it, while the PTY/STY is similarly
waiting for more input from the controlling program before
outputting anything. (This particular flavor of deadlock is called
"starvation". Another common flavor is "constipation", where each
process is trying to send stuff to the other, but all buffers are
full because nobody is reading anything.) See DEADLY EMBRACE, RACE

DEADLY EMBRACE (ded'lee em-brays') n. Same as DEADLOCK (q.v.), though
usually used only when exactly two processes are involved. DEADLY
EMBRACE is the more popular term in Europe; DEADLOCK in the United

DEFENESTRATION (dee-fen-uh-stray'shn) [from the traditional
Czechoslovak method of assassinating prime ministers, via ESR and
SF fandom] n. Proper karmic retribution for an incorrigible
punster. "Oh, ghod, that was *awful*!" "Quick! Defenestrate him!"
See also H INFIX.

DEEP SPACE (deep spays) adj. 1. Describes the "location" of any
program which has gone OFF THE TROLLEY. Esp. used of programs which
just sit there silently grinding long after either failure or some
output is expected. 2. Also, the metaphorical "location" of a human
so dazed and/or confused or caught up in some esoteric form of
BOGOSITY that he/she no longer responds coherently to normal
communication. Compare PAGE OUT.

DEMENTED (dee-men't@d) adj. Yet another term of disgust used to
describe a program. The connotation in this case is that the
program works as designed, but the design is bad. For example, a
program that generates large numbers of meaningless error messages
implying it is on the point of imminent collapse.

DEMIGOD (de'mi-god) n. Hacker with years of experience, a national
reputation, and a major role in the development of at least one
design, tool or game used by or known to more than 50% of the
hacker community. To qualify as a genuine demigod, the person must
recognizably identify with the hacker community and have helped
shape it. Major demigods include Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie
(co-inventors of UNIX and C) and Richard M. Stallman (inventor of
EMACS). In their hearts of hearts most hackers dream of someday
becoming demigods themselves, and more than one major software
project has been driven to completion by the author's
veiled hopes
of apotheosis. See also NET.GOD, TRUE-HACKER.

DEMON (dee'mun) n. 1. [MIT] A portion of a program which is not invoked
explicitly, but which lays dormant waiting for some condition(s) to
occur. See DAEMON. The distinction is that demons are usually
processes within a program, while daemons are usually programs
running on an operating system. Demons are particularly common in
AI programs. For example, a knowledge manipulation program might
implement inference rules as demons. Whenever a new piece of
knowledge was added, various demons would activate (which demons
depends on the particular piece of data) and would create
additional pieces of knowledge by applying their respective
inference rules to the original piece. These new pieces could in
turn activate more demons as the inferences filtered down through
chains of logic. Meanwhile the main program could continue with
whatever its primary task was. 2. [outside MIT] Often used
equivalently to DAEMON, especially under UNIX where the the latter
spelling and pronunciation is considered mildly archaic.

DEPRECATED (de'pre-kay-t@d) [from UNIX documentation] n. Said of a
program or feature that is considered obsolescent and in the
process of being phased out, usually in favor of a specified
replacement. Deprecated features can, unfortunately, linger on for
many years.

DE-REZZ (dee rez) [from the movie TRON] v. To disappear or dissolve;
the image that goes with it is of an object breaking up into raster
lines and static and then dissolving. Occasionally used of a
person who seems to have suddenly "fuzzed out" mentally rather
than physically. Usage: extremely silly, also rare. This verb was
actually invented as *fictional* hacker slang, and adopted in a
spirit of irony by real hackers years after the fact.

DEVO (dee'vo) [orig. in-house slang at Symbolics] n. A person in a
development group. See also DOCO and MANGO.

DICKLESS WORKSTATION (dik'less werk'sta-shn) n. Extremely pejorative
hackerism for "diskless workstation", a class of botches including
the Sun 3/50 and other machines designed exclusively to network
with an expensive central disk server. These combine all the
disadvantages of time-sharing with all the disadvantages of
distributed personal computers.

DIDDLE (di'dl) v. To work with in a not particularly serious manner.
"I diddled with a copy of ADVENT so it didn't double-space all the
time." "Let's diddle this piece of code and see if the problem
goes away." See TWEAK and TWIDDLE.

DIKE (diek) [from "diagonal cutters"] v. To remove a module or disable
it. "When in doubt, dike it out."

DING (ding) n.,v. Synonym for FEEP (q.v.). Usage: rare among hackers,
but commoner in THE REAL WORLD.

DINOSAUR (die'n@-sor) n. Any hardware requiring raised flooring and
special power. Used especially of old minis and mainframes when
contrasted with newer microprocessor-based machines. In a famous
quote from the '88 UNIX EXPO, Bill Joy compared the mainframe in
the massive IBM display with a grazing dinosaur, "with a truck
outside pumping its bodily fluids through it". IBM was not amused.
Compare BIG IRON.

DINOSAUR PEN (die'n@-sor pen) n. A traditional mainframe computer
room complete with raised flooring, special power, its own
ultra-heavy-duty air conditioning, and a side order of Halon fire
extinguishers. See BOA.

DISCORDIANISM (dis-kor'di-uhn-ism) n. The veneration of ERIS, aka
Discordia. Popularized by Robert Anton Wilson's _Illuminatus!_
trilogy as a sort of self-subverting dada-Zen for Westerners -- it
should on no account be taken seriously but is far more serious
than most jokes. Usually connected with an elaborate conspiracy
theory/joke involving millenia-long warfare between the partisans
of Eris and a malevolent secret society called the Illuminati. See
Appendix C and HA HA ONLY SERIOUS.

DISPLAY HACK (dis-play' hak) n. A program with the same approximate
purpose as a kaleidoscope: to make pretty pictures. Famous display
rain(6) program, worms(6) on miscellaneous UNIXes, and the X kaleid

DOCO (do'ko) [orig. in-house slang at Symbolics] n. A documentation
writer. See also DEVO and MANGO.

DO PROTOCOL (doo proh'toh-kahl) [from network protocol programming] v.
To perform an interaction with somebody or something that follows a
clearly defined procedure. For example, "Let's do protocol with
the check" at a restaurant means to ask the waitress for the check,
calculate the tip and everybody's share, generate change as
necessary, and pay the bill.

DOGWASH (dog'wahsh) [From a quip in the "urgency" field of a very
optional software change request, about 1982. It was something
like, "Urgency: Wash your dog first."] v.,n. A project of minimal
priority, undertaken as an escape from more serious work. Also, to
engage in such a project. Many games and much FREEWARE gets written
this way.

DON'T DO THAT, THEN (dohnt doo dhat, dhen) interj. Stock response to a
user complaint. "When I type control-S, the whole system comes to
a halt for thirty seconds." "Don't do that, then." Compare RTFM.

DONGLE (don-gl) n. 1. A security device for commercial microcomputer
programs consisting of a serialized EPROM and some drivers in an
RS-232 connector shell. Programs that use a dongle query the port
at startup and programmed intervals thereafter, and terminate if it
does not respond with the dongle's programmed validation code.
Thus, users could make as many copies of the program as they want
but must pay for each dongle. The idea was clever but a practical
failure, as users disliked tyng up a serial port this way. 2. By
extension, any physical electronic key or transferable ID required
for a program to function. See DONGLE DISK.

DONGLE-DISK (don'g@l disk) n. See DONGLE; a DONGLE-DISK is a floppy
disk with some coding which allows an application to identify it
uniquely. It can therefore be used as a DONGLE. Also called a "key

DOORSTOP (dor-stop) n. Used to describe equipment that is
non-functional and halfway expected to remain so, especially
obsolescent equipment kept around for political reasons or
ostensibly as a backup. "When we get another Wyse-50 in here that
ADM3 will turn into a doorstop." Compare BOAT ANCHOR.

DOT FILE (dot fiel) [UNIX] n. A file that is invisible to normal
directory-browsing tools (on UNIX, files named beginning with a dot
are invisible).

DOWN (down) 1. adj. Not working. "The up escalator is down." 2. TAKE
DOWN, BRING DOWN: v. To deactivate, usually for repair work. See

DOWNLOAD (down'lohd) v. To transfer data or (esp.) code from a larger
`host' system (esp. a mainframe) over a digital comm link to a
smaller `client' system, esp. a microcomputer or specialized
peripheral device. Oppose UPLOAD.

DRAGON (dra'gn) n. [MIT] A program similar to a "daemon" (q.v.),
except that it is not invoked at all, but is instead used by the
system to perform various secondary tasks. A typical example would
be an accounting program, which keeps track of who is logged in,
accumulates load- average statistics, etc. Under ITS, many
terminals displayed a list of people logged in, where they are,
what they're running, etc. along with some random picture (such as
a unicorn, Snoopy, or the Enterprise) which is generated by the
"NAME DRAGON". See PHANTOM. Usage: rare outside MIT -- under UNIX
and most other OSs this would be called a `background DEMON' or
`DAEMON' (q.v).

DRAGON BOOK, THE (dra'gn buk, dh@) n. Aho, Sethi and Ullman's classic
compilers text _Compilers:_Principles,_Techniques,_and_Tools_, so
called because of the cover design depicting a knight slaying a
dragon labelled "compiler complexity".

DRAIN (drayn) [IBM] v. Syn. for FLUSH (sense 4).

DRECNET (drek'net) [fr. Yiddish `dreck'] n. Deliberate distortion of
DECNET, a networking protocol used in the VMS community. So-called
because DEC helped write the Ethernet specification, and then
(either stupidly or as a malignant customer-control tactic)
violated that spec in the design of DRECNET (among other things,
they implemented the wrong HEARTBEAT speed).

DROOL-PROOF PAPER (drool-proof pay'per) n. Documentation which has
been obsessively dumbed down, to the point where only a CRETIN
could bear to read it, is said to have succumbed to the
"drool-proof paper syndrome" or to have been "written on
drool-proof paper".

DROP ON THE FLOOR (drop on dh@ flor) vt. To discard silently.
Example: "The gateway ran out of memory, so it just started
dropping packets on the floor." Also frequently used of faulty mail
and netnews relay sites that lose messages.

DRUGGED (druhgd) adj., also ON DRUGS. Conspicuously stupid, heading
towards BRAIN DAMAGE. Often accompanied by a pantomime of toking a

DRUNK MOUSE SYNDROME (druhnk mows sin'drohm) n. A malady exhibited by
the mouse pointing device of some workstations. The typical
symptom is for the mouse cursor on the screen to move to random
directions and not in sync with the moving of the actual mouse.
Can usually be corrected by unplugging the mouse and plugging it
back again.

DUSTY DECKS (duhs'tee deks) [a holdover from card-punch days] n. Old
software (especially applications) with which one is obliged to
remain compatible. Used esp. when referring to old scientific and
number-crunching software, much of which was written in FORTRAN
and very poorly documented but would be too expensive to replace.

DWIM (dwim) [Do What I Mean] 1. adj. Able to guess, sometimes even
correctly, what result was intended when provided with bogus input.
Often suggested in jest as a desired feature for a complex program.
A related term, more often seen as a verb, is DTRT (Do The Right
Thing). 2. n. The INTERLISP function that attempts to accomplish
this feat by correcting many of the more common errors. See HAIRY.
Back to Top

= E =
EASTER EGGING (ees'tr e'g@ng) [IBM] n. The act of replacing unrelated
parts more or less at random in hopes that a malfunction will go
away. Hackers consider this the normal operating mode of FIELD CIRCUS
techs and do not love them for it.

EARTHQUAKE (erth'kwayk) [IBM] n. The ultimate REAL WORLD shock test for
computer hardware. Hacker sources at IBM deny the rumor that the
Bay Area quake of 1989 was initiated by the company to test Q&A at
its California plants.

EIGHTY-COLUMN MIND (ay'tee kol'@m miend) [IBM] n. The sort said to be
employed by persons for whom the transition from card to tape was
traumatic (nobody has dared tell them about disks yet). It is said
that these people will be buried `9-EDGE-FORWARD-FACE-DOWN'. [These
people are thought by most hackers to dominate IBM's customer base,
and its thinking -- ESR].

ELEGANT (e'l@-gnt) [from mathematical usage] adj. Said of an
algorithm, program, or system that combines simplicity, power, and
a certain ineffable grace of design. Higher praise than `clever',
`winning' or even CUSPY.

ELEPHANTINE (el'@-fn-teen) adj. Used of programs or systems which are
both conspicuous HOGs (due perhaps to poor design founded on BRUTE
FORCE AND IGNORANCE) and exceedingly HAIRY in source form. An
elephantine program may be functional and even friendly, but (like
the old joke about being in bed with an elephant) it's tough to
have around all the same, esp. a bitch to maintain. In extreme
cases, hackers have been known to make trumpeting sounds or perform
expressive zoomorphic mime at the mention of the offending program.
Usage: semi-humorous. Compare "has the elephant nature" and the
somewhat more pejorative MONSTROSITY. See also SECOND-SYSTEM

EMACS (ee'maks) [from Editing MACroS] n. The ne plus ultra of hacker
editors, a program editor with an entire LISP interpreter inside
it. Originally written by Richard Stallman in TECO at the MIT-AI
lab, but the most widely used versions now run under UNIX. It
includes facilities to run compilation subprocesses and send and
receive mail; many hackers spend up to 80% of their tube time
inside it.

EMAIL (ee-mayl) v.,n. Electronic mail. Contrast SNAIL-MAIL.

EMOTICON (ee-moh'ti-cahn) n. An ASCII glyph used to indicate an
emotional state in email or news. Hundreds have been proposed, but
only a few are in common use. These include:

:-) Smiley face (indicates laughter)
:-( Frowney face (indicates sadness, anger or upset)
;-) Half-smiley (ha ha only serious), aka winkey face.
:-/ Wry face

Of these, the first two are by far the most frequently encountered.
Hyphenless forms of them are common on CompuServe, GEnie and BIX; see
also BIXIE.

EMPIRE (em'pier) n. Any of a family of military simulations derived
from a game written by Peter Langston many years ago. There are 5
or 6 multi-player variants of varying degrees of sophistication,
and one single-player version implemented for both UNIX and VMS
which is even available as MS-DOS freeware. All are notoriously

EOF (ee-oh-ef) [UNIX/C] n. End Of File. 1. Refers esp. to whatever
pseudo-character value is returned by C's sequential input
functions (and their equivalents in other environments) when
the logical end of file has been reached (this was 0 under V6
UNIX, is -1 under V7 and all subsequent versions and all non-UNIX
C library implementations). 2. Used by extension in non-computer
contexts when a human is doing something that can be modelled as
a sequential read and can't go further. "Yeah, I looked for a list
of 360 mnemonics to post as a joke, but I hit EOF pretty fast,
all the library had was a JCL manual."

EPOCH, THE (ee'p@k, dh@) [UNIX] n. Syn. for ERA.

EPSILON (ep'si-lahn) [from standard mathematical notation for a small
quantity] 1. n. A small quantity of anything. "The cost is
epsilon." 2. adj. Very small, negligible; less than marginal.
"We can get this feature for epsilon cost." 3. WITHIN EPSILON OF:
Close enough to be indistinguishable for all practical purposes.

ERA, THE (ee'ra, dh@) [from UNIX] n. The time and date corresponding
to zero in an operating system's clock and timestamp values. Under
most UNIX versions, midnight of January 1st 1970. System time is
measured in TICKS past the era. Syn. with EPOCH. See TICKS, WALL

ERIS (e'r@s) pn. The Greco-Roman goddess of Chaos, Discord, Confusion
and Things You Know Not Of; aka Discordia. Not a very friendly
deity in the Classical original, she was re-invented as a more
benign personification of creative anarchy starting in 1959 by the
adherents of DISCORDIANISM and has since been a semi-serious
subject of veneration in several `fringe' cultures including

ESSENTIALS (e-sen'tiuhls) n. Things necessary to maintain a productive
and secure hacking environment. "A jug of wine, a loaf of bread, a
20-megahertz 80386 box with 8 meg of core and a 300-megabyte disk
supporting full UNIX with source and X windows and EMACS and UUCP
to a friendly Internet site, and thou."

EXCL (eks'kl) n. Abbreviation for "exclamation point". See BANG,

EXE (ex'ee) An executable binary file. Some operating systems use the
extension .EXE to mark such files. This usage is also found among
UNIX programmers even though UNIX executables don't have any
required extension.

EXEC n. 1. [UNIX] Synonym for CHAIN, derives from the exec(2) call. 2.
obs. The command interpreter for an OS (see SHELL); term esp. used
on mainframes, and prob. derived from UNIVAC's archaic EXEC 2 and
EXEC 8 operating systems.
Back to Top

= F =

FALL OVER (fol o'vr) [IBM] v. Yet another synonym for CRASH or
LOSE. `Fall over hard' equates to CRASH AND BURN.

FANDANGO ON CORE (fan-dang'go on kor) [UNIX/C hackers, from the
Mexican dance] n. In C, a wild pointer that runs out of bounds
causing a CORE DUMP, or corrupts the malloc(3) ARENA in such a way
as to cause mysterious failures later on, is sometimes said to have
`done a fandango on core'. On low-end personal machines without an
MMU this can corrupt the OS itself, causing massive lossage. Other
third-world dances such as the rhumba, cha-cha or watusi may be

FASCISTIC (fa-shis'tik) adj. Said of a computer system with excessive
or annoying security barriers, usage limits or access policies. The
implication is that said policies are preventing hackers from
getting interesting work done.

FAULTY (fawl'tee) adj. Same denotation as "bagbiting", "bletcherous",
"losing", q.v., but the connotation is much milder.

FEAR AND LOATHING (feer @nd loh'thing) [from Hunter Thompson] n. State
inspired by the prospect of dealing with certain REAL WORLD systems
and standards which are totally BRAIN DAMAGED but ubiquitous --
Intel 8086s, or COBOL, or any IBM machine except the Rios. "Ack.
Theywant PCs to be able to talk to the AI machine. Fear and
loathing time!" See also IBM.

FEATURE (fee'chr) n. 1. A surprising property of a program.
Occasionally documented. To call a property a feature sometimes
means the author of the program did not consider the particular
case, and the program makes an unexpected, although not strictly
speaking an incorrect response. See BUG. "That's not a bug,
that's a feature!" A bug can be changed to a feature by
documenting it. 2. A well-known and beloved property; a facility.
Sometimes features are planned, but are called crocks by others.

FEATURECTOMY (fee'ch@r-ek'to-mee) n. The act of removing a feature
from a program. Featurectomies generally come in two varieties,
the RIGHTEOUS and the RELUCTANT. Righteous featurectomies are
performed because the remover believes the program would be more
elegant without the feature, or there is already an equivalent and
"better" way to achieve the same end. (This is not quite the same
thing as removing a MISFEATURE.) Reluctant featurectomies are
performed to satisfy some external constraint such as code size or
execution speed.

FEEP (feep) 1. n. The soft bell of a display terminal (except for a
VT-52!); a beep. 2. v. To cause the display to make a feep sound.
TTY's do not have feeps. Alternate forms: BEEP, BLEEP, or just
about anything suitably onomatopoeic. The term BREEDLE was
sometimes heard at SAIL, where the terminal bleepers are not
particularly "soft" (they sound more like the musical equivalent of
sticking out one's tongue). The "feeper" on a VT-52 has been
compared to the sound of a `52 Chevy stripping its gears. See also

FEEPING CREATURITIS (fee'ping kree'ch@r-ie'tis) n. Deliberate
spoonerization of CREEPING FEATURITIS, meant to imply that the
system or program in question has become a misshapen creature of

FENCEPOST ERROR (fens'post eir'@r) n. The discrete equivalent of a
boundary condition. Often exhibited in programs by iterative
loops. From the following problem: "If you build a fence 100 feet
long with posts ten feet apart, how many posts do you need?"
(Either 9 or 11 is a better answer than the obvious 10.)

FIELD CIRCUS (feeld ser'k@s) n. The field service organization of any
hardware manufacturer, but especially DEC. There is an entire
genre of jokes about DEC field circus engineers:

Q: How can you recognize a DEC field circus engineer with a flat
A: He's swapping tires to see which one is flat.

Q: How can you recognize a DEC field circus engineer who is out
of gas?
A: He's swapping tires to see which one is flat.

FILK (filk) [from SF fandom, where a typo for "folk" was adopted as
a new word] n.,v. A "filk" is a popular or folk song with lyrics
revised or completely new lyrics, intended for humorous effect when
read and/or to be sung late at night at SF conventions. There is a
flourishing subgenre of these called "computer filks", written by
hackers and often containing technical humor of quite sophisticated

FILM AT 11 (film at @-lev'n) [MIT, in imitation of TV network news
squibs.], interj. Used in conversation to announce ordinary
events, with a sarcastic implication that these events are
earth-shattering. This is hard to describe. Examples: "ITS
crashes; film at 11." "Bug found in scheduler; film at 11."

FILTER (fil'tr) [orig. UNIX, now also in MS-DOS] n. A program which
processes an input text stream into an output text stream in some
well-defined way, and does no I/O to anywhere else except possibly
on error conditions; one designed to be used as a stage in a
PIPELINE, (q.v.).

FINE (fien) [WPI] adj. Good, but not good enough to be CUSPY. [The
word FINE is used elsewhere, of course, but without the implicit
comparison to the higher level implied by CUSPY.]

FINGER (fing'gr) [BSD UNIX] 1. n. A program that displays a
particular user or all users logged on the system or a remote
system. Typically shows full name, last login time, idle time,
terminal line and terminal location. May also display a "plan file"
left by the user. 2. v. To apply finger to a username. 3. v. By
extension, to check a human's current state by any means. "Foodp?"
"T!" "OK, finger Lisa and see if she's idle".

FIREBOTTLE (fier'bo'tl) n. A large, primitive, power-hungry active
electrical device, similar to an FET constructed out of glass,
metal, and vacuum. Characterized by high cost, low density, low
reliability, high-temperature operation, and high power
dissipation. Sometimes mistakenly called a "tube" in the U.S. or a
"valve" in England.

FIREWALL MACHINE (fier'wal m:-sheen') n. A dedicated gateway machine
with special security precautions on it, used to service outside
network/mail/news connections and/or accept remote logins for (read
only) shared-file-system access via FTP. The idea is to protect
cluster of more loosely administered machines `hidden' behind it
from crackers. The typically `firewall' is an inexpensive
micro-based UNIX box kept clean of critical data, with a bunch of
modems and public network ports on it but just one carefully
watched connection back to the rest of the cluster. The special
precautions may include threat monitoring, callback, and even a
complete IRON BOX keyable to particular incoming IDs or activity

FIRMWARE (ferm'weir) n. Software installed into a computer-based piece
of equipment on ROM. So-called because it's harder to change than
software but easier than hardware.

FLAG DAY (flag day) [from a bit of Multics history involving a change
in the ASCII character set originally scheduled for June 14, 1966]
n. A software change which is neither forward nor backward
compatible, and which is costly to make and costly to revert. "Can
we install that without causing a flag day for all users?"

FLAKEY (flay'kee) adj. Subject to frequent lossages. See LOSSAGE.

FLAMAGE (flaym'@j) n. High-noise, low-signal postings to USENET or
other electronic fora. Often in the phrase "the usual flamage".

FLAME (flaym) v. To speak incessantly and/or rabidly on some
relatively uninteresting subject or with a patently ridiculous
attitude. FLAME ON: v. To continue to flame. See RAVE, BURBLE.

FLAME WAR (flaym wor) n. Acrimonious dispute, especially when
conducted on a public electronic forum such as USENET.

FLAMER (flay'mr) v. One who habitually flames others. Said of
obnoxious USENET personalities.

FLAP (flap) v. To unload a DECtape (so it goes flap, flap, flap...).
Old hackers at MIT tell of the days when the disk was device 0 and
microtapes were 1, 2,... and attempting to flap device 0 would
instead start a motor banging inside a cabinet near the disk!

FLAVOR (flay'vr) n. 1. Variety, type, kind. "DDT commands come in
two flavors." 2. The attribute of causing something to be
FLAVORFUL. "This convention yields additional flavor by allowing
one to..." See VANILLA.

FLAVORFUL (flay'vr-fl) adj. Aesthetically pleasing. See RANDOM and
LOSING for antonyms. See also the entries for TASTE and ELEGANCE.

FLIPPY (flip'ee) n. A single-side floppy disk altered for double-sided
use by addition of a second write-notch, so called because it must
be flipped over for the second side to be accessible. No longer

FLUSH (fluhsh) v. 1. To delete something, usually superfluous. "All
that nonsense has been flushed." Standard ITS terminology for
aborting an output operation. 2. To leave at the end of a day's
work (as opposed to leaving for a meal). "I'm going to flush now."
"Time to flush." 3. To exclude someone from an activity. 4.
[UNIX/C] To force buffered I/O to disk, as with an fflush(3) call.
UNIX hackers find the ITS usage confusing and vice versa.

FLYTRAP (flie'trap) n. See FIREWALL.

FOO (foo) 1. [from Yiddish "feh" or the Anglo-Saxon "fooey!"] interj.
Term of disgust. 2. [from FUBAR (Fucked Up Beyond All
Recognition), from WWII, often seen as FOOBAR] Name used for
temporary programs, or samples of three-letter names. Other
similar words are BAR, BAZ (Stanford corruption of BAR), and rarely
RAG. These have been used in Pogo as well. 3. Used very generally
as a sample name for absolutely anything. The old `Smokey Stover'
comic strips often included the word FOO, in particular on license
plates of cars. 4. First on the standard list of metasyntactic
variables used in syntax examples. See also: BAR, BAZ, QUX, QUUX,
See MOBY. [It is possible that hacker usage of FOO actually
springs from the title "FOO, Lampoons and Parody" of a comic book
first issued in September 1958; the byline read "C. Crumb" but my
source believes this was a sort-of pseudonym for noted weird-comix
artist Robert Crumb. The title FOO was featured in large letters
on the front cover -- ESR]

FOOL (fool) n. As used by hackers, specifically describes a person who
habitually reasons from obviously or demonstrably incorrect
premises and cannot be persuaded to do otherwise by evidence; it is
not generally used in its other senses, i.e. to describe a person
with a native incapacity to reason correctly, or a clown. Indeed,
in hackish experience many fools are capable of reasoning all too
effectively in executing their errors. See also CRETIN, LOSER.

FOOTPRINT (fut'print) n. 1. The floor or desk area taken up by a piece
of hardware. 2. [IBM] The audit trail (if any) left by a crashed
program (often in plural, `footprints').

FOREGROUND (for'grownd) [UNIX] adj.v. On a time-sharing system, a
task executing in foreground is one running at normal priority and
able to accept input from and return output to the user; oppose
BACKGROUND. There may be only one forground task per terminal (or
terminal window). By extension, "to foreground" a task is to bring
it to the top of one's PDL or STACK for immediate processing, and
in this sense hackers often use it for non-computer tasks.

FORTUNE COOKIE (for'chn ku'kee) [UNIX] n. A random quote, item of
trivia, joke or maxim printed to the user's tty at login time or
(more rarely) at logout time. Items from this jargon file have
often been used as fortune cookies.

FOSSIL (fohs'sl) n. 1. In software, a misfeature that becomes
understandable only in historical context, as a remnant of times
past retained so as not to break compatibility. Example: the
retention of octal as default base for string escapes in C in spite
of the better match of hexadecimal to modern byte-addressible
architectures. See DUSTY DECKS. 2. More restrictively, a feature
with past but no present utility. Example: the force-all-caps
(IUCLC/OLCUC) bits in the UNIX tty driver, designed for use with
monocase terminals.

FRED (fred) n. The personal name most frequently used as a
metasyntactic variable (see FOO). The reasons for this are obscure.

FREEWARE (free'weir) n. Free software, often written by enthusiasts
and usually distributed by electronic mail, local bulletin boards,
USENET, or other electronic media. See SHAREWARE.

FRIED (fried) adj. 1. Non-working due to hardware failure; burnt out.
2. Of people, exhausted. Said particularly of those who continue
to work in such a state. Often used as an explanation or excuse.
"Yeah, I know that fix destroyed the file system, but I was fried
when I put it in."

FROB (frob) 1. n. [MIT] The official Tech Model Railroad Club
definition is "FROB = protruding arm or trunnion", and by
metaphoric extension any somewhat small thing. See FROBNITZ. 2.
v. Abbreviated form of FROBNICATE.

FROBNICATE (frob'ni-kayt) v. To manipulate or adjust, to tweak.
Derived from FROBNITZ (q.v.). Usually abbreviated to FROB. Thus
one has the saying "to frob a frob". See TWEAK and TWIDDLE.
Usage: FROB, TWIDDLE, and TWEAK sometimes connote points along a
continuum. FROB connotes aimless manipulation; TWIDDLE connotes
gross manipulation, often a coarse search for a proper setting;
TWEAK connotes fine-tuning. If someone is turning a knob on an
oscilloscope, then if he's carefully adjusting it he is probably
tweaking it; if he is just turning it but looking at the screen he
is probably twiddling it; but if he's just doing it because turning
a knob is fun, he's frobbing it.

FROBNITZ (frob'nits), pl. FROBNITZEM (frob'nitsm) n. An unspecified
physical object, a widget. Also refers to electronic black boxes.
This rare form is usually abbreviated to FROTZ, or more commonly to
FROB. Also used are FROBNULE and FROBULE. Starting perhaps in
1979, FROBOZZ (fruh-bahz') has also become very popular. These can
also be applied to nonphysical objects, such as data structures.

FROG alt. PHROG (frog) 1. interj. Term of disgust (we seem to have a
lot of them). 2. Used as a name for just about anything. See FOO.
3. n. Of things, a crock. Of people, somewhere inbetween a turkey
and a toad. 4. FROGGY: adj. Similar to BAGBITING (q.v.), but
milder. "This froggy program is taking forever to run!"

FROTZ (frotz) 1. n. See FROBNITZ. 2. MUMBLE FROTZ: An interjection
of very mild disgust.

FRY (frie) v. 1. To fail. Said especially of smoke-producing hardware
failures. 2. More generally, to become non-working. Usage: never
said of software, only of hardware and humans. See FRIED, MAGIC

FTP (ef-tee-pee, NOT "fittip") 1. n. The File Transfer Protocol for
transmitting files between systems on the ARPAnet. 2. v. To
transfer a file using the File Transfer Program. "Lemme get this
copy of Wuthering Heights FTP'd from uunet."

FUD WARS (fud worz) n. [from `Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt'] Political
posturing engaged in by hardware and software vendors ostensibly
committed to standardization but actually willing to fragment the
market to protect their own share. The OSF vs. UNIX International
conflict, for example.

FUDGE (fuhj) 1. v. To perform in an incomplete but marginally
acceptable way, particularly with respect to the writing of a
program. "I didn't feel like going through that pain and
suffering, so I fudged it." 2. n. The resulting code.

FUDGE FACTOR (fuhj faktr) n. A value or parameter that is varied in an
ad hoc way to produce the desired result. The terms "tolerance"
and "slop" are also used, though these usually indicate a one-sided
leeway, such as a buffer which is made larger than necessary
because one isn't sure exactly how large it needs to be, and it is
better to waste a little space than to lose completely for not
having enough. A fudge factor, on the other hand, can often be
tweaked in more than one direction. An example might be the
coefficients of an equation, where the coefficients are varied in
an attempt to make the equation fit certain criteria.

FUEL UP (fyool uhp) v. To eat or drink hurriedly in order to get back
to hacking. "Food-p?" "Yeah, let's fuel up." "Time for a

FUGGLY (fuhg'lee) adj. Emphatic form of FUNKY; funky + ugly. Unusually
for hacker slang, this may actually derive from black street-jive.
To say it properly, the first syllable should be growled rather
than spoken. Usage: humorous. "Man, the ASCII-to-EBCDIC code in
that printer driver is *fuggly*." See also WONKY.

FUNKY (fuhn'kee) adj. Said of something which functions, but in a
slightly strange, klugey way. It does the job and would be
difficult to change, so its obvious non-optimality is left alone.
Often used to describe interfaces. The more bugs something has that
nobody has bothered to fix because workarounds are easier, the
funkier it is. TECO and UUCP are funky. The Intel i860's
exception handling is extraordinarily funky. Most standards
acquire funkiness as they age. "The new mailer is installed, but
is still somewhat funky; if it bounces your mail for no reason, try
resubmitting it." "This UART is pretty funky. The data ready line
is active-high in interrupt mode, and active-low in DMA mode." See

FUZZ (fuhz) n. In floating-point arithmetic, the maximum difference
allowed between two quantities for them to compare equal. Has to be
set properly relative to the FPU's precision limits.

FUZZBALL (fuhz'bawl) [TCP/IP hackers] n. A DEC LSI-11 running a
particular suite of homebrewed software by Dave Mills and assorted
co-conspirators, used in the early 80's for Internet protocol
testbedding and experimentation. These were used as NSFnet backbone
sites in its early 56KB-line days; a few of these are still active
on the Internet as of early 1990, doing odd jobs such as network
time service.
Back to Top

= G =

GABRIEL (gay'bree-@l) [for Dick Gabriel, SAIL volleyball fanatic] n.
An unnecessary (in the opinion of the opponent) stalling tactic,
e.g., tying one's shoelaces or hair repeatedly, asking the time,
etc. Also used to refer to the perpetrator of such tactics. Also,
"pulling a Gabriel", "Gabriel mode".

GAG (gag) vi. Equivalent to CHOKE, but connotes more disgust. "Hey,
this is Fortran code. No wonder the C compiler gagged." See also

GARBAGE COLLECT (gar'b@j k@-lekt') v., GARBAGE COLLECTION n. See GC.

GARPLY (gar'plee) n. [Stanford] Another meta-word popular among SAIL

GAS (gas) [as in "gas chamber"] interj. 1. A term of disgust and
hatred, implying that gas should be dispensed in generous
quantities, thereby exterminating the source of irritation. "Some
loser just reloaded the system for no reason! Gas!" 2. A term
suggesting that someone or something ought to be flushed out of
mercy. "The system's wedging every few minutes. Gas!" 3. v.
FLUSH (q.v.). "You should gas that old crufty software." 4.
GASEOUS adj. Deserving of being gassed. Usage: primarily used by
Geoff Goodfellow at SRI, but spreading; became particularly popular
after the Moscone/Milk murders in San Francisco, when it was
learned that Dan White (who supported Proposition 7) would get the
gas chamber under 7 if convicted.

GATEWAY (gayt'way) n. 1. A computer or item of special-purpose
hardware that links two or more normally incompatible data networks
and does protocol translation between them. 2. On compatible or
common-carrier networks, a piece of software that translates
between normally incompatible data formats and addressing

GC (jee-see) [from LISP terminology] 1. v. To clean up and throw away
useless things. "I think I'll GC the top of my desk today." 2. v.
To recycle, reclaim, or put to another use. 3. n. An instantiation
of the GC process.

GEDANKEN (g@-dahn'kn) [from Einstein's term "gedanken-experimenten",
such as the standard proof that E=mc^2] adj. An AI project which is
written up in grand detail without ever being implemented to any
great extent. Usually perpetrated by people who aren't very good
hackers or find programming distasteful or are just in a hurry. A
gedanken thesis is usually marked by an obvious lack of intuition
about what is programmable and what is not and about what does and
does not constitute a clear specification of a program-related
concept such as an algorithm.

GENDER MENDER (jen'dr-men'dr) n. (also GENDER BENDER) A cable
connector shell with either two male or two female connectors on
it, used for mating like-sexed cables. Used esp. for RS-232C parts
in either the original D-25 or the IBM PC's bogus D-9 format.

GENERATE (gen'@-rayt) v. To produce something according to an
algorithm or program or set of rules, or as a (possibly unintended)
side effect of the execution of an algorithm or program. The
opposite of PARSE. This term retains its mechanistic connotations
(though often humorously) when used of human behavior.

GET A REAL COMPUTER (get uh reel kuhm'pyoo-tr) imp. Typical hacker
response to news that somebody is having trouble getting work done
on a system that is a) single- tasking, b) has no Winchester, or c)
has less than a megabyte of DRAM. This is as of 1990; note that the
threshold for `real computer' rises with time, and it may well be
(for example) that machines with character-only displays will be
considered `unreal' in five years. See BITTY BOX and TOY.

GIGO (gie'goh) [acronym] garbage in, garbage out. Usually said in
response to lusers who complain that a program didn't complain
about faulty data. Also commonly used to describe failures in human
decision making due to faulty, incomplete or imprecise data.

GLARK (glark) v. To figure something out from context, taken from an
old Scientific American "Mathematical Games" column, where the
phrase "glark the meaning from context" was used as an example...of
glarking something from context. "The System III manuals are pretty
poor, but you can generally glark the meaning from context".

GLASS (glas) [IBM] n. Synonym for SILICON.

GLASS TTY (glas tee-tee-wie, glas ti-tee) n. A terminal which has a
display screen but which, because of hardware or software
limitations, behaves like a teletype or other printing terminal.
An example is the ADM-3 (without cursor control). A glass tty
can't do neat DISPLAY HACKs, and you can't save the output either.

GLITCH (glich) [from the Yiddish "glitshen", to slide] 1. n. A sudden
interruption in electric service, sanity, or program function.
Sometimes recoverable. 2. v. To commit a glitch. See GRITCH. 3.
v. [Stanford] To scroll a display screen. 4. (obs.) Same as MAGIC
COOKIE, sense #2.

GLORK (glork) 1. interj. Term of mild surprise, usually tinged with
outrage, as when one attempts to save the results of two hours of
editing and finds that the system has just crashed. 2. Used as a
name for just about anything. See FOO. 3. v. Similar to GLITCH
(q.v.), but usually used reflexively. "My program just glorked

GNARLY (nar'lee) adj. Both OBSCURE and HAIRY in the sense of complex.
"Yeech -- the tuned assembler implementation of BitBlt is really
gnarly!" From a similar but less specific usage in surfer slang.

GNU (gnoo, NOT "noo") 1. [acronym for "GNU's Not UNIX!"] A
UNIX-workalike development effort of the Free Software Foundation
headed by Richard Stallman (aka RMS). GNU EMACS and the GNU C
compiler, two tools designed for this project, have become very
popular in hackerdom. See EMACS, COPYLEFT. 2. Noted UNIX hacker
John Gilmore (gnu@hoptoad.com), ironically enough one of the
best-known and most vocal opponents of the "information should
not be property" philosophy behind GNU. See RMS.

GO FLATLINE (flat'lien) [from cyberpunk SF, refers to flattening of
EEG traces upon brain-death] v., also adjectival FLATLINED. 1. To
die, terminate, or fail, esp. irreversibly. In hacker parlance this
is used of machines only, human death being considered somewhat too
serious a matter to employ jargon-jokes about. 2. To go completely
quiescent; said of machines undergoing controlled shutdown. "You
can suffer file damage if you shut down UNIX but power off before
the system has gone flatline." 3. A particular failure mode of
video tubes in which vertical scan is lost, so all one sees is a
bright horizontal line bisecting the screen.

GOBBLE (go'bl) v. To consume or to obtain. GOBBLE UP tends to imply
"consume", while GOBBLE DOWN tends to imply "obtain". "The output
spy gobbles characters out of a TTY output buffer." "I guess I'll
gobble down a copy of the documentation tomorrow." See SNARF.

GONK (gonk) v.,n. To prevaricate or to embellish the truth beyond any
reasonable recognitions. In German the term is "GONKEN", in
spanish the verb becomes "GONKAR." "You're gonking me. That story
you just told me is a bunch of gonk". In German, "Du Gonkst mir".
(You're pulling my leg) See also GONKULATOR.

GONZO (gon'zo) [from Hunter S. Thompson] adj. Overwhelming; very
large, esp. used of collections of source code, source files or
individual functions. Has some of the connotations of MOBY and
HAIRY, q.v.

GONKULATOR (gon'kyoo-lay-tr) [from the old "Hogan's Heroes" TV
series] n. A pretentious piece of equipment that actually serves no
useful purpose. Usually used to describe one's least favorite
piece of computer hardware. See GONK.

GOOD THING (gud thing) adj. Always capitalized. 1. Self-evidently
wonderful to anyone in a position to notice: "The Trailblazer's
19.2Kbaud PEP mode with on-the-fly Lempel-Ziv compression is a Good
Thing for sites relaying netnews." 2. Something which can't
possibly have any ill side effects and may save considerable grief
later: "Removing the self-modifying code from that shared library
would be a Good Thing." 3. When said of software tools or
libraries, as in "YACC is a Good Thing", specifically connotes that
the thing has drastically reduced a programmer's work load. Oppose

GORP (gorp) [CMU, perhaps from a brand of dried hiker's food?]
Another metasyntactic variable, like FOO and BAR.

GORILLA ARM (gor-il'uh arm) n. The side-effect that destroyed
touch-screens as a mainstream input technology despite a promising
start in the early eighties. It seems the designers of all those
SPIFFY touch-menu systems failed to notice that humans aren't
designed to hold their arms in front of their faces making small
motions. After more than a very few selects the arm begins to feel
sore, cramped, and oversized, hence "gorilla arm". This is now
considered a classic Horrible Example and cautionary tale to
human-factors designers; "remember the gorilla arm" is shorthand
for "how's this gonna fly in *real* use?"

GREAT RENAMING (grayt ree-naym'ing) n. The FLAG DAY on which all of
the groups on the USENET had their names changed from the net.*
format to the current 7 hierarchies scheme.

GREAT-WALL (grayt-wahl) [from SF fandom] v.,n. a mass expedition to an

GREEN LIGHTNING (green liet'ning) [IBM] n. Apparently random flashing
streaks on the face of 3278-9 terminals while a programmable symbol
set is being loaded. This hardware bug was left deliberately
unfixed, as some bright spark suggested that this would let the
user know that `something is happening'. It certainly does. 2.
[generalization of #1 proposed by ESR] Any bug perverted into an
alleged feature by adroit rationalization or marketing. E.g.
"Motorola calls the CISC cruft in the 8800 architecture
`compatibility logic', but I call it green lightning".

GRAULT (grawlt) n. Yet another meta-syntactic variable, invented by
Mike Galleher and propagated by the Gosmacs documentation. See

GRAY GOO (gray goo) n. A hypothetical substance composed of billions
of sub-micron-sized Von Neumann machines (self-replicating robots)
programmed to make copies of themselves out of whatever is
available. The image that goes with the term is one of the entire
biosphere of Earth being eventually converted to robot goo. This is
most naive and easiest to demolish of the NANOTECHNOLOGY (q.v.)
disaster scenarios.

GREP (grep) [from the UNIX grep tool] v. To rapidly scan a file or
file set looking for a particular string or pattern. By extension,
to look for something by pattern. "Grep the bulletin board for the
system backup schedule, would you?"

GRIND (griend) v. 1. [MIT and Berkeley] To format code, especially
LISP code, by indenting lines so that it looks pretty. Hence,
PRETTY PRINT, the generic term for such operations. 2. [UNIX] To
generate the formatted version of a document from the nroff, troff,
TEX or Scribe source. 3. To run seemingly interminably, performing
some tedious and inherently useless task. Similar to CRUNCH,

GRIND CRANK (griend crank) n. A mythical accessory to a terminal. A
crank on the side of a monitor, which when operated makes a zizzing
noise and causes the computer to run faster. Usually one does not
refer to a grind crank out loud, but merely makes the appropriate

GRITCH (grich) 1. n. A complaint (often caused by a GLITCH (q.v.)).
2. v. To complain. Often verb-doubled: "Gritch gritch". 3.

GROK (grok) [from the novel "Stranger in a Strange Land", by Robert
Heinlein, where it is a Martian verb meaning literally "to drink"
and metaphorically "to be one with"] v. To understand, usually in a
global sense. Connotes intimate and exhaustive knowledge.

GRONK (gronk) [popularized by the cartoon strip "B.C." by Johnny
Hart, but the word apparently predates that] v. 1. To clear the
state of a wedged device and restart it. More severe than "to
frob" (q.v.). 2. To break. "The teletype scanner was gronked, so
we took the system down." 3. GRONKED: adj. Of people, the
condition of feeling very tired or sick. 4. GRONK OUT: v. To cease
functioning. Of people, to go home and go to sleep. "I guess I'll
gronk out now; see you all tomorrow."

GROVEL (gruh'vl) v. To work interminably and without apparent
progress. Often used with "over". "The compiler grovelled over my
code." Compare GRIND and CRUNCH. Emphatic form: GROVEL OBSCENELY.

GRUNGY (gruhn'jee) adj. Incredibly dirty or grubby. Anything which
has been washed within the last year is not really grungy. Also
used metaphorically; hence some programs (especially crocks) can be
described as grungy. Now (1990) also common in mainstream slang.

GUBBISH (guh'bish) [a portmanteau of "garbage" and "rubbish"?] n.
Garbage; crap; nonsense. "What is all this gubbish?"

GUILTWARE (gilt'weir) n. FREEWARE decorated with a message telling one
how long and hard the author worked on this program and intimating
that one is a no-good shit if one does not immediately send the
poor suffering martyr gobs of money.

GUMBY (guhm'bee) [from the claymation character] n. An act of minor
but conspicuous stupidity, often in GUMBY MANEUVER or PULL A GUMBY.

GUN (guhn) [from the GUN command on ITS] v. To forcibly terminate a
program or job (computer, not career). "Some idiot left a
background process running soaking up half the cycles, so I gunned
it." Compare CAN.

GURFLE (ger'fl) interj. An expression of shocked disbelief. "He said
we have to recode this thing in FORTRAN by next week. Gurfle!"

GURU (gur'oo) n. A UNIX expert. Implies not only WIZARD skill but a
history of being a knowledge resource for others. Less often, used
(with a qualifier) for other experts on other systems, as in "VMS

Back to Top

= H =

H INFIX (aych in-fix) [from SF fandom] A method of "marking" common
words in the linguist's sense, i.e. calling attention to the fact
that they are being used in a nonstandard, ironic or humorous way.
Orig. in the fannish catchphrase "Bheer is the One True Ghod" from
decades ago. H-infix marking of "Ghod" and other words spread into
the Sixties counterculture via underground comix, and into early
hackerdom either from the counterculture or SF fandom (all three
overlapped heavily at the time). More recently, the h infix has
become an expected feature of benchark names, i.e. Whetstone,
Dhrystone, Rhealstone, etc; this is prob. patterning on the
original Whetstone name but influenced by the
fannish/counterculture H infix.

HA HA ONLY SERIOUS (ha ha ohn'lee see'ree-us) [from SF fandom] A
phrase that aptly captures the flavor of much hacker discourse
(sometimes seen abbreviated as HHOS). Applied especially to
parodies, absurdities and ironic jokes that are both intended and
perceived to contain a possibly disquieting amount of truth, or
truths which are constructed on in-joke and self-parody. The jargon
file contains many examples of ha-ha-only-serious in both form and
content. Indeed, the entirety of hacker culture is often perceived
as ha-ha-only-serious by hackers themselves; to take it either too
lightly or too seriously marks a person as an outsider or one in
LARVAL STAGE. For further enlightenment on this subject, consult
any Zen master. See also HUMOR, HACKER.

HACK (hack) n. 1. Originally a quick job that produces what is needed,
but not well. 2. The result of that job. 3. NEAT HACK: A clever
technique. Also, a brilliant practical joke, where neatness is
correlated with cleverness, harmlessness, and surprise value.
Example: the Caltech Rose Bowl card display switch circa 1961. 4.
REAL HACK: A crock (occasionally affectionate). v. 5. With
"together", to throw something together so it will work. 6. To
bear emotionally or physically. "I can't hack this heat!" 7. To
work on something (typically a program). In specific sense: "What
are you doing?" "I'm hacking TECO." In general sense: "What do
you do around here?" "I hack TECO." (The former is
time-immediate, the latter time-extended.) More generally, "I hack
x" is roughly equivalent to "x is my bag". "I hack solid-state
physics." 8. To pull a prank on. See definition 3 and HACKER (def
#6). 9. v.i. To waste time (as opposed to TOOL). "Watcha up to?"
"Oh, just hacking." 10. HACK UP (ON): To hack, but generally
implies that the result is meanings 1-2. 11. HACK VALUE: Term used
as the reason or motivation for expending effort toward a seemingly
useless goal, the point being that the accomplished goal is a hack.
For example, MacLISP has features for reading and printing roman
numerals, which was installed purely for hack value. 12. [UNIX] A
dungeon game similar to ROGUE (q.v.) but more elaborate,
distributed in C source over USENET and very popular at UNIX sites
and on PC-class machines. Recent versions are called `nethack'.
HAPPY HACKING: A farewell. HOW'S HACKING?: A friendly greeting
among hackers. HACK HACK: A somewhat pointless but friendly
comment, often used as a temporary farewell.

HACKER (hak'r) [originally, someone who makes furniture with an axe]
n. 1. A person who enjoys learning the details of programming
systems and how to stretch their capabilities, as opposed to most
users who prefer to learn only the minimum necessary. 2. One who
programs enthusiastically, or who enjoys programming rather than
just theorizing about programming. 3. A person capable of
appreciating HACK VALUE (q.v.). 4. A person who is good at
programming quickly. Not everything a hacker produces is a hack.
5. An expert at a particular program, or one who frequently does
work using it or on it; example: "A UNIX hacker". (Definitions 1
to 5 are correlated, and people who fit them congregate.) 6.
(deprecated) A malicious or inquisitive meddler who tries to
discover information by poking around. Hence "password hacker",
"network hacker". See CRACKER.

HACK MODE (hak mohd) n. 1. What one is in when hacking, of course. 2.
More specifically, a Zen-like state of total focus on The Problem
which may be achieved when one is hacking. Ability to enter such
concentration at will correlates strongly with wizardliness; it is
one of the most important skills learned during LARVAL STAGE.
Sometimes amplified as DEEP HACK MODE. Being yanked out of hack
mode (see PRIORITY INTERRUPT) may be experienced as an almost
physical shock, and the sensation of being in it is more than a
little habituating. The intensity of this experience is probably by
itself sufficient explanation for the existence of hackers, and
explains why many resist being promoted out of positions where they
can do code.

HACKING RUN (hak'ing ruhn) [analogy with `bombing run' or `speed run']
n. A hack session extended long outside `normal' working times,
especially one longer than 12 hours. May cause you to CHANGE PHASE

HACKISH (hak'ish) adj. (also HACKISHNESS n.) 1. Being or involving a
hack. 2. Of or pertaining to hackers or the hacker subculture.

HAIR (heir) n. The complications which make something hairy.
"Decoding TECO commands requires a certain amount of hair." Often
seen in the phrase INFINITE HAIR, which connotes extreme
complexity. Also in HAIRIFEROUS (tending to promote hair growth):
"GNU elisp encourages lusers to write complex editing modes."
"Yeah, it's pretty hairiferous all right."

HAIRY (heir'ee) adj. 1. Overly complicated. "DWIM is incredibly
hairy." 2. Incomprehensible. "DWIM is incredibly hairy." 3. Of
people, high-powered, authoritative, rare, expert, and/or
incomprehensible. Hard to explain except in context: "He knows
this hairy lawyer who says there's nothing to worry about."

HAKMEM (hak'mem) n. MIT AI Memo 239 (February 1972). A legendary
collection of neat mathematical and programming hacks contributed
by many people at MIT and elsewhere.

HAND-HACKING (hand hak'ing) n. The practice of translating HOT SPOTS
from an HLL into custom hand-optimized assembler, as opposed to
trying to coerce the compiler into generating better code. Both the
term and the practice are becoming uncommon. See TUNE, BUM.

HANDWAVE (hand'wayv) 1. v. To gloss over a complex point; to distract
a listener; to support a (possibly actually valid) point with
blatantly faulty logic. 2. n. The act of handwaving. "Boy, what a
handwave!" The use of this word is often accompanied by gestures:
both hands up, palms forward, swinging the hands in a vertical
plane pivoting at the elbows and/or shoulders (depending on the
magnitude of the handwave); alternatively, holding the forearms
still while rotating the hands at the wrist to make them flutter.
In context, the gestures alone can suffice as a remark.

HANLON'S RAZOR (han'lnz ray'zr) n. A "murphyism" parallel to Occam's
Razor that reads "Never attribute to malice that which can be
adequately explained by stupidity". Quoted here because it seems to
be a particular favorite of hackers, often showing up in FORTUNE
COOKIE files and the login banners of BBS systems and commercial
networks. This probably reflects the hacker's daily experience of
environments created by the well-intentioned but shortsighted.

HARDWARILY (hard-weir'i-lee) adv. In a way pertaining to hardware.
"The system is hardwarily unreliable." The adjective "hardwary" is

HAS THE X NATURE (has dh@ eks nay'tyoor) [seems to derive from Zen
Buddhist koans of the form "Does an X have the Buddha-nature?"]
adj. Common hacker construction for `is an X', used for humorous
emphasis. Ex: "Anyone who can't even use a program with on-screen
help embedded in it truly has the LOSER nature!"

HASH COLLISION (hash k@-li'zhn) [from the technical usage] n. When
used of people, signifies a confusion in associative memory or
imagination, especially a persistent one (see THINKO). True story:
one of us (ESR) was once on the phone with a friend about to move
out to Berkeley. When asked what he expected Berkeley to be like,
the friend replied "Well, I have this mental picture of naked women
throwing Molotov cocktails, but I think that's just a collision in
my hash tables."

HCF (aych-see-eff) n. Mnemonic for "Halt and Catch Fire", any of
several undocumented and semi-mythical instructions with
destructive side-effects, supposedly included for test purposes on
several well-known architectures going as far back as the IBM 360.
The MC68000 microprocessor was the first for which the HCF opcode
became widely known. The 68000 HCF causes the processor to toggle a
subset of the bus lines as rapidly as it can; in some
configurations this can actually cause lines to burn up.

HEARTBEAT (hart'beet) n. 1. The master clock signal propagated across
an Ethernet; by extension, the time-baseline synchronization signal
at the physical level of any network. 2. The `natural' oscillation
frequency of a computer's clock crystal, before frequency division
down to the machine's CLOCK RATE.

HEISENBUG (hie'sen-buhg) [from quantum physics] n. A bug which
disappears or alters its behavior when one attempts to probe or
isolate it. Antonym of BOHR BUG (q.v.). In C, 9 out of 10
heisenbugs result from either FANDANGO ON CORE phenomena (esp.
lossage related to corruption of the malloc ARENA) or errors which

HELLO SAILOR! (he'lo say'lr) interj. Occsional West Coast equivalent
of `Hello, world!'. See HELLO WORLD.

HELLO WALL (he'lo wahl) See WALL.

HELLO WORLD! (he'lo werld) interj. 1. The canonical minimal test
message in the C/UNIX universe. In folklore, the first program a C
coder is supposed to write in a new environment is one that just
prints "Hello, world!" to his standard output. Environments that
generate an unreasonably large executable for this trivial test or
which require a HAIRY compiler-linker invocation to generate it are
considered to LOSE. 2. Greeting uttered by a hacker making an
entrance or requesting information from anyone present. "Hello,
world! Is the VAX back up yet?"

HIGH BIT (hie bit) n. See META BIT

HIRSUTE (heer's[y]oot) adj. Occasionally used humorously as a synonym
for HAIRY.

HLL (aych-el-el) n. [High-Level Language (as opposed to assembler)]
Found primarily in email and news rather than speech. Rarely, the
variants `VHLL' and `MLL' are found. VHLL = `Very-High-Level
Language' and is used to describe a BONDAGE-AND-DISCIPLINE
LANGUAGE that the speaker happens to like; Prolog and Backus's FP
are often called VHLLs. `MLL' = `Medium-Level Language' and is
sometimes used half-jokingly to describe C, alluding to its
`structured-assembler' image. See also LANGUAGES OF CHOICE.

HOG (hawg) n.,v. Favored term to describe programs which seem to eat
far more than their share of a system's resources, esp. those which
noticeably degrade general timesharing response. *Not* used of
programs which are simply extremely large or complex or which are
merely painfully slow themselves (see PIG, RUN LIKE A). More often
than not encountered in qualified forms, e.g MEMORY HOG, CORE HOG,

HOOK (huk) n. An extraneous piece of software or hardware included in
order to simplify later additions or debug options. For instance,
a program might execute a location that is normally a JFCL, but by
changing the JFCL to a PUSHJ one can insert a debugging routine at
that point.

HOME BOX (hohm boks) n. A hacker's personal machine, especially one he
owns. "Yeah? Well, *my* home box runs a full 4.2BSD, so there!"

HOSE (hohz) 1. v. To Make non-functional or greatly degraded in
performance, as in "That big ray-tracing program really hoses the
system." See HOSED. 2. n. A narrow channel through which data flows
under pressure. Generally denotes data paths in a system that
represent performance bottlenecks. 3. Cabling, especially thick
Ethernet cable. Sometimes "bit hose".

HOSED (hohzd) adj. Same as DOWN. Used primarily by UNIX hackers.
Humorous: also implies a condition thought to be relatively easy to
reverse. Probably a back-formation from the Canadian slang `hoser'
popularized by the Bob and Doug skits on SCTV. See HOSE.

HOT SPOTS (hot spotz) [primarily C/UNIX programmers, but spreading]
n. In most programs, less than 10% of the code eats 90% of the
execution time; if one were to graph instruction visits versus code
addresses, one would typically see a few huge spikes amidst a lot
of low-level noise. Such spikes are called hot spots and are good
candidates for HAND-HACKING. The term is especially used of tight
loops and recursions in the code's central algorithm, as opposed to
(say) initial set-up costs or large but infrequent I/O operations.

HOUSE WIZARD (hows wi'zrd) [prob. from ad-agency lingo, cf. `house
freak'] n. A lone hacker occupying a technical-specialist, R&D or
systems position at a commercial shop. A really effective house
wizard can have influence out of all proportion to his/her
ostensible rank and still not have to wear a suit. Used esp. of
UNIX experts. The term HOUSE GURU is equivalent.

HUMONGOUS (hyoo-mohng'gus) alt. HUMUNGOUS (hyoo-muhng'gus) See HUNGUS.

HUMOR, HACKER (hyoo'm@r, hak'r) n. A distinct style of shared
intellectual humor found among hackers, having the following marked

1) Fascination with form-vs.-content jokes, paradoxes, and humor
having to do with confusion of metalevels (see META). One way
to make a hacker laugh: hold an index card in front of him/her
with "THIS IS GREEN" written on it in bold red ink, or
vice-versa (note, however, that this is only funny the first

2) Elaborate deadpan parodies of large intellectual constructs such
as standards documents, language descriptions (see INTERCAL)
and even entire scientific theories (see QUANTUM BOGODYNAMICS,

3) Jokes which involve screwily precise reasoning from bizarre,
ludicrous or just grossly counter-intuitive premises.

4) Fascination with puns and wordplay.

5) A fondness for apparently mindless humor with subversive
currents of intelligence in it, for example: old Warner
Brothers and Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons, Charlie Chaplin
movies, the B-52s, and Monty Python's Flying Circus. Humor
which combines this trait with elements of high camp and
slapstick is especially favored.

6) References to the symbol-object antinomies and associated
ideas in Zen Buddhism and (less often) Taoism. See HAS THE X

See also FILK, COMPUTER; REROCOMPUTING; and Appendix C. If you
have an itchy feeling that all six of these traits are really
aspects of one thing that is incredibly difficult to talk about
exactly, you are a) correct and b) responding like a hacker. These
traits are also recognizable (though in a less marked form)

HUNG (hung) [from "hung up"] adj. Equivalent to WEDGED, q.v. but more
common at UNIX/C sites. Not used of people.

HUNGUS (hung'ghis) [perhaps related to current slang "humongous";
which one came first (if either) is unclear] adj. Large, unwieldy,
usually unmanageable. "TCP is a hungus piece of code." "This is a
hungus set of modifications."

HYPERSPACE (hie'per-spays) n. A memory location within a virtual
memory machine that is many, many megabytes (or gigabytes) away
from where the program counter should be pointing. "Another core
dump...looks like the program jumped off to hyperspace somehow."
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= I =

IBM (ie bee em) Inferior But Marketable; It's Better Manually;
Insidious Black Magic; Incontinent Bowel Movement; and a
near-INFINITE number of many even less complementary expansions,
including "International Business Machines". See TLA. These
abbreviations illustrate the considerable antipathy most hackers
have long felt for the "industry leader" (see FEAR AND LOATHING).
What galls hackers about most IBM machines above the PC level isn't
so much that they're underpowered and overpriced (though that
counts against them) but that the designs are incredibly archaic,
crufty and ELEPHANTINE and you can't *fix* them -- source is locked
up tight and programming tools are expensive, hard to find, and a
bitch to use once you've found them. With the release of the
UNIX-based RIOS family this may have begun to change -- but then,
we thought that when the PC-RT came out, too. In the spirit of
universal peace and brotherhood the jargon list now includes a
number of entries marked `IBM'; these derive from a rampantly
unofficial jargon list circulated among IBM's own beleaguered
hacker underground.

ICE (ies) [from William Gibson's cyberpunk SF: notionally, "Intrusion
Countermeasure Electronics"] Security software. Also, ICEBREAKER: a
program designed for cracking security on a system. Neither term is
in serious use yet as of 1990, but many hackers find the metaphor
attractive and they may be in the near future.

ILL BEHAVED (il-bee-hayvd') adj. Software which bypasses the defined
OS interfaces to do things (like screen, keyboard and disk I/O)
itself, often in a way that depends on the hardware of the machine
it is running on or which is incompatible with other pieces of
software. In the IBM PC/MS-DOS world, where this term originated,
there is a folk theorem to the effect that (due to gross
inadequacies and performance penalties in the OS interface) all
interesting applications are ill-behaved. See MESS-DOS.

IMHO [from SF fandom via USENET] Written acronym for In My Humble
Opinion. Example: "IMHO, mixed-case C names should be avoided, as
mistyping someting in the wrong case can cause hard-to-detect
errors -- and they look too Pascalish anyhow."

INCANTATION (in-kan-tay'shn) n. Any particularly arbitrary or
obscure command that must be muttered at a system to attain a
desired result. Not used of passwords or other explicit security
features. Especially used of tricks that are so poorly documented
they must be learned from a WIZARD. E.g. "This compiler normally
locates initialized data in the data segment, but if you mutter the
right incantation they will be forced into text space". See MUTTER.

INFINITE (in'fi-n@t) adj. Consisting of a large number of objects;
extreme. Used very loosely as in: "This program produces infinite

INFANT MORTALITY (in'f:nt mor-tal':-tee) n. It is common lore among
hackers that the chances of sudden hardware failure drop off
exponentially with a machine's time since power-up (that is until
the relatively distant time at which mechanical wear in I/O devices
and thermal-cycling stress in components has accumulated enough for
the machine to start going senile). Up to half of all chip-and-wire
failures happen within a new system's first few weeks; such failures
are often referred to as "infant mortality" problems.

INTERCAL (in'tr-kal) [said by the authors to stand for "Compiler
Language With No Pronounceable Acronym"] n. The language has been
recently re-implemented as C-INTERCAL and is consequently enjoying
an unprecedented level of unpopularity.

INTERNET ADDRESS (in'ter-net @-dres') n. An `absolute' network address
of the form foo@bar.baz, where foo is a user name, bar is a site
name, and baz is a `domain' name, possibly including periods
itself. Contrasts with BANG PATH, q.v.; see also NETWORK. All
Internet machines and most UUCP sites can now resolve these
addresses, thanks to a large amount of behind-the-scenes magic and
PD software written since 1980 or so. See also BANG PATH.

INTERRUPTS LOCKED OUT (in't@-ruptz lokt owt) When someone is ignoring
you. In a restaurant, after several fruitless attempts to get the
waitress's attention, a hacker might well observe that "She must
have interrupts locked out." Variations of this abound; "to have
one's interrupt mask bit set" is also heard.

IRON (iern) n. Hardware, especially older/larger hardware of mainframe
class with big metal cabinets relatively low-density electronics
(but also used of modern supercomputers). Often in the phrase BIG

IRON BOX (iern boks) [UNIX/Internet] n. A special environment set up
to trap a CRACKER logging in over remote or network connections
long enough so he can be traced. May include a specially-gimmicked
SHELL restricting the hacker's movements in unobvious ways, and
`bait' files designed to keep him interested and logged on. See

IRONMONGER (iern'mohn-gr) [IBM] n. A hardware specialist. Derogatory.

ITS (ie-tee-ess) n. Incompatible Time-Sharing System, an influential
but highly idiosyncratic operating system written for PDP-10s at
MIT and long used at the MIT AI lab; much AI-hacker slang derives
from ITS folklore. After about 1982 most actual work was shifted to
newer machines, with the remaining ITS boxes run essentially as a
hobby and service to the hacker community. The shutdown of the
lab's last ITS machine in May 1990 marked the end of an era and
sent old-time hackers into mourning nationwide. See Appendix B.

IWBNI [acronym] It Would Be Nice If. No pronunciation, as this is
never spoken, only written. Compare WIBNI.

IYFEG [USENET] Abbreviation for "Insert Your Favourite Ethnic Group".
Used as a meta-name when telling racist jokes in email to avoid
offending anyone.
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= J =

JAGGIES (jag'eez) n. The `stairstep' effect observable when an edge
(esp. a linear edge of slope far from 45 degrees) is rendered on a
pixel device (as opposed to a vector display).

JIFFY (jif'ee) n. 1. Interval of CPU time, commonly 1/60 second or 1
millisecond (see TICK). 2. Indeterminate time from a few seconds
to forever. "I'll do it in a jiffy" means certainly not now and
possibly never.

JOCK (jok) n. Programmer who is characterized by large and somewhat
brute force programs. The term is particularly well-suited for
systems programmers.

JOE CODE (joh kohd) [said to commemmorate a notoriously bad coder
named Joe at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory] n. Badly written,
possibly buggy source code. "Perl may be a handy program, but if
you look at the source, it's complete joe code."

J. RANDOM HACKER (jay rand'm hak'r) n. A mythical figure like the
Unknown Soldier; the archetypal hacker nerd. See RANDOM.

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= K =

KAHUNA (k@-hoo'nuh) [IBM, from the Hawaiian title for a shaman] n.
Synonym for WIZARD, GURU (q.v.).

KEN (ken) n. A flaming user. This noun was in use by the Software
Support group at Symbolics because the two greatest flamers in the
user community were both named Ken.

KILL FILE (kill fiel) [USENET] n. Some USENET readers allow users to
set filter patterns against which news messages are compared, then
ignored (not presented by the reader) if the match succeeds. The
file in which these patterns are stored is called the user's kill
file. Thus to "add a person (or subject) to one's kill file" is to
arrange for that person to be ignored by your newsreader in future.
By extension, it may be used for a decision to ignore the person or
subject in other media.

KILLER MICRO (kil'r mi'kroh) [popularized by Eugene Brooks] n. A
microprocessor-based machine that infringes on mini, mainframe or
supercomputer performance turf. Often heard in "No one will survive
the attack of the killer micros!", the battle cry of the
downsizers. Used esp. of RISC (q.v.) architectures.


KLUGE (kloodj) alt. KLUDGE (kluhdj) [from the German "kluge", clever]
('kloodj' is the original pronunciation, more common in the US;
`kluhdge' is reported more common in England). n. 1. A Rube
Goldberg device in hardware or software. 2. A clever programming
trick intended to solve a particular nasty case in an efficient, if
not clear, manner. Often used to repair bugs. Often verges on
being a crock. 3. Something that works for the wrong reason. 4.
v. To insert a kluge into a program. "I've kluged this routine to
get around that weird bug, but there's probably a better way."
Also KLUGE UP. 5. KLUGE AROUND: To avoid by inserting a kluge. 6.
[WPI] A feature which is implemented in a RUDE manner.
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= L =

LACE CARD (lays kard) n. obs. A Hollerith card with all holes punched
(also called a WHOOPEE CARD). Some cardpunches actually jammed on
the amount of CHAD generated by one of these.

LANGUAGE LAWYER (lan'gw@j law'yr) n. A person, usually an experienced
or senior software engineer, who is intimately familiar with many
or most of the numerous syntactic and semantic restrictions (both
useful and esoteric) applicable to one or more computer programming

LANGUAGES OF CHOICE n. C or LISP. Essentially all hackers know one of
these and most good ones are fluent in both. Smalltalk and Prolog
are popular in small but influential communities. Assembler used
to be a language of choice, but is generally no longer considered
interesting or appropriate for anything but compiler code
generation and a few time-critical uses in systems programs.

LARVAL STAGE (lar'vl stayj) n. Describes a period of monomaniacal
concentration on coding apparently passed through by all fledgeling
hackers. Common symptoms include: the perpetration of more than one
36-hour HACKING RUN in a given week, neglect of all other
activities including usual basics like food and sex, and a chronic
case of advanced bleary-eye. Can last from six months to two years,
with the apparent median being around eighteen months. A few so
afflicted never resume a more `normal' life, but the ordeal seems
to be necessary to produce really wizardly (as opposed to merely
competent) programmers. A less protracted and intense version of
larval stage (typically lasting about a month) may recur when
learning a new OS or programming language.

LASE (layz) vt. To print a given document via a laser printer. "OK,
let's lase that sucker and see if all those graphics-macro calls
did the right things." Compare DIABLO in Appendix B.

LERP (lerp) v.,n. Quasi-acronym for Linear Interpolation, used as as a
verb or noun for the operation. Ex. Bresenham's algorithm lerps
incrementally between the two endpoints of the line.

LEXER (lek'sr) n. Common hacker shorthand for "lexical analyzer", the
input-tokenizing stage in the parser for a language. "Some C lexers
get confused by the old-style compound ops like =-"

LIFE (lief) n. A cellular-automata game invented by John Horton
Conway, and first introduced publicly by Martin Gardner (Scientific
American, October 1970). Many hackers pass through a stage of
fascination with it.

LINE EATER, THE (lien ee'tr, dh@) [USENET] n. A bug in some
now-obsolete versions of the netnews software used to cause the
first lines of articles to be discarded under some circumstances.
This bug was personified into mythical creature called "the line
eater", and postings often included a dummy line of "line eater
food". The practice of "sacrificing to the line eater" continued
for some time after the bug had been nailed to the wall, and is
still humorously referred to.

LINE STARVE (lien stahrv) [MIT] Inverse of `line feed'; a character or
character sequence which causes a printer to back up one line

LINK FARM (link farm) [UNIX] n. A directory tree that contains many
links to files another, master directory tree of files. Link farms
save space when maintaining several nearly identical copies of the
same source tree, e.g. when the only difference is
architecture-dependent object files. Example use: `Let's freeze
the source and then rebuild the FROBOZZ-3 and FROBOZZ-4 link
farms.' Link farms may also be used to get around restrictions on
the number of -I arguments on older C preprocessors.

LINT (lint) [from UNIX's lint(1)] v. To examine a program closely for
style, language usage, and portability problems, esp. if in C, esp.
if via use of automated analysis tools, most esp. if the UNIX
utility lint(1) is used. This term used to be restricted to use of
lint(1) itself but (judging by references on the USENET) has become
a shorthand for `desk-check' at some non-UNIX shops, even in some
languages other than C.

LION FOOD (lie'@n food) [IBM] n. Middle management or HQ staff (by
extension, administrative drones in general). From an old joke about
two lions who, escaping from the zoo, split up to increase their
chances but agreed to meet after two months. When they do meet, one
is skinny and the other overweight. The thin one says "How did you
manage? I ate a human just once and they turned out a small army to
chase me -- guns, nets, it was terrible. Since then I've been reduced to
eating mice, insects, even grass." The fat one replies "Well, *I* hid
near an IBM office and ate a manager a day. And nobody even noticed!"

LISP (lisp) n. The name of AI's mother tongue, a language based on the
ideas of 1) variable-length lists and trees as fundamental data
types, and 2) the interpretation of code as data and vice-versa.
Invented by John McCarthy at Stanford in the late 1950s, it is
actually older than any other HLL still in use except FORTRAN. The
hands-down favorite of hackers until the early 1980s, it now shares
the throne with C (q.v.). See LANGUAGES OF CHOICE.

LITTLE-ENDIAN (lit'l-end'y@n) adj. Describes a computer architecture
in which, within a given 16- or 32-bit word, lower byte addresses
have lower significance (the word is stored `little-end-first').
The PDP-11 and VAX families of computers and a lot of
communications and networking hardware are little-endian. See

LIVELOCK (liev'lok) n. A situation in which some critical stage of a
task is unable to finish because its clients perpetually create
more work for it to do after they've been serviced but before it
can clear. Differs from DEADLOCK in that the process is not
blocked or waiting for anything, but has a virtually infinite
amount of work to do and accomplishes nothing.

LOGIC BOMB (lo'jik bom) n. Code surreptitiously inserted in an
application or OS which causes it to perform some destructive or
security-compromising activity whenever specified conditions are
met. Compare BACK DOOR.

LOGICAL (lo'ji-kl) [from the technical term "logical device", wherein
a physical device is referred to by an arbitrary name] adj.
Understood to have a meaning not necessarily corresponding to
reality. E.g., if a person who has long held a certain post (e.g.,
Les Earnest at SAIL) left and was replaced, the replacement would
for a while be known as the "logical Les Earnest". The word
VIRTUAL is also used. At SAIL, "logical" compass directions
denoted a coordinate system in which "logical north" is toward San
Francisco, "logical west" is toward the ocean, etc., even though
logical north varies between physical (true) north near San
Franscisco and physical west near San Jose. (The best rule of
thumb here is that El Camino Real by definition always runs logical

LORD HIGH FIXER (lord hie fik'sr) [primarily British] n. The person
in an organisation who knows the most about some aspect of a
system. See WIZARD.

LOSE (looz) [from MIT jargon] v. 1. To fail. A program loses when it
encounters an exceptional condition. 2. To be exceptionally
unaesthetic. 3. Of people, to be obnoxious or unusually stupid (as
opposed to ignorant). 4. DESERVE TO LOSE: v. Said of someone who
willfully does the wrong thing; humorously, if one uses a feature
known to be marginal. What is meant is that one deserves the
consequences of one's losing actions. "Boy, anyone who tries to
use MULTICS deserves to lose!" See also SCREW, CHOMP, BAGBITER.
LOSE LOSE - a reply or comment on a situation.

LOSER (loo'zr) n. An unexpectedly bad situation, program, programmer,
or person. Especially "real loser".

LOSS (los) n. Something which loses. WHAT A (MOBY) LOSS!:

LOSSAGE (los'@j) n. The result of a bug or malfunction.

LPT (lip'it) [ITS] n. Line printer, of course. Rare under UNIX,
commoner in hackers with MS-DOS or CP/M background (the printer
device is called LPT: on those systems, which like ITS were
strongly influenced by early DEC conventions).

LURKER (ler'ker) n. One of the `silent majority' in a USENET or BBS newsgroup;
one who posts occasionally or not at all but is known to read the
group regularly. Often in `THE LURKERS', the hypothetical audience
for the group's FLAMING regulars.

LUNATIC FRINGE (l[y]oo'na-tik frinj) [IBM] n. Customers
who can be relied upon to accept release 1 versions of software.

LUSER (loo'zr) See USER.
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= M =

MACDINK (mak'dink) [from the Apple Macintosh, which is said to
encourage such behavior] v. To make many incremental and
unnecessary cosmetic changes to a program or file. Frequently the
subject of the macdinking would be better off without them. Ex:
"When I left at 11pm last night, he was still macdinking the slides
for his presentation."

MACRO (mak'ro) n. A name (possibly followed by a formal ARG list)
which is equated to a text expression to which it is to be expanded
(possibly with substitution of actual arguments) by a language
translator. This definition can be found in any technical
dictionary; what those won't tell you is how the hackish
connotations of the term have changed over time. The term `macro'
originated in early assemblers, which encouraged use of macros as a
structuring and information-hiding device. During the early 70s
macro assemblers became ubiquitous and sometimes quite as powerful
and expensive as HLLs, only to fall from favor as improving
compiler technology marginalized assembler programming (see
LANGUAGES OF CHOICE). Nowadays the term is most often used in
connection with the C preprocessor, LISP, or one of several
special-purpose languages built around a macro-expansion facility
(such as TEX or UNIX's nroff, troff and pic suite). Indeed, the
meaning has drifted enough that the collective `macros' is now
sometimes used for code in any special-purpose application-control
control language, whether or not the language is actually
translated by text expansion.

MACROLOGY (mak-ro'l@-jee) n. Set of usually complex or crufty macros,
e.g. as part of a large system written in LISP, TECO or (less
commonly) assembler. Sometimes studying the macrology of a system
is not unlike archaeology, hence the sound-alike construction.
Prob. influenced by THEOLOGY (q.v.).

MANGO (mang'go) [orig. in-house slang at Symbolics] n. A manager.
See also DEVO and DOCO.

MACROTAPE (ma'kro-tayp) n. An industry standard reel of tape, as
opposed to a MICROTAPE.

MAGIC (ma'jik) adj. 1. As yet unexplained, or too complicated to
explain. (compare Clarke's Second Law: "Any sufficiently advanced
technology is indistinguishable from magic".) "TTY echoing is
controlled by a large number of magic bits." "This routine
magically computes the parity of an eight-bit byte in three
instructions." 2. [Stanford] A feature not generally publicized
which allows something otherwise impossible, or a feature formerly
in that category but now unveiled. Example: The keyboard commands
which override the screen-hiding features.

MAGIC COOKIE (ma'jik cuk'ee) [UNIX] n. 1. A thing that allows another
thing to do something, usually as part of a crufty hack. A
capability ticket. Especially used of small data objects which
contain data encoded in a strange or intrinsically
machine-dependent way. 2. Blank left on the screen when your
terminal changes modes. Some older terminals would print a blank
when you entered and exited special modes, such as underline or
flash. This was also called a GLITCH.

MAGIC NUMBER (ma'jik nuhm'br) [UNIX/C] n. 1. A MAGIC COOKIE located
at the beginning of a binary data file to indicate its type to a
utility. Under UNIX the system and various applications programs
(especially the linker) distinguish between types of executable by
looking for a magic number. 2. In source code, some non-obvious
constant whose value is significant to the operation of a program
and is inserted inconspicuously in line, rather than expanded in by
a symbol set by a commented #define. Magic numbers in this sense
are bad style.

MAGIC SMOKE (ma'jik smohk) n. A notional substance trapped inside IC
packages that enables them to function. Its existence is
demonstrated by what happens when a chip burns up -- the magic
smoke gets let out, so it doesn't work any more. See SMOKE TEST.

MANGLE (mang'gl) v. Used similarly to MUNG or SCRIBBLE, but more
violent in its connotations; something that is mangled has been
irreversibly and totally trashed.

MARGINAL (mar-j@-nl) adj. 1. Extremely small. "A marginal increase
in core can decrease GC time drastically." 2. Of extremely small
merit. "This proposed new feature seems rather marginal to me."
3. Of extremely small probability of winning. "The power supply
was rather marginal anyway; no wonder it crapped out." 4.
MARGINALLY: adv. Slightly. "The ravs here are only marginally
better than at Small Eating Place."

Member of a company's marketing department, esp. one who promises
users that the next version of a product will have features which
are unplanned, extremely difficult to implement, and/or violate the
laws of physics. Derogatory. Used by techies.

MARTIAN (mar'shn) n. A packet sent on a TCP/IP network with a source
address of the test loopback interface ( As in "The
domain server is getting lots of packets from Mars. Does that
gateway have a Martian filter?"

MASSAGE (m@-sahj') v. Vague term used to describe `smooth'
transformations of a data set into a more useful form, esp.
transformations which do not lose information. Connotes less pain
and more ELEGANCE than MUNCH or CRUNCH (q.v.). "He wrote a program
that massages X bitmap files into GIF format" Compare SLURP.

MEATWARE (meet'weir) n. Synonym for WETWARE (q.v.) Less common.

MEGAPENNY (meg'a-pen'ee) n. $10,000 (1 cent * 10e6). Used
semi-humorously as a unit in comparing computer cost/performance

MEGO (mego, meego) [Mine Eyes Glazeth Over] Also MEGO FACTOR.
Handwaving intended to confuse the listener and hopefully induce
agreement because the listener does not want to admit to not
understanding what is going on. MEGO is usually directed at senior
management by engineers and contains a high proportion of TLAs


MEME (meem) [coined on analogy with `gene' by Richard Dawkins] n. An
idea considered as a REPLICATOR. Used esp. in the prase `meme
complex' denoting a group of mutually supporting memes which form
an organized belief system, such as a religion. This dictionary is
a vector of the "hacker subculture" meme complex; each entry might
be considered a meme. However, "meme" is often misused to mean
"meme complex". Use of the term connotes acceptance of the idea that
in humans (and presumably other tool- and language-using sentients)
cultural evolution by selection of adaptive ideas has superseded
biological evolution by selection of hereditary traits.

MEMETICS (mee-me-tiks) [from MEME] The study of memes. As of 1990,
this is still an extremely informal and speculative endeavor,
though the first steps towards at least statistical rigor have been
made by H. Keith Henson and others. Memetics is a popular topic
among hackers, who like to see themselves as the architects of the
new information ecologies in which memes live and replicate.

MEME PLAGUE n. The spread of a successful but pernicious MEME, esp.
one which `parasitizes' the victims into giving their all to
propagate it. Astrology, BASIC, and the other guy's religion are
often considered to be examples. This usage is given point by the
historical fact that `joiner' ideologies like Naziism or various
forms of millenarian Christianity have exhibited plague-like cycles
of exponential growth followed by collapse to small `reservoir'

MEMORY LEAK (mem'@-ree leek) [C/UNIX programmers] n. An error in a
program's dynamic-store allocation logic that causes it to fail to
reclaim discarded memory, leading to attempted hogging of main
store and eventual collapse due to memory exhaustion. See ALIASING

MENUITIS (men'yoo-i'tis) n. Notional disease suffered by software with
an obsessively simple-minded menu interface and no escape. Hackers
find this intensely irritating and much prefer the flexibility of
command-line or language-style interfaces, especially those
customizable via macros or a special-purpose language in which one
can encode useful hacks.

MESS-DOS (mes-dos) [UNIX hackers] n. Derisory term for MS-DOS. Often
followed by the ritual expurgation "Just Say No!". See MS-DOS. Most
hackers (even many MS-DOS hackers) loathe MS-DOS for its
single-tasking nature, its limits on application size, its nasty
primitive interface, and its ties to IBMness (see FEAR AND
LOATHING). Also "mess-loss", and "mess-dog".

META (mayt'@) [from analytic philosophy] adj. One level of description
up. Thus, a meta-syntactic variable is a variable in notation used
to describe syntax and meta-language is language used to describe
language. This is difficult to explain out of context, but much
hacker humor turns on deliberate confusion between meta-levels.

META BIT (mayt'@) n. Bit 8 of an 8-bit character, on in values
128-255. Also called HIGH BIT or ALT BIT. Some terminals and
consoles (especially those designed for LISP traditions) have a
META-shift key. Others (including, mirabile dictu, keyboards on IBM
PC-class machines) have an ALT key. See also BUCKY BITS.

MICROFLOPPIES (mie'kroh-flo-peez) n. 3-1/2 inch floppies, as opposed to
5-1/4 VANILLA floppies and the now-obsolescent 8-inch variety. This
term may be headed for obsolescence as 5-1/4 inchers pass out of
use, only to be revived if anybody floats a sub-3-inch floppy

MICROTAPE (mi'kroh-tayp) n. Occasionally used to mean a DECtape, as
opposed to a MACROTAPE.

MISFEATURE (mis-fee'chr) n. A feature which eventually screws
someone, possibly because it is not adequate for a new situation
which has evolved. It is not the same as a bug because fixing it
involves a gross philosophical change to the structure of the
system involved. Often a former feature becomes a misfeature
because a tradeoff was made whose parameters subsequently changed
(possibly only in the judgment of the implementors). "Well, yeah,
it's kind of a misfeature that file names are limited to six
characters, but we're stuck with it for now."

MOBY (moh'bee) [seems to have been in use among model railroad fans
years ago. Derived from Melville's "Moby Dick" (some say from
"Moby Pickle").] 1. adj. Large, immense, or complex. "A moby
frob." 2. n. The maximum address space of a machine (see Appendix
B). 3. A title of address (never of third-person reference),
usually used to show admiration, respect, and/or friendliness to a
competent hacker. "So, moby Knight, how's the CONS machine doing?"
4. adj. In backgammon, doubles on the dice, as in "moby sixes",
"moby ones", etc. MOBY FOO, MOBY WIN, MOBY LOSS: standard emphatic
forms. FOBY MOO: a spoonerism due to Greenblatt. The MOBY
constructions are now relatively rare outside MIT.

MODE (mohd) n. A general state, usually used with an adjective
describing the state. "No time to hack; I'm in thesis mode."
Usage: in its jargon sense, MODE is most often said of people,
though it is sometimes applied to programs and inanimate objects.
"If you're on a TTY, E will switch to non-display mode." In

MODULO (mod'yuh-low) prep. Except for. From mathematical
terminology: one can consider saying that 4=22 "except for the 9's"
(4=22 mod 9). "Well, LISP seems to work okay now, modulo that GC

MONKEY UP (muhn'kee uhp) v. To hack together hardware for a particular
task, especially a one-shot job. Connotes an extremely CRUFTY and
consciously temporary solution.

MONSTROSITY (mon-stro'si-tee) 1. n. A ridiculously ELEPHANTINE
program or system, esp. one which is buggy or only marginally
functional. 2. The quality of being monstrous (see `Peculiar
nouns' in the discussion of jargonification).

MOORE'S LAW (morz law) [folklore] The observation that the logic
density of silicon integrated circuits has closely followed the
curve (bits per inch ** 2) = 2 ** (n - 1962); that is, the amount
of information storable in one square inch of silicon has roughly
doubled yearly every year since the technology was invented.

MOTAS (moh-tahs) [USENET, Member Of The Appropriate Sex] n. A
potential or (less often) actual sex partner. See MOTOS, MOTSS,

MOTOS (moh-tohs) [USENET, Member Of The Other Sex] n. A potential or
(less often) actual sex partner. See MOTAS, MOTSS, S.O. Less common
than MOTSS or MOTAS, which has largely displaced it.

MOTSS (mots) [USENET, Member Of The Same Sex] n. Esp. one considered
as a possible sexual partner, e.g. by a gay or lesbian. The
gay-issues board on USENET is called soc.motss. See MOTOS and
MOTAS, which derive from it. Also see S.O.

MOUNT (mownt) v. 1. To attach a removable storage volume to a machine.
In elder days and on mainframes this verb was used almost
exclusively of tapes; nowadays (especially under UNIX) it is more
likely to refer to a disk volume. 2. By extension, to attach any
removable device such as a sensor, robot arm, or MEATWARE subsystem
(see Appendix A).

MOUSE AROUND (mows ar-ownd') v. To explore public portions of a large
system, esp. a network such as Internet via FTP or TELNET, looking
for interesting stuff to SNARF.

MOUSO (mow'so) n. [by analogy with `typo'] An error in mouse usage
resulting in an inappropriate selection or graphic garbage on the

MS-DOS (em-es-dahs) n. A clone of CP/M (q.v.) for the 8088 crufted
together in six weeks by hacker Tim Patterson, who is said to have
regretted it ever since. Now the highest-unit-volume OS in
history. See MESS-DOS.

MULTICS (muhl'tiks) n. [from Multi-Tasking Computer System] An early
(late 1960s) timesharing operating system co-designed by a
consortium including Honeywell and Bell Laboratories. All the
members but Honeywell eventually pulled out after determining that
SECOND-SYSTEM SYNDROME had bloated Multics to the point of
practical unusability (though Honeywell did later comercialize it,
it was never very successful). One of the developers left in the
lurch by the project's breakup was Ken Thompson, a circumstance
which led directly to the birth of UNIX (q.v.). For this and other
reasons aspects of the Multics design remain a topic of occasional
debate among hackers. See also BRAIN DAMAGE.

MUMBLAGE (mum'bl@j) n. The topic of one's mumbling (see MUMBLE). "All
that mumblage" is used like "all that stuff" when it is not quite
clear what it is or how it works, or like "all that crap" when
"mumble" is being used as an implicit replacement for obscenities.

MUMBLE (mum'bl) interj. 1. Said when the correct response is either
too complicated to enunciate or the speaker has not thought it out.
Often prefaces a longer answer, or indicates a general reluctance
to get into a big long discussion. "Well, mumble." 2. Sometimes
used as an expression of disagreement. "I think we should buy it."
"Mumble!" Common variant: MUMBLE FROTZ.

MUNCH (muhnch) [often confused with "mung", q.v.] v. To transform information
in a serial fashion, often requiring large amounts of computation.
To trace down a data structure. Related to CRUNCH (q.v.), but
connotes less pain.

MUNCHING SQUARES (muhnch'ing skweirz) n. A DISPLAY HACK dating back to
the PDP-1, which employs a trivial computation (involving XOR'ing
of x-y display coordinates - see HAKMEM items 146-148) to produce
an impressive display of moving, growing, and shrinking squares.
The hack usually has a parameter (usually taken from toggle
switches) which when well-chosen can produce amazing effects. Some
of these, discovered recently on the LISP machine, have been

MUNCHKIN (muhnch'kin) n. A teenage-or-younger micro enthusiast bashing
BASIC or something else equally constricted. A term of mild
derision -- munchkins are annoying but some grow up to be hackers
after passing through a LARVAL STAGE. The term URCHIN is also used.
See also BITTY BOX.

MUNDANE (muhn-dayn') [from SF fandom] n. 1. A person who is not in
science fiction fandom. 2. A person who is not in the computer
industry. In this sense, most often an adjectival modifier as in
"in my mundane life..."

MUNG (muhng) alt. MUNGE (muhnj) [recursive acronym for Mung Until No
Good] v. 1. To make changes to a file, often large-scale, usually
irrevocable. Occasionally accidental. See BLT. 2. To destroy,
usually accidentally, occasionally maliciously. The system only
mungs things maliciously. See SCRIBBLE, MANGLE, TRASH. Reports from
USENET suggest that the prononciation `munj' is now usual in
speech, but `mung' is still common in program comments.

MUSIC (myoo's@k) n. A common extracurricular interest of hackers
is widely believed among hackers that there is a substantial
correlation between whatever mysterious traits underly hacking
ability (on the one hand) and musical talent and sensitivity (on
the other). It is certainly the case that hackers, as a rule, like
music and often develop musical appreciation in unusual and
interesting directions. Folk music is very big in hacker circles;
so is the sort of elaborate instrumental jazz/rock that used to be
called `progressive' and isn't recorded much any more. Also, the
hacker's musical range tends to be wide; many can listen with equal
appreciation to (say) Talking Heads, Yes, Spirogyra, Scott Joplin,
King Sunny Ade, The Pretenders, or one of Bach's Brandenburg
Concerti. It is also apparently true that hackerdom includes a much
higher concentration of talented amateur musicians than one would
expect from a similar-sized control group of MUNDANES.

MUTTER (muh'tr) v. To quietly enter a command not meant for the ears
of ordinary mortals. Frequently in "mutter an INCANTATION".
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= N =

N (en) adj. 1. Some large and indeterminate number of objects; "There
were N bugs in that crock!"; also used in its original sense of a
variable name. 2. An arbitrarily large (and perhaps infinite)
number. 3. A variable whose value is specified by the current
context. "We'd like to order N wonton soups and a family dinner
for N-1." 4. NTH: adj. The ordinal counterpart of N. "Now for the
Nth and last time..." In the specific context "Nth-year grad
student", N is generally assumed to be at least 4, and is usually 5
or more. See also RANDOM NUMBERS.

NAILED TO THE WALL (nayld too dh@ wahl) [like a trophy] adj. Said of a
bug finally eliminated after protracted and even heroic effort.

NANOACRE (nan'o-ay-kr) n. An area of space, or real-estate on a VLSI
chip. The term derives its amusement value from the fact that VLSI
nanoacres have costs in the same range as real acres once one
figures in design and fabrication-setup costs.

NANOBOT (nan'oh-bot) n. A robot of microscopic proportions, presumably
built by means of NANOTECHNOLOGY (q.v.). As yet, only used
informally (and speculatively!). Also sometimes called a

NANOCOMPUTER (nan'oh-k:m-pyoo-tr) a computer whose switching elements
are molecular in size. Designs for mechanical nanocomputers which
use single-molecule sliding rods for their logic have been
proposed. The controller for a NANOBOT would be a nanocomputer.

NANOTECHNOLOGY (nan'-oh-tek-naw'l:-ji) n. A hypothetical fabrication
technology in which objects are designed and built with the
individual specification and placement of each separate atom. The
first unequivocal nano-fabrication experiments are taking place now
(1990), for example with the deposition of individual Xenon atoms
on a nickel substrate to spell the logo of a certain very large
computer company by two of its physicists. Nanotechnology has been
a hot topic in the hacker subculture ever since the term was coined
by K. Eric Drexler in his book "Engines of Creation", where he
predicted that nanotechnology could give rise to replicating
ASSEMBLERs, permitting an exponential growth of productivity and
personal wealth.

NASTYGRAM (nas'tee-gram) n. 1. A protocol packet or item of email that
takes advantage of misfeatures or security holes on the target
system to do untoward things (the latter is also called a
`letterbomb'). 2. Disapproving mail, esp. from a net.god, pursuant
to a violation of NETIQUETTE.

NEOPHILIA (nee-oh-fil'-ee-uh) n. The trait of being excited and
pleased by novelty. Common trait of most hackers, SF fans, and
members of several other connected "leading-edge" subcultures
including the pro-technology "Whole-Earth" wing of the ecology
movement, space activists, theater people, the membership of MENSA,
and the Discordian/neo-pagan underground. All these groups overlap
heavily and (where evidence is available) seem to share
characteristic hacker tropisms for SF, MUSIC and ORIENTAL FOOD.

NET POLICE (net p@-lees') n. Those USENET readers who feel it is
their responsibility to pounce on and FLAME any posting which they
regard as offensive, or in violation of their understanding of
NETIQUETTE. Generally used sarcastically or pejoratively. Also
spelled `net.police'. See also CODE POLICE.

NETHACK (net'hak) n. See HACK, sense #12.

NETIQUETTE (net'ee-ket, net'i-ket) n. Conventions of politeness
recognized on USENET, such as: avoidance of cross-posting to
inappropriate groups, or refraining from commercial pluggery on the

NEEP-NEEP (neep neep) [onomatopoic, from New York SF fandom] n. One
who is fascinated by computers. More general than HACKER, as it
need not imply more skill than is required to boot games on a PC.
The term NEEP-NEEPING applies specifically to the long
conversations about computers that tend to develop in the corners
at most SF-convention parties. Fandom has a related proverb to the
effect that "Hacking is a conversational black hole!" [which, by
coincidence, has been attributed to my SO -- ESR]

NET. (net dot) [USENET] Prefix used to describe people and events
related to USENET. From the pre-GREAT-RENAMING newsgroup names,
e.g. net.singles. Includes net.god(s) (q.v.), net.goddesses
(various charismatic women with circles of on-line admirers),
net.lurkers, (see LURKER), net.parties (a synonym for BOINK sense
#2 (q.v.)) and many similar constructs.

NET.GOD (net god) n. Used to refer to anyone who has satisfies some
combination of the following conditions: has been visible on USENET
for more than five years, ran one of the original backbone sites,
moderated an important newsgroup, wrote news software, or knows
Gene, Mark, Rick, Henry, Chuq, and Greg personally. See DEMIGOD.

NETWORK ADDRESS (netwerk @-dres') n. As used by hackers, means an
address on THE NETWORK (almost always a BANG PATH or INTERNET
ADDRESS). An essential to be taken seriously by hackers; in
particular, persons or organizations claiming to understand, work
with, sell to, or recruit from among hackers that *don't* display
net addresses are quietly presumed to be clueless poseurs and
mentally FLUSHED (sense #3). Hackers often put their net addresses
on their business cards and wear them prominently in contexts where
they expect to meet other hackers face-to-face (see also
SCIENCE-FICTION FANDOM) This is mostly functional, but is also a
connotative signal that one identifies with hackerdom (like lodge
pins among Masons or tie-died T-shirts among Grateful Dead fans).
Net addresses are often used in email text as a more concise
substitute for personal names; indeed, hackers may come to know
each other quite well by network names without ever learning each
others' `legal' monikers.

NETWORK, THE (net'werk, dh@) n. 1. The union of all the major academic
and noncommercial/hacker-oriented networks such as Internet, the
old ARPANET, NSFNet, BITNET and the virtual UUCP and USENET
"networks", plus the corporate in-house networks that gate to them.
A site is generally considered `on the network' if it can be
reached through some compination of Internet-style (@-sign) and
UUCP (bang-path) addresses. See BANG PATH, INTERNET ADDRESS,
NETWORK ADDRESS. 2. A fictional conspiracy of libertarian
hacker-subversives and anti-authoritarian monkeywrenchers described
in Robert Anton Wilson's novel _Schrodinger's_Cat_, to which many
hackers have subsequently decided they belong (this is an example

NEWGRP WARS (n[y]oo'grp wohrz) [USENET] n. Salvoes of duelling
`newgrp' and `rmgroup' messages sometimes exchanged by persons on
opposite sides of a dispute over whether a NEWSGROUP should be
created netwide. These usually settle out within a week or two as
it becomes clear whether the group has a natural constituency
(usually, it doesn't). At times, especially in the completely
anarchicic `alt' hierarchy, the names of newsgroups themselves
become a form of comment or humor; cf. the spinoff of
alt.swedish.chef.bork.bork.bork from alt.tv.muppets in early 1990,
or any number of specialized abuse groups named after particularly
notorious flamers.

NEWSFROUP (n[y]oos'froop) [USENET] n. Silly written-only synonym for
NEWSGROUP, originated as a typo but now in regular use on USENET'S
talk.bizarre and other not-real-tightly-wrapped groups.

NEWSGROUP (n[y]oos'groop) [USENET] n. One of USENET's large collection
of topic groups. Among the best-known are comp.lang.c (the
C-language forum), comp.unix.wizards (for UNIX wizards),
rec.arts.sf-lovers (for science-fiction fans) and
talk.politics.misc (miscellaneous political discussions and

NIGHT MODE (niet mohd) n. See PHASE (of people).

NIL (nil) [from LISP terminology for "false"] No. Usage: used in
reply to a question, particularly one asked using the "-P"
convention. See T.

NON-OPTIMAL SOLUTION (non-op'ti-m@l so-lu'shn) n. An astoundingly
stupid way to do something. This term is generally used in deadpan
sarcasm, as its impact is greatest when the person speaking looks
completely serious. Compare STUNNING. See also BAD THING.

NONTRIVIAL (non-tri'vi-@l) adj. Requiring real thought or significant
computing power. Often used as an understated way of saying that a
problem is quite difficult. See TRIVIAL, UNINTERESTING.

NO-OP (noh-op) alt. NOP (nop) [no operation] n. 1. A machine
instruction that does nothing (sometimes used in assembler-level
programming as filler for data areas). 2. A person who contributes
nothing to a project, or has nothing going on upstairs, or both. As
in "he's a no-op."

NP- (en pee) pref. Extemely. Used to modify adjectives describing a
level or quality of difficulty. "Getting this algorithm to perform
correctly in every case is NP-annoying." This is generalized from
the computer science terms "NP-hard" and "NP-easy". NP is the set
of Nondeterministic-Polynomial algorithms, those which can be
completed by a nondeterministic finite state machine in an amount
of time that is a polynomial function of the size of the input.)

NUKE (nook) v. 1. To intentionally delete the entire contents of a given
directory or storage volume. "On UNIX, rm -r /usr will nuke
everything in the usr filesystem." Never used for accidental
deletion. Oppose BLOW AWAY. 2. Syn. for DYKE, applied to smaller
things such as features or code sections.

NUXI PROBLEM, THE (nuk'see pro'blm, dh@) n. This refers to the
problem of transferring data between machines with differing
byte-order. The string "UNIX" might look like "NUXI" on a machine
with a different "byte sex". See also, BIG-ENDIAN, LITTLE-ENDIAN,
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= O =

OBSCURE (ob'skyoor) adj. Used in an exaggeration of its normal
meaning, to imply a total lack of comprehensibility. "The reason
for that last crash is obscure." "FIND's command syntax is
obscure." MODERATELY OBSCURE implies that it could be figured out
but probably isn't worth the trouble. OBSCURE IN THE EXTREME is a
preferred emphatic form.

OBFUSCATED C CONTEST (ob'fus-cay-ted see kon'test) n. Annual contest
run since 1984 over THE NETWORK by Landon Curt Noll & friends. The
overall winner is he who produces the most unreadable, creative and
bizarre working C program; various other prizes are awarded at the
judges' whim. Given C's terse syntax and macro-preprocessor
facilities, this given contestants a lot of maneuvering room. THe
winning programs often manage to be simultaneously a) funny, b)
breathtaking works of art, and c) Horrible Examples of how *not* to
code in C.

OCTAL FORTY (ok'tl for'tee) n. Hackish way of saying "I'm drawing a
blank" (octal 40 is the ASCII space charater). See WALL.

OFF THE TROLLEY (of dh@ tro'lee) adj. Describes the behavior of a
program which malfunctions but doesn't actually CRASH or get halted
by the operating system. See GLITCH, BUG, DEEP SPACE.

OFFLINE (of'lien) adv. Not now or not here. Example: "Let's take
this discussion offline."

ONE BELL SYSTEM (IT WORKS) This was the output from the old Unix V6
"1" command. The "1" command also contained a random number
generator which gave it a one in ten chance of recursively
executing itself.

ONE-LINER WARS (wuhn-lie'nr worz) n. Popular game among hackers who
code in the language APL. The objective is to see who can code the
most interesting and/or useful routine in one line of operators
chosen from APL's exceedingly HAIRY primitive set. [This is not
*quite* as silly as it sounds; I myself have coded one-line LIFE
programs and once uttered a one-liner that performed lexical
analysis of its input string followed by a dictionary lookup for
good measure -- ESR]

OOBLICK (oo'blik) n. A bizarre semi-liquid sludge made from cornstarch
and water. Enjoyed among hackers who make batches for playtime at
parties for its amusing and extremely non-Newtonian behavior; it
pours and splatters, but resists rapid motion like a solid and will
even crack when hit by a hammer. Often found near lasers.

OPEN (oh'p@n) n. Abbreviation for "open (or left) parenthesis", used
when necessary to eliminate oral ambiguity. To read aloud the LISP
form (DEFUN FOO (X) (PLUS X 1)) one might say: "Open def-fun foo,
open eks close, open, plus ekx one, close close." See CLOSE.

OPEN SWITCH (oh'p@n swich) [IBM] n. An unresolved issue.

OPERATING SYSTEM (ah'per-ay-ting sis'tm) n. (Often abbreviated "OS")
The foundation software of a machine, of course; that which
schedules tasks, allocates storage, and presents a default
interface to the user between applications. The facilities the
operating system provides and its general design philosophy exert
an extremely strong influence on programming style and the
technical culture that grows up around a machine. Hacker folklore
has been shaped primarily by the UNIX, ITS, TOPS-10,
TOPS-20/TWENEX, VMS, CP/M, MS/DOS, and MULTICS operating systems
(most critically by ITS and UNIX). Each of these has its own entry,
which see.

ORANGE BOOK, THE (oh'rnj buk, dh@) n. The U.S. Government's standards
document (Trusted Computer System Evaluation Criteria, DOD standard
5200.28-STD, December, 1985) characterizing secure computing
architectures, defining levels A1 (least secure) through C3. Stock

ORIENTAL FOOD (oh-ree-en'tl food) n. Hackers display an intense
tropism towards Oriental cuisine, especially Chinese, and
especially of the spicier varieties such as Szechuan and Hunan.
This phenomenon (which has also been observed in subcultures which
overlap heavily with hackerdom, most notably science-fiction
fandom) has never been satisfactorily explained, but is
sufficiently intense that one can assume the target of a hackish
dinner expedition to be the best local Chinese place and be right
at least 3 times out of 4. See also CHINESE RAVS, GREAT-WALL,

ORTHOGONAL (or-tho'guh-nl) [from mathematics] n. Mutually
independent; well-separated; sometimes, irrelevant to. Used to
describe sets of primitives or capabilities which, like a vector
basis in geometry, span the entire `capability space' of the system
and are in some sense non-overlapping or mutually independent. For
example, in architectures such as the MC68000 where all or nearly
all registers can be used interchangeably in any role with respect
to any instruction, the register set is said to be orthogonal. Or,
in logic, the set of operators `not' and `or' is orthogonal, but
the set `and', `or' and `not' is not (because any one of these can
be expressed in terms of the other two via De Morgan's Laws).

OS (oh ess) 1. [Operating System] n. Acronym heavily used in email,
occasionally in speech. 2. obs. n. On ITS, an output spy.

OS/2 (oh ess too) n. The anointed successor to MS-DOS for Intel-286
and 386-based micros; proof that IBM/Microsoft couldn't get it
right the second time, either. Cited here because mentioning it is
always good for a cheap laugh among hackers - the design was so bad
that three years after introduction you could still count the major
APPs shipping for it on the fingers of two hands. See VAPORWARE,

OVERRUN SCREW (oh'v@r-ruhn scroo) [C programming] n. A variety of
FANDANGO ON CORE produced by scribbling past the end of an array (C
has no checks for this). This is relatively benign and easy to
spot if the array is static; if it is auto, the result may be to
SMASH THE STACK. The term OVERRUN SCREW is used esp. of scribbles
beyond the end of arrays allocated with malloc(3); this typically
trashes the allocation header for the next block in the ARENA,
producing massive lossage within malloc and (frequently) a core
dump on the next operation to use stdio or malloc(3) itself. See
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= P =

PAGE IN (payj in) [MIT] v. To become aware of one's surroundings again
after having paged out (see PAGE OUT). Usually confined to the
sarcastic comment, "So-and-so pages in. Film at 11." See FILM AT

PAGE OUT (payj owt) [MIT] v. To become unaware of one's surroundings
temporarily, due to daydreaming or preoccupation. "Can you repeat
that? I paged out for a minute." See PAGE IN.

PANIC (pa'nik) [UNIX] v. An action taken by a process or the entire
operating system when an unrecoverable error is discovered. The
action usually consists of: (1) displaying localized information on
the controlling terminal, (2) saving, or preparing for saving, a
memory image of the process or operating system, and (3)
terminating the process or rebooting the system.

PARAM (p@-ram') n. Speeech-only shorthand for "parameter". Compare

PARITY ERRORS (per'@-tee er'@rz) pl.n. Those little lapses of
attention or (in more severe cases) consciousness, usually brought
on by having spent all night and most of the next day hacking. "I
need to go home and crash; I'm starting to get a lot of parity

PARSE (pars) [from linguistic terminology] v. 1. To determine the
syntactic structure of a sentence or other utterance (close to the
standard English meaning). Example: "That was the one I saw you."
"I can't parse that." 2. More generally, to understand or
comprehend. "It's very simple; you just kretch the glims and then
aos the zotz." "I can't parse that." 3. Of fish, to have to
remove the bones yourself (usually at a Chinese restaurant). "I
object to parsing fish" means "I don't want to get a whole fish,
but a sliced one is okay." A "parsed fish" has been deboned.
There is some controversy over whether "unparsed" should mean
"bony", or also mean "deboned".

PATCH (pach) 1. n. A temporary addition to a piece of code, usually
as a quick-and-dirty remedy to an existing bug or misfeature. A
patch may or may not work, and may or may not eventually be
incorporated permanently into the program. 2. v. To insert a patch
into a piece of code. 3. [in the UNIX world] n. a set of
differences between two versions of code generated with diff(1) and
intended to be mechanically applied using patch(1); often used as a
way of distributing permanent C code upgrades and fixes over

PD (pee-dee) adj. Common abbreviation for "public domain", applied to
software distributed over USENET and from Internet archive sites.
Much of this software is not in fact "public domain" in the legal
sense but travels under various copyrights granting reproduction
and use rights to anyone who can SNARF a copy. See COPYLEFT.

PDL (pid'l or pud'l) [acronym for Push Down List] n. 1. A LIFO queue
(stack); more loosely, any priority queue; even more loosely, any
queue. A person's pdl is the set of things he has to do in the
future. One speaks of the next project to be attacked as having
risen to the top of the pdl. "I'm afraid I've got real work to do,
so this'll have to be pushed way down on my pdl." All these
usages are also frequently found with STACK (q.v) itself as the
subject noun. See PUSH and POP. 2. Dave Lebling (PDL@DM).

PDP-10 [Programmable Digital Processor model 10] n. The machine that
made timesharing real. Looms large in hacker folklore due to early
adoption in the mid-70s by many university computing facilities and
research labs including the MIT AI lab, Stanford and CMU. Some
aspects of the instruction set (most notably the bit-field
instructions) are still considered unsurpassed. The '10 was
eventually eclipsed by the PDP-11 and VAX machines and dropped from
DEC's line in the early '80s, and to have cut one's teeth on one is
considered something of a badge of honorable old-timerhood among
hackers. See TOPS-10, ITS, Appendix B.

PERCENT-S (per-sent' es) [From "%s", the formatting sequence in C's
printf() library function used to indicate that an arbitrary string
may be inserted] n. An unspecified person or object. "I was just
talking to some percent-s in administration." Compare RANDOM.

PERF (perf) n. See CHAD (sense #1).

PESSIMAL (pes'i-ml) [Latin-based antonym for "optimal"] adj.
Maximally bad. "This is a pessimal situation."

PESSIMIZING COMPILER (pes'i-miez-ing kuhm-pie'lr) [antonym of
`optimizing compiler'] n. A compiler that produces object code that
is worse than the straightforward or obvious translation.

PHASE (fayz) 1. n. The phase of one's waking-sleeping schedule with
respect to the standard 24-hour cycle. This is a useful concept
among people who often work at night according to no fixed
schedule. It is not uncommon to change one's phase by as much as
six hours/day on a regular basis. "What's your phase?" "I've been
getting in about 8 PM lately, but I'm going to work around to the
day schedule by Friday." A person who is roughly 12 hours out of
phase is sometimes said to be in "night mode". (The term "day
mode" is also used, but less frequently.) 2. CHANGE PHASE THE HARD
WAY: To stay awake for a very long time in order to get into a
different phase. 3. CHANGE PHASE THE EASY WAY: To stay asleep etc.

PHASE OF THE MOON (fayz uhv dh@ moon) n. Used humorously as a random
parameter on which something is said to depend. Sometimes implies
unreliability of whatever is dependent, or that reliability seems
to be dependent on conditions nobody has been able to determine.
"This feature depends on having the channel open in mumble mode,
having the foo switch set, and on the phase of the moon."

PIG, RUN LIKE A (pig, ruhn liek uh) adj. To run very slowly on given
hardware, said of software. Distinct from HOG, q.v.

PING (ping) [from TCP/IP terminology] n.,v. 1. Slang term for a small
network message (ICMP ECHO) sent by a computer to check for the
presence and aliveness of another one. Occasionally used as a
phone greeting. See ACK. 2. To verify the presence of. 3. To get
the attention of. From the Unix command by the same name (an
acronym of "Packet INternet Groper) that sends an ICMP ECHO packet
to another host.

PIPELINE (piep'lien) [UNIX, orig. by Doug McIlroy; now also used under
MS-DOS and elsewhere] n. A chain of FILTER programs connected
"head-to-tail", that is so that the output of one becomes the input
of the next. Under UNIX, user utilities can often be implemented
or at least prototyped by a suitable collection of pipelines and
temp-file grinding encapsulated in a shell script; this is much
less effort than writing C every time, and the capability is
considered one of UNIX's major WINNING features.

PLAYPEN (play'pen) [IBM] n. A room where programmers work. Compare

PLUGH (ploogh) [from the ADVENT game] v. A `magic word' sometimes used
as a metasyntactic variable in the style of FOO. See XYZZY.

PM (pee em) 1. [from "preventive maintenence"] v. to bring down a
machine for inspection or test purposes. 2. n. Abbrev. for
"Presentation Manager", an ELEPHANTINE OS/2 GUI.

P.O.D. (pee-oh-dee) Acronym for `Piece Of Data' (as opposed to a code
section). Usage: pedantic and rare.

POINTER ARITHMETIC (poyn'tr @-rith'm-@-tik') [C programmers] n. The
use of increment and decrement operations on address pointers to
traverse arrays or structure fields. See also BUMP.

POLL (pohl) v.,n. 1. The action of checking the status of an input
line, sensor, or memory location to see if a particular external
event has been registered. 2. To ask. "I'll poll everyone and see
where they want to go for lunch."

POLYGON PUSHER (pol'@-gon pu'shr) n. A chip designer who spends
most of his/her time at the physical layout level (which requires
drawing *lots* of multi-colored polygons).

POM (pee-oh-em) n. Phase of the moon (q.v.). Usage: usually used in
the phrase "POM dependent" which means FLAKEY (q.v.).

POP (pop) [based on the stack operation that removes the top of a stack, and
the fact that procedure return addresses are saved on the stack]
dialect: POPJ (pop-jay), based on the PDP-10 procedure return
instruction. v. To return from a digression. By verb doubling,
"Popj, popj" means roughly, "Now let's see, where were we?"
See RTI.

PRECEDENCE SCREW (pre's@-dens scroo) [C programmers] n. Coding error
in an expression to to unexpected grouping of arithmetic or logical
operators by the compiler. Used esp. of certain common coding
errors in C due to the nonintuitively low precedence levels of &, |
and ^. Can always be avoided by suitable use of parentheses. See

PRIME TIME (priem tiem) [from TV programming] n. Normal high-usage
hours on a timesharing system, the `day shift'. Avoidance of prime
time is a major reason for NIGHT MODE hacking.

PRIORITY INTERRUPT (prie-or'i-tee in'ter-ruhpt) [from the hardware
term] n. Describes any stimulus compelling enough to yank one right
out of hack mode. Classically used to describe being dragged away
by an SO for immediate sex, but may also refer to more mundane
interruptions such as a fire alarm going off in the near vicinity.

PROPELLER HEAD (proh-pel'r hed) n. Used by hackers, this is syn. with
COMPUTER GEEK. Non-hackers sometimes use it to describe all techies.

PROTOCOL (proh'tuh-kol) n. See DO PROTOCOL.

PROWLER (prow'lr) [UNIX] n. A DEMON that is run periodically
(typically once a week) to seek out and erase core files, truncate
administrative logfiles, nuke lost+found directories, and otherwise
clean up the cruft that tends to pile up in the corners of a file

PSEUDOPRIME (soo'doh-priem) n. A backgammon prime (six consecutive
occupied points) with one point missing.

PUNT (punt) [from the punch line of an old joke: "Drop back 15 yards
and punt"] v. To give up, typically without any intention of

PURPLE BOOK, THE (per'pl buk) n. The System V Interface Definition.
The covers of the first editions were an amazingly nauseating shade

PUSH (push) [based on the stack operation that puts the current
information on a stack, and the fact that procedure call addresses
are saved on the stack] dialect: PUSHJ (push-jay), based on the
PDP-10 procedure call instruction. v. To enter upon a digression,
to save the current discussion for later.
Back to Top

= Q =

QUANTUM BOGODYNAMICS (kwahn'tm boh'goh-die-nam'iks) n. Theory
promulgated by ESR (one of the authors) which characterizes the
universe in terms of bogon sources (such as politicians, used-car
salesmen, TV evangelists, and SUITs in general), bogon sinks (such
as taxpayers and computers), and bogosity potential fields. Bogon
absorption, of course, causes human beings to behave mindlessly and
machines to fail (and may cause them to emit secondary bogons as
well); however, the precise mechanics of the bogon-computron
interaction are not yet understood and remain to be elucidated.
Quantum bogodynamics is most frequently invoked to explain the
sharp increase in hardware and software failures in the presence of
suits; the latter emit bogons which the former absorb. See BOGON,

QUES (kwess) 1. n. The question mark character ("?"). 2. interj.
What? Also QUES QUES? See WALL.

QUX (kwuhx) The fourth of the standard metasyntactic variables, after
BAZ and before the QUU*X series. See FOO, BAR, BAZ, QUUX.

QUUX (kwooks) [invented by Steele] Mythically, from the Latin
semi-deponent verb QUUXO, QUUXARE, QUUXANDUM IRI; noun form
variously QUUX (plural QUUCES, Anglicized to QUUXES) and QUUXU
(genitive plural is QUUXUUM, four U's in seven letters).] 1.
Originally, a meta-word like FOO and FOOBAR. Invented by Guy
Steele for precisely this purpose when he was young and naive and
not yet interacting with the real computing community. Many people
invent such words; this one seems simply to have been lucky enough
to have spread a little. 2. interj. See FOO; however, denotes very
little disgust, and is uttered mostly for the sake of the sound of
it. 3. n. Refers to one of three people who went to Boston Latin
School and eventually to MIT:
THE GREAT QUUX: Guy L. Steele Jr.
THE LESSER QUUX: David J. Littleboy
(This taxonomy is said to be similarly applied to three Frankston
brothers at MIT.) QUUX, without qualification, usually refers to
The Great Quux, who is somewhat infamous for light verse and for
the "Crunchly" cartoons. 4. QUUXY: adj. Of or pertaining to a
QUUX. 5. n. The Micro Quux (Sam Lewis).
Back to Top

= R =

RANDOM (ran'dm) adj. 1. Unpredictable (closest to mathematical
definition); weird. "The system's been behaving pretty randomly."
2. Assorted; undistinguished. "Who was at the conference?" "Just
a bunch of random business types." 3. Frivolous; unproductive;
undirected (pejorative). "He's just a random loser." 4.
Incoherent or inelegant; not well organized. "The program has a
random set of misfeatures." "That's a random name for that
function." "Well, all the names were chosen pretty randomly." 5.
Gratuitously wrong, i.e., poorly done and for no good apparent
reason. For example, a program that handles file name defaulting
in a particularly useless way, or an assembler routine that could
easily have been coded using only three ac's, but randomly uses
seven for assorted non-overlapping purposes, so that no one else
can invoke it without first saving four extra ac's. 6. In no
particular order, though deterministic. "The I/O channels are in a
pool, and when a file is opened one is chosen randomly." n. 7. A
random hacker; used particularly of high school students who soak
up computer time and generally get in the way. 8. (occasional MIT
usage) One who lives at Random Hall. J. RANDOM is often prefixed
to a noun to make a "name" out of it (by comparison to common names
such as "J. Fred Muggs"). The most common uses are "J. Random
Loser" and "J. Random Nurd" ("Should J. Random Loser be allowed to
gun down other people?"), but it can be used just as an elaborate
version of RANDOM in any sense. See also SOME RANDOM X.

RANDOM NUMBERS (ran'd@m nuhm'brz) n. When one wishes to specify a
large but random number of things, and the context is inappropriate
for `N' (q.v.), certain numbers are preferred by hacker tradition
(that is, easily recognized as placeholders). These include

17 Long described at MIT as "the least random number". Also see 23.
23 A sacred number of Eris, Goddess of Discord (along with 17 & 5).
42 The Answer to the Question of Life, the Universe and Everything.
69 From the sexual act. This one was favored in MIT's ITS culture.
666 The Number of the Beast.

For further enlightenment, consult the _Principia_Discordia_,
_The_Hitchhiker's_Guide_To_The_Galaxy_, any porn movie, and the
Christian Bible's _Book_Of_Revelations_. See also DISCORDIANISM.

RANDOMNESS (ran'dm-nes) n. An unexplainable misfeature; gratuitous
inelegance. Also, a HACK or CROCK which depends on a complex
combination of coincidences (or rather, the combination upon which
the crock depends). "This hack can output characters 40-57 by
putting the character in the accumulator field of an XCT and then
extracting 6 bits -- the low two bits of the XCT opcode are the
right thing." "What randomness!"

RAPE (rayp) v. To (metaphorically) screw someone or something,
violently. Usage: often used in describing file-system damage.
"So-and-so was running a program that did absolute disk I/O and
ended up raping the master directory."

RARE (reir) [UNIX] adj. CBREAK mode (character-by-character with
interrupts enabled). Distinguished from `raw' and `cooked', but
unlike them this term is strictly a creature of folklore, not
found in the manuals. Usage: rare.

RASTER BURN (ras'tr bern) n. Eyestrain brought on by too many hours
of looking at low-res, poorly tuned or glare-ridden monitors, esp.
graphics monitors. See TERMINAL ILLNESS.

RAVE (rayv) [WPI] v. 1. To persist in discussing a specific subject.
2. To speak authoritatively on a subject about which one knows very
little. 3. To complain to a person who is not in a position to
correct the difficulty. 4. To purposely annoy another person
verbally. 5. To evangelize. See FLAME. Also used to describe a
less negative form of blather, such as friendly bullshitting.

RAVE ON! (rayv on) imp. Sarcastic invitation to continue a RAVE,
often by someone who wishes the raver would get a clue but realizes
this is unlikely.

READ-ONLY USER (reed'ohn-lee yoo'zr) n. Describes a LUSER who uses
computers almost exclusively for reading USENET, bulletin boards
and email, as opposed to writing code or purveying useful
information. See TWINK.

REAL SOON NOW (reel soon now) [orig. from SF's fanzine community] adj.
1. Supposed to be available (or fixed, or cheap, or whatever) real
soon now according to somebody, but the speaker is quite skeptical.
2. When the gods/fates/other time commitments permit the speaker to
get to it. Often abbreviated RSN.

REAL TIME (reel tiem) adv. Doing something while people are watching
or waiting. "I asked her how to find the caller's pc on the stack
and she came up with an algorithm in real time."

REAL USER (reel yoo'zr) n. 1. A commercial user. One who is paying
"real" money for his computer usage. 2. A non-hacker. Someone
using the system for an explicit purpose (research project, course,
etc.). See USER.

REAL WORLD, THE (reel werld, dh@) n. 1. In programming, those
institutions at which programming may be used in the same sentence
as FORTRAN, COBOL, RPG, IBM, etc. 2. To programmers, the location
of non-programmers and activities not related to programming. 3. A
universe in which the standard dress is shirt and tie and in which
a person's working hours are defined as 9 to 5. 4. The location of
the status quo. 5. Anywhere outside a university. "Poor fellow,
he's left MIT and gone into the real world." Used pejoratively by
those not in residence there. In conversation, talking of someone
who has entered the real world is not unlike talking about a
deceased person. See also FEAR AND LOATHING and UNINTERESTING.

REINCARNATION, CYCLE OF (ree-in-kar-nay'shn) n. Term used to refer to
a well-known effect whereby function in a computing system family
is migrated out to special purpose peripheral hardware for speed,
then the peripheral evolves towards more computing power as it does
its job, then somebody notices that it's inefficient to support two
asymmetrical processors in the architecture and folds the function
back into the main CPU, at which point the cycle begins again.
Several iterations of this cycle have been observed in graphics
processor design, and at least one or two in communications and
floating-point processors.

REGULAR EXPRESSIONS (reg'yoo-lr ek-spre-shns) [UNIX] The UNIX
conventions for filename and regular-expression wildcarding have
become sufficiently pervasive than many hackers use some of them in
written English, especially in email or news on technical topics.
Those commonly encountered include:

* wildcard for any string (see UN*X, U*IX).
? wildcard for any character (generally only read this
way in the middle of a word.
[] set-of-characters braces.

Some examples: "He said his name was [KC]arl" (expresses ambiguity).
"That got posted to talk.politics.*" (all the talk.politics subgroups
on USENET). Other examples are given under the entry for `X'. The
* wildcard has a name of its own; it's a `Kleene star'.

RELIGIOUS ISSUES (ree-lij'-@s is'yoos) n. Questions which seemingly
cannot be raised without touching off a FLAME WAR, such as "What is
the best editor/language operating system/architecture". See also

RELIGIOUS WAR (ree-lij'@s wor)[from USENET, but may predate it] n.

REPLICATOR (rep'l:-kay-t:r) any construct that acts to produce copies
of itself; this could be a living organism, an idea (see MEME), a
program (see WORM, WABBIT and VIRUS), or a robot.

RETROCOMPUTING (ret'-roh-k@m-pyoo'ting) n. Refers to emulations
of way-behind-the state-of-the-art hardware or software, or
implementations of never-was-state-of-the-art; esp. if such
implementations are elaborate practical jokes and/or parodies
of more `serious' designs. Perhaps the most widely distributed
retrocomputing utility was the pnch(6) program on V7 and other
early UNIX versions, which would accept up to 80 characters of
text argument and display the corresponding pattern in Hollerith
card code. Other well-known retrocomputing hacks have included
the language INTERCAL, a jcl-emulating shell for UNIX, and the
card-punch-emulating editor named 029.

[This term has, in the later 90's taken to mean the retoration of vintage
systems to original working order, as well as integrating these older systems
into newer systems - John Teehan]

RFC (ahr ef see) n. Request For Comment. One of a long-established
series of numbered Internet standards widely followed by commercial
and PD software in the Internet and UNIX communities. Perhaps the
single most influential one has been RFC-822 (the Internet
mail-format standard). The RFCs are unusual in that they are
floated by technical experts acting on their own initiative and
reviewed by the Internet at large, rather than formally promulgated
through an institution such as ANSI.

RICE BOX (ries boks) [from ham radio slang] n. Any Asian-made
commodity computer, esp. an 8086, 80286, 80386 or 80486-based
machine built to IBM PC-compatible ISA or EISA-bus standards.

RIGHT THING, THE (riet thing, dh@) n. That which is "obviously" the
correct or appropriate thing to use, do, say, etc. Use of this
term often implies that in fact reasonable people may disagree.
"Never let your conscience keep you from doing the right thing!"
"What's the right thing for LISP to do when it reads `(.)'?"
Antonym: THE WRONG THING (q.v.).

ROACH (rohch) [Bell Labs] v. To destroy, esp. of a data structure.
Hardware gets TOASTed, software gets roached.

ROBUST (roh'buhst) adj. Said of a system which has demonstrated an
ability to recover gracefully from the whole range of exception
conditions in a given environment. One step below BULLETPROOF.
Compare SMART, oppose BRITTLE.

ROGUE (rohg) [UNIX] n. Graphic Dungeons-And-Dragons-like game written
under BSD UNIX and subsequently ported to other UNIX systems. The
original BSD curses(3) screen-handling package was hacked together
by Ken Arnold to support ROGUE, and has since become one of UNIX's
most important and heavily used application libraries. See HACK.

ROOM-TEMPERATURE IQ (room tem'prat-yoor ie-kyoo) [IBM] 80 or below.
Used in describing expected the intelligence range of the LUSER. As
in "Well, but how's this interface gonna play with the
room-temperature IQ crowd?" See DROOL-PROOF PAPER.

RTFM (ahr-tee-ef-em) [UNIX] Abbrev. for "Read The F**king Manual".
Used by GURUs to brush off questions they consider trivial or
annoying. Compare DON'T DO THAT, THEN.

RTI (ahr-tee-ie) interj. The mnemonic for the `return from interrupt'
instruction on Intel microprocessors. Equivalent to "Now, where was
I?" or used to end a conversational digression. See POP, POPJ.

RUDE (rood) [WPI] adj. 1. (of a program) Badly written. 2.
Functionally poor, e.g. a program which is very difficult to use
because of gratuitously poor (random?) design decisions. See
Back to Top

= S =

SACRED (say'kr@d) adj. Reserved for the exclusive use of something (a
metaphorical extension of the standard meaning). "Accumulator 7 is
sacred to the UUO handler." Often means that anyone may look at
the sacred object, but clobbering it will screw whatever it is
sacred to.

SADISTICS (s@'dis'tiks) n. University slang for statistics and
probability theory, often used by hackers.

SAGA (saga) [WPI] n. A cuspy but bogus raving story dealing with N
random broken people.

SAIL (sayl) n. Stanford University Artificial Intelligence Lab. An
important site in the early development of LISP (with the MIT AI
LAB, CMU and the UNIX community) one of the major founts of hacker
culture traditions. The SAIL machines were shut down in late May
1990, scant weeks after the MIT AI lab's ITS cluster went down
for the last time.

SALT MINES (sahlt miens) n. Dense quarters housing large numbers of
programmers working long hours on grungy projects, with some hope
of seeing the end of the tunnel in x number of years. Noted for
their absence of sunshine. Compare PLAYPEN.

SANDBENDER (sand'ben-dr) [IBM] n. A person involved with silicon
lithography and the physical design of chips. Compare IRONMONGER,

SCIENCE-FICTION FANDOM (si'@ns fik'shn fan'dm) n. Another voluntary
subculture having a very heavy overlap with hackerdom; almost all
hackers read SF and/or fantasy fiction avidly, and many go to
"cons" (SF conventions) or are involved in fandom-connected
activities like the Society for Creative Anachronism. Some hacker
slang originated in SF fandom; see DEFENESTRATION, GREAT-WALL,
REAL SOON NOW, SNOG. Additionally, the jargon terms CYBERSPACE,
GO FLATLINE, ICE, VIRUS, and WORM originated in SF itself.

SCRATCH (skrach) [from "scratchpad"] adj. A device or recording medium
attached to a machine for testing purposes; one which can be
SCRIBBLED on without loss. Usually in the combining forms SCRATCH

SCRATCH MONKEY (skrach muhn'kee) n. As in, "Before testing or
reconfiguring, always mount a". Used in memory of Mabel, the
Swimming Wonder Monkey who expired when a computer vendor PM'd a
machine which was regulating the gas mixture that the monkey was
breathing at the time. See Appendix A. A mantram used to advise
caution when dealing with irreplacable data or devices. See

SCREW (scroo) [MIT] n. A LOSE, usually in software. Especially used
for user-visible misbehavior caused by a bug or misfeature.

SCREWAGE (scroo'@j) n. Like LOSSAGE (q.v.) but connotes that the
failure is do to a designed-in misfeature rather than a simple
inadequacy or mere bug.

SCROG (skrog) [Bell Labs] v. To damage, trash or corrupt a data
structure. as in "the cblock got scrogged". Also reported as
SKROG, and ascribed to "The Wizard of Id" comix. Equivalent to

SCROZZLE (skro'zl) v. Verb used when a self-modifying code segment
runs incorrectly and corrupts the running program, or vital data.
"The damn compiler scrozzled itself again!"

SCRIBBLE (skri'bl) n. To modify a data structure in a random and
unintentionally destructive way. "Bletch! Somebody's disk-compactor
program went berserk and scribbled on the i-node table." "It was
working fine until one of the allocation routines scribbled on low
core." Synonymous with TRASH; compare MUNG, which conveys a bit
more intention, and MANGLE, which is more violent and final.

SEARCH-AND-DESTROY MODE (serch-@nd-d@s-troy' mohd) n. Hackerism for
the search-and-replace facility in an editor, so called because an
incautiously chosen match pattern can cause INFINITE damage.

SECOND-SYSTEM SYNDROME (sek'@nd sis'tm sin'drohm) n. When designing
the successor to a relatively small, elegant and successful system,
there is a tendency to become grandiose in one's success and
perpetrate an ELEPHANTINE feature-laden monstrosity. The term
`second-system syndrome' was first used for this affliction in
describing how the success of CTSS led to the debacle that was

SEGGIE (seg'ee) [UNIX] n. Reported from Britain as a shorthand for
`segment violation', an attempted access to a protected memory area
usually resulting in a CORE DUMP.

SELF-REFERENCE (self ref'@-rens) n. See SELF-REFERENCE.

SELVAGE (selv'@j) n. See CHAD (sense #1).

SEMI (se'mee) 1. n. Abbreviation for "semicolon", when speaking.
"Commands to GRIND are prefixed by semi-semi-star" means that the
prefix is ";;*", not 1/4 of a star. 2. Prefix with words such as
"immediately", as a qualifier. "When is the system coming up?"

SERVER (ser'vr) n. A kind of DAEMON which performs a service for the
requester, which often runs on a computer other than the one on
which the server runs. A particularly common term on the Internet,
which is rife with "name servers" "domain servers" "news servers"
"finger servers" and the like.

SEX (seks) [Sun User's Group & elsewhere] n. 1. Software EXchange. A
technique invented by the blue-green algae hundereds of millions of
years ago to speed up their evolution, which had been terribly slow
up until then. Today, SEX parties are popular among hackers and
others. 2. The rather Freudian mnemonic often used for Sign Extend,
a machine instruction found in many architectures.

SHAREWARE (sheir'weir) n. FREEWARE for which the author requests some
payment, usually in the accompanying documentation files or in an
announcement made by the software itself. Such payment may or may
not buy additional support or functionality. See GUILTWARE,

SHELFWARE (shelf'weir) n. Software purchased on a whim (by an
individual user) or in accordance with policy (by a corporation or
government) but not actually required for any particular use.
Therefore, it often ends up on some shelf.

SHELL (shel) [from UNIX, now used elsewhere] n. 1. On an operating
system with a well-defined KERNEL (q.v.), the SHELL is the loadable
command interpreter program used to pass commands to the kernel. A
single kernel may support several shells with different interface
styles. 2. More generally, any interface program which mediates
access to a special resource or SERVER for convenience, efficiency
or security reasons; for this meaning, the usage is usually A SHELL
AROUND whatever.

SHIFT LEFT (RIGHT) LOGICAL (shift left (riet) lah'ji-kl) [from any of
various machines' instruction sets] 1. v. To move oneself to the
left (right). To move out of the way. 2. imper. Get out of that
(my) seat! Usage: often used without the "logical", or as "left
shift" instead of "shift left". Sometimes heard as LSH (lish),
from the PDP-10 instruction set.

SHRIEK (shreek) See EXCL. Occasional CMU usage, also in common use
among mathematicians, especially category theorists.

SIG (sig) or SIG BLOCK (sig blahk) [UNIX; often written ".sig" there]
n. Short for "signature", used specifically to refer to the
electronic signature block which most UNIX mail- and news-posting
software will allow you to automatically append to outgoing mail
and news. The composition of one's sig can be quite an art form,
including an ASCII logo or one's choice of witty sayings; but many
consider large sigs a waste of bandwidth, and it has been observed
that the size of one's sig block is usually inversely proportional
to one's longevity and level of prestige on THE NETWORK.

SILICON (sil'i-kon) n. Hardware, esp. ICs or microprocessor-based
computer systems (compare IRON). Contrasted with software.

SILLY WALK (si'lee wahk) [from Monty Python] v. a ridiculous procedure
required to accomplish a task. Like GROVEL, but more RANDOM and
humorous. "I had to silly-walk through half the /usr directories to
find the maps file."

SILO (sie'loh) n. The FIFO input-character buffer in an RS-232 line
card. So called from DEC terminology used on DH and DZ line cards
for the VAX and PDP-11.

SILVER BOOK, THE (sil'vr buk) n. Jensen & Wirth's infamous
_Pascal_User_Manual_ and_Report_, so called because of the silver
cover of the widely-distributed Springer-Verlag second edition of

16-INCH ROTARY DEBUGGER (piz'uh) [Commodore] n. Essential equipment
for those late night or early morning debugging sessions. Mainly
used as sustenance for the hacker. Comes in many decorator colours
such as Sausage, Pepperoni, and Garbage.

SLEEP (sleep) [from the UNIX sleep(3)] On a timesharing system, a
process which relinquishes its claim on the scheduler until some
given event occurs or a specified time delay elapses is said to `go
to sleep'.

SLOP (slop) n. 1. A one-sided fudge factor (q.v.). Often introduced
to avoid the possibility of a fencepost error (q.v.). 2. (used by
compiler freaks) The ratio of code generated by a compiler to
hand-compiled code, minus 1; i.e., the space (or maybe time) you
lose because you didn't do it yourself.

SLOPSUCKER (slop'suhkr) n. a lowest-priority task that must wait
around until everything else has "had its fill" of machine
resources. Only when the machine would otherwise be idle is the
task allowed to "suck up the slop." Also called a HUNGRY PUPPY. One
common variety of slopsucker hunts for large prime numbers. Compare

SLUGGY (sluh'gee) adj. Hackish variant of `sluggish'. Used only of
people, esp. someone just waking up after a long GRONK-OUT.

SLURP (slerp) v. To read a large data file entirely into core before
working on it. "This program slurps in a 1K-by-1K matrix and does
an FFT."

SMART (smart) adj. Said of a program that does the RIGHT THING (q.v.)
in a wide variety of complicated circumstances. There is a
difference between calling a program smart and calling it
intelligent; in particular, there do not exist any intelligent
programs (yet). Compare ROBUST (smart programs can be BRITTLE).

SMASH THE STACK (smash dh@ stak) [C programming] n. On many C
implementations it is possible to corrupt the execution stack by
writing past the end of an array declared auto in a routine. Code
that does this is said to `smash the stack', and can cause return
from the routine to jump to a random text address. This can produce
some of the most insidious data-dependent bugs known to mankind.
Variants include `trash the stack', `SCRIBBLE ON the stack',
`MANGLE the stack'; `*MUNG the stack' is not used as this is never

SMILEY (smie'lee) n. See EMOTICON.

SMOKE TEST (smohk test) n. 1. A rudimentary form of testing applied to
electronic equipment following repair or reconfiguration in which
AC power is applied and during which the tester checks for sparks,
smoke, or other dramatic signs of fundamental failure. 2. By
extension, the first run of a piece of software after construction
or a critical change. See MAGIC SMOKE.

SMOKING CLOVER (smoh'king kloh'vr) n. A DISPLAY HACK originally due
to Bill Gosper. Many convergent lines are drawn on a color monitor
in AOS mode (so that every pixel struck has its color incremented).
The color map is then rotated. The lines all have one endpoint in
the middle of the screen; the other endpoints are spaced one pixel
apart around the perimeter of a large square. This results in a
striking, rainbow-hued, shimmering four-leaf clover. Gosper joked
about keeping it hidden from the FDA lest it be banned.

SMOP (smop) [Simple (or Small) Matter of Programming] n. A piece of
code, not yet written, whose anticipated length is significantly
greater than its complexity. Usage: used to refer to a program
that could obviously be written, but is not worth the trouble.

SNAIL-MAIL (snayl-mayl) n. Paper mail, as opposed to electronic. See

SNARF (snarf) v. 1. To grab, esp. a large document or file for the
purpose of using it either with or without the author's permission.
See BLT. Variant: SNARF (IT) DOWN. (At MIT on ITS, DDT has a
command called :SNARF which grabs a job from another (inferior)
DDT.) 2. [in the UNIX community] to fetch a file or set of files
across a network. See also BLAST.

SNARF & BARF (snarf-n-barf) n. The act of grabbing a region of text
using a WIMP (q.v.) environment (Window, Icon, Mouse, Pointer) and
then "stuffing" the contents of that region into another region or
into the same region, to avoid re-typing a command line.

SNEAKERNET (snee'ker-net) n. Term used (generally with ironic intent)
for transfer of electronic information by physically carrying tape,
disks, or some other media from one machine to another. "Never
underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon filled with magtape,
or a 747 filled with CD-ROMs"

SNIFF (snif) v.,n. Synonym for POLL.

SNOG (snog) [from old-time science-fiction fandom] v.i. Equivalent to
mainstream "make out" describing sexual activity, especially
exploratory. Most often encountered as participle SNOGGING. "Oh,
they're off snogging somewhere."

S.O. (ess-oh) n. Acronym for Significant Other, almost invariably
written abbreviated and pronounced "ess-oh" by hackers. In fact the
form without periods "SO" is most common. Used to refer to one's
primary relationship, esp. a live-in to whom one is not married.

SOFTWARE ROT (soft'weir raht) n. Hypothetical disease the existence
of which has been deduced from the observation that unused programs
or features will stop working after sufficient time has passed,
even if "nothing has changed". Also known as BIT DECAY, BIT ROT.
Occasionally this turns out to be a real problem due to media

SOFTWARILY (soft-weir'i-lee) adv. In a way pertaining to software.
"The system is softwarily unreliable." The adjective "softwary" is

SOME RANDOM X (suhm randm eks) adj. Used to indicate a member of
class X, with the implication that the particular X is
interchangeable with most other Xs in whatever context was being
discussed. "I think some random cracker tripped over the gust
timeout last night"

SORCEROR'S APPRENTICE MODE (sor'ser'ers @-pren'tis mohd) n. A bug in
a protocol where, under some circumstances, the receipt of a
message causes more than one message to be sent, each of which,
when received, triggers the same bug. Used esp. of such behavior
caused by BOUNCE MESSAGE loops in EMAIL software. Compare BROADCAST

SPACEWAR (spays'wohr) n. A space-combat simulation game first
implemented on the PDP-1 at MIT in 1960-61. SPACEWAR aficionados
formed the core of the early hacker culture at MIT. Ten years later
a descendent of the game motivated Ken Thompson to invent UNIX
(q.v.). Ten years after that, SPACEWAR was commercialized as one of
the first video games; descendants are still feeping in video
arcades everywhere.

SPAGHETTI CODE (sp@-get'ee kohd) n. Describes code with a complex and
tangled control structure, esp. one using many GOTOs, exceptions or
other `unstructured' branching constructs. Pejorative.

SPAGHETTI INHERITANCE (sp@-get'ee in-her'i-t@ns) n. [Encountered among
users of object-oriented languages that use inheritance, such as
Smalltalk] A convoluted class-subclass graph, often resulting from
carelessly deriving subclasses from other classes just for the sake
of reusing their code. Coined in a (successful) attempt to
discourage such practice, through guilt by association with

SPIFFY (spi'fee) adj. 1. Said of programs having a pretty, clever or
exceptionally well-designed interface. "Have you seen the spiffy X
version of EMPIRE yet?" 2. Said sarcastically of programs which are
perceived to have little more than a flashy interface going for
them. Which meaning should be drawn depends delicately on tone of
voice and context.

SPIN (spin) v. Equivalent to BUZZ (q.v.). More common among C and UNIX

SPLAT (splat) n. 1. Name used in many places (DEC, IBM, and others)
for the ASCII star ("*") character. 2. [MIT] Name used by some
people for the ASCII pound-sign ("#") character. 3. [Stanford]
Name used by some people for the Stanford/ITS extended ASCII
circle-x character. (This character is also called "circle-x",
"blobby", and "frob", among other names.) 4. [Stanford] Name for
the semi-mythical extended ASCII circle-plus character. 5.
Canonical name for an output routine that outputs whatever the the
local interpretation of splat is. Usage: nobody really agrees what
character "splat" is, but the term is common.

SPOOGE (spooj) 1. n. inexplicable or arcane code, or random and
probably incorrect output from a computer program 2. v. to generate
code or output as in definition 1.

STACK (stak) n. See PDL. The STACK usage is probably more common
outside universities.

STATE (stayt) n. Condition, situation. "What's the state of NEWIO?"
"It's winning away." "What's your state?" "I'm about to gronk
out." As a special case, "What's the state of the world?" (or,
more silly, "State-of-world-P?") means "What's new?" or "What's
going on?"

STIR-FRIED RANDOM (ster-fried ran'dm) alt. STIR-FRIED MUMBLE
(ster-fried mum'bl) n. Term used for frequent best dish of those
hackers who can cook. Conists of random fresh veggies and meat
wokked with random spices. Tasty and economical. See RANDOM,

STOMP ON (stomp on) v. To inadvertently overwrite something
important, usually automatically. Example: "All the work I did
this weekend got stomped on last night by the nightly-server

STOPPAGE (sto'p@j) n. Extreme lossage (see LOSSAGE) resulting in
something (usually vital) becoming completely unusable.

STUNNING (stuhn'ning) adj. Mind-bogglingly stupid. Usually used in
sarcasm. "You want to code *what* in ADA? That's...a stunning

SUBSHELL (suhb'shel) [UNIX, MS-DOS] n. An OS command interpreter (see
SHELL) spawned from within a program, such that exit from the
command interpreter returns one to the parent program in a state
that allows it to continue execution. Oppose CHAIN.

SUIT (soot) n. 1. Ugly and uncomfortable `business clothing' often
worn by non-hackers. Invariably worn with a `tie', a strangulation
device which partially cuts off the blood supply to the brain. It
is thought that this explains much about the behavior of suit-
wearers. 2. A person who habitually wears suits, as distinct from a
techie or hacker. See LOSER, BURBLE and BRAIN-DAMAGED.

SUPERPROGRAMMER (soo'per-pro'gra-mr) n. See WIZARD, HACKER, GURU.
Usage: rare. (Becoming more common among IBM and Yourdon types.)

SUZIE COBOL (soo'zee koh'bol) 1. [IBM, prob. fr. Frank Zappa's
"little Suzy Creamcheese"] n. A coder straight out of training
school who knows everything except the benefits of comments in
plain English. Also (fashionable among personkind wishing to avoid
accusations of sexism) `Sammy Cobol' 2. [generalization proposed by
ESR] Meta-name for any CODE GRINDER, analogous to J. RANDOM HACKER.

SWAB (swob) [From the PDP-11 "byte swap" instruction] 1. v. to solve
the NUXI PROBLEM by swapping bytes in a file. 2. Also, the program
in V7 UNIX used to perform this action. See also BIG-ENDIAN,

SWAPPED (swopt) adj. From the use of secondary storage devices to
implement virtual memory in computer systems. Something which is
SWAPPED IN is available for immediate use in main memory, and
otherwise is SWAPPED OUT. Often used metaphorically to refer to
people's memories ("I read TECO ORDER every few months to keep the
information swapped in.") or to their own availability ("I'll swap
you in as soon as I finish looking at this other problem.").

SWIZZLE (swi'zl) v. To convert external names or references within a
data structure into direct pointers when the data structure is
brought into main memory from external storage; also called POINTER
SWIZZLING; the converse operation is sometimes termed UNSWIZZLING.

SYNC (sink) [from UNIX] n.,v. 1. To force all pending I/O to the disk.
2. More generally, to force a number of competing processes or
agents to a state that would be `safe' if the system were to crash;
thus, to checkpoint. See FLUSH.

SYNTACTIC SUGAR (sin-tak'tik shu'gr) n. Features added to a language
or formalism to make it `sweeter' for humans, that do not affect
the expressiveness of the formalism (compare CHROME). Used esp.
when there is an obvious and trivial translation of the `sugar'
feature into other constructs already present in the notation.
Example: the \n, \t, \r, and \b escapes in C strings, which could
be expressed as octal escapes.

SYSTEM (sis'tem) n. 1. The supervisor program on the computer. 2. Any
large-scale program. 3. Any method or algorithm. 4. The way
things are usually done. Usage: a fairly ambiguous word. "You
can't beat the system." SYSTEM HACKER: one who hacks the system
(in sense 1 only; for sense 2 one mentions the particular program:
Back to Top

= T =

T (tee) 1. [from LISP terminology for "true"] Yes. Usage: used in
reply to a question, particularly one asked using the "-P"
convention). See NIL. 2. See TIME T. 3. In transaction-processing
circles, an abbreviation for the noun "transaction".

TALK MODE n. The state a terminal is in when linked to another via a
bidirectional character pipe to support on-line dialogue between
two or more users. Talk mode has a special set of jargon words,
used to save typing, which are not used orally:

BCNU Be seeing you.
BTW By the way...
BYE? Are you ready to unlink? (This is the standard way to
end a com mode conversation; the other person types
BYE to confirm, or else continues the conversation.)
CUL See you later.
FOO? A greeting, also meaning R U THERE? Often used in the
case of unexpected links, meaning also "Sorry if I
butted in" (linker) or "What's up?" (linkee).
FYI For your information...
GA Go ahead (used when two people have tried to type
simultaneously; this cedes the right to type to
the other).
HELLOP A greeting, also meaning R U THERE? (An instance
of the "-P" convention.)
NIL No (see the main entry for NIL).
OBTW Oh, by the way...
R U THERE? Are you there?
SEC Wait a second (sometimes written SEC...).
T Yes (see the main entry for T).
TNX Thanks.
TNX 1.0E6 Thanks a million (humorous).
WTH What the hell
[double CRLF] When the typing party has finished, he types
two CRLFs to signal that he is done; this leaves a
blank line between individual "speeches" in the
conversation, making it easier to re-read the
preceding text.
[name]: When three or more terminals are linked, each speech
is preceded by the typist's login name and a colon (or
a hyphen) to indicate who is typing. The login name
often is shortened to a unique prefix (possibly a
single letter) during a very long conversation.

Most of the above "sub-jargon" is used at both Stanford and MIT. A
few other abbrevs have been reported from commercial networks such
as GEnie and Compuserve where on-line `live' chat including more
than two people is common and usually involves a more `social'
context, notably

BRB be right back
HHOJ ha ha only joking
LOL laughing out load
ROTF rolling on the floor
AFK away from keyboard
b4 before
CU l8tr see you later
MORF Male or Female?
TTFN ta-ta for now
OIC Oh, I see
rehi hello again

These are not used at universities; conversely, most of the people
who know these are unfamiliar with FOO?, BCNU, HELLOP, NIL, and T.

TANKED (tankt) adj. Same as DOWN, used primarily by UNIX hackers. See
also HOSED. Popularized as a synonym for "drunk" by Steve Dallas in
the late lamented "Bloom County" comix.

TASTE (tayst) n. [primarily MIT-DMS] The quality in programs which
tends to be inversely proportional to the number of features,
hacks, and kluges programmed into it. Also, TASTY, TASTEFUL,
TASTEFULNESS. "This feature comes in N tasty flavors." Although
TASTEFUL and FLAVORFUL are essentially synonyms, TASTE and FLAVOR
are not.

TCB (tee see bee) [IBM] Trouble Came Back. Intermittent or difficult-to
reproduce problem which has failed to respond to neglect. Compare

TELNET (telnet) v. To communicate with another ARPAnet host using the
TELNET program. TOPS-10 people use the word IMPCOM since that is
the program name for them. Sometimes abbreviated to TN. "I
usually TN over to SAIL just to read the AP News."

TENSE (tens) adj. Of programs, very clever and efficient. A tense
piece of code often got that way because it was highly bummed, but
sometimes it was just based on a great idea. A comment in a clever
display routine by Mike Kazar: "This routine is so tense it will
bring tears to your eyes. Much thanks to Craig Everhart and James
Gosling for inspiring this hack attack." A tense programmer is one
who produces tense code.

TERAFLOP CLUB (ter'a-flop kluhb) n. Mythical group of people who
consume outragous amounts of computer time in order to produce a
few simple pictures of glass balls with intricate ray tracing
techniques. Cal Tech professor James Kajiya is said to be the
founding member.

TERMINAK (ter'mi-nak) [Caltech, ca. 1979] n. Any malfunctioning
computer terminal. A common failure mode of Lear-Siegler ADM3a
terminals caused the "L" key to produce the "K" code instead;
complaints about this tended to look like "Terminak #3 has a bad
keyboard. Pkease fix."

TERMINAL ILLNESS (ter'mi-nl il'nes) n. 1. Syn. with RASTER BURN.
2. The `burn-in' condition your CRT tends to get if you don't
have a screen saver.

TERPRI (ter'pree) [from the LISP 1.5 (and later, MacLISP) function to
start a new line of output] v. To output a CRLF (q.v.).

THANKS IN ADVANCE [USENET] Conventional net.politeness ending a posted
request for information or assistance. Sometimes written
"advTHANKSance". See "NET.", NETIQUETTE.

THEOLOGY (thee-o'l@-gee) n. 1. Ironically used to refer to RELIGIOUS
ISSUES. 2. Technical fine points of an abstruse nature, esp. those
where the resolution is of theoretical interest but relatively
MARGINAL with respect to actual use of a design or system. Used
esp. around software issues with a heavy AI or language design
component. Example: the deep- vs. shallow-binding debate in the
design of dynamically-scoped LISPS.

THEORY (theer'ee) n. Used in the general sense of idea, plan, story,
or set of rules. "What's the theory on fixing this TECO loss?"
"What's the theory on dinner tonight?" ("Chinatown, I guess.")
"What's the current theory on letting lusers on during the day?"
"The theory behind this change is to fix the following well-known

THINKO (thin'ko) [by analogy with `typo'] n. A bubble in the stream of
consciousness; a momentary, correctable glitch in mental
processing, especially one involving recall of information learned
by rote. Compare MOUSO.

THRASH (thrash) v. To move wildly or violently, without accomplishing
anything useful. Swapping systems which are overloaded waste most
of their time moving pages into and out of core (rather than
performing useful computation), and are therefore said to thrash.

TICK (tick) n. 1. Interval of time; basic clock time on the computer.
Typically 1/60 second. See JIFFY. 2. In simulations, the discrete
unit of time that passes "between" iterations of the simulation
mechanism. In AI applications, this amount of time is often left
unspecified, since the only constraint of interest is that caused
things happen after their causes. This sort of AI simulation is
often pejoratively referred to as "tick-tick-tick" simulation,
especially when the issue of simultaneity of events with long,
independent chains of causes is handwaved.

TIME T (tiem tee) n. 1. An unspecified but usually well-understood
time, often used in conjunction with a later time T+1. "We'll meet
on campus at time T or at Louie's at time T+1." 2. SINCE (OR AT)
TIME T EQUALS MINUS INFINITY: A long time ago; for as long as
anyone can remember; at the time that some particular frob was
first designed.

TIP OF THE ICE-CUBE (tip uhv dh@ ies-kyoob) [IBM] n. The visible part
of something small and insignificant. Used as an ironic comment
in situations where "tip of the iceberg" might be appropriate if
the subject were actually nontrivial.

TIRED IRON (tierd iern) [IBM] n. Hardware that is perfectly functional
but enough behind the state of the art to have been superseded by
new products, presumably with enough improvement in bang-per-buck
that the old stuff is starting to look a bit like a DINOSAUR.

TLA (tee el ay) [Three-Letter-Acronym] n. 1. Self-describing acronym
for a species with which computing terminology is infested. 2. Any
confusing acronym at all. Examples include MCA, FTP, SNA, CPU,
MMU, SCCS, DMU, FPU, TLA, NNTP. People who like this looser usage
argue that not all TLAs have three letters, just as not all four
letter words have four letters.

TOAST (tohst) 1. n. any completely inoperable system, esp. one that
has just crashed;"I think BUACCA is toast." 2. v. to cause a system
to crash accidentally, especially in a manner that requires manual
rebooting; "Rick just toasted harp again."

TOASTER (tohs'tr) n. 1. The archetypal really stupid application for
an embedded microprocessor controller esp. `toaster oven'; often
used in comments which imply that a scheme is inappropriate
technology. "DWIM for an assembler? That'd be as silly as running
UNIX on your toaster!" 2. A very very dumb computer. "You could
run this program on any dumb toaster". See BITTY BOX, TOASTER, TOY.

TOOL (tool) 1. n. A program primarily used to create other programs,
such as a compiler or editor or cross-referencing program. Oppose
APP, OPERATING SYSTEM. 2. [UNIX] An application program with a
simple, "transparent" (typically text-stream) designed specifically
to be used in programmed combination with other tools (see FILTER).
3. [MIT] v.i. To work; to study. See HACK (def #9).

TOPS-10 (tops-ten) n. DEC's proprietary OS for the fabled PDP-10
machines, long a favorite of hackers but now effectively extinct. A
fountain of hacker folklore; see Appendix B. See also ITS, TOPS-20,

TOPS-20 (tops-twen'tee) n. See TWENEX.

TOURIST (too'rist) [from MIT's ITS system] n. A guest on the system,
especially one who generally logs in over a network from a remote
location for games and other trivial purposes. One step below
LUSER. TOURISTIC is often used as a pejorative, as in "losing
touristic scum".

TOY (toy) n. A computer system; always used with qualifiers. 1. NICE
TOY One which supports the speaker's hacking style adequately. 2.
JUST A TOY A machine that yields insufficient COMPUTRONS for the
speaker's preferred uses (this is not condemnatory as is BITTY BOX,
toys can at least be fun). See also GET A REAL COMPUTER, BITTY BOX.

TOY PROBLEM (toy pro'blm) [AI] n. A deliberately simplified or even
oversimplified case of a challenging problem used to investigate,
prototype, or test algorithms for the real problem. Sometimes used
pejoratively. See also GEDANKEN.

TRAP (trap) 1. n. A program interrupt, usually used specifically to
refer to an interrupt caused by some illegal action taking place in
the user program. In most cases the system monitor performs some
action related to the nature of the illegality, then returns
control to the program. See UUO. 2. v. To cause a trap. "These
instructions trap to the monitor." Also used transitively to
indicate the cause of the trap. "The monitor traps all
input/output instructions."

TRASH (trash) v. To destroy the contents of (said of a data
structure). The most common of the family of near-synonyms
including MUNG, MANGLE and SCRIBBLE.

TRIVIAL (tri'vi-@l) adj. 1. In explanation, too simple to bother
detailing. 2. Not worth the speaker's time. 3. Complex, but
solvable by methods so well-known that anyone not utterly CRETINOUS
would have thought of them already. Hackers' notions of triviality
may be quite at variance with those of non-hackers. See NONTRIVIAL,

TROGLODYTE (trog'lo-diet) [Commodore] n. A hacker who never leaves his
cubicle. The term `Gnoll' is also reported.

TROGLODYTE MODE (trog'lo-diet mohd) [Rice University] n. Programming
with the lights turned off, sunglasses on, and the (character)
terminal inverted (black on white) because you've been up for so
many days straight that your eyes hurt. Loud music blaring from a
stereo stacked in the corner is optional but recommended. See

TROJAN HORSE (troh'jn hors) n. A program designed to break security or
damage a system that is disguised as something else benign, such as
a directory lister or archiver. See VIRUS, WORM.

TRUE-HACKER (troo-hak'r) [analogy with "trufan" from SF fandom] n.
One who exemplifies the primary values of hacker culture, esp.
competence and helpfulness to other hackers. A high complement. "He
spent six hours helping me bring up UUCP and netnews on my FOOBAR
4000 last week -- truly the act of a true-hacker." Compare DEMIGOD,
oppose MUNCHKIN.

TTY (tee-tee-wie [UNIX], titty [ITS]) n. 1. Terminal of the teletype
variety, characterized by a noisy mechanical printer, a very
limited character set, and poor print quality. Usage: antiquated
(like the TTYs themselves). 2. [especially UNIX] Any terminal at
all; sometimes used to refer to the particular terminal controlling
a job.

TUBE (t[y]oob) n. A CRT terminal. Never used in the mainstream sense of
TV; real hackers don't watch TV, except for Loony Toons and
Bullwinkle & Rocky and the occasional cheesy old swashbuckle movie.

TUNE (toon) [from automotive or musical usage] v. to optimize a
program or system for a particular environment. One may `tune for
time' (fastest execution) `tune for space' (least memory
utilization) or `tune for configuration' (most efficient use of
hardware). See BUM, HOT SPOT, HAND-HACK.

TWEAK (tweek) v. To change slightly, usually in reference to a value.
Also used synonymously with TWIDDLE. See FROBNICATE and FUDGE

TWENEX (twe'nex) n. The TOPS-20 operating system by DEC. So named
because TOPS-10 was a typically crufty DEC operating system for the
PDP-10. BBN developed their own system, called TENEX (TEN
EXecutive), and in creating TOPS-20 for the DEC-20 DEC copied TENEX
and adapted it for the 20. Usage: DEC people cringe when they hear
TOPS-20 referred to as "Twenex", but the term seems to be catching
on nevertheless. Release 3 of TOPS-20 is sufficiently different
from release 1 that some (not all) hackers have stopped calling it
TWENEX, though the written abbreviation "20x" is still used.

TWIDDLE (twid'l) n. 1. tilde (ASCII 176, "~"). Also called
"squiggle", "sqiggle" (sic--pronounced "skig'gul"), and "twaddle",
but twiddle is by far the most common term. 2. A small and
insignificant change to a program. Usually fixes one bug and
generates several new ones. 3. v. To change something in a small
way. Bits, for example, are often twiddled. Twiddling a switch or
knob implies much less sense of purpose than toggling or tweaking

TWINK (twink) [UCSC] n. Equivalent to READ-ONLY USER.

TWO-PI (too-pie, should be written with math symbols) q. The number of
years it takes to finish one's thesis. Occurs in stories in the
form: "He started on his thesis; two pi years later...".
Back to Top

= U =

UNINTERESTING (un-in'ter-est-ing) adj. 1. Said of a problem which,
while NONTRIVIAL, can be solved simply by throwing sufficient
resources at it. 2. Also said of problems for which a solution
would neither advance the state of the art nor be fun to design and
code. True hackers regard uninteresting problems as an intolerable
waste of time, to be solved (if at all) by lesser mortals. See

U*IX, UN*X n. Used to refer to the Unix operating system
(trademark and/or copyright AT&T) in writing, but avoiding the need
for the ugly (tm) typography. Also used to refer to any or all
varieties of Unixoid operating systems. Ironically, some lawyers
now claim (1990) that the requirement for superscript-tm has no
legal force, but the asterisk usage is entrenched anyhow.

UNWIND THE STACK (un-wiend' thuh stack) v. During the execution of a
procedural language one is said to `unwind the stack' from a called
procedure up to a caller when one discards the stack frame and any
number of frames above it, popping back up to the level of the
given caller. In C this is done with longjmp/setjmp; in LISP with
THROW/CATCH. This is sometimes necessary when handling exceptional
conditions. See also SMASH THE STACK.

UNWIND-PROTECT (un-wiend'pr@-tekt) [MIT, from the name of a LISP
operator] n. A task you must remember to perform before you leave a
place or finish a project. "I have an unwind-protect to call my

UNIX (yoo'nix) [In the authors' words, "A weak pun on MULTICS"] n. A
popular interactive time-sharing system originally invented in 1969
by Ken Thompson after Bell Labs left the MULTICS project, mostly so
he could play SPACEWAR on a scavenged PDP7. The turning point in
UNIX's history came when it was reimplemented almost entirely in C
in 1974, making it the first source-portable operating system.
Fifteen years and a lot of changes later UNIX is the most widely
used multiuser general-purpose operating system in the world. This
fact probably represents the single most important victory yet of
hackerdom over industry opposition. See VERSION 7, BSD UNIX, USG

UP (uhp) adj. 1. Working, in order. "The down escalator is up." 2.
BRING UP: v. To create a working version and start it. "They
brought up a down system."

UPLOAD [uhp'lohd] v. 1. To transfer code or data over a digital comm
line from a smaller `client' system to a larger `host' one. Oppose
DOWNLOAD. 2. [speculatively] To move the essential patterns and
algorithms which make up one's mind from one's brain into a
computer. Only those who are convinced that such patterns and
algorithms capture the complete essence of the self view this
prospect with aplomb.

URCHIN (er'chin) n. See MUNCHKIN.

USENET (yooz'net) n. A distributed bulletin board system supported
mainly by UNIX machines, international in scope and probably the
largest non-profit information utility in existence. As of early
1990 it hosts over 300 topic groups and distributes up to 15
megabytes of new technical articles, news, discussion, chatter, and

USER (yoo'zr) n. A programmer who will believe anything you tell him.
One who asks questions. Identified at MIT with "loser" by the
spelling "luser". See REAL USER. [Note by GLS: I don't agree with
RF's definition at all. Basically, there are two classes of people
who work with a program: there are implementors (hackers) and users
(losers). The users are looked down on by hackers to a mild degree
because they don't understand the full ramifications of the system
in all its glory. (A few users who do are known as real winners.)
It is true that users ask questions (of necessity). Very often
they are annoying or downright stupid.]

USER FRIENDLY (yoo'zr fren'dlee) adj. Programmer-hostile. Generally
used by hackers in a hostile tone, to describe systems which hold
the user's hand so obsessively that they make it painful for the
more experienced and knowledgeable to get any work done. See

USG UNIX (yoo-ess-jee yoo'nix) n. Refers to AT&T UNIX versions after
VERSION 7, especially System III and System V releases 1, 2 and 3.
So called because at that time AT&T's support crew was called the
`Unix Support Group' See BSD, UNIX
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= V =

VADDING (vad'ing) [permutation of ADV, an abbreviated form of ADVENT
(q.v.)] n. A leisure-time activity of certain hackers involving the
covert exploration of the "secret" parts of large buildings --
basements, roofs, freight elevators, maintenance crawlways, steam
tunnels and the like. A few go so far as to learn locksmithing in
order to synthesize vadding keys. The verb is `to vad'. The most
extreme and dangerous form of vadding is ELEVATOR RODEO, aka
ELEVATOR SURFING, a sport played by using the escape hatches in
elevator cars to move between pairs of them as they conjunct within
the shafts. Kids, don't try this at home!

VANILLA (v@-nil'luh) adj. Ordinary flavor, standard. See FLAVOR.
When used of food, very often does not mean that the food is
flavored with vanilla extract! For example, "vanilla-flavored
wonton soup" (or simply "vanilla wonton soup") means ordinary
wonton soup, as opposed to hot and sour wonton soup.

VAPORWARE (vay-per-weir) n. Products announced far in advance of any
shipment (which may or may not actually take place***
Read Ref:185

VAX n. (vaks) [allegedly from Virtual Extended Architecture] 1. The
most successful minicomputer design in industry history, possibly
excepting its immediate ancestor the PDP-11. Between its release
in 1978 and eclipse by KILLER MICROS after about 1986 the VAX was
probably the favorite hacker machine of them all, esp. after the
1982 release of 4.2BSD UNIX (see BSD UNIX). Esp. noted for its
large, assembler-programmer-friendly instruction set, an asset
which became a liability after the RISC revolution following about
1985. 2. A major brand of vacuum cleaner in Britain. Cited here
because its sales pitch, "Nothing sucks like a VAX!" became a
sort of battle-cry of RISC partisans.

VAXEN (vak'sn) [from "oxen", perhaps influenced by "vixen"] n. pl.
The plural of VAX (a DEC machine). See BOXEN.

VEEBLEFESTER (vee'b@l-fes-tr) [Commodore] n. Any obnoxious person
engaged in the alleged professions of marketing or management.
Antonym of HACKER. Compare SUIT, MARKETROID.

VENUS FLYTRAP (vee'n:s flie'trap) [after the plant] n. See FIREWALL.

VERBIAGE (ver'bee-@j) [IBM] n. Documentation.

VERSION 7 (ver'zh@n se'vn) alt. V7 (vee-se'v@n) n. The 1978
unsupported release of UNIX (q.v.) ancestral to all current
commercial versions. Before the release of the POSIX/SVID standards
V7's features were often treated as a UNIX portability baseline.

VIRGIN (ver'jn) adj. Unused, in reference to an instantiation of a
program. "Let's bring up a virgin system and see if it crashes
again." Also, by extension, unused buffers and the like within a

VIRUS (vie'r@s) [from SF] n. A cracker program that propagates itself
by `infecting' (embedding itself in) other trusted programs,
especially operating systems. See WORM, TROJAN HORSE.

VMS (vee em ess) n. DEC's proprietary operating system for their VAX
minicomputer; one of the seven or so environments that looms
largest in hacker folklore. Many UNIX fans generously concede that
VMS would probably be the hacker's favorite commercial OS if UNIX
didn't exist; though true, this makes VMS fans furious. See also

VIRTUAL (ver'tyoo-uhl) adj. 1. Common alternative to LOGICAL (q.v.),
but never used with compass directions. 2. Performing the
functions of. Virtual memory acts like real memory but isn't.

VIRTUAL REALITY (ver'tyoo-@l) n. A form of network interaction
incorporating aspects of role-playing games, interactive theater,
improvisational comedy and "true confessions" magazines. In a
"virtual reality" forum (such as USENET's alt.callahans newsgroup
or the MUD experiments on Internet) interaction between the
participants is written like a shared novel complete with scenery,
"foreground characters" which may be personae utterly unlike the
people who write them, and common "background characters"
manipulable by all parties. The one iron law is that you may not
write irreversible changes to a character without the consent of
the person who "owns" it. Otherwise anything goes. See BAMF.

VISIONARY (viz-yuhn-eir-ee) n. One who hacks vision (in an AI context,
such as the processing of visual images).

VULCAN NERVE PINCH (vuhl'kn nerv pinch) n. [From the old Star Trek TV
series via Commodore Amiga hackers] The keyboard combination that
forces a soft-boot or jump to ROM monitor (on machines that support
such a feature).
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= W =

WABBIT (wabb'it) [almost certainly from Elmer Fudd's immortal line "you
wascal wabbit!"] n. 1. A legendary early hack reported on the
PDP-10s at RPI and elsewhere around 1978. The program would
reproduce itself twice every time it was run, eventually crashing
the system. 2. By extension, any hack that includes infinite
self-replication but is not a VIRUS or WORM. See also COOKIE

WALDO (wahl'doh) [probably taken from the story "Waldo", by Heinlein,
which is where the term was first used to mean a mechanical adjunct
to a human limb] Used at Harvard, particularly by Tom Cheatham and
students, instead of FOOBAR as a meta-syntactic variable and
general nonsense word. See FOO, BAR, FOOBAR, QUUX.

WALKING DRIVES (wahk'ing drievz) An occasional failure mode of
magnetic-disk drives back in the days when they were 14" wide
WASHING MACHINES. Those old DINOSAURS carried terrific angular
momentum; the combination of a misaligned spindle or worn bearings
and stick-slip interactions with the floor could cause them to
"walk" across a room, lurching alternate corners forward a couple
of millimeters at a time. This could also be induced by certain
patterns of drive access (a fast seek across the whole width of the
disk, followed by a slow seek in the other direction). It is known
that some bands of old-time hackers figured out how to induce
disk-accessing patterns that would do this to particular drive
models and held disk-drive races. This is not a joke!

WALL (wahl) [shortened form of HELLO WALL, apparently from the phrase
"up against a blank wall"] [WPI] interj. 1. An indication of
confusion, usually spoken with a quizzical tone. "Wall??" 2. A
request for further explication. Compare OCTAL FORTY.

WALL TIME (wahl tiem) n. 1. `Real world' time (what the clock on the
wall shows) as opposed to the system clock's idea of time. 2. The
real running time of a program, as opposed to the number of CLOCKS
required to execute it (on a timesharing system these will differ,
as no one program gets all the CLOCKS).

WALLPAPER (wahl pay'pr) n. A file containing a listing (e.g.,
assembly listing) or transcript, esp. a file containing a
transcript of all or part of a login session. (The idea was that
the LPT paper for such listings was essentially good only for
wallpaper, as evidenced at SAIL where it was used as such to cover
windows.) Usage: not often used now, esp. since other systems have
developed other terms for it (e.g., PHOTO on TWENEX). The term
possibly originated on ITS, where the commands to begin and end
transcript files were :WALBEG and :WALEND, with default file

WASHING MACHINE (wash'ing m@-sheen') n. Old-style hard disks in
floor-standing cabinets. So called because of the size of the
cabinet and the "top-loading" access to the media packs. See

WEDGED (wejd) [from "head wedged up ass"] adj. 1. To be in a locked
state, incapable of proceeding without help. (See GRONK.) Often
refers to humans suffering misconceptions. "The swapper is
wedged." This term is sometimes used as a synonym for DEADLOCKED
(q.v.). 2. [UNIX] Specifically used to describe the state of a TTY
left in a losing state by abort of a screen-oriented program or one
that has messed with the line discipline in some obscure way.

WEEDS (weeds) n. Refers to development projects or algorithms that
have no possible relevance or practical application. Comes from
"off in the weeds". Used in phrases like "lexical analysis for
microcode is serious weeds..."

WELL BEHAVED (wel-bee-hayvd') adj. Of software: conforming to coding
guidelines and standards. Well behaved software uses the operating
system to do chores such as keyboard input, allocating memory and
drawing graphics. Oppose ILL-BEHAVED.

WETWARE (wet'weir) n. 1. The human brain, as opposed to computer
hardware or software (as in "Wetware has at most 7 registers"). 2.
Human beings (programmers, operators, administrators) attached to a
computer system, as opposed to the system's hardware or software.

WHAT (hwuht) n. The question mark character ("?"). See QUES. Usage:
rare, used particularly in conjunction with WOW.

WHEEL (hweel) [from Twenex, q.v.] n. A privileged user or WIZARD
(sense #2). Now spreading into the UNIX culture. Privilege bits
are sometimes called WHEEL BITS. The state of being in a privileged
logon is sometimes called WHEEL MODE.

WHEEL WARS (hweel worz) [Stanford University] A period in LARVAL
STAGE during which student wheels hack each other by attempting to
log each other out of the system, delete each other's files, or
otherwise wreak havoc, usually at the expense of the lesser users.

WHITE BOOK, THE (hwiet buk) n. Kernighan & Ritchie's
_The_C_Programming_Language_, esp. the classic and influential
first edition. Also called simply "K&R". See SILVER BOOK, PURPLE

WIBNI [Bell Labs, Wouldn't It Be Nice If] n. What most requirements
documents/specifications consist entirely of. Compare IWBNI.

WIMP ENVIRONMENT n. [acronymic from Window, Icon, Mouse, Pointer] A
graphical-user-interface based environmend, as described by a hacker
who prefers command-line interfaces for their superior flexibility and

WIN (win) [from MIT jargon] 1. v. To succeed. A program wins if no
unexpected conditions arise. 2. BIG WIN: n. Serendipity. Emphatic
forms: MOBY WIN, SUPER WIN, HYPER-WIN (often used interjectively as
a reply). For some reason SUITABLE WIN is also common at MIT,
usually in reference to a satisfactory solution to a problem. See

WINNAGE (win'@j) n. The situation when a lossage is corrected, or when
something is winning. Quite rare. Usage: also quite rare.

WINNER (win'r) 1. n. An unexpectedly good situation, program,
programmer or person. 2. REAL WINNER: Often sarcastic, but also
used as high praise.

WINNITUDE (win'i-tood) n. The quality of winning (as opposed to
WINNAGE, which is the result of winning). "That's really great!
Boy, what winnitude!"

WIREHEAD (wier'hed) n. 1. A hardware hacker, especially one who
concentrates on communications hardware. 2. An expert in local
area networks. A wirehead can be a network software wizard too,
but will always have the ability to deal with network hardware,
down to the smallest component. Wireheads are known for their
ability to lash up an Ethernet terminator from spare resistors, for

WIZARD (wiz'rd) n. 1. A person who knows how a complex piece of
software or hardware works; someone who can find and fix his bugs
in an emergency. Rarely used at MIT, where HACKER is the preferred
term. 2. A person who is permitted to do things forbidden to
ordinary people, e.g., a "net wizard" on a TENEX may run programs
which speak low-level host-imp protocol; an ADVENT wizard at SAIL
may play Adventure during the day. 3. A UNIX expert. See GURU.

WIZARD MODE (wiz'rd mohd) [from nethack] n. A special access mode of
a program or system, usually passworded, that permits some users
godlike privileges. Generally not used for operating systems
themselves (ROOT MODE or WHEEL MODE would be used instead).

WOMBAT (wom'bat) [Waste Of Money, Brains and Time] adj. Applied to
problems which are both profoundly UNINTERESTING in themselves and
unlikely to benefit anyone interesting even if solved. Often used
in fanciful constructions such as WRESTLING WITH A WOMBAT. See also

WONKY (won'kee) [from Australian slang] adj. Yet another approximate
synonym for BROKEN. Specifically connotes a malfunction which
produces behavior seen as crazy, humorous, or amusingly perverse.
"That was the day the printer's font logic went wonky and
everybody's listings came out in Elvish". Also in WONKED OUT. See

WORM (werm) [from `tapeworm' in John Brunner's _Shockwave_Rider_, via
XEROX PARC] n. A cracker program that propagates itself over a
network, reproducing itself as it goes. See `VIRUS'. Perhaps the
best known example was RTM's `Internet Worm' in '87, a `benign' one
that got out of control and shut down hundreds of Suns and VAXen
nationwide. See VIRUS, TROJAN HORSE, ICE.

WOW (wow) See EXCL.

WRONG THING, THE (rahng thing, dh@) n. A design, action or decision
which is clearly incorrect or inappropriate. Often capitalized;
always emphasized in speech as if capitalized. Antonym: THE RIGHT
THING (q.v.).

WUGGA WUGGA (wuh'guh wuh'guh) n. Imaginary sound that a computer
program makes as it labors with a tedious or difficult task.
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= X =

X (eks) Used in various speech and writing contexts in roughly its
algebraic sense of "unknown within a set defined by context"
(compare `N'). Thus: the abbreviation 680x0 stands for 68000,
68010, 68020, 68030 or 68040, and 80x86 stands for 80186, 80286
80386 or 80486 (note that a UNIX hacker might write these as
680[01234]0 and 80[1234]86 or 680?00 and 80?86 respectively,

XYZZY (exs-wie-zee-zee-wie) [from the ADVENT game] adj. See PLUGH.
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= Y =

YOW! (yow) [from Zippy the Pinhead comix] interj. Favored hacker
expression of humorous surprise or emphasis. "Yow! Check out what
happens when you twiddle the foo option on this display hack!"

YOYO MODE (yoh'yoh mohd) n. State in which the system is said to be
when it rapidly alternates several times between being up and being

YU-SHIANG WHOLE FISH (yoo-shyang hohl fish) n. The character gamma
(extended SAIL ASCII 11), which with a loop in its tail looks like
a fish. Usage: used primarily by people on the MIT LISP Machine.
Tends to elicit incredulity from people who hear about it
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= Z =

ZEN (zen) v. To figure out something by meditation, or by a sudden
flash of enlightenment. Originally applied to bugs, but
occasionally applied to problems of life in general. "How'd you
figure out the buffer allocation problem?" "Oh, I zenned it".

ZERO (zee'roh) v. 1. To set to zero. Usually said of small pieces of
data, such as bits or words. 2. To erase; to discard all data
from. Said of disks and directories, where "zeroing" need not
involve actually writing zeroes throughout the area being zeroed.

ZIPPERHEAD (zip'r-hed) [IBM] n. A person with a closed mind.

ZOMBIE (zom'bee) [UNIX] n. A process which has been killed but has not
yet relinquished its process table slot. These show up in ps(1)
listings occasionally.

ZORK (zork) n. Second of the great early experiments in computer
fantasy gaming, see ADVENT. Originally written on MIT-DMS during
the late seventies, later distributed with BSD UNIX and
commercialized as "The Zork Trilogy" by Infocom.
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a cautionary tale

The following, modulo a couple of inserted commas and capitalization
changes for readability, is the exact text of a famous USENET message.
The reader may wish to review the definitions of PM and MOUNT in the main
text before continuing.

Date: Wed 3 Sep 86 16:46:31-EDT
>From: "Art Evans"
Subject: Always Mount a Scratch Monkey

My friend Bud used to be the intercept man at a computer vendor for
calls when an irate customer called. Seems one day Bud was sitting at
his desk when the phone rang.

Bud: Hello. Voice: YOU KILLED MABEL!!
B: Excuse me? V: YOU KILLED MABEL!!

This went on for a couple of minutes and Bud was getting nowhere, so he
decided to alter his approach to the customer.


Well, to avoid making a long story even longer, I will abbreviate what had
happened. The customer was a Biologist at the University of Blah-de-blah,
and he had one of our computers that controlled gas mixtures that Mabel (the
monkey) breathed. Now, Mabel was not your ordinary monkey. The University
had spent years teaching Mabel to swim, and they were studying the effects
that different gas mixtures had on her physiology. It turns out that the
repair folks had just gotten a new Calibrated Power Supply (used to
calibrate analog equipment), and at their first opportunity decided to
calibrate the D/A converters in that computer. This changed some of the gas
mixtures and poor Mabel was asphyxiated. Well, Bud then called the branch
manager for the repair folks:

Manager: Hello
B: This is Bud, I heard you did a PM at the University of
M: Yes, we really performed a complete PM. What can I do
for you?
B: Can you swim?

The moral is, of course, that you should always mount a scratch monkey.


There are several morals here related to risks in use of computers.
Examples include, "If it ain't broken, don't fix it." However, the
cautious philosophical approach implied by "always mount a scratch
monkey" says a lot that we should keep in mind.

Art Evans
Tartan Labs
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The following terms appeared in the main listing of the original
Jargon File, but have been rendered obsolescent by the passage of
time, the march of technology, the death of the DEC PDP-10, and the
May 1990 shutdown of the ITS machines. They are collected here for
possible historical interest.

AOS (aus (East coast) ay-ahs (West coast)) [based on a PDP-10
increment instruction] v. To increase the amount of something.
"Aos the campfire." Usage: considered silly, and now obsolescent.
See SOS. Now largely supplanted by BUMP.

BIG BLT, THE (big belt, th:) n., obs. Shuffling operation on the
PDP-10 under some operating systems that consumes a significant
amount of computer time. See BLT in the main listing.

BIN (bin) [short for BINARY; used as a second file name on ITS] 1. n.
BINARY. 2. BIN FILE: A file containing the BIN for a program.
Usage: used at MIT, which runs on ITS. The equivalent term at
Stanford was DMP (pronounced "dump") FILE. Other names used
include SAV ("save") FILE (DEC and Tenex), SHR ("share") and LOW
FILES (DEC), and COM FILES (CP/M), and EXE ("ex'ee") FILE (DEC,
Twenex, MS-DOS, occasionally UNIX). Also in this category are the
input files to the various flavors of linking loaders (LOADER,
LINK-10, STINK), called REL FILES. See EXE in main text.

COM[M] MODE (kom mohd) [from the ITS feature for linking two or more
terminals together so that text typed on any is echoed on all,
providing a means of conversation among hackers; spelled with one
or two Ms] Syn. for TALK MODE in main text.

DIABLO (dee-ah'blow) [from the Diablo printer] 1. n. Any letter-
quality printing device. 2. v. To produce letter-quality output
from such a device. See LASE in main listing.

DMP (dump) See BIN.

DPB (duh-pib') [from the PDP-10 instruction set] v., obs. To plop
something down in the middle.

ENGLISH (ing'lish) n. The source code for a program, which may be in
any language, as opposed to BINARY. Usage: obsolete, used mostly
by old-time hackers, though recognizable in context. On ITS,
directory SYSENG was where the "English" for system programs is
kept, and SYSBIN, the binaries. SAIL had many such directories,
but the canonical one is [CSP,SYS].

EXCH (ex'chuh, ekstch) [from the PDP-10 instruction set] v., obs. To
exchange two things, each for the other.

IMPCOM (imp'kahm) See TELNET. This term is now nearly obsolete.

IRP (erp) [from the MIDAS pseudo-op which generates a block of code
repeatedly, substituting in various places the car and/or cdr of
the list(s) supplied at the IRP] v. To perform a series of tasks
repeatedly with a minor substitution each time through. "I guess
I'll IRP over these homework papers so I can give them some random
grade for this semester." Usage: rare, now obsolescent.

JFCL (djif'kl or djafik'l) [based on the PDP-10 instruction that acts
as a fast no-op] v., obs. To cancel or annul something. "Why don't
you jfcl that out?"

JRST (jerst) [based on the PDP-10 jump instruction] v., obs. To
suddenly change subjects. Usage: rather rare. "Jack be nimble,
Jack be quick; Jack jrst over the candle stick."

JSYS (jay'sis), pl. JSI (jay'sigh) [Jump to SYStem] v.,obs. See UUO.

LDB (lid'dib) [from the PDP-10 instruction set] v. To extract from the

MOBY (moh'bee) n. This term entered the world of AI with the Fabritek
256K moby memory of MIT-AI. Thus, classically, 256K words, the size
of a PDP-10 moby. (The maximum address space means the maximum
normally addressable space, as opposed to the amount of physical
memory a machine can have. Thus the MIT PDP-10s each have two
mobies, usually referred to as the "low moby" (0-777777) and "high
moby" (1000000-1777777), or as "moby 0" and "moby 1". MIT-AI had
four mobies of address space: moby 2 was the PDP-6 memory, and moby
3 the PDP-11 interface.) In this sense "moby" is often used as a
generic unit of either address space (18. bits' worth) or of memory
(about a megabyte, or 9/8 megabyte (if one accounts for difference
between 32.- and 36.-bit words), or 5/4 megacharacters).

PHANTOM (fan'tm) [Stanford] n. The SAIL equivalent of a DRAGON
(q.v.). Typical phantoms include the accounting program, the
news-wire monitor, and the lpt and xgp spoolers. UNIX and most
other environments call this sort of program a background DEMON or

PPN (pip'in) [DEC terminology, short for Project-Programmer Number] n.
1. A combination `project' (directory name) and programmer name,
used to identify a specific directory belonging to that user. For
instance, "FOO,BAR" would be the FOO directory for user BAR. Since
the name is restricted to three letters, the programmer name is
usually the person's initials, though sometimes it is a nickname or
other special sequence. (Standard DEC setup is to have two octal
numbers instead of characters; hence the original acronym.) 2.
Often used loosely to refer to the programmer name alone. "I want
to send you some mail; what's your ppn?" Usage: not used at MIT,
since ITS does not use ppn's. The equivalent terms would be UNAME
and SNAME, depending on context, but these are not used except in
their technical senses.

REL (rel) See BIN in the main listing. Short for `relocatable', used
on the old TOPS-10 OS.

SAV (sayv) See BIN.

SHR (sheir) See BIN.

SOS 1. (ess-oh-ess) n. A losing editor, SON OF STOPGAP. 2. (sahss) v.
Inverse of AOS, from the PDP-10 instruction set.

STY (pronounced "stie", not spelled out) n. A pseudo-teletype, which
is a two-way pipeline with a job on one end and a fake keyboard-tty
on the other. Also, a standard program which provides a pipeline
from its controlling tty to a pseudo-teletype (and thence to
another tty, thereby providing a "sub-tty"). This is MIT
terminology; the SAIL, DEC and UNIX equivalent is PTY (see main

SUPDUP (soop'doop) v. To communicate with another ARPAnet host using
the SUPDUP program, which is a SUPer-DUPer TELNET talking a special
display protocol used mostly in talking to ITS sites. Sometimes
abbreviated to SD.

TECO (tee'koh) [acronym for Text Editor and COrrector] 1. n. A text
editor developed at MIT, and modified by just about everybody. If
all the dialects are included, TECO might well be the single most
prolific editor in use. Noted for its powerful pseudo-programming
features and its incredibly hairy syntax. 2. v. obs. To edit using
the TECO editor in one of its infinite forms; sometimes used to
mean "to edit" even when not using TECO! Usage: rare at SAIL,
where most people wouldn't touch TECO with a TENEX pole.

[Historical note, c. 1982: DEC grabbed an ancient version of MIT
TECO many years ago when it was still a TTY-oriented editor. By
now, TECO at MIT is highly display-oriented and is actually a
language for writing editors, rather than an editor. Meanwhile,
the outside world's various versions of TECO remain almost the same
as the MIT version of the early 1970s. DEC recently tried to
discourage its use, but an underground movement of sorts kept it
alive. - GLS]

[Since this note was written I found out that DEC tried to force
their hackers by administrative decision to use a hacked up and
generally lobotomized version of SOS instead of TECO, and they
revolted. - MRC]

[1990 update: TECO is now pretty much one with the dust of history,
having been replaced (both functionally and psychologically) almost
everywhere by GNU EMACS -- ESR]

UUO (yoo-yoo-oh) [short for "Un-Used Operation"] n. A PDP-10 system
monitor call. The term "Un-Used Operation" comes from the fact
that, on PDP-10 systems, monitor calls are implemented as invalid
or illegal machine instructions, which cause traps to the monitor
(see TRAP). The SAIL manual describing the available UUOs has a
cover picture showing an unidentified underwater object. See YOYO.
[Note: DEC sales people have since decided that "Un-Used Operation"
sounds bad, so UUO now stands for "Unimplemented User Operation".]
Tenex and Twenex systems use the JSYS machine instruction (q.v.),
which is halfway between a legal machine instruction and a UUO,
since KA-10 Tenices implement it as a hardware instruction which
can be used as an ordinary subroutine call (sort of a "pure JSR").

WORMHOLE (werm'hohl) n. A location in a monitor which contains the
address of a routine, with the specific intent of making it easy to
substitute a different routine. The following quote comes from
"Polymorphic Systems", vol. 2, p. 54:

"Any type of I/O device can be substituted for the standard device
by loading a simple driver routine for that device and installing
its address in one of the monitor's `wormholes.'*
*The term `wormhole' has been used to describe a hypothetical
astronomical situation where a black hole connects to the `other
side' of the universe. When this happens, information can pass
through the wormhole, in only one direction, much as `assumptions'
pass down the monitor's wormholes."

This term is now obsolescent. Modern operating systems use clusters
of wormholes extensively (for modularization of I/O handling in
particular, as in the UNIX device-driver organization) but the
preferred jargon for these clusters is `device tables', `jump
tables' or `capability tables'.

XGP (eks-jee) 1. n. Xerox Graphics Printer. 2. v. To print something
on the XGP. "You shouldn't XGP such a large file."

YOYO (yoh'yoh) n. DEC service engineers' slang for UUO (q.v.). Usage:
rare at Stanford and MIT, has been found at random DEC
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