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#======= THIS IS THE JARGON FILE, VERSION 5.0.1, 5 JAN 2012 =======#

This is the Jargon File, a comprehensive compendium of hacker slang illuminating many aspects of hackish tradition, folklore, and humor. It has also been known as the New Hacker's Dictionary.

This document (the Jargon File) is in the public domain, to be freely used, shared, and modified. There are (by intention) no legal restraints on what you can do with it, but there are traditions about its proper use to which many hackers are quite strongly attached. Please extend the courtesy of proper citation when you quote the File, ideally with a version number, as it will change and grow over time. (Examples of appropriate citation form: "Jargon File 5.0.1" or "The online hacker Jargon File, version 5.0.1, 5 JAN 2012".)

The Jargon File is a common heritage of the hacker culture. Over the years a number of individuals have volunteered considerable time to maintaining the File and been recognized by the net at large as editors of it. Editorial responsibilities include: to collate contributions and suggestions from others; to seek out corroborating information; to cross-reference related entries; to keep the file in a consistent format; and to announce and distribute updated versions periodically. There have been many forks since the original Jargon File, this is one of them. Current volunteer editors include:

Yash Tulsyan

Although there is no requirement that you do so, it is considered good form to check with an editor before quoting the File in a published work or commercial product. We may have additional information that would be helpful to you and can assist you in framing your quote to reflect not only the letter of the File but its spirit as well.

All contributions and suggestions about this file sent to a volunteer editor are gratefully received and will be regarded, unless otherwise labelled, as freely given donations for possible use as part of this public-domain file.

From time to time a snapshot of this file has been polished, edited, and formatted for commercial publication with the cooperation of the volunteer editors and the hacker community at large. If you wish to have a bound paper copy of this file, you may find it convenient to purchase one of these. They often contain additional material not found in on-line versions. The two `authorized' editions so far are described in the Revision History section; there may be more in the future.

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This document is a collection of slang terms used by various subcultures of computer hackers. Though some technical material is included for background and flavor, it is not a technical dictionary; what we describe here is the language hackers use among themselves for fun, social communication, and technical debate.

The `hacker culture' is actually a loosely networked collection of subcultures that is nevertheless conscious of some important shared experiences, shared roots, and shared values. It has its own myths, heroes, villains, folk epics, in-jokes, taboos, and dreams. Because hackers as a group are particularly creative people who define themselves partly by rejection of `normal' values and working habits, it has unusually rich and conscious traditions for an intentional culture less than 60 years old.

As usual with slang, the special vocabulary of hackers helps hold their culture together -- it helps hackers recognize each other's places in the community and expresses shared values and experiences. Also as usual, not knowing the slang (or using it inappropriately) defines one as an outsider, a mundane, or (worst of all in hackish vocabulary) possibly even a suit. All human cultures use slang in this threefold way -- as a tool of communication, and of inclusion, and of exclusion.

Among hackers, though, slang has a subtler aspect, paralleled perhaps in the slang of jazz musicians and some kinds of fine artists but hard to detect in most technical or scientific cultures; parts of it are code for shared states of consciousness. There is a whole range of altered states and problem-solving mental stances basic to high-level hacking which don't fit into conventional linguistic reality any better than a Coltrane solo or one of Maurits Escher's `trompe l'oeil' compositions (Escher is a favorite of hackers), and hacker slang encodes these subtleties in many unobvious ways. As a simple example, take the distinction between a kluge and an elegant solution, and the differing connotations attached to each. The distinction is not only of engineering significance; it reaches right back into the nature of the generative processes in program design and asserts something important about two different kinds of relationship between the hacker and the hack. Hacker slang is unusually rich in implications of this kind, of overtones and undertones that illuminate the hackish psyche.

But there is more. Hackers, as a rule, love wordplay and are very conscious and inventive in their use of language. These traits seem to be common in young children, but the conformity-enforcing machine we are pleased to call an educational system bludgeons them out of most of us before adolescence. Thus, linguistic invention in most subcultures of the modern West is a halting and largely unconscious process. Hackers, by contrast, regard slang formation and use as a game to be played for conscious pleasure. Their inventions thus display an almost unique combination of the neotenous enjoyment of language-play with the discrimination of educated and powerful intelligence. Further, the electronic media which knit them together are fluid, `hot' connections, well adapted to both the dissemination of new slang and the ruthless culling of weak and superannuated specimens. The results of this process give us perhaps a uniquely intense and accelerated view of linguistic evolution in action.

Hacker slang also challenges some common linguistic and anthropological assumptions. For example, it has recently become fashionable to speak of `low-context' versus `high-context' communication, and to classify cultures by the preferred context level of their languages and art forms. It is usually claimed that low-context communication (characterized by precision, clarity, and completeness of self-contained utterances) is typical in cultures which value logic, objectivity, individualism, and competition; by contrast, high-context communication (elliptical, emotive, nuance-filled, multi-modal, heavily coded) is associated with cultures which value subjectivity, consensus, cooperation, and tradition. What then are we to make of hackerdom, which is themed around extremely low-context interaction with computers and exhibits primarily "low-context" values, but cultivates an almost absurdly high-context slang style?

The intensity and consciousness of hackish invention make a compilation of hacker slang a particularly effective window into the surrounding culture -- and, in fact, this one is the latest version of an evolving compilation called the `Jargon File', maintained by hackers themselves for over 36 years. This one (like its ancestors) is primarily a lexicon, but also includes topic entries which collect background or sidelight information on hacker culture that would be awkward to try to subsume under individual slang definitions.

Though the format is that of a reference volume, it is intended that the material be enjoyable to browse. Even a complete outsider should find at least a chuckle on nearly every page, and much that is amusingly thought-provoking. But it is also true that hackers use humorous wordplay to make strong, sometimes combative statements about what they feel. Some of these entries reflect the views of opposing sides in disputes that have been genuinely passionate; this is deliberate. We have not tried to moderate or pretty up these disputes; rather we have attempted to ensure that everyone's sacred cows get gored, impartially. Compromise is not particularly a hackish virtue, but the honest presentation of divergent viewpoints is.

The reader with minimal computer background who finds some references incomprehensibly technical can safely ignore them. We have not felt it either necessary or desirable to eliminate all such; they, too, contribute flavor, and one of this document's major intended audiences -- fledgling hackers already partway inside the culture -- will benefit from them.

A selection of longer items of hacker folklore and humor is included in Appendix A. The `outside' reader's attention is particularly directed to the Portrait of J. Random Hacker in Appendix B. Appendix C, the Bibliography, lists some non-technical works which have either influenced or described the hacker culture.

Because hackerdom is an intentional culture (one each individual must choose by action to join), one should not be surprised that the line between description and influence can become more than a little blurred. Earlier versions of the Jargon File have played a central role in spreading hacker language and the culture that goes with it to successively larger populations, and we hope and expect that this one will do likewise.

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Of Slang, Jargon, and Techspeak

Linguists usually refer to informal language as `slang' and reserve the term `jargon' for the technical vocabularies of various occupations. However, the ancestor of this collection was called the `Jargon File', and hacker slang is traditionally `the jargon'. When talking about the jargon there is therefore no convenient way to distinguish it from what a linguist would call hackers' jargon -- the formal vocabulary they learn from textbooks, technical papers, and manuals.

To make a confused situation worse, the line between hacker slang and the vocabulary of technical programming and computer science is fuzzy, and shifts over time. Further, this vocabulary is shared with a wider technical culture of programmers, many of whom are not hackers and do not speak or recognize hackish slang.

Accordingly, this lexicon will try to be as precise as the facts of usage permit about the distinctions among three categories:

This terminology will be consistently used throughout the remainder of this lexicon.

The jargon/techspeak distinction is the delicate one. A lot of techspeak originated as jargon, and there is a steady continuing uptake of jargon into techspeak. On the other hand, a lot of jargon arises from overgeneralization of techspeak terms (there is more about this in the Jargon Construction section below).

In general, we have considered techspeak any term that communicates primarily by a denotation well established in textbooks, technical dictionaries, or standards documents.

A few obviously techspeak terms (names of operating systems, languages, or documents) are listed when they are tied to hacker folklore that isn't covered in formal sources, or sometimes to convey critical historical background necessary to understand other entries to which they are cross-referenced. Some other techspeak senses of jargon words are listed in order to make the jargon senses clear; where the text does not specify that a straight technical sense is under discussion, these are marked with `[techspeak]' as an etymology. Some entries have a primary sense marked this way, with subsequent jargon meanings explained in terms of it.

We have also tried to indicate (where known) the apparent origins of terms. The results are probably the least reliable information in the lexicon, for several reasons. For one thing, it is well known that many hackish usages have been independently reinvented multiple times, even among the more obscure and intricate neologisms. It often seems that the generative processes underlying hackish jargon formation have an internal logic so powerful as to create substantial parallelism across separate cultures and even in different languages! For another, the networks tend to propagate innovations so quickly that `first use' is often impossible to pin down. And, finally, compendia like this one alter what they observe by implicitly stamping cultural approval on terms and widening their use.

Despite these problems, the organized collection of jargon-related oral history for the new compilations has enabled us to put to rest quite a number of folk etymologies, place credit where credit is due, and illuminate the early history of many important hackerisms such as kluge, cruft, and foo. We believe specialist lexicographers will find many of the historical notes more than casually instructive.

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Revision History

The original Jargon File was a collection of hacker jargon from technical cultures including the MIT AI Lab, the Stanford AI lab (SAIL), and others of the old ARPANET AI/LISP/PDP-10 communities including Bolt, Beranek and Newman (BBN), Carnegie-Mellon University (CMU), and Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI).

The Jargon File (hereafter referred to as `jargon-1' or `the File') was begun by Raphael Finkel at Stanford in 1975. From this time until the plug was finally pulled on the SAIL computer in 1991, the File was named AIWORD.RF[UP,DOC] there. Some terms in it date back considerably earlier (frob and some senses of moby, for instance, go back to the Tech Model Railroad Club at MIT and are believed to date at least back to the early 1960s). The revisions of jargon-1 were all unnumbered and may be collectively considered `Version 1'.

In 1976, Mark Crispin, having seen an announcement about the File on the SAIL computer, FTPed a copy of the File to MIT. He noticed that it was hardly restricted to `AI words' and so stored the file on his directory as AI:MRC;SAIL JARGON.

The file was quickly renamed JARGON > (the `>' caused versioning under ITS) as a flurry of enhancements were made by Mark Crispin and Guy L. Steele Jr. Unfortunately, amidst all this activity, nobody thought of correcting the term `jargon' to `slang' until the compendium had already become widely known as the Jargon File.

Raphael Finkel dropped out of active participation shortly thereafter and Don Woods became the SAIL contact for the File (which was subsequently kept in duplicate at SAIL and MIT, with periodic resynchronizations).

The File expanded by fits and starts until about 1983; Richard Stallman was prominent among the contributors, adding many MIT and ITS-related coinages.

In Spring 1981, a hacker named Charles Spurgeon got a large chunk of the File published in Stewart Brand's "CoEvolution Quarterly" (issue 29, pages 26-35) with illustrations by Phil Wadler and Guy Steele (including a couple of the Crunchly cartoons). This appears to have been the File's first paper publication.

A late version of jargon-1, expanded with commentary for the mass market, was edited by Guy Steele into a book published in 1983 as "The Hacker's Dictionary" (Harper & Row CN 1082, ISBN 0-06-091082-8). The other jargon-1 editors (Raphael Finkel, Don Woods, and Mark Crispin) contributed to this revision, as did Richard M. Stallman and Geoff Goodfellow. This book (now out of print) is hereafter referred to as `Steele-1983' and those six as the Steele-1983 coauthors.

Shortly after the publication of Steele-1983, the File effectively stopped growing and changing. Originally, this was due to a desire to freeze the file temporarily to facilitate the production of Steele-1983, but external conditions caused the `temporary' freeze to become permanent.

The AI Lab culture had been hit hard in the late 1970s by funding cuts and the resulting administrative decision to use vendor-supported hardware and software instead of homebrew whenever possible. At MIT, most AI work had turned to dedicated LISP Machines. At the same time, the commercialization of AI technology lured some of the AI Lab's best and brightest away to startups along the Route 128 strip in Massachusetts and out West in Silicon Valley. The startups built LISP machines for MIT; the central MIT-AI computer became a TWENEX system rather than a host for the AI hackers' beloved ITS.

The Stanford AI Lab had effectively ceased to exist by 1980, although the SAIL computer continued as a Computer Science Department resource until 1991. Stanford became a major TWENEX site, at one point operating more than a dozen TOPS-20 systems; but by the mid-1980s most of the interesting software work was being done on the emerging BSD Unix standard.

In April 1983, the PDP-10-centered cultures that had nourished the File were dealt a death-blow by the cancellation of the Jupiter project at Digital Equipment Corporation. The File's compilers, already dispersed, moved on to other things. Steele-1983 was partly a monument to what its authors thought was a dying tradition; no one involved realized at the time just how wide its influence was to be.

By the mid-1980s the File's content was dated, but the legend that had grown up around it never quite died out. The book, and softcopies obtained off the ARPANET, circulated even in cultures far removed from MIT and Stanford; the content exerted a strong and continuing influence on hacker language and humor. Even as the advent of the microcomputer and other trends fueled a tremendous expansion of hackerdom, the File (and related materials such as the Some AI Koans in Appendix A) came to be seen as a sort of sacred epic, a hacker-culture Matter of Britain chronicling the heroic exploits of the Knights of the Lab. The pace of change in hackerdom at large accelerated tremendously -- but the Jargon File, having passed from living document to icon, remained essentially untouched for seven years.

Eric S. Raymond <> maintained the File with assistance from Guy L. Steele Jr. <> between 1991 and 2011. However, as of 2003, this file was contaminated by Eric Raymond's politics (as noted by frustrated hackers, including Richard Stallman). Complaints were many (some can be found here), and, until 2011 there were no revisions, major or minor. The various revisions are referred to here by their file numbers, but the Raymond period in general will herafter be referred to as "ESR-2003".

ESR-2003 contained nearly the entire text of a late version of jargon-1 (a few obsolete PDP-10-related entries were dropped after careful consultation with the editors of Steele-1983). It merged in about 80% of the Steele-1983 text, omitting some framing material and very few entries introduced in Steele-1983 that are now also obsolete.

ESR-2003 casted a wider net than the old Jargon File; its aim is to cover not just AI or PDP-10 hacker culture but all the technical computing cultures wherein the true hacker-nature is manifested. More than half of the entries now derive from Usenet and represent jargon now current in the C and Unix communities, but special efforts have been made to collect jargon from other cultures including IBM PC programmers, Amiga fans, Mac enthusiasts, and even the IBM mainframe world.

The 2.9.6 version became the main text of "The New Hacker's Dictionary", by Eric Raymond (ed.), MIT Press 1991, ISBN 0-262-68069-6.

The 3.0.0 version was published in September 1993 as the second edition of "The New Hacker's Dictionary", again from MIT Press (ISBN 0-262-18154-1).

If you want the book, you should be able to find it at any of the major bookstore chains. Failing that, you can order by mail from

The MIT Press 55 Hayward Street Cambridge, MA 02142

or order by phone at (800)-356-0343 or (617)-625-8481.

The Jargon File is currently maintained by Yash Tulsyan <> in response to the static nature of ESR-2003, as well as the many criticisms layed out against it. It was forked from version 4.2.0.

The maintainer(s) are committed to updating the on-line version of the Jargon File through and beyond paper publication, and will continue to make it available to archives and public-access sites as a trust of the hacker community.

Here is a chronology of the high points in the on-line revisions since Steele-1983:

Version 2.1.1, Jun 12 1990: the Jargon File comes alive again after a seven-year hiatus. Reorganization and massive additions were by Eric S. Raymond, approved by Guy Steele. Many items of UNIX, C, USENET, and microcomputer-based jargon were added at that time.

Version 2.9.6, Aug 16 1991: corresponds to reproduction copy for book. This version had 18952 lines, 148629 words, 975551 characters, and 1702 entries.

Version 2.9.7, Oct 28 1991: first markup for hypertext browser. This version had 19432 lines, 152132 words, 999595 characters, and 1750 entries.

Version 2.9.8, Jan 01 1992: first public release since the book, including over fifty new entries and numerous corrections/additions to old ones. Packaged with version 1.1 of vh(1) hypertext reader. This version had 19509 lines, 153108 words, 1006023 characters, and 1760 entries.

Version 2.9.9, Apr 01 1992: folded in XEROX PARC lexicon. This version had 20298 lines, 159651 words, 1048909 characters, and 1821 entries.

Version 2.9.10, Jul 01 1992: lots of new historical material. This version had 21349 lines, 168330 words, 1106991 characters, and 1891 entries.

Version 2.9.11, Jan 01 1993: lots of new historical material. This version had 21725 lines, 171169 words, 1125880 characters, and 1922 entries.

Version 2.9.12, May 10 1993: a few new entries & changes, marginal MUD/IRC slang and some borderline techspeak removed, all in preparation for 2nd Edition of TNHD. This version had 22238 lines, 175114 words, 1152467 characters, and 1946 entries.

Version 3.0.0, Jul 27 1993: manuscript freeze for 2nd edition of TNHD. This version had 22548 lines, 177520 words, 1169372 characters, and 1961 entries.

Version 3.1.0, Oct 15 1994: interim release to test WWW conversion. This version had 23197 lines, 181001 words, 1193818 characters, and 1990 entries.

Version 3.2.0, Mar 15 1995: Spring 1995 update. This version had 23822 lines, 185961 words, 1226358 characters, and 2031 entries.

Version 3.3.0, Jan 20 1996: Winter 1996 update. This version had 24055 lines, 187957 words, 1239604 characters, and 2045 entries.

Version 3.3.1, Jan 25 1996: Copy-corrected improvement on 3.3.0 shipped to MIT Press as a step towards TNHD III. This version had 24147 lines, 188728 words, 1244554 characters, and 2050 entries.

Version 3.3.2, Mar 20 1996: A number of new entries pursuant on 3.3.2. This version had 24442 lines, 190867 words, 1262468 characters, and 2061 entries.

Version 3.3.3, Mar 25 1996: Cleanup before TNHD III manuscript freeze. This version had 24584 lines, 191932 words, 1269996 characters, and 2064 entries.

Version 4.0.0, Jul 25 1996: The actual TNHD III version after copy-edit. This version had 24801 lines, 193697 words, 1281402 characters, and 2067 entries.

Version 4.1.0, 8 Apr 1999: The Jargon File rides again after three years. This version had 25777 lines, 206825 words, 1359992 characters, and 2217 entries.

Version 4.1.1, 18 Apr 1999: Corrections for minor errors in 4.1.0, and some new entries. This version had 25921 lines, 208483 words, 1371279 characters, and 2225 entries.

Version 4.1.2, 28 Apr 1999: Moving texi2html out of the production path. This version had 26006 lines, 209479 words, 1377687 characters, and 2225 entries.

Version 4.1.3, 14 Jun 1999: Minor updates and markup fixes. This version had 26108 lines, 210480 words, 1384546 characters, and 2234 entries.

Version 4.1.4, 17 Jun 1999: Markup fixes for framed HTML. This version had 26117 lines, 210527 words, 1384902 characters, and 2234 entries.

Version 4.2.0, 31 Jan 2000: Markup fixes for framed HTML. This version had 26598 lines, 214639 words, 1412243 characters, and 2267 entries.

Version 5.0.0, 25 Jun 2011: The Jargon File comes alive yet again after an 8 year hiatus, maintained by Yash Tulsyan. Was forked from 4.2.0, revised in light of criticisms against ESR-2003. This version has no word count as of yet.

Version 5.0.1, 5 Jan 2012: The Jargon File is being fixed and upsated, OSI politics are replaced in favor of OSI-FSF agnostic politics. This version has no word count as of yer.

Version numbering: Version numbers should be read as major.minor.revision. Major version 1 is reserved for the `old' (ITS) Jargon File, jargon-1. Major version 2 encompasses revisions by ESR (Eric S. Raymond) with assistance from GLS (Guy L. Steele, Jr.) leading up to and including the second paper edition. Usually later versions will either completely supersede or incorporate earlier versions, so there is generally no point in keeping old versions around. One should also remember that due to the long hiatusen between major versions, there have been many forks. We hope that if you find issue with our version, you will send us suggestions to improve it. If, however, you challenge the legitimacy of this edition, then by all means fork it.

My thanks to ESR, who maintained ESR-2003, and I renew his statement of thanks that follows:

Our thanks to the coauthors of Steele-1983 for oversight and assistance, and to the hundreds of Usenetters (too many to name here) who contributed entries and encouragement. More thanks go to several of the old-timers on the Usenet group alt.folklore.computers, who contributed much useful commentary and many corrections and valuable historical perspective: Joseph M. Newcomer <>, Bernie Cosell <>, Earl Boebert <>, and Joe Morris <>.

We were fortunate enough to have the aid of some accomplished linguists. David Stampe <> and Charles Hoequist <> contributed valuable criticism; Joe Keane <> helped us improve the pronunciation guides.

A few bits of this text quote previous works. We are indebted to Brian A. LaMacchia <> for obtaining permission for us to use material from the "TMRC Dictionary"; also, Don Libes <> contributed some appropriate material from his excellent book "Life With UNIX". We thank Per Lindberg <>, author of the remarkable Swedish-language 'zine "Hackerbladet", for bringing "FOO!" comics to our attention and smuggling one of the IBM hacker underground's own baby jargon files out to us. Thanks also to Maarten Litmaath for generously allowing the inclusion of the ASCII pronunciation guide he formerly maintained. And our gratitude to Marc Weiser of XEROX PARC <> for securing us permission to quote from PARC's own jargon lexicon and shipping us a copy.

It is a particular pleasure to acknowledge the major contributions of Mark Brader <> and Steve Summit <> to the File and Dictionary; they have read and reread many drafts, checked facts, caught typos, submitted an amazing number of thoughtful comments, and done yeoman service in catching typos and minor usage bobbles. Their rare combination of enthusiasm, persistence, wide-ranging technical knowledge, and precisionism in matters of language has been of invaluable help. Indeed, the sustained volume and quality of Mr. Brader's input over several years and several different editions has only allowed him to escape co-editor credit by the slimmest of margins.

Finally, George V. Reilly <> helped with TeX arcana and painstakingly proofread some 2.7 and 2.8 versions, and Eric Tiedemann <> contributed sage advice throughout on rhetoric, amphigory, and philosophunculism.

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How Jargon Works

Jargon Construction

There are some standard methods of jargonification that became established quite early (i.e., before 1970), spreading from such sources as the Tech Model Railroad Club, the PDP-1 SPACEWAR hackers, and John McCarthy's original crew of LISPers. These include verb doubling, soundalike slang, the `-P' convention, overgeneralization, spoken inarticulations, and anthropomorphization. Each is discussed below. We also cover the standard comparatives for design quality.

Of these six, verb doubling, overgeneralization, anthropomorphization, and (especially) spoken inarticulations have become quite general; but soundalike slang is still largely confined to MIT and other large universities, and the `-P' convention is found only where LISPers flourish.

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Verb Doubling

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

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

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

The Usenet culture has one tripling convention unrelated to this; the names of `joke' topic groups often have a tripled last element. The first and paradigmatic example was alt.swedish.chef.bork.bork.bork (a "Muppet Show" reference); other infamous examples have included:


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Soundalike slang

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

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

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

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

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

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The `-P' convention

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

    At dinnertime:
Q: ``Foodp?''
A: ``Yeah, I'm pretty hungry.'' or ``T!''
At any time:
Q: ``State-of-the-world-P?''
A: (Straight) ``I'm about to go home.''
A: (Humorous) ``Yes, the world has a state.''
On the phone to Florida:
Q: ``State-p Florida?''
A: ``Been reading JARGON.TXT again, eh?''

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

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

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

porous => porosity
generous => generosity

hackers happily generalize:

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

Another class of common construction uses the suffix `-itude' to abstract a quality from just about any adjective or noun. This usage arises especially in cases where mainstream English would perform the same abstraction through `-iness' or `-ingness'. Thus:

win => winnitude (a common exclamation)
loss => lossitude
cruft => cruftitude
lame => lameitude

Some hackers cheerfully reverse this transformation; they argue, for example, that the horizontal degree lines on a globe ought to be called `lats' -- after all, they're measuring latitude!

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

The suffix "-full" can also be applied in generalized and fanciful ways, as in "As soon as you have more than one cachefull of data, the system starts thrashing," or "As soon as I have more than one headfull of ideas, I start writing it all down." A common use is "screenfull", meaning the amount of text that will fit on one screen, usually in text mode where you have no choice as to character size. Another common form is "bufferfull".

However, hackers avoid the unimaginative verb-making techniques characteristic of marketroids, bean-counters, and the Pentagon; a hacker would never, for example, `productize', `prioritize', or `securitize' things. Hackers have a strong aversion to bureaucratic bafflegab and regard those who use it with contempt. The terms for 'free software' are an example-- 'free software' is the original, most hackish term, and those who use it are a significant minority. It calls to mind freedom, and most who use it also use copyleft licenses, such as the GNU General Public License. ESR coined the term `open-source' in order to appeal to businesses, and those who use it are a majority of hackers and hacker-friendly (or at least hacker-saturated) businesses. The GNU GPL is popular here as well, but copycenter licenses are gaining in popularity. Then businesses coined the bureaucratic buzzword `crowdsourcing', in reference to outsourcing, and this is rare amongst hackers, at least when talking of software.

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

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

Further, note the prevalence of certain kinds of nonstandard plural forms. Some of these go back quite a ways; the TMRC Dictionary includes an entry which implies that the plural of `mouse' is meeces, and notes that the defined plural of `caboose' is `cabeese'. This latter has apparently been standard (or at least a standard joke) among railfans (railroad enthusiasts) for many years.

On a similarly Anglo-Saxon note, almost anything ending in `x' may form plurals in `-xen' (see VAXen and boxen in the main text). Even words ending in phonetic /k/ alone are sometimes treated this way; e.g., `soxen' for a bunch of socks. Other funny plurals are `frobbotzim' for the plural of `frobbozz' (see frobnitz) and `Unices' and `Twenices' (rather than `Unixes' and `Twenexes'; see Unix, TWENEX in main text). But note that `Unixen' and `Twenexen' are never used; it has been suggested that this is because `-ix' and `-ex' are Latin singular endings that attract a Latinate plural. Finally, it has been suggested to general approval that the plural of `mongoose' ought to be `polygoose'.

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

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

Node:Spoken Inarticulations, Next:, Previous:Overgeneralization, Up:Jargon Construction

Spoken inarticulations

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

Node:Anthropomorphization, Next:, Previous:Spoken Inarticulations, Up:Jargon Construction


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

Node:Comparatives, Previous:Anthropomorphization, Up:Jargon Construction


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

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

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

broken flaky dodgy fragile brittle
solid robust bulletproof armor-plated

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

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

Node:Hacker Writing Style, Next:, Previous:Jargon Construction, Up:Top

Hacker Writing Style

We've already seen that hackers often coin jargon by overgeneralizing grammatical rules. This is one aspect of a more general fondness for form-versus-content language jokes that shows up particularly in hackish writing. One correspondent reports that he consistently misspells `wrong' as `worng'. Others have been known to criticize glitches in Jargon File drafts by observing (in the mode of Douglas Hofstadter) "This sentence no verb", or "Too repetetetive", or "Bad speling", or "Incorrectspa cing." Similarly, intentional spoonerisms are often made of phrases relating to confusion or things that are confusing; `dain bramage' for `brain damage' is perhaps the most common (similarly, a hacker would be likely to write "Excuse me, I'm cixelsyd today", rather than "I'm dyslexic today"). This sort of thing is quite common and is enjoyed by all concerned.

Hackers tend to use quotes as balanced delimiters like parentheses, much to the dismay of American editors. Thus, if "Jim is going" is a phrase, and so are "Bill runs" and "Spock groks", then hackers generally prefer to write: "Jim is going", "Bill runs", and "Spock groks". This is incorrect according to standard American usage (which would put the continuation commas and the final period inside the string quotes); however, it is counter-intuitive to hackers to mutilate literal strings with characters that don't belong in them. Given the sorts of examples that can come up in discussions of programming, American-style quoting can even be grossly misleading. When communicating command lines or small pieces of code, extra characters can be a real pain in the neck.

Consider, for example, a sentence in a vi tutorial that looks like this:

Then delete a line from the file by typing "dd".

Standard usage would make this

Then delete a line from the file by typing "dd."

but that would be very bad -- because the reader would be prone to type the string d-d-dot, and it happens that in vi(1) dot repeats the last command accepted. The net result would be to delete two lines!

The Jargon File follows hackish usage throughout.

Interestingly, a similar style is now preferred practice in Great Britain, though the older style (which became established for typographical reasons having to do with the aesthetics of comma and quotes in typeset text) is still accepted there. "Hart's Rules" and the "Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors" call the hacker-like style `new' or `logical' quoting. This turn British English to the style Latin languages (including Spanish, French, Italian, Catalan) have been using this style all along.

Another hacker habit is a tendency to distinguish between `scare' quotes and `speech' quotes; that is, to use British-style single quotes for marking and reserve American-style double quotes for actual reports of speech or text included from elsewhere. Interestingly, some authorities describe this as correct general usage, but mainstream American English has gone to using double-quotes indiscriminately enough that hacker usage appears marked [and, in fact, I thought this was a personal quirk of mine until I checked with Usenet --ESR]. One further permutation that is definitely not standard is a hackish tendency to do marking quotes by using apostrophes (single quotes) in pairs; that is, 'like this'. This is modelled on string and character literal syntax in some programming languages (reinforced by the fact that many character-only terminals display the apostrophe in typewriter style, as a vertical single quote).

One quirk that shows up frequently in the email style of Unix hackers in particular is a tendency for some things that are normally all-lowercase (including usernames and the names of commands and C routines) to remain uncapitalized even when they occur at the beginning of sentences. It is clear that, for many hackers, the case of such identifiers becomes a part of their internal representation (the `spelling') and cannot be overridden without mental effort (an appropriate reflex because Unix and C both distinguish cases and confusing them can lead to lossage). A way of escaping this dilemma is simply to avoid using these constructions at the beginning of sentences.

There seems to be a meta-rule behind these nonstandard hackerisms to the effect that precision of expression is more important than conformance to traditional rules; where the latter create ambiguity or lose information they can be discarded without a second thought. It is notable in this respect that other hackish inventions (for example, in vocabulary) also tend to carry very precise shades of meaning even when constructed to appear slangy and loose. In fact, to a hacker, the contrast between `loose' form and `tight' content in jargon is a substantial part of its humor!

Hackers have also developed a number of punctuation and emphasis conventions adapted to single-font all-ASCII communications links, and these are occasionally carried over into written documents even when normal means of font changes, underlining, and the like are available.

One of these is that TEXT IN ALL CAPS IS INTERPRETED AS `LOUD', and this becomes such an ingrained synesthetic reflex that a person who goes to caps-lock while in talk mode may be asked to "stop shouting, please, you're hurting my ears!".

Also, it is common to use bracketing with unusual characters to signify emphasis. The asterisk is most common, as in "What the *hell*?" even though this interferes with the common use of the asterisk suffix as a footnote mark. The underscore is also common, suggesting underlining (this is particularly common with book titles; for example, "It is often alleged that Joe Haldeman wrote _The_Forever_War_ as a rebuttal to Robert Heinlein's earlier novel of the future military, _Starship_Troopers_."). Other forms exemplified by "=hell=", "\hell/", or "/hell/" are occasionally seen (it's claimed that in the last example the first slash pushes the letters over to the right to make them italic, and the second keeps them from falling over). On FidoNet, you might see #bright# and ^dark^ text, which was actually interpreted by some reader software. Finally, words may also be emphasized L I K E T H I S, or by a series of carets (^) under them on the next line of the text.

There is a semantic difference between *emphasis like this* (which emphasizes the phrase as a whole), and *emphasis* *like* *this* (which suggests the writer speaking very slowly and distinctly, as if to a very young child or a mentally impaired person). Bracketing a word with the `*' character may also indicate that the writer wishes readers to consider that an action is taking place or that a sound is being made. Examples: *bang*, *hic*, *ring*, *grin*, *kick*, *stomp*, *mumble*.

One might also see the above sound effects as <bang>, <hic>, <ring>, <grin>, <kick>, <stomp>, <mumble>. This use of angle brackets to mark their contents originally derives from conventions used in BNF, but since about 1993 it has been reinforced by the HTML markup used on the World Wide Web.

Angle-bracket enclosure is also used to indicate that a term stands for some random member of a larger class (this is straight from BNF). Examples like the following are common:

So this <ethnic> walks into a bar one day...

There is also an accepted convention for `writing under erasure'; the text

Be nice to this fool^H^H^H^Hgentleman,
he's visiting from corporate HQ.

reads roughly as "Be nice to this fool, er, gentleman...". This comes from the fact that the digraph ^H is often used as a print representation for a backspace. It parallels (and may have been influenced by) the ironic use of `slashouts' in science-fiction fanzines.

A related habit uses editor commands to signify corrections to previous text. This custom is fading as more mailers get good editing capabilities, but one occasionally still sees things like this:

I've seen that term used on alt.foobar often.
Send it to Erik for the File.

The s/Erik/Eric/ says "change Erik to Eric in the preceding". This syntax is borrowed from the Unix editing tools ed and sed, but is widely recognized by non-Unix hackers as well.

In a formula, * signifies multiplication but two asterisks in a row are a shorthand for exponentiation (this derives from FORTRAN). Thus, one might write 2 ** 8 = 256.

Another notation for exponentiation one sees more frequently uses the caret (^, ASCII 1011110); one might write instead 2^8 = 256. This goes all the way back to Algol-60, which used the archaic ASCII `up-arrow' that later became the caret; this was picked up by Kemeny and Kurtz's original BASIC, which in turn influenced the design of the bc(1) and dc(1) Unix tools, which have probably done most to reinforce the convention on Usenet. (TeX math mode also uses ^ for exponention.) The notation is mildly confusing to C programmers, because ^ means bitwise exclusive-or in C. Despite this, it was favored 3:1 over ** in a late-1990 snapshot of Usenet. It is used consistently in this lexicon.

In on-line exchanges, hackers tend to use decimal forms or improper fractions (`3.5' or `7/2') rather than `typewriter style' mixed fractions (`3-1/2'). The major motive here is probably that the former are more readable in a monospaced font, together with a desire to avoid the risk that the latter might be read as `three minus one-half'. The decimal form is definitely preferred for fractions with a terminating decimal representation; there may be some cultural influence here from the high status of scientific notation.

Another on-line convention, used especially for very large or very small numbers, is taken from C (which derived it from FORTRAN). This is a form of `scientific notation' using `e' to replace `*10^'; for example, one year is about 3e7 seconds long.

The tilde (~) is commonly used in a quantifying sense of `approximately'; that is, ~50 means `about fifty'.

On Usenet and in the MUD world, common C boolean, logical, and relational operators such as |, &, ||, &&, !, ==, !=, >, <, >=, and =< are often combined with English. The Pascal not-equals, <>, is also recognized, and occasionally one sees /= for not-equals (from Ada, Common Lisp, and Fortran 90). The use of prefix `!' as a loose synonym for `not-' or `no-' is particularly common; thus, `!clue' is read `no-clue' or `clueless'.

A related practice borrows syntax from preferred programming languages to express ideas in a natural-language text. For example, one might see the following:

In <> J. R. Hacker wrote:
>I recently had occasion to field-test the Snafu
>Systems 2300E adaptive gonkulator.  The price was
>right, and the racing stripe on the case looked
>kind of neat, but its performance left something
>to be desired.

Yeah, I tried one out too.

#ifdef FLAME
Hasn't anyone told those idiots that you can't get
decent bogon suppression with AFJ filters at today's
net volumes?
#endif /* FLAME */

I guess they figured the price premium for true
frame-based semantic analysis was too high.
Unfortunately, it's also the only workable approach.
I wouldn't recommend purchase of this product unless
you're on a *very* tight budget.

#include <disclaimer.h>
                 == Frank Foonly (Fubarco Systems)

In the above, the #ifdef/#endif pair is a conditional compilation syntax from C; here, it implies that the text between (which is a flame) should be evaluated only if you have turned on (or defined on) the switch FLAME. The #include at the end is C for "include standard disclaimer here"; the `standard disclaimer' is understood to read, roughly, "These are my personal opinions and not to be construed as the official position of my employer."

The top section in the example, with > at the left margin, is an example of an inclusion convention we'll discuss below.

More recently, following on the huge popularity of the World Wide Web, pseudo-HTML markup has become popular for similar purposes:

Your father was a hamster and your mother smelt of elderberries!

You'll even see this with an HTML-style modifier:

<flame intensity="100%">
You seem well-suited for a career in government.

Another recent (late 1990s) construction now common on USENET seems to be borrowed from Perl. It consists of using a dollar sign before an uppercased form of a word or acronym to suggest any random member of the class indicated by the word. Thus: `$PHB' means "any random member of the class `Pointy-Haired Boss'".

Hackers also mix letters and numbers more freely than in mainstream usage. In particular, it is good hackish style to write a digit sequence where you intend the reader to understand the text string that names that number in English. So, hackers prefer to write `1970s' rather than `nineteen-seventies' or `1970's' (the latter looks like a possessive).

It should also be noted that hackers exhibit much less reluctance to use multiply nested parentheses than is normal in English. Part of this is almost certainly due to influence from LISP (which uses deeply nested parentheses (like this (see?)) in its syntax a lot), but it has also been suggested that a more basic hacker trait of enjoying playing with complexity and pushing systems to their limits is in operation.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that many studies of on-line communication have shown that electronic links have a de-inhibiting effect on people. Deprived of the body-language cues through which emotional state is expressed, people tend to forget everything about other parties except what is presented over that ASCII link. This has both good and bad effects. A good one is that it encourages honesty and tends to break down hierarchical authority relationships; a bad one is that it may encourage depersonalization and gratuitous rudeness. Perhaps in response to this, experienced netters often display a sort of conscious formal politesse in their writing that has passed out of fashion in other spoken and written media (for example, the phrase "Well said, sir!" is not uncommon).

Many introverted hackers who are next to inarticulate in person communicate with considerable fluency over the net, perhaps precisely because they can forget on an unconscious level that they are dealing with people and thus don't feel stressed and anxious as they would face to face.

Though it is considered gauche to publicly criticize posters for poor spelling or grammar, the network places a premium on literacy and clarity of expression. It may well be that future historians of literature will see in it a revival of the great tradition of personal letters as art.

Node:Email Quotes, Next:, Previous:Hacker Writing Style, Up:Top

Email Quotes and Inclusion Conventions

One area where conventions for on-line writing are still in some flux is the marking of included material from earlier messages -- what would be called `block quotations' in ordinary English. From the usual typographic convention employed for these (smaller font at an extra indent), there derived a practice of included text being indented by one ASCII TAB (0001001) character, which under Unix and many other environments gives the appearance of an 8-space indent.

Early mail and netnews readers had no facility for including messages this way, so people had to paste in copy manually. BSD Mail(1) was the first message agent to support inclusion, and early Usenetters emulated its style. But the TAB character tended to push included text too far to the right (especially in multiply nested inclusions), leading to ugly wraparounds. After a brief period of confusion (during which an inclusion leader consisting of three or four spaces became established in EMACS and a few mailers), the use of leading > or became standard, perhaps owing to its use in ed(1) to display tabs (alternatively, it may derive from the > that some early Unix mailers used to quote lines starting with "From" in text, so they wouldn't look like the beginnings of new message headers). Inclusions within inclusions keep their > leaders, so the `nesting level' of a quotation is visually apparent.

The practice of including text from the parent article when posting a followup helped solve what had been a major nuisance on Usenet: the fact that articles do not arrive at different sites in the same order. Careless posters used to post articles that would begin with, or even consist entirely of, "No, that's wrong" or "I agree" or the like. It was hard to see who was responding to what. Consequently, around 1984, new news-posting software evolved a facility to automatically include the text of a previous article, marked with "> " or whatever the poster chose. The poster was expected to delete all but the relevant lines. The result has been that, now, careless posters post articles containing the entire text of a preceding article, followed only by "No, that's wrong" or "I agree".

Many people feel that this cure is worse than the original disease, and there soon appeared newsreader software designed to let the reader skip over included text if desired. Today, some posting software rejects articles containing too high a proportion of lines beginning with `>' -- but this too has led to undesirable workarounds, such as the deliberate inclusion of zero-content filler lines which aren't quoted and thus pull the message below the rejection threshold.

Because the default mailers supplied with Unix and other operating systems haven't evolved as quickly as human usage, the older conventions using a leading TAB or three or four spaces are still alive; however, >-inclusion is now clearly the prevalent form in both netnews and mail.

Inclusion practice is still evolving, and disputes over the `correct' inclusion style occasionally lead to holy wars.

Most netters view an inclusion as a promise that comment on it will immediately follow. The preferred, conversational style looks like this,

     > relevant excerpt 1
     response to excerpt
     > relevant excerpt 2
     response to excerpt
     > relevant excerpt 3
     response to excerpt

or for short messages like this:

     > entire message
     response to message

Thanks to poor design of some PC-based mail agents, one will occasionally see the entire quoted message after the response, like this

     response to message
     > entire message

but this practice is strongly deprecated.

Though > remains the standard inclusion leader, | is occasionally used for extended quotations where original variations in indentation are being retained (one mailer even combines these and uses |>). One also sees different styles of quoting a number of authors in the same message: one (deprecated because it loses information) uses a leader of for everyone, another (the most common) is > > > > , > > > , etc. (or >>>> , >>>, etc., depending on line length and nesting depth) reflecting the original order of messages, and yet another is to use a different citation leader for each author, say , , , (preserving nesting so that the inclusion order of messages is still apparent, or tagging the inclusions with authors' names). Yet another style is to use each poster's initials (or login name) as a citation leader for that poster.

Occasionally one sees a leader used for quotations from authoritative sources such as standards documents; the intended allusion is to the root prompt (the special Unix command prompt issued when one is running as the privileged super-user).

Node:Hacker Speech Style, Next:, Previous:Email Quotes, Up:Top

Hacker Speech Style

Hackish speech generally 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 are essential. One should use just enough jargon to communicate precisely and identify oneself as a member of the culture; overuse of jargon or a breathless, excessively gung-ho attitude is considered tacky and the mark of a loser.

This speech style is a variety of the precisionist English normally spoken by scientists, design engineers, and academics in technical fields. In contrast with the methods of jargon construction, it is fairly constant throughout hackerdom.

It has been observed that many hackers are confused by negative questions -- or, at least, that the people to whom they are talking are often confused by the sense of their answers. The problem is that they have done so much programming that distinguishes between

if (going) ...


if (!going) ...

that when they parse the question "Aren't you going?" it may seem to be asking the opposite question from "Are you going?", and so to merit an answer in the opposite sense. This confuses English-speaking non-hackers because they were taught to answer as though the negative part weren't there. In some other languages (including Russian, Chinese, and Japanese) the hackish interpretation is standard and the problem wouldn't arise. Hackers often find themselves wishing for a word like French `si', German `doch', or Dutch `jawel' - a word with which one could unambiguously answer `yes' to a negative question. (See also mu)

For similar reasons, English-speaking hackers almost never use double negatives, even if they live in a region where colloquial usage allows them. The thought of uttering something that logically ought to be an affirmative knowing it will be misparsed as a negative tends to disturb them.

In a related vein, hackers sometimes make a game of answering questions containing logical connectives with a strictly literal rather than colloquial interpretation. A non-hacker who is indelicate enough to ask a question like "So, are you working on finding that bug now or leaving it until later?" is likely to get the perfectly correct answer "Yes!" (that is, "Yes, I'm doing it either now or later, and you didn't ask which!").

Node:International Style, Next:, Previous:Hacker Speech Style, Up:Top

International Style

Although the Jargon File remains primarily a lexicon of hacker usage in American English, we have made some effort to get input from abroad. Though the hacker-speak of other languages often uses translations of jargon from English (often as transmitted to them by earlier Jargon File versions!), the local variations are interesting, and knowledge of them may be of some use to travelling hackers.

There are some references herein to `Commonwealth hackish'. These are intended to describe some variations in hacker usage as reported in the English spoken in Great Britain and the Commonwealth (Canada, Australia, India, etc. -- though Canada is heavily influenced by American usage). There is also an entry on Commonwealth Hackish reporting some general phonetic and vocabulary differences from U.S. hackish.

Hackers in Western Europe and (especially) Scandinavia report that they often use a mixture of English and their native languages for technical conversation. Occasionally they develop idioms in their English usage that are influenced by their native-language styles. Some of these are reported here.

On the other hand, English often gives rise to grammatical and vocabulary mutations in the native language. For example, Italian hackers often use the nonexistent verbs `scrollare' (to scroll) and `deletare' (to delete) rather than native Italian `scorrere' and `cancellare'. Similarly, the English verb `to hack' has been seen conjugated in Swedish. And Spanish-speaking hackers use `linkar' (to link), `debugear' (to debug), and `lockear' (to lock).

European hackers report that this happens partly because the English terms make finer distinctions than are available in their native vocabularies, and partly because deliberate language-crossing makes for amusing wordplay.

A few notes on hackish usages in Russian have been added where they are parallel with English idioms and thus comprehensible to English-speakers.

Node:Lamer-speak, Next:, Previous:International Style, Up:Top

Crackers, Phreaks, and Lamers

From the early 1980s onward, a flourishing culture of local, MS-DOS-based bulletin boards has been developing separately from Internet hackerdom. The BBS culture has, as its seamy underside, a stratum of `pirate boards' inhabited by crackers, phone phreaks, and warez d00dz. These people (mostly teenagers running IBM-PC clones from their bedrooms) have developed their own characteristic jargon, heavily influenced by skateboard lingo and underground-rock slang.

Though crackers often call themselves `hackers', they aren't (they typically have neither significant programming ability, nor Internet expertise, nor experience with UNIX or other true multi-user systems). Their vocabulary has little overlap with hackerdom's. Nevertheless, this lexicon covers much of it so the reader will be able to understand what goes by on bulletin-board systems.

Here is a brief guide to cracker and warez d00dz usage:

These traits are similar to those of B1FF, who originated as a parody of naive BBS users. Occasionally, this sort of distortion may be used as heavy sarcasm by a real hacker, as in:

    > I got X Windows running under Linux!

    d00d!  u R an '1337 hax0r

The only practice resembling this in actual hacker usage is the substitution of a dollar sign of `s' in names of products or service felt to be excessively expensive, e.g. Compu$erve, Micro$oft.

For further discussion of the pirate-board subculture, see lamer, elite, leech, poser, cracker, and especially warez d00dz.Although cracker slang (which they call leetspeak, out of a corruption of the word "elite") is distinct from hacker jargon, some leetspeak terms are piped from hacker jargon and then transformed according to the above rules. For example, newbie became "n00b". Recently, leetspeak has become mainstream and mutated into a further form called LOLSPEAK, which is generally derived from shorthand used in text messaging (SMS). Again, these are distinct from hacker slang, though some have produced an unholy hybrid known as LOLCODE (as well as lolbash), an esoteric programming language which uses LOLSPEAK in its syntax.

Node:Pronunciation Guide, Next:, Previous:Lamer-speak, Up:Top

How to Use the Lexicon

Pronunciation Guide

Pronunciation keys are provided in the jargon listings for all entries that are neither dictionary words pronounced as in standard English nor obvious compounds thereof. Slashes bracket phonetic pronunciations, which are to be interpreted using the following conventions:

  1. Syllables are hyphen-separated, except that an accent or back-accent follows each accented syllable (the back-accent marks a secondary accent in some words of four or more syllables). If no accent is given, the word is pronounced with equal accentuation on all syllables (this is common for abbreviations).
  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. The digraph `kh' is the guttural of "loch" or "l'chaim". The digraph 'gh' is the aspirated g+h of "bughouse" or "ragheap" (rare in English).
  3. Uppercase letters are pronounced as their English letter names; thus (for example) /H-L-L/ is equivalent to /aych el el/. /Z/ may be pronounced /zee/ or /zed/ depending on your local dialect.
  4. Vowels are represented as follows:

    back, that

    father, palm (see note)

    far, mark

    flaw, caught

    bake, rain

    less, men

    easy, ski

    their, software

    trip, hit

    life, sky

    block, stock (see note)

    flow, sew

    loot, through

    more, door

    out, how

    boy, coin

    but, some

    put, foot

    yet, young

    few, chew

    /oo/ with optional fronting as in `news' (/nooz/ or /nyooz/)

The glyph /*/ 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 /kuhl'r/, not /kit'*n/ and /kuhl'*r/.

Note that the above table reflects mainly distinctions found in standard American English (that is, the neutral dialect spoken by TV network announcers and typical of educated speech in the Upper Midwest, Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Philadelphia). However, we separate /o/ from /ah/, which tend to merge in standard American. This may help readers accustomed to accents resembling British Received Pronunciation.

The intent of this scheme is to permit as many readers as possible to map the pronunciations into their local dialect by ignoring some subset of the distinctions we make. Speakers of British RP, for example, can smash terminal /r/ and all unstressed vowels. Speakers of many varieties of southern American will automatically map /o/ to /aw/; and so forth. (Standard American makes a good reference dialect for this purpose because it has crisp consonants and more vowel distinctions than other major dialects, and tends to retain distinctions between unstressed vowels. It also happens to be what your editor speaks.)

Entries with a pronunciation of `//' are written-only usages. (No, Unix weenies, this does not mean `pronounce like previous pronunciation'!)

Node:Other Lexicon Conventions, Next:, Previous:Pronunciation Guide, Up:Top

Other Lexicon Conventions

Entries are sorted in case-blind ASCII collation order (rather than the letter-by-letter order ignoring interword spacing common in mainstream dictionaries), except that all entries beginning with nonalphabetic characters are sorted after Z. The case-blindness is a feature, not a bug.

The beginning of each entry is marked by a colon (:) at the left margin. This convention helps out tools like hypertext browsers that benefit from knowing where entry boundaries are, but aren't as context-sensitive as humans.

In pure ASCII renderings of the Jargon File, you will see {} used to bracket words which themselves have entries in the File. This isn't done all the time for every such word, but it is done everywhere that a reminder seems useful that the term has a jargon meaning and one might wish to refer to its entry.

In this all-ASCII version, headwords for topic entries are distinguished from those for ordinary entries by being followed by "::" rather than ":"; similarly, references are surrounded by "{{" and "}}" rather than "{" and "}".

Defining instances of terms and phrases appear in `slanted type'. A defining instance is one which occurs near to or as part of an explanation of it.

Prefixed ** is used as linguists do; to mark examples of incorrect usage.

We follow the `logical' quoting convention described in the Writing Style section above. In addition, we reserve double quotes for actual excerpts of text or (sometimes invented) speech. Scare quotes (which mark a word being used in a nonstandard way), and philosopher's quotes (which turn an utterance into the string of letters or words that name it) are both rendered with single quotes.

References such as malloc(3) and patch(1) are to Unix facilities (some of which, such as patch(1), are actually freeware distributed over Usenet). The Unix manuals use foo(n) to refer to item foo in section (n) of the manual, where n=1 is utilities, n=2 is system calls, n=3 is C library routines, n=6 is games, and n=8 (where present) is system administration utilities. Sections 4, 5, and 7 of the manuals have changed roles frequently and in any case are not referred to in any of the entries.

Various abbreviations used frequently in the lexicon are summarized here:

synonym (or synonymous with)
verb (may be transitive or intransitive)
intransitive verb
transitive verb

Where alternate spellings or pronunciations are given, alt. separates two possibilities with nearly equal distribution, while var. prefixes one that is markedly less common than the primary.

Where a term can be attributed to a particular subculture or is known to have originated there, we have tried to so indicate. Here is a list of abbreviations used in etymologies:

Amateur Packet Radio
A technical culture of ham-radio sites using AX.25 and TCP/IP for wide-area networking and BBS systems.
University of California at Berkeley
Bolt, Beranek & Newman
the university in England (not the city in Massachusetts where MIT happens to be located!)
Carnegie-Mellon University
Commodore Business Machines
The Digital Equipment Corporation (now Compaq).
The Fairchild Instruments Palo Alto development group
See the FidoNet entry
International Business Machines
Massachusetts Institute of Technology; esp. the legendary MIT AI Lab culture of roughly 1971 to 1983 and its feeder groups, including the Tech Model Railroad Club
Naval Research Laboratories
New York University
The Oxford English Dictionary
Purdue University
Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (at Stanford University)
From Syst�me International, the name for the standard conventions of metric nomenclature used in the sciences
Stanford University
Sun Microsystems
Some MITisms go back as far as the Tech Model Railroad Club (TMRC) at MIT c. 1960. Material marked TMRC is from "An Abridged Dictionary of the TMRC Language", originally compiled by Pete Samson in 1959
University of California at Los Angeles
the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland)
See the Usenet entry
Worcester Polytechnic Institute, site of a very active community of PDP-10 hackers during the 1970s
The World-Wide-Web.
XEROX's Palo Alto Research Center, site of much pioneering research in user interface design and networking
Yale University

Some other etymology abbreviations such as Unix and PDP-10 refer to technical cultures surrounding specific operating systems, processors, or other environments. The fact that a term is labelled with any one of these abbreviations does not necessarily mean its use is confined to that culture. In particular, many terms labelled `MIT' and `Stanford' are in quite general use. We have tried to give some indication of the distribution of speakers in the usage notes; however, a number of factors mentioned in the introduction conspire to make these indications less definite than might be desirable.

A few new definitions attached to entries are marked [proposed]. These are usually generalizations suggested by editors or Usenet respondents in the process of commenting on previous definitions of those entries. These are not represented as established jargon.

Node:Format for New Entries, Next:, Previous:Other Lexicon Conventions, Up:Top

Format For New Entries

You can mail submissions for the Jargon File to

We welcome new jargon, and corrections to or amplifications of existing entries. You can improve your submission's chances of being included by adding background information on user population and years of currency. References to actual usage via URLs and/or DejaNews pointers are particularly welcomed.

All contributions and suggestions about the Jargon File will be considered donations to be placed in the public domain as part of this File, and may be used in subsequent paper editions. Submissions may be edited for accuracy, clarity and concision.

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 jargon!

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. Furthermore, we will emphatically reject all entries used to promote a political or religious agenda unless it's justified by a large proportion of hackers (e.g. the Free Software movement will get into the Jargon File, but libertarianism, which does not account for a majority of hackers, would not). This is one of the reasons why version 5.0.0 was forked from ESR-2003.

It is OK to submit items of jargon 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.

Please send us URLs for materials related to the entries, so we can enrich the File's link structure.

The Jargon File will be regularly maintained and made available for browsing on the World Wide Web, and will include a version number. Read it, pass it around, contribute -- this is your monument!

Node:The Jargon Lexicon, Next:, Previous:Format for New Entries, Up:Top

The Jargon Lexicon

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= 0 =

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Numeric zero, as opposed to the letter `O' (the 15th letter of the English alphabet). In their unmodified forms they look a lot alike, and various kluges invented to make them visually distinct have compounded the confusion. If your zero is center-dotted and letter-O is not, or if letter-O looks almost rectangular but zero looks more like an American football stood on end (or the reverse), you're probably looking at a modern character display (though the dotted zero seems to have originated as an option on IBM 3270 controllers). If your zero is slashed but letter-O is not, you're probably looking at an old-style ASCII graphic set descended from the default typewheel on the venerable ASR-33 Teletype (Scandinavians, for whom � is a letter, curse this arrangement). (Interestingly, the slashed zero long predates computers; Florian Cajori's monumental "A History of Mathematical Notations" notes that it was used in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.) If letter-O has a slash across it and the zero does not, your display is tuned for a very old convention used at IBM and a few other early mainframe makers (Scandinavians curse this arrangement even more, because it means two of their letters collide). Some Burroughs/Unisys equipment displays a zero with a reversed slash. Old CDC computers rendered letter O as an unbroken oval and 0 as an oval broken at upper right and lower left. And yet another convention common on early line printers left zero unornamented but added a tail or hook to the letter-O so that it resembled an inverted Q or cursive capital letter-O (this was endorsed by a draft ANSI standard for how to draw ASCII characters, but the final standard changed the distinguisher to a tick-mark in the upper-left corner). Are we sufficiently confused yet?

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1TBS // n.

The "One True Brace Style"; see indent style.

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120 reset /wuhn-twen'tee ree'set/ n.

[from 120 volts, U.S. wall voltage] To cycle power on a machine in order to reset or unjam it. Compare Big Red Switch, power cycle.

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2 infix.

In translation software written by hackers, infix 2 often represents the syllable to with the connotation `translate to': as in dvi2ps (DVI to PostScript), int2string (integer to string), and texi2roff (Texinfo to [nt]roff). Several versions of a joke have floated around the internet in which some idiot programmer fixes the Y2K bug by changing all the Y's in something to K's, as in Januark, Februark, etc.

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404 // n.

[from the HTTP error "file not found on server"] Extended to humans to convey that the subject has no idea or no clue - sapience not found. May be used reflexively; "Uh, I'm 404ing" means "I'm drawing a blank".

Node:404 compliant, Next:, Previous:404, Up:= 0 =

404 compliant adj.

The status of a website which has been completely removed, usually by the administrators of the hosting site as a result of net abuse by the website operators. The term is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the standard "301 compliant" Murkowski Bill disclaimer used by spammers. See also: spam, spamvertize.

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4.2 /for' poynt too'/ n.

Without a prefix, this almost invariably refers to BSD Unix release 4.2. Note that it is an indication of cluelessness to say "version 4.2", and "release 4.2" is rare; the number stands on its own, or is used in the more explicit forms 4.2BSD or (less commonly) BSD 4.2. Similar remarks apply to "4.3", "4.4" and to earlier, less-widespread releases 4.1 and 2.9.

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@-party /at'par`tee/ n.

[from the @-sign in an Internet address] (alt. `@-sign party' /at'si:n par`tee/) A semi-closed party thrown for hackers at a science-fiction convention (esp. the annual World Science Fiction Convention or "Worldcon"); one must have a network address to get in, or at least be in company with someone who does. One of the most reliable opportunities for hackers to meet face to face with people who might otherwise be represented by mere phosphor dots on their screens. Compare boink.

The first recorded @-party was held at the Westercon (a California SF convention) over the July 4th weekend in 1980. It is not clear exactly when the canonical @-party venue shifted to the Worldcon but it had certainly become established by Constellation in 1983. Sadly, the @-party tradition has been in decline since about 1996, mainly because having an @-address no longer functions as an effective lodge pin.

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= A =

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abbrev /*-breev'/, /*-brev'/ n.

Common abbreviation for `abbreviation'.

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ABEND /a'bend/, /*-bend'/ n.

[ABnormal END] 1. Abnormal termination (of software); crash; lossage. Derives from an error message on the IBM 360; used jokingly by hackers but seriously mainly by code grinders. Usually capitalized, but may appear as `abend'. Hackers will try to persuade you that ABEND is called `abend' because it is what system operators do to the machine late on Friday when they want to call it a day, and hence is from the German `Abend' = `Evening'. 2. [alt.callahans] Absent By Enforced Net Deprivation - used in the subject lines of postings warning friends of an imminent loss of Internet access. (This can be because of computer downtime, loss of provider, moving or illness.) Variants of this also appear: ABVND = `Absent By Voluntary Net Deprivation' and ABSEND = `Absent By Self-Enforced Net Deprivation' have been sighted.

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accumulator n. obs.

1. Archaic term for a register. On-line use of it as a synonym for `register' is a fairly reliable indication that the user has been around for quite a while and/or that the architecture under discussion is quite old. The term in full is almost never used of microprocessor registers, for example, though symbolic names for arithmetic registers beginning in `A' derive from historical use of the term `accumulator' (and not, actually, from `arithmetic'). Confusingly, though, an `A' register name prefix may also stand for `address', as for example on the Motorola 680x0 family. 2. A register being used for arithmetic or logic (as opposed to addressing or a loop index), especially one being used to accumulate a sum or count of many items. This use is in context of a particular routine or stretch of code. "The FOOBAZ routine uses A3 as an accumulator." 3. One's in-basket (esp. among old-timers who might use sense 1). "You want this reviewed? Sure, just put it in the accumulator." (See stack.)

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ACK /ak/ interj.

1. [common; from the ASCII mnemonic for 0000110] Acknowledge. Used to register one's presence (compare mainstream Yo!). An appropriate response to ping or ENQ. 2. [from the comic strip "Bloom County"] An exclamation of surprised disgust, esp. in "Ack pffft!" Semi-humorous. Generally this sense is not spelled in caps (ACK) and is distinguished by a following exclamation point. 3. Used to politely interrupt someone to tell them you understand their point (see NAK). Thus, for example, you might cut off an overly long explanation with "Ack. Ack. Ack. I get it now".

There is also a usage "ACK?" (from sense 1) meaning "Are you there?", often used in email when earlier mail has produced no reply, or during a lull in talk mode to see if the person has gone away (the standard humorous response is of course NAK (sense 2), i.e., "I'm not here").

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Acme n.

The canonical supplier of bizarre, elaborate, and non-functional gadgetry - where Rube Goldberg and Heath Robinson (two cartoonists who specialized in elaborate contraptions) shop. The name has been humorously expanded as A (or American) Company Making Everything. (In fact, Acme was a real brand sold from Sears Roebuck catalogs in the early 1900s.) Describing some X as an "Acme X" either means "This is insanely great", or, more likely, "This looks insanely great on paper, but in practice it's really easy to shoot yourself in the foot with it." Compare pistol.

This term, specially cherished by American hackers and explained here for the benefit of our overseas brethren, comes from the Warner Brothers' series of "Roadrunner" cartoons. In these cartoons, the famished Wile E. Coyote was forever attempting to catch up with, trap, and eat the Roadrunner. His attempts usually involved one or more high-technology Rube Goldberg devices - rocket jetpacks, catapults, magnetic traps, high-powered slingshots, etc. These were usually delivered in large cardboard boxes, labeled prominently with the Acme name. These devices invariably malfunctioned in improbable and violent ways.

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acolyte n. obs.

[TMRC] An OSU privileged enough to submit data and programs to a member of the priesthood.

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ad-hockery /ad-hok'*r-ee/ n.

[Purdue] 1. Gratuitous assumptions made inside certain programs, esp. expert systems, which lead to the appearance of semi-intelligent behavior but are in fact entirely arbitrary. For example, fuzzy-matching of input tokens that might be typing errors against a symbol table can make it look as though a program knows how to spell. 2. Special-case code to cope with some awkward input that would otherwise cause a program to choke, presuming normal inputs are dealt with in some cleaner and more regular way. Also called `ad-hackery', `ad-hocity' (/ad-hos'*-tee/), `ad-crockery'. See also ELIZA effect.

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Ada n.

A Pascal-descended language that has been made mandatory for Department of Defense software projects by the Pentagon. Hackers are nearly unanimous in observing that, technically, it is precisely what one might expect given that kind of endorsement by fiat; designed by committee, crockish, difficult to use, and overall a disastrous, multi-billion-dollar boondoggle (one common description wss "The PL/I of the 1980s"). Hackers find Ada's exception-handling and inter-process communication features particularly hilarious. Ada Lovelace (the daughter of Lord Byron who became the world's first programmer while cooperating with Charles Babbage on the design of his mechanical computing engines in the mid-1800s) would almost certainly blanch at the use to which her name has latterly been put; the kindest thing that has been said about it is that there is probably a good small language screaming to get out from inside its vast, elephantine bulk.

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address harvester n.

A robot that searches web pages and/or filters netnews traffic looking for valid email addresses. Some address harvesters are benign, used only for compiling address directories. Most, unfortunately, are run by miscreants compiling address lists to spam. Address harvesters can be foiled by a teergrube.

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adger /aj'r/ vt.

[UCLA mutant of nadger, poss. also from the middle name of an infamous tenured graduate student] To make a bonehead move with consequences that could have been foreseen with even slight mental effort. E.g., "He started removing files and promptly adgered the whole project". Compare dumbass attack.

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admin /ad-min'/ n.

Short for `administrator'; very commonly used in speech or on-line to refer to the systems person in charge on a computer. Common constructions on this include `sysadmin' and `site admin' (emphasizing the administrator's role as a site contact for email and news) or `newsadmin' (focusing specifically on news). Compare postmaster, sysop, system mangler.

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ADVENT /ad'vent/ n.

The prototypical computer adventure game, first designed by Will Crowther on the PDP-10 in the mid-1970s as an attempt at computer-refereed fantasy gaming, and expanded into a puzzle-oriented game by Don Woods at Stanford in 1976. (Woods had been one of the authors of INTERCAL.) Now better known as Adventure, but the TOPS-10 operating system permitted only six-letter filenames. See also vadding, Zork, and Infocom.

This game defined the terse, dryly humorous style since expected in text adventure games, and popularized several tag lines that have become fixtures of hacker-speak: "A huge green fierce snake bars the way!" "I see no X here" (for some noun X). "You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike." "You are in a little maze of twisty passages, all different." The `magic words' xyzzy and plugh also derive from this game.

Crowther, by the way, participated in the exploration of the Mammoth & Flint Ridge cave system; it actually has a `Colossal Cave' and a `Bedquilt' as in the game, and the `Y2' that also turns up is cavers' jargon for a map reference to a secondary entrance.

ADVENT sources are available for FTP at There's a version implemented as a set of web scripts at

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AFAIK // n.

[Usenet] Abbrev. for "As Far As I Know".

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AFJ // n.

Written-only abbreviation for "April Fool's Joke". Elaborate April Fool's hoaxes are a long-established tradition on Usenet and Internet; see kremvax for an example. It used to be the case that April Fools Day was the only holiday consistently celebrated through the Internet, at least until the Eternal September of 1993.

Node:AFK,t Next:, Previous:AFJ, Up:= A =


[MUD] Abbrev. for "Away From Keyboard". Used to notify others that you will be momentarily unavailable online. eg. "Let's not go kill that frost giant yet, I need to go AFK to make a phone call". Often MUDs will have a command to politely inform others of your absence when they try to talk with you. The term is not restricted to MUDs, however, and has become common in many chat situations, from IRC to Unix talk.

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AI /A-I/ n.

Abbreviation for `Artificial Intelligence', so common that the full form is almost never written or spoken among hackers.

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AI-complete /A-I k*m-pleet'/ adj.

[MIT, Stanford: by analogy with `NP-complete' (see NP-)] Used to describe problems or subproblems in AI, to indicate that the solution presupposes a solution to the `strong AI problem' (that is, the synthesis of a human-level intelligence). A problem that is AI-complete is, in other words, just too hard.

Examples of AI-complete problems are `The Vision Problem' (building a system that can see as well as a human) and `The Natural Language Problem' (building a system that can understand and speak a natural language as well as a human). These may appear to be modular, but all attempts so far (1999) to solve them have foundered on the amount of context information and `intelligence' they seem to require. See also gedanken.

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AI koans /A-I koh'anz/ pl.n.

A series of pastiches of Zen teaching riddles created by Danny Hillis at the MIT AI Lab around various major figures of the Lab's culture (several are included under Some AI Koans in Appendix A). See also ha ha only serious, mu, and hacker humor.

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AIDS /aydz/ n.

Short for A* Infected Disk Syndrome (`A*' is a glob pattern that matches, but is not limited to, Apple or Amiga), this condition is quite often the result of practicing unsafe SEX. See virus, worm, Trojan horse, virgin.

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AIDX /ayd'k*z/ n.

Derogatory term for IBM's perverted version of Unix, AIX, especially for the AIX 3.? used in the IBM RS/6000 series (some hackers think it is funnier just to pronounce "AIX" as "aches"). A victim of the dreaded "hybridism" disease, this attempt to combine the two main currents of the Unix stream (BSD and USG Unix) became a monstrosity to haunt system administrators' dreams. For example, if new accounts are created while many users are logged on, the load average jumps quickly over 20 due to silly implementation of the user databases. For a quite similar disease, compare HP-SUX. Also, compare Macintrash, Nominal Semidestructor, ScumOS, sun-stools.

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airplane rule n.

"Complexity increases the possibility of failure; a twin-engine airplane has twice as many engine problems as a single-engine airplane." By analogy, in both software and electronics, the rule that simplicity increases robustness. It is correspondingly argued that the right way to build reliable systems is to put all your eggs in one basket, after making sure that you've built a really good basket. See also KISS Principle, elegant.

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Alderson loop n.

[Intel] A special version of an infinite loop where there is an exit condition available, but inaccessible in the current implementation of the code. Typically this is created while debugging user interface code. An example would be when there is a menu stating, "Select 1-3 or 9 to quit" and 9 is not allowed by the function that takes the selection from the user.

This term received its name from a programmer who had coded a modal message box in MSAccess with no Ok or Cancel buttons, thereby disabling the entire program whenever the box came up. The message box had the proper code for dismissal and even was set up so that when the non-existent Ok button was pressed the proper code would be called.

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aliasing bug n.

A class of subtle programming errors that can arise in code that does dynamic allocation, esp. via malloc(3) or equivalent. If several pointers address (`aliases for') a given hunk of storage, it may happen that the storage is freed or reallocated (and thus moved) through one alias and then referenced through another, which may lead 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, or by use of higher-level languages, such as LISP, which employ a garbage collector (see GC). Also called a stale pointer bug. See also precedence lossage, smash the stack, fandango on core, memory leak, memory smash, overrun screw, spam.

Historical note: Though this term is nowadays associated with C programming, it was already in use in a very similar sense in the Algol-60 and FORTRAN communities in the 1960s.

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Alice and Bob n.

The archetypal individuals used as examples in discussions of cryptographic protocols. Originally, theorists would say something like: "A communicates with someone who claims to be B, So to be sure, A tests that B knows a secret number K. So A sends to B a random number X. B then forms Y by encrypting X under key K and sends Y back to A" Because this sort of thing is is quite hard to follow, theorists stopped using the unadorned letters A and B to represent the main players and started calling them Alice and Bob. So now we say "Alice communicates with someone claiming to be Bob, and to be sure, So Alice tests that Bob knows a secret number K. Alice sends to Bob a random number X. Bob then forms Y by encrypting X under key K and sends Y back to Alice". A whole mythology rapidly grew up around Alice and Bob; see

In Bruce Schneier's definitive introductory text "Applied Cryptography" (2nd ed., 1996, John Wiley & Sons, ISBN 0-471-11709-9) he introduces a table of dramatis personae headed by Alice and Bob. Others include Carol (a participant in three- and four-party protocols), Dave (a participant in four-party protocols), Eve (an eavesdropper), Mallory (a malicious active attacker), Trent (a trusted arbitrator), Walter (a warden), Peggy (a prover) and Victor (a verifier). These names for roles are either already standard or, given the wide popularity of the book, may be expected to quickly become so.

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all-elbows adj.

[MS-DOS] Of a TSR (terminate-and-stay-resident) IBM PC program, such as the N pop-up calendar and calculator utilities that circulate on BBS systems: unsociable. Used to describe a program that rudely steals the resources that it needs without considering that other TSRs may also be resident. One particularly common form of rudeness is lock-up due to programs fighting over the keyboard interrupt. See rude, also mess-dos.

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alpha geek n.

[from animal ethologists' `alpha male'] The most technically accomplished or skillful person in some implied context. "Ask Larry, he's the alpha geek here."

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alpha particles n.

See bit rot.

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alt /awlt/

1. n. The alt shift key on an IBM PC or clone keyboard; see bucky bits, sense 2 (though typical PC usage does not simply set the 0200 bit). 2. n. The `option' key on a Macintosh; use of this term usually reveals that the speaker hacked PCs before coming to the Mac (see also feature key, which is sometimes incorrectly called `alt'). 3. n.,obs. [PDP-10; often capitalized to ALT] Alternate name for the ASCII ESC character (ASCII 0011011), after the keycap labeling on some older terminals; also `altmode' (/awlt'mohd/). This character was almost never pronounced `escape' on an ITS system, in TECO, or under TOPS-10 -- always alt, as in "Type alt alt to end a TECO command" or "alt-U onto the system" (for "log onto the [ITS] system"). This usage probably arose because alt is more convenient to say than `escape', especially when followed by another alt or a character (or another alt and a character, for that matter). 4. The alt hierarchy on Usenet, the tree of newsgroups created by users without a formal vote and approval procedure. There is a myth, not entirely implausible, that alt is acronymic for "anarchists, lunatics, and terrorists"; but in fact it is simply short for "alternative".

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alt bit /awlt bit/ [from alternate] adj.

See meta bit.

Node:Aluminum Book, Next:, Previous:alt bit, Up:= A =

Aluminum Book n.

[MIT] "Common LISP: The Language", by Guy L. Steele Jr. (Digital Press, first edition 1984, second edition 1990). Note that due to a technical screwup some printings of the second edition are actually of a color the author describes succinctly as "yucky green". See also book titles.

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ambimouseterous /am-b*-mows'ter-us/ or /am-b*-mows'trus/ adj.

[modeled on ambidextrous] Able to use a mouse with either hand.

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Amiga n

A series of personal computer models originally sold by Commodore, based on 680x0 processors, custom support chips and an operating system that combined some of the best features of Macintosh and Unix with compatibility with neither.

The Amiga was released just as the personal computing world standardized on IBM-PC clones. This prevented it from gaining serious market share, despite the fact that the first Amigas had a substantial technological lead on the IBM XTs of the time. Instead, it acquired a small but zealous population of enthusiastic hackers who dreamt of one day unseating the clones (see Amiga Persecution Complex). The traits of this culture are both spoofed and illuminated in The BLAZE Humor Viewer. The strength of the Amiga platform seeded a small industry of companies building software and hardware for the platform, especially in graphics and video applications (see video toaster).

Due to spectacular mismanagement, Commodore did hardly any R&D, allowing the competition to close Amiga's technological lead. After Commodore went bankrupt in 1994 the technology passed through several hands, none of whom did much with it. However, the Amiga is still being produced in Europe under license and has a substantial number of fans, which will probably extend the platform's life considerably.

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Amiga Persecution Complex n.

The disorder suffered by a particularly egregious variety of bigot, those who believe that the marginality of their preferred machine is the result of some kind of industry-wide conspiracy (for without a conspiracy of some kind, the eminent superiority of their beloved shining jewel of a platform would obviously win over all, market pressures be damned!) Those afflicted are prone to engaging in flame wars and calling for boycotts and mailbombings. Amiga Persecution Complex is by no means limited to Amiga users; Haskell, Windows (as being "cool", as the editor remembers from his carefree, pre-GNU/Linux-using days -yasht), Macintosh, LISP, and GNU users are also common victims. GNU/Linux users used to display symptoms very frequently before GNU/Linux started winning; some still do. See also newbie, troll, holy wars, weenie, Get a life!.

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amoeba n.

Humorous term for the Commodore Amiga personal computer.

Node:amp off, Next:, Previous:amoeba, Up:= A =

amp off vt.

[Purdue] To run in background. From the Unix shell `&' operator.

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amper n.

Common abbreviation for the name of the ampersand (`&', ASCII 0100110) character. See ASCII for other synonyms.

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Angband n. /ang'band/

Like nethack, moria, and rogue, one of the large freely distributed Dungeons-and-Dragons-like simulation games, available for a wide range of machines and operating systems. The name is from Tolkien's Pits of Angband (compare elder days, elvish). Has been described as "Moria on steroids"; but, unlike Moria, many aspects of the game are customizable. This leads many hackers and would-be hackers into fooling with these instead of doing productive work. There are many Angband variants, of which the most notorious is probably the rather whimsical Zangband. In this game, when a key that does not correspond to a command is pressed, the game will display "Type ? for help" 50% of the time. The other 50% of the time, random error messages including "An error has occurred because an error of type 42 has occurred" and "Windows 95 uninstalled successfully" will be displayed. Zangband also allows the player to kill Santa Claus (who has some really good stuff, but also has a lot of friends), "Bull Gates", and Barney the Dinosaur (but be watchful; Barney has a nasty case of halitosis). There is an official angband home page at and a zangband one at See also Random Number God.

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angle brackets n.

Either of the characters < (ASCII 0111100) and > (ASCII 0111110) (ASCII less-than or greater-than signs). Typographers in the Real World use angle brackets which are either taller and slimmer (the ISO `Bra' and `Ket' characters), or significantly smaller (single or double guillemets) than the less-than and greater-than signs. See broket, ASCII.

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angry fruit salad n.

A bad visual-interface design that uses too many colors. (This term derives, of course, from the bizarre day-glo colors found in canned fruit salad.) Too often one sees similar effects from interface designers using color window systems such as X; there is a tendency to create displays that are flashy and attention-getting but uncomfortable for long-term use.

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annoybot /*-noy-bot/ n.

[IRC] See bot.

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annoyware n.

A type of shareware that frequently disrupts normal program operation to display requests for payment to the author in return for the ability to disable the request messages. (Also called `nagware') The requests generally require user action to acknowledge the message before normal operation is resumed and are often tied to the most frequently used features of the software. See also careware, charityware, crippleware, freeware, FRS, guiltware, postcardware, and -ware; compare payware.

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ANSI /an'see/

1. n. [techspeak] The American National Standards Institute. ANSI, along with the International Organization for Standards (ISO), standardized the C programming language (see K&R, Classic C), and promulgates many other important software standards. 2. n. [techspeak] A terminal may be said to be `ANSI' if it meets the ANSI X.364 standard for terminal control. Unfortunately, this standard was both over-complicated and too permissive. It has been retired and replaced by the ECMA-48 standard, which shares both flaws. 3. n. [BBS jargon] The set of screen-painting codes that most MS-DOS and Amiga computers accept. This comes from the ANSI.SYS device driver that must be loaded on an MS-DOS computer to view such codes. Unfortunately, neither DOS ANSI nor the BBS ANSIs derived from it exactly match the ANSI X.364 terminal standard. For example, the ESC-[1m code turns on the bold highlight on large machines, but in IBM PC/MS-DOS ANSI, it turns on `intense' (bright) colors. Also, in BBS-land, the term `ANSI' is often used to imply that a particular computer uses or can emulate the IBM high-half character set from MS-DOS. Particular use depends on context. Occasionally, the vanilla ASCII character set is used with the color codes, but on BBSs, ANSI and `IBM characters' tend to go together.

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ANSI standard /an'see stan'd*rd/

The ANSI standard usage of `ANSI standard' refers to any practice which is typical or broadly done. It's most appropriately applied to things that everyone does that are not quite regulation. For example: ANSI standard shaking of a laser printer cartridge to get extra life from it, or the ANSI standard word tripling in names of usenet alt groups.

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ANSI standard pizza /an'see stan'd*rd peet'z*/

[CMU] Pepperoni and mushroom pizza. Coined allegedly because most pizzas ordered by CMU hackers during some period leading up to mid-1990 were of that flavor. See also rotary debugger; compare ISO standard cup of tea.

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AOL! n.

[Usenet] Common synonym for "Me, too!" alluding to the legendary propensity of America Online users to utter contentless "Me, too!" postings. The number of exclamation points following varies from zero to five or so. The pseudo-HTML

<AOL>Me, too!</AOL>

is also frequently seen. See also September that never ended.

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app /ap/ n.

Short for `application program', as opposed to a systems program. Apps are what systems vendors are forever chasing developers to create 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 to be apps. (Broadly, an app is often a self-contained environment for performing some well-defined task such as `word processing'; hackers tend to prefer more general-purpose tools.) See killer app; oppose tool, operating system.

Node:arena, Next:, Previous:app, Up:= A =

arena n.

[common; Unix] 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 malloc: corrupt arena message emitted when some early versions detected an impossible value in the free block list. See overrun screw, aliasing bug, memory leak, memory smash, smash the stack.

Node:arg, Next:, Previous:arena, Up:= A =

arg /arg/ n.

Abbreviation for `argument' (to a function), used so often as to have become a new word (like `piano' from `pianoforte'). "The sine function takes 1 arg, but the arc-tangent function can take either 1 or 2 args." Compare param, parm, var.

Node:ARMM, Next:, Previous:arg, Up:= A =


[acronym, `Automated Retroactive Minimal Moderation'] A Usenet cancelbot created by Dick Depew of Munroe Falls, Ohio. ARMM was intended to automatically cancel posts from anonymous-posting sites. Unfortunately, the robot's recognizer for anonymous postings triggered on its own automatically-generated control messages! Transformed by this stroke of programming ineptitude into a monster of Frankensteinian proportions, it broke loose on the night of March 31, 1993 and proceeded to spam news.admin.policy with a recursive explosion of over 200 messages.

ARMM's bug produced a recursive cascade of messages each of which mechanically added text to the ID and Subject and some other headers of its parent. This produced a flood of messages in which each header took up several screens and each message ID and subject line got longer and longer and longer.

Reactions varied from amusement to outrage. The pathological messages crashed at least one mail system, and upset people paying line charges for their Usenet feeds. One poster described the ARMM debacle as "instant Usenet history" (also establishing the term despew), and it has since been widely cited as a cautionary example of the havoc the combination of good intentions and incompetence can wreak on a network. Compare Great Worm; sorcerer's apprentice mode. See also software laser, network meltdown.

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armor-plated n.

Syn. for bulletproof.

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asbestos adj.

[common] Used as a modifier to anything intended to protect one from flames; also in other highly flame-suggestive usages. See, for example, asbestos longjohns and asbestos cork award.

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asbestos cork award n.

Once, long ago at MIT, there was a flamer so consistently obnoxious that another hacker designed, had made, and distributed posters announcing that said flamer had been nominated for the `asbestos cork award'. (Any reader in doubt as to the intended application of the cork should consult the etymology under flame.) Since then, it is agreed that only a select few have risen to the heights of bombast required to earn this dubious dignity -- but there is no agreement on which few.

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asbestos longjohns n.

Notional garments donned by Usenet posters just before emitting a remark they expect will elicit flamage. This is the most common of the asbestos coinages. Also `asbestos underwear', `asbestos overcoat', etc.

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ASCII /as'kee/ n.

[originally an acronym (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) but now merely conventional] The predominant character set encoding of present-day computers. The standard version uses 7 bits for each character, whereas most earlier codes (including early drafts of of ASCII prior to June 1961) used fewer. This change allowed the inclusion of lowercase letters -- a major win -- but it did not provide for accented letters or any other letterforms not used in English (such as the German sharp-S or the ae-ligature which is a letter in, for example, Norwegian). It could be worse, though. It could be much worse. See EBCDIC to understand how. A history of ASCII and its ancestors is at

Computers are much pickier and less flexible about spelling than humans; thus, hackers need to be very precise when talking about characters, and have developed a considerable amount of verbal shorthand for them. Every character has one or more names -- some formal, some concise, some silly. Common jargon names for ASCII characters are collected here. See also individual entries for bang, excl, open, ques, semi, shriek, splat, twiddle, and Yu-Shiang Whole Fish.

This list derives from revision 2.3 of the Usenet ASCII pronunciation guide. Single characters are listed in ASCII order; character pairs are sorted in by first member. For each character, common names are given in rough order of popularity, followed by names that are reported but rarely seen; official ANSI/CCITT names are surrounded by brokets: <>. Square brackets mark the particularly silly names introduced by INTERCAL. The abbreviations "l/r" and "o/c" stand for left/right and "open/close" respectively. Ordinary parentheticals provide some usage information.

Common: bang; pling; excl; shriek; <exclamation mark>. Rare: factorial; exclam; smash; cuss; boing; yell; wow; hey; wham; eureka; [spark-spot]; soldier, control.
Common: double quote; quote. Rare: literal mark; double-glitch; <quotation marks>; <dieresis>; dirk; [rabbit-ears]; double prime.
Common: number sign; pound; pound sign; hash; sharp; crunch; hex; [mesh]. Rare: grid; crosshatch; octothorpe; flash; <square>, pig-pen; tictactoe; scratchmark; thud; thump; splat.
Common: dollar; <dollar sign>. Rare: currency symbol; buck; cash; string (from BASIC); escape (when used as the echo of ASCII ESC); ding; cache; [big money].
Common: percent; <percent sign>; mod; grapes. Rare: [double-oh-seven].
Common: <ampersand>; amper; and. Rare: address (from C); reference (from C++); andpersand; bitand; background (from sh(1)); pretzel; amp. [INTERCAL called this `ampersand'; what could be sillier?]
Common: single quote; quote; <apostrophe>. Rare: prime; glitch; tick; irk; pop; [spark]; <closing single quotation mark>; <acute accent>.
( )
Common: l/r paren; l/r parenthesis; left/right; open/close; paren/thesis; o/c paren; o/c parenthesis; l/r parenthesis; l/r banana. Rare: so/already; lparen/rparen; <opening/closing parenthesis>; o/c round bracket, l/r round bracket, [wax/wane]; parenthisey/unparenthisey; l/r ear.
Common: star; [splat]; <asterisk>. Rare: wildcard; gear; dingle; mult; spider; aster; times; twinkle; glob (see glob); Nathan Hale.
Common: <plus>; add. Rare: cross; [intersection].
Common: <comma>. Rare: <cedilla>; [tail].
Common: dash; <hyphen>; <minus>. Rare: [worm]; option; dak; bithorpe.
Common: dot; point; <period>; <decimal point>. Rare: radix point; full stop; [spot].
Common: slash; stroke; <slant>; forward slash. Rare: diagonal; solidus; over; slak; virgule; [slat].
Common: <colon>. Rare: dots; [two-spot].
Common: <semicolon>; semi. Rare: weenie; [hybrid], pit-thwong.
< >
Common: <less/greater than>; bra/ket; l/r angle; l/r angle bracket; l/r broket. Rare: from/{into, towards}; read from/write to; suck/blow; comes-from/gozinta; in/out; crunch/zap (all from UNIX); [angle/right angle].
Common: <equals>; gets; takes. Rare: quadrathorpe; [half-mesh].
Common: query; <question mark>; ques. Rare: whatmark; [what]; wildchar; huh; hook; buttonhook; hunchback.
Common: at sign; at; strudel. Rare: each; vortex; whorl; [whirlpool]; cyclone; snail; ape; cat; rose; cabbage; <commercial at>.
Rare: [book].
[ ]
Common: l/r square bracket; l/r bracket; <opening/closing bracket>; bracket/unbracket. Rare: square/unsquare; [U turn/U turn back].
Common: backslash, hack, whack; escape (from C/UNIX); reverse slash; slosh; backslant; backwhack. Rare: bash; <reverse slant>; reversed virgule; [backslat].
Common: hat; control; uparrow; caret; <circumflex>. Rare: chevron; [shark (or shark-fin)]; to the (`to the power of'); fang; pointer (in Pascal).
Common: <underline>; underscore; underbar; under. Rare: score; backarrow; skid; [flatworm].
Common: backquote; left quote; left single quote; open quote; <grave accent>; grave. Rare: backprime; [backspark]; unapostrophe; birk; blugle; back tick; back glitch; push; <opening single quotation mark>; quasiquote.
{ }
Common: o/c brace; l/r brace; l/r squiggly; l/r squiggly bracket/brace; l/r curly bracket/brace; <opening/closing brace>. Rare: brace/unbrace; curly/uncurly; leftit/rytit; l/r squirrelly; [embrace/bracelet].
Common: bar; or; or-bar; v-bar; pipe; vertical bar. Rare: <vertical line>; gozinta; thru; pipesinta (last three from UNIX); [spike].
Common: <tilde>; squiggle; twiddle; not. Rare: approx; wiggle; swung dash; enyay; [sqiggle (sic)].

The pronunciation of # as `pound' is common in the U.S. but a bad idea; Commonwealth Hackish has its own, rather more apposite use of `pound sign' (confusingly, on British keyboards the pound graphic happens to replace #; thus Britishers sometimes call # on a U.S.-ASCII keyboard `pound', compounding the American error). The U.S. usage derives from an old-fashioned commercial practice of using a # suffix to tag pound weights on bills of lading. The character is usually pronounced `hash' outside the U.S. There are more culture wars over the correct pronunciation of this character than any other, which has led to the ha ha only serious suggestion that it be pronounced `shibboleth' (see Judges 12.6 in an Old Testament or Torah).

The `uparrow' name for circumflex and `leftarrow' name for underline are historical relics from archaic ASCII (the 1963 version), which had these graphics in those character positions rather than the modern punctuation characters.

The `swung dash' or `approximation' sign is not quite the same as tilde in typeset material but the ASCII tilde serves for both (compare angle brackets).

Some other common usages cause odd overlaps. The #, $, >, and & characters, for example, are all pronounced "hex" in different communities because various assemblers use them as a prefix tag for hexadecimal constants (in particular, # in many assembler-programming cultures, $ in the 6502 world, > at Texas Instruments, and & on the BBC Micro, Sinclair, and some Z80 machines). See also splat.

The inability of ASCII text to correctly represent any of the world's other major languages makes the designers' choice of 7 bits look more and more like a serious misfeature as the use of international networks continues to increase (see software rot). Hardware and software from the U.S. still tends to embody the assumption that ASCII is the universal character set and that characters have 7 bits; this is a major irritant to people who want to use a character set suited to their own languages. Perversely, though, efforts to solve this problem by proliferating `national' character sets produce an evolutionary pressure to use a smaller subset common to all those in use.

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ASCII art n.

The fine art of drawing diagrams using the ASCII character set (mainly |, -, /, \, and +). Also known as `character graphics' or `ASCII graphics'; see also boxology. Here is a serious example:

    o----)||(--+--|<----+   +---------o + D O
      L  )||(  |        |   |             C U
    A I  )||(  +-->|-+  |   +-\/\/-+--o -   T
    C N  )||(        |  |   |      |        P
      E  )||(  +-->|-+--)---+--|(--+-o      U
         )||(  |        |          | GND    T

    A power supply consisting of a full wave rectifier circuit
    feeding a capacitor input filter circuit

And here are some very silly examples:

  |\/\/\/|     ____/|              ___    |\_/|    ___
  |      |     \ o.O|   ACK!      /   \_  |` '|  _/   \
  |      |      =(_)=  THPHTH!   /      \/     \/      \
  | (o)(o)        U             /                       \
  C      _)  (__)                \/\/\/\  _____  /\/\/\/
  | ,___|    (oo)                       \/     \/
  |   /       \/-------\         U                  (__)
 /____\        ||     | \    /---V  `v'-            oo )
/      \       ||---W||  *  * |--|   || |`.         |_/\

    ====___\   /.. ..\   /___====      Klingons rule OK!
  //        ---\__O__/---        \\
  \_\                           /_/

There is an important subgenre of ASCII art that puns on the standard character names in the fashion of a rebus.

|      ^^^^^^^^^^^^                                      |
| ^^^^^^^^^^^            ^^^^^^^^^                       |
|                 ^^^^^^^^^^^^^            ^^^^^^^^^^^^^ |
|        ^^^^^^^         B       ^^^^^^^^^               |
|  ^^^^^^^^^          ^^^            ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^      |
             " A Bee in the Carrot Patch "

Within humorous ASCII art, there is for some reason an entire flourishing subgenre of pictures of silly cows. Four of these are reproduced in the silly examples above, here are three more:

         (__)              (__)              (__)
         (\/)              ($$)              (**)
  /-------\/        /-------\/        /-------\/
 / | 666 ||        / |=====||        / |     ||
*  ||----||       *  ||----||       *  ||----||
   ~~    ~~          ~~    ~~          ~~    ~~
Satanic cow    This cow is a Yuppie   Cow in love

Finally, here's a magnificent example of ASCII art depicting an Edwardian train station in Dunedin, New Zealand:

                                 / I \
                              JL/  |  \JL
   .-.                    i   ()   |   ()   i                    .-.
   |_|     .^.           /_\  LJ=======LJ  /_\           .^.     |_|
._/___\._./___\_._._._._.L_J_/.-.     .-.\_L_J._._._._._/___\._./___\._._._
       ., |-,-| .,       L_J  |_| [I] |_|  L_J       ., |-,-| .,        .,
       JL |-O-| JL       L_J%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%L_J       JL |-O-| JL        JL
 _/\_  ||\\_I_//||  _/\_ [_] []_/_L_J_\_[] [_] _/\_  ||\\_I_//||  _/\_  ||\
 |__|  ||=/_|_\=||  |__|_|_|   _L_L_J_J_   |_|_|__|  ||=/_|_\=||  |__|  ||-
 |__|  |||__|__|||  |__[___]__--__===__--__[___]__|  |||__|__|||  |__|  |||
 \_I_/ [_]\_I_/[_] \_I_[_]\II/[]\_\I/_/[]\II/[_]\_I_/ [_]\_I_/[_] \_I_/ [_]
./   \.L_J/   \L_J./   L_JI  I[]/     \[]I  IL_J    \.L_J/   \L_J./   \.L_J
|     |L_J|   |L_J|    L_J|  |[]|     |[]|  |L_J     |L_J|   |L_J|     |L_J
|_____JL_JL___JL_JL____|-||  |[]|     |[]|  ||-|_____JL_JL___JL_JL_____JL_J

There is a newsgroup, alt.ascii-art, devoted to this genre; however, see also warlording.

Node:ASCIIbetical order, Next:, Previous:ASCII art, Up:= A =

ASCIIbetical order /as'kee-be'-t*-kl or'dr/ adj.,n.

Used to indicate that data is sorted in ASCII collated order rather than alphabetical order. This lexicon is sorted in something close to ASCIIbetical order, but with case ignored and entries beginning with non-alphabetic characters moved to the end. "At my video store, they used their computer to sort the videos into ASCIIbetical order, so I couldn't find `"Crocodile" Dundee' until I thought to look before `2001' and `48 HRS.'!"

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astroturfing n.

The use of paid shills to create the impression of a popular movement, through means like letters to newspapers from soi-disant `concerned citizens', paid opinion pieces, and the formation of grass-roots lobbying groups that are actually funded by a PR group (astroturf is fake grass; hence the term). This term became common among hackers after it came to light in early 1998 that Microsoft had attempted to use such tactics to forestall the U.S. Department of Justice's antitrust action against the company.

This backfired horribly, angering a number of state attorneys-general enough to induce them to go public with plans to join the Federal suit. It also set anybody defending Microsoft on the net for the accusation "You're just astroturfing!".

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atomic adj.

[from Gk. `atomos', indivisible] 1. Indivisible; cannot be split up. For example, an instruction may be said to do several things `atomically', i.e., all the things are done immediately, and there is no chance of the instruction being half-completed or of another being interspersed. Used esp. to convey that an operation cannot be screwed up by interrupts. "This routine locks the file and increments the file's semaphore atomically." 2. [primarily techspeak] Guaranteed to complete successfully or not at all, usu. refers to database transactions. If an error prevents a partially-performed transaction from proceeding to completion, it must be "backed out," as the database must not be left in an inconsistent state.

Computer usage, in either of the above senses, has none of the connotations that `atomic' has in mainstream English (i.e. of particles of matter, nuclear explosions etc.).

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attoparsec n.

About an inch. `atto-' is the standard SI prefix for multiplication by 10^(-18). A parsec (parallax-second) is 3.26 light-years; an attoparsec is thus 3.26 * 10^(-18) light years, or about 3.1 cm (thus, 1 attoparsec/microfortnight equals about 1 inch/sec). This unit is reported to be in use (though probably not very seriously) among hackers in the U.K. See micro-.

Node:AUP, Next:, Previous:attoparsec, Up:= A =


Abbreviation, "Acceptable Use Policy". The policy of a given ISP which sets out what the ISP considers to be (un)acceptable uses of its Internet resources.

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autobogotiphobia /aw'toh-boh-got`*-foh'bee-*/

n. See bogotify.

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automagically /aw-toh-maj'i-klee/ adv.

Automatically, but in a way that, for some reason (typically because it is too complicated, or too ugly, or perhaps even too trivial), the speaker doesn't feel like explaining to you. See magic. "The C-INTERCAL compiler generates C, then automagically invokes cc(1) to produce an executable."

This term is quite old, going back at least to the mid-70s in jargon and probably much earlier. The word `automagic' occurred in advertising (for a shirt-ironing gadget) as far back as the late 1940s.

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avatar n. Syn.

[in Hindu mythology, the incarnation of a god] 1. Among people working on virtual reality and cyberspace interfaces, an avatar is an icon or representation of a user in a shared virtual reality. The term is sometimes used on MUDs. 2. [CMU, Tektronix] root, superuser. There are quite a few Unix machines on which the name of the superuser account is `avatar' rather than `root'. This quirk was originated by a CMU hacker who found the terms `root' and `superuser' unimaginative, and thought `avatar' might better impress people with the responsibility they were accepting.

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awk /awk/

1. n. [Unix techspeak] An interpreted language for massaging text data developed by Alfred Aho, Peter Weinberger, and Brian Kernighan (the name derives from their initials). It is characterized by C-like syntax, a declaration-free approach to variable typing and declarations, associative arrays, and field-oriented text processing. See also Perl. 2. n. Editing term for an expression awkward to manipulate through normal regexp facilities (for example, one containing a newline). 3. vt. To process data using awk(1).

Node:= B =, Next:, Previous:= A =, Up:The Jargon Lexicon

= B =

Node:B5, Next:, Previous:awk, Up:= B =

B5 //

[common] Abbreviation for "Babylon 5", a science-fiction TV series as revered among hackers as was the original Star Trek.

Node:back door, Next:, Previous:B5, Up:= B =

back door n.

[common] A hole in the security of a system deliberately left in place by designers or maintainers. The motivation for such holes is not always sinister; some operating systems, for example, come out of the box with privileged accounts intended for use by field service technicians or the vendor's maintenance programmers. Syn. trap door; may also be called a `wormhole'. See also iron box, cracker, worm, logic bomb.

Historically, back doors have often lurked in systems longer than anyone expected or planned, and a few have become widely known. Ken Thompson's 1983 Turing Award lecture to the ACM admitted the existence of a back door in early Unix versions that may have qualified as the most fiendishly clever security hack of all time. In this scheme, the C compiler contained code that would recognize when the `login' command was being recompiled and insert some code recognizing a password chosen by Thompson, giving him entry to the system whether or not an account had been created for him.

Normally such a back door could be removed by removing it from the source code for the compiler and recompiling the compiler. But to recompile the compiler, you have to use the compiler -- so Thompson also arranged that the compiler would recognize when it was compiling a version of itself, and insert into the recompiled compiler the code to insert into the recompiled `login' the code to allow Thompson entry -- and, of course, the code to recognize itself and do the whole thing again the next time around! And having done this once, he was then able to recompile the compiler from the original sources; the hack perpetuated itself invisibly, leaving the back door in place and active but with no trace in the sources.

The talk that suggested this truly moby hack was published as "Reflections on Trusting Trust", "Communications of the ACM 27", 8 (August 1984), pp. 761-763 (text available at Ken Thompson has since confirmed that this hack was implemented and that the Trojan Horse code did appear in the login binary of a Unix Support group machine. Ken says the crocked compiler was never distributed. Your editor has heard two separate reports that suggest that the crocked login did make it out of Bell Labs, notably to BBN, and that it enabled at least one late-night login across the network by someone using the login name `kt'.

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backbone cabal n.

A group of large-site administrators who pushed through the Great Renaming and reined in the chaos of Usenet during most of the 1980s. During most of its lifetime, the Cabal (as it was sometimes capitalized) steadfastly denied its own existence; it was almost obligatory for anyone privy to their secrets to respond "There is no Cabal" whenever the existence or activities of the group were speculated on in public.

The result of this policy was an attractive aura of mystery. Even a decade after the cabal mailing list disbanded in late 1988 following a bitter internal catfight, many people believed (or claimed to believe) that it had not actually disbanded but only gone deeper underground with its power intact.

This belief became a model for various paranoid theories about various Cabals with dark nefarious objectives beginning with taking over the Usenet or Internet. These paranoias were later satirized in ways that took on a life of their own. See Eric Conspiracy for one example.

See NANA for the subsequent history of "the Cabal".

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backbone site n.,obs.

Formerly, a key Usenet and email site, one that processes a large amount of third-party traffic, especially if it is the home site of any of the regional coordinators for the Usenet maps. Notable backbone sites as of early 1993, when this sense of the term was beginning to pass out of general use due to wide availability of cheap Internet connections, included uunet and the mail machines at Rutgers University, UC Berkeley, DEC's Western Research Laboratories, Ohio State University, and the University of Texas. Compare rib site, leaf site.

[1996 update: This term is seldom heard any more. The UUCP network world that gave it meaning has nearly disappeared; everyone is on the Internet now and network traffic is distributed in very different patterns. Today one might see references to a `backbone router' instead --ESR]

Node:backgammon, Next:, Previous:backbone site, Up:= B =


See bignum (sense 3), moby (sense 4), and pseudoprime.

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background n.,adj.,vt.

[common] 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. "For now, we'll just print a list of nodes and links; I'm working on the graph-printing problem in background." Note that this implies ongoing activity but at a reduced level or in spare time, in contrast to mainstream `back burner' (which connotes benign neglect until some future resumption of activity). Some people prefer to use the term for processing that they have queued up for their unconscious minds (a tack that one can often fruitfully take upon encountering an obstacle in creative work). Compare amp off, slopsucker.

Technically, a task running in background is detached from the terminal where it was started (and often running at a lower priority); oppose foreground. Nowadays this term is primarily associated with Unix, but it appears to have been first used in this sense on OS/360.

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backreference n.

1. In a regular expression or pattern match, the text which was matched within grouping parentheses parentheses. 2. The part of the pattern which refers back to the matched text. 3. By extension, anything which refers back to something which has been seen or discussed before. "When you said `she' just now, who were you backreferencing?"

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backronym n.

[portmanteau of back + acronym] A word interpreted as an acronym that was not originally so intended. This is a special case of what linguists call `back formation'. Examples are given under BASIC, recursive acronym (Cygnus), Acme, and mung. Discovering backronyms is a common form of wordplay among hackers. Compare retcon.

Node:backspace and overstrike, Next:, Previous:backronym, Up:= B =

backspace and overstrike interj.

[rare] Whoa! Back up. Used to suggest that someone just said or did something wrong. Once common among APL programmers; may now be obsolete.

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backward combatability /bak'w*rd k*m-bat'*-bil'*-tee/ n.

[CMU, Tektronix: from `backward compatibility'] A property of hardware or software revisions in which previous protocols, formats, layouts, etc. are irrevocably discarded in favor of `new and improved' protocols, formats, and layouts, leaving the previous ones not merely deprecated but actively defeated. (Too often, the old and new versions cannot definitively be distinguished, such that lingering instances of the previous ones yield crashes or other infelicitous effects, as opposed to a simple "version mismatch" message.) A backwards compatible change, on the other hand, allows old versions to coexist without crashes or error messages, but too many major changes incorporating elaborate backwards compatibility processing can lead to extreme software bloat. See also flag day.

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BAD /B-A-D/ adj.

[IBM: acronym, `Broken As Designed'] Said of a program that is bogus because of bad design and misfeatures rather than because of bugginess. See working as designed.

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Bad and Wrong adj.

[Durham, UK] Said of something that is both badly designed and wrongly executed. This common term is the prototype of, and is used by contrast with, three less common terms - Bad and Right (a kludge, something ugly but functional); Good and Wrong (an overblown GUI or other attractive nuisance); and (rare praise) Good and Right. These terms entered common use at Durham c.1994 and may have been imported from elsewhere. There are standard abbreviations: they start with B&R, a typo for "Bad and Wrong". Consequently, B&W is actually "Bad and Right", G&R = "Good and Wrong", and G&W = "Good and Right". Compare evil and rude, Good Thing, Bad Thing.

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Bad Thing n.

[very common; from the 1930 Sellar & Yeatman parody "1066 And All That"] Something that 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. British correspondents confirm that Bad Thing and Good Thing (and prob. therefore Right Thing and Wrong Thing) come from the book referenced in the etymology, which discusses rulers who were Good Kings but Bad Things. This has apparently created a mainstream idiom on the British side of the pond. It is very common among American hackers, but not in mainstream usage here. Compare Bad and Wrong.

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bag on the side n.

[prob. originally related to a colostomy bag] An extension to an established hack that is supposed to add some functionality to the original. Usually derogatory, implying that the original was being overextended and should have been thrown away, and the new product is ugly, inelegant, or bloated. Also v. phrase, `to hang a bag on the side [of]'. "C++? That's just a bag on the side of C ...." "They want me to hang a bag on the side of the accounting system."

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bagbiter /bag'bi:t-*r/ n.

1. Something, such as a program or a computer, that fails to work, or works in a remarkably clumsy manner. "This text editor won't let me make a file with a line longer than 80 characters! What a bagbiter!" 2. A person who has caused you some trouble, inadvertently or otherwise, typically by failing to program the computer properly. Synonyms: loser, cretin, chomper. 3. `bite the bag' vi. To fail in some manner. "The computer keeps crashing every five minutes." "Yes, the disk controller is really biting the bag."

The original loading of these terms was almost undoubtedly obscene, possibly referring to a douche bag or the scrotum (we have reports of "Bite the douche bag!" being used as an insult at MIT 1970-1976), but in their current usage they have become almost completely sanitized.

ITS's lexiphage program was the first and to date only known example of a program intended to be a bagbiter.

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bagbiting adj.

Having the quality of a bagbiter. "This bagbiting system won't let me compute the factorial of a negative number." Compare losing, cretinous, bletcherous, `barfucious' (under barfulous) and `chomping' (under chomp).

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baggy pantsing v.

[Georgia Tech] A "baggy pantsing" is used to reprimand hackers who incautiously leave their terminals unlocked. The affected user will come back to find a post from them on internal newsgroups discussing exactly how baggy their pants are, an accepted stand-in for "unattentive user who left their work unprotected in the clusters". A properly-done baggy pantsing is highly mocking and humorous (see examples below). It is considered bad form to post a baggy pantsing to off-campus newsgroups or the more technical, serious groups. A particularly nice baggy pantsing may be "claimed" by immediately quoting the message in full, followed by your sig; this has the added benefit of keeping the embarassed victim from being able to delete the post. Interesting baggy-pantsings have been done involving adding commands to login scripts to repost the message every time the unlucky user logs in; Unix boxes on the residential network, when cracked, oftentimes have their homepages replaced (after being politely backedup to another file) with a baggy-pants message; .plan files are also occasionally targeted. Usage: "Prof. Greenlee fell asleep in the Solaris cluster again; we baggy-pantsed him to"

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balloonian variable n.

[Commodore users; perh. a deliberate phonetic mangling of `boolean variable'?] Any variable that doesn't actually hold or control state, but must nevertheless be declared, checked, or set. A typical balloonian variable started out as a flag attached to some environment feature that either became obsolete or was planned but never implemented. Compatibility concerns (or politics attached to same) may require that such a flag be treated as though it were live.

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bamf /bamf/

1. [from X-Men comics; originally "bampf"] interj. Notional sound made by a person or object teleporting in or out of the hearer's vicinity. Often used in virtual reality (esp. MUD) electronic fora when a character wishes to make a dramatic entrance or exit. 2. The sound of magical transformation, used in virtual reality fora like MUDs. 3. In MUD circles, "bamf" is also used to refer to the act by which a MUD server sends a special notification to the MUD client to switch its connection to another server ("I'll set up the old site to just bamf people over to our new location."). 4. Used by MUDders on occasion in a more general sense related to sense 3, to refer to directing someone to another location or resource ("A user was asking about some technobabble so I bamfed them to".)

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banana label n.

The labels often used on the sides of macrotape reels, so called because they are shaped roughly like blunt-ended bananas. This term, like macrotapes themselves, is still current but visibly headed for obsolescence.

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banana problem n.

[from the story of the little girl who said "I know how to spell `banana', but I don't know when to stop"]. Not knowing where or when to bring a production to a close (compare fencepost error). One may say `there is a banana problem' of an algorithm with poorly defined or incorrect termination conditions, or in discussing the evolution of a design that may be succumbing to featuritis (see also creeping elegance, creeping featuritis). See item 176 under HAKMEM, which describes a banana problem in a Dissociated Press implementation. Also, see one-banana problem for a superficially similar but unrelated usage.

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binary four n.

[Usenet] The finger, in the sense of `digitus impudicus'. This comes from an analogy between binary and the hand, i.e. 1=00001=thumb, 2=00010=index finger, 3=00011=index and thumb, 4=00100. Considered silly. Prob. from humorous derivative of finger, sense 4.

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bandwidth n.

1. [common] Used by hackers (in a generalization of its technical meaning) as the volume of information per unit time that a computer, person, or transmission medium can handle. "Those are amazing graphics, but I missed some of the detail -- not enough bandwidth, I guess." Compare low-bandwidth. This generalized usage began to go mainstream after the Internet population explosion of 1993-1994. 2. Attention span. 3. On Usenet, a measure of network capacity that is often wasted by people complaining about how items posted by others are a waste of bandwidth.

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1. n. Common spoken name for ! (ASCII 0100001), especially when used in pronouncing a bang path in spoken hackish. In elder days this was considered a CMUish usage, with MIT and Stanford hackers preferring excl or shriek; but the spread of Unix has carried `bang' with it (esp. via the term bang path) and it is now certainly the most common spoken name for !. Note that it is used exclusively for non-emphatic written !; one would not say "Congratulations bang" (except possibly for humorous purposes), but if one wanted to specify the exact characters `foo!' one would speak "Eff oh oh bang". See shriek, ASCII. 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.

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bang on vt.

To stress-test a piece of hardware or software: "I banged on the new version of the simulator all day yesterday and it didn't crash once. I guess it is ready for release." The term pound on is synonymous.

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bang path n.

[now historical] 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, for example, the path ...!bigsite!foovax!barbox!me directs people 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.

In the bad old days of not so long ago, before autorouting mailers became commonplace, people often published compound bang addresses using the { } convention (see glob) to give paths from several big machines, in the hopes that one's correspondent might be able to get mail to one of them reliably (example: ...!{seismo, ut-sally, ihnp4}!rice!beta!gamma!me). Bang paths of 8 to 10 hops were not uncommon in 1981. Late-night dial-up UUCP links would cause week-long transmission times. Bang paths were often selected by both transmission time and reliability, as messages would often get lost. See Internet address, the network, and sitename.

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banner n.

1. The title page added to printouts by most print spoolers (see spool). Typically includes user or account ID information in very large character-graphics capitals. Also called a `burst page', because it indicates where to burst (tear apart) fanfold paper to separate one user's printout from the next. 2. A similar printout generated (typically on multiple pages of fan-fold paper) from user-specified text, e.g., by a program such as Unix's banner({1,6}). 3. On interactive software, a first screen containing a logo and/or author credits and/or a copyright notice. This is probably now the commonest sense.

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banner ad n.

Any of the annoying graphical advertisements that span the tops of way too many Web pages.

Node:bar, Next:, Previous:banner ad, Up:= B =

bar /bar/ n.

1. [very common] 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.

Node:bare metal, Next:, Previous:bar, Up:= B =

bare metal n.

1. [common] New computer hardware, unadorned with such snares and delusions as an operating system, an HLL, or even assembler. Commonly used in the phrase `programming on the bare metal', which refers to the arduous work of bit bashing needed to create these basic tools for a new machine. Real bare-metal programming involves things like building boot proms and BIOS chips, implementing basic monitors used to test device drivers, and writing the assemblers that will be used to write the compiler back ends that will give the new machine a real development environment. 2. `Programming on the bare metal' is also used to describe a style of hand-hacking that relies on bit-level peculiarities of a particular hardware design, esp. tricks for speed and space optimization that rely on crocks such as overlapping instructions (or, as in the famous case described in The Story of Mel (in Appendix A), interleaving of opcodes on a magnetic drum to minimize fetch delays due to the device's rotational latency). This sort of thing has become less common as the relative costs of programming time and machine resources have changed, but is still found in heavily constrained environments such as industrial embedded systems, and in the code of hackers who just can't let go of that low-level control. See Real Programmer.

In the world of personal computing, bare metal programming (especially in sense 1 but sometimes also in sense 2) is often considered a Good Thing, or at least a necessary evil (because these machines have often been sufficiently slow and poorly designed to make it necessary; see ill-behaved). There, the term usually refers to bypassing the BIOS or OS interface and writing the application to directly access device registers and machine addresses. "To get 19.2 kilobaud on the serial port, you need to get down to the bare metal." People who can do this sort of thing well are held in high regard.

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barf /barf/ n.,v.

[common; from mainstream slang meaning `vomit'] 1. interj. Term of disgust. This is the closest hackish equivalent of the Valspeak "gag me with a spoon". (Like, euwww!) See bletch. 2. vi. To say "Barf!" or emit some similar expression of disgust. "I showed him my latest hack and he barfed" means only that he complained about it, not that he literally vomited. 3. vi. To fail to work because of unacceptable input, perhaps with a suitable error message, perhaps not. Examples: "The division operation barfs if you try to divide by 0." (That is, the division operation checks for an attempt to divide by zero, and if one is encountered it causes the operation to fail in some unspecified, but generally obvious, manner.) "The text editor barfs if you try to read in a new file before writing out the old one." See choke, gag. In Commonwealth Hackish, `barf' is generally replaced by `puke' or `vom'. barf is sometimes also used as a metasyntactic variable, like foo or bar.

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barfmail n.

Multiple bounce messages accumulating to the level of serious annoyance, or worse. The sort of thing that happens when an inter-network mail gateway goes down or wonky.

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barfulation /bar`fyoo-lay'sh*n/ interj.

Variation of barf used around the Stanford area. An exclamation, expressing disgust. On seeing some particularly bad code one might exclaim, "Barfulation! Who wrote this, Quux?"

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barfulous /bar'fyoo-l*s/ adj.

(alt. `barfucious', /bar-fyoo-sh*s/) Said of something that would make anyone barf, if only for esthetic reasons.

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barn n.

[uncommon; prob. from the nuclear military] An unexpectedly large quantity of something: a unit of measurement. "Why is /var/adm taking up so much space?" "The logs have grown to several barns." The source of this is clear: when physicists were first studying nuclear interactions, the probability was thought to be proportional to the cross-sectional area of the nucleus (this probability is still called the cross-section). Upon experimenting, they discovered the interactions were far more probable than expected; the nuclei were `as big as a barn'. The units for cross-sections were christened Barns, (10^-24 cm^2) and the book containing cross-sections has a picture of a barn on the cover.

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barney n.

In Commonwealth hackish, `barney' is to fred (sense #1) as bar is to foo. That is, people who commonly use `fred' as their first metasyntactic variable will often use `barney' second. The reference is, of course, to Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble in the Flintstones cartoons.

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baroque adj.

[common] Feature-encrusted; complex; gaudy; verging on excessive. Said of hardware or (esp.) software designs, this has many of the connotations of elephantine or monstrosity but is less extreme and not pejorative in itself. "Metafont even has features to introduce random variations to its letterform output. Now that is baroque!" See also rococo.

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BASIC /bay'-sic/ n.

A programming language, originally designed for Dartmouth's experimental timesharing system in the early 1960s, which for many years was the leading cause of brain damage in proto-hackers. Edsger W. Dijkstra observed in "Selected Writings on Computing: A Personal Perspective" that "It is practically impossible to teach good programming style to students that have had prior exposure to BASIC: as potential programmers they are mentally mutilated beyond hope of regeneration." This is another case (like Pascal) of the cascading lossage that happens when a language deliberately designed as an educational toy gets taken too seriously. A novice can write short BASIC programs (on the order of 10-20 lines) very easily; writing anything longer (a) is very painful, and (b) encourages bad habits that will make it harder to use more powerful languages well. This wouldn't be so bad if historical accidents hadn't made BASIC so common on low-end micros in the 1980s. As it is, it probably ruined tens of thousands of potential wizards.

[1995: Some languages called `BASIC' aren't quite this nasty any more, having acquired Pascal- and C-like procedures and control structures and shed their line numbers. --ESR]

Note: the name is commonly parsed as Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code, but this is a backronym. BASIC was originally named Basic, simply because it was a simple and basic programming language. Because most programming language names were in fact acronyms, BASIC was often capitalized just out of habit or to be silly. No acronym for BASIC originally existed or was intended (as one can verify by reading texts through the early 1970s). Later, around the mid-1970s, people began to make up backronyms for BASIC because they weren't sure. Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code is the one that caught on.

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batbelt n.

Many hackers routinely hang numerous devices such as pagers, cell-phones, personal organizers, leatherman multitools, pocket knives, flashlights, walkie-talkies, even miniature computers from their belts. When many of these devices are worn at once, the hacker's belt somewhat resembles Batman's utility belt; hence it is referred to as a batbelt.

Node:batch, Next:, Previous:batbelt, Up:= B =

batch adj.

1. Non-interactive. Hackers use this somewhat more loosely than the traditional technical definitions justify; in particular, switches on a normally interactive program that prepare it to receive non-interactive command input are often referred to as `batch mode' switches. A `batch file' is a series of instructions written to be handed to an interactive program running in batch mode. 2. Performance of dreary tasks all at one sitting. "I finally sat down in batch mode and wrote out checks for all those bills; I guess they'll turn the electricity back on next week..." 3. `batching up': Accumulation of a number of small tasks that can be lumped together for greater efficiency. "I'm batching up those letters to send sometime" "I'm batching up bottles to take to the recycling center."

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bathtub curve n.

Common term for the curve (resembling an end-to-end section of one of those claw-footed antique bathtubs) that describes the expected failure rate of electronics with time: initially high, dropping to near 0 for most of the system's lifetime, then rising again as it `tires out'. See also burn-in period, infant mortality.

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baud /bawd/ n.

[simplified from its technical meaning] n. Bits per second. Hence kilobaud or Kbaud, thousands of bits per second. The technical meaning is `level transitions per second'; this coincides with bps only for two-level modulation with no framing or stop bits. Most hackers are aware of these nuances but blithely ignore them.

Historical note: `baud' was originally a unit of telegraph signalling speed, set at one pulse per second. It was proposed at the November, 1926 conference of the Comit� Consultatif International Des Communications T�l�graphiques as an improvement on the then standard practice of referring to line speeds in terms of words per minute, and named for Jean Maurice Emile Baudot (1845-1903), a French engineer who did a lot of pioneering work in early teleprinters.

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baud barf /bawd barf/ n.

The garbage one gets a terminal (or terminal emulator) 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. Baud barf is not completely random, by the way; hackers with a lot of serial-line experience can usually tell whether the device at the other end is expecting a higher or lower speed than the terminal is set to. Really experienced ones can identify particular speeds.

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baz /baz/ n.

1. [common] The third metasyntactic variable "Suppose we have three functions: FOO, BAR, and BAZ. FOO calls BAR, which calls BAZ...." (See also fum) 2. interj. A term of mild annoyance. In this usage the term is often drawn out for 2 or 3 seconds, producing an effect not unlike the bleating of a sheep; /baaaaaaz/. 3. Occasionally appended to foo to produce `foobaz'.

Earlier versions of this lexicon derived `baz' as a Stanford corruption of bar. However, Pete Samson (compiler of the TMRC lexicon) reports it was already current when he joined TMRC in 1958. He says "It came from "Pogo". Albert the Alligator, when vexed or outraged, would shout `Bazz Fazz!' or `Rowrbazzle!' The club layout was said to model the (mythical) New England counties of Rowrfolk and Bassex (Rowrbazzle mingled with (Norfolk/Suffolk/Middlesex/Essex)."

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bazaar n.,adj.

In 1997, after meditatating on the success of GNU/Linux for three years, the Jargon File's former editor ESR wrote an analytical paper on hacker culture and development models titled The Cathedral and the Bazaar. The main argument of the paper was that Brooks's Law is not the whole story; given the right social machinery, debugging can be efficiently parallelized across large numbers of programmers. The title metaphor caught on (see also cathedral), and the style of development typical in the GNU/Linux community is now often referred to as the bazaar mode. Its characteristics include releasing code early and often, and actively seeking the largest possible pool of peer reviewers.

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bboard /bee'bord/ n.

[contraction of `bulletin board'] 1. Any electronic bulletin board; esp. used of BBS systems running on personal micros, less frequently of a Usenet newsgroup (in fact, use of this term for a newsgroup generally marks one either as a newbie fresh in from the BBS world or as a real old-timer predating Usenet). 2. At CMU and other colleges with similar facilities, refers to campus-wide electronic bulletin boards. 3. The term `physical bboard' is sometimes used to refer to an old-fashioned, non-electronic cork-and-thumbtack memo board. At CMU, it refers to a particular one outside the CS Lounge.

In either of senses 1 or 2, the term is usually prefixed by the name of the intended board (`the Moonlight Casino bboard' or `market bboard'); however, if the context is clear, the better-read bboards may be referred to by name alone, as in (at CMU) "Don't post for-sale ads on general".

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BBS /B-B-S/ n.

[common; abbreviation, `Bulletin Board System'] An electronic bulletin board system; that is, a message database where people can log in and leave broadcast messages for others grouped (typically) into topic groups. The term was especially applied to the thousands of local BBS systems that operated during the pre-Internet microcomputer era of roughly 1980 to 1995., typically run by amateurs for fun out of their homes on MS-DOS boxes with a single modem line each. Fans of Usenet and Internet or the big commercial timesharing bboards such as CompuServe and GEnie tended to consider local BBSes the low-rent district of the hacker culture, but they served a valuable function by knitting together lots of hackers and users in the personal-micro world who would otherwise have been unable to exchange code at all. Post-Internet, BBSs are likely to be local newsgroups on an ISP; efficiency has increased but a certain flavor has been lost. See also bboard.

Node:BCPL, Next:, Previous:BBS, Up:= B =

BCPL // n.

[abbreviation, `Basic Combined Programming Language') A programming language developed by Martin Richards in Cambridge in 1967. It is remarkable for its rich syntax, small size of compiler (it can be run in 16k) and extreme portability. It reached break-even point at a very early stage, and was the language in which the original hello world program was written. It has been ported to so many different systems that its creator confesses to having lost count. It has only one data type (a machine word) which can be used as an integer, a character, a floating point number, a pointer, or almost anything else, depending on context. BCPL was a precursor of C, which inherited some of its features.

Node:beam, Next:, Previous:BCPL, Up:= B =

beam vt.

[from Star Trek Classic's "Beam me up, Scotty!"] 1. To transfer softcopy of a file electronically; most often in combining forms such as `beam me a copy' or `beam that over to his site'. 2. Palm Pilot users very commonly use this term for the act of exchanging bits via the infrared links on their machines (this term seams to have originated with the ill-fated Newton Message Pad). Compare blast, snarf, BLT.

Node:beanie key, Next:, Previous:beam, Up:= B =

beanie key n.

[Mac users] See command key.

Node:beep, Next:, Previous:beanie key, Up:= B =

beep n.,v.

Syn. feep. This term is techspeak under MS-DOS and OS/2, and seems to be generally preferred among micro hobbyists.

Node:Befunge, Next:, Previous:beep, Up:= B =

Befunge n.

A worthy companion to INTERCAL; a computer language family which escapes the quotidian limitation of linear control flow and embraces program counters flying through multiple dimensions with exotic topologies. Sadly, the Befunge home page has vanished, but a Befunge version of the hello world program is at

Node:beige toaster, Next:, Previous:Befunge, Up:= B =

beige toaster n.

A Macintosh. See toaster; compare Macintrash, maggotbox.

Node:bells and whistles, Next:, Previous:beige toaster, Up:= B =

bells and whistles n.

[common] 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. "Now that we've got the basic program working, let's go back and add some bells and whistles." No one seems to know what distinguishes a bell from a whistle. The recognized emphatic form is "bells, whistles, and gongs".

It used to be thought that this term derived from the toyboxes on theater organs. However, the "and gongs" strongly suggests a different origin, at sea. Before powered horns, ships routinely used bells, whistles, and gongs to signal each other over longer distances than voice can carry.

Node:bells whistles and gongs, Next:, Previous:bells and whistles, Up:= B =

bells whistles and gongs n.

A standard elaborated form of bells and whistles; typically said with a pronounced and ironic accent on the `gongs'.

Node:benchmark, Next:, Previous:bells whistles and gongs, Up:= B =

benchmark n.

[techspeak] An inaccurate measure of computer performance. "In the computer industry, there are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and benchmarks." Well-known ones include Whetstone, Dhrystone, Rhealstone (see h), the Gabriel LISP benchmarks (see gabriel), the SPECmark suite, and LINPACK. See also machoflops, MIPS, smoke and mirrors.

Node:Berkeley Quality Software, Next:, Previous:benchmark, Up:= B =

Berkeley Quality Software adj.

(often abbreviated `BQS') Term used in a pejorative sense to refer to software that was apparently created by rather spaced-out hackers late at night to solve some unique problem. It usually has nonexistent, incomplete, or incorrect documentation, has been tested on at least two examples, and core dumps when anyone else attempts to use it. This term was frequently applied to early versions of the dbx(1) debugger. See also Berzerkeley.

Note to British and Commonwealth readers: that's /berk'lee/, not /bark'lee/ as in British Received Pronunciation.

Node:berklix, Next:, Previous:Berkeley Quality Software, Up:= B =

berklix /berk'liks/ n.,adj.

[contraction of `Berkeley Unix'] See BSD. Not used at Berkeley itself. May be more common among suits attempting to sound like cognoscenti than among hackers, who usually just say `BSD'.

Node:Berzerkeley, Next:, Previous:berklix, Up:= B =

Berzerkeley /b*r-zer'klee/ n.

[from `berserk', via the name of a now-deceased record label; poss. originated by famed columnist Herb Caen] Humorous distortion of `Berkeley' used esp. to refer to the practices or products of the BSD Unix hackers. See software bloat, Missed'em-five, Berkeley Quality Software.

Mainstream use of this term in reference to the cultural and political peculiarities of UC Berkeley as a whole has been reported from as far back as the 1960s.

Node:beta, Next:, Previous:Berzerkeley, Up:= B =

beta /bay't*/, /be't*/ or (Commonwealth) /bee't*/ n.

1. Mostly working, but still under test; usu. used with `in': `in beta'. In the Real World, systems (hardware or software) software often go through two stages of release testing: Alpha (in-house) and Beta (out-house?). Beta releases are generally made to a group of lucky (or unlucky) trusted customers. 2. Anything that is new and experimental. "His girlfriend is in beta" means that he is still testing for compatibility and reserving judgment. 3. Flaky; dubious; suspect (since beta software is notoriously buggy).

Historical note: More formally, to beta-test is to test a pre-release (potentially unreliable) version of a piece of software by making it available to selected (or self-selected) customers and users. This term derives from early 1960s terminology for product cycle checkpoints, first used at IBM but later standard throughout the industry. `Alpha Test' was the unit, module, or component test phase; `Beta Test' was initial system test. These themselves came from earlier A- and B-tests for hardware. The A-test was a feasibility and manufacturability evaluation done before any commitment to design and development. The B-test was a demonstration that the engineering model functioned as specified. The C-test (corresponding to today's beta) was the B-test performed on early samples of the production design, and the D test was the C test repeated after the model had been in production a while.

Node:BFI, Next:, Previous:beta, Up:= B =

BFI /B-F-I/ n.

See brute force and ignorance. Also encountered in the variants `BFMI', `brute force and massive ignorance' and `BFBI' `brute force and bloody ignorance'.

Node:bible, Next:, Previous:BFI, Up:= B =

bible n.

1. One of a small number of fundamental source books such as Knuth, K&R, or the Camel Book. 2. The most detailed and authoritative reference for a particular language, operating system, or other complex software system.

Node:BiCapitalization, Next:, Previous:bible, Up:= B =

BiCapitalization n.

The act said to have been performed on trademarks (such as PostScript, NeXT, NeWS, VisiCalc, FrameMaker, TK!solver, EasyWriter) that have been raised above the ruck of common coinage by nonstandard capitalization. Too many marketroid types think this sort of thing is really cute, even the 2,317th time they do it. Compare studlycaps.

Node:B1FF, Next:, Previous:BiCapitalization, Up:= B =

B1FF /bif/ [Usenet] (alt. `BIFF') n.

The most famous pseudo, and the prototypical newbie. Articles from B1FF feature all uppercase letters sprinkled liberally with bangs, typos, `cute' misspellings ("EVRY BUDY LUVS GOOD OLD BIFF CUZ HE"S A K00L DOOD AN HE RITES REEL AWESUM THINGZ IN CAPITULL LETTRS LIKE THIS!!!), use (and often misuse) of fragments of talk mode abbreviations, a long sig block (sometimes even a doubled sig), and unbounded naivete. B1FF posts articles using his elder brother's VIC-20. B1FF's location is a mystery, as his articles appear to come from a variety of sites. However, BITNET seems to be the most frequent origin. The theory that B1FF is a denizen of BITNET is supported by B1FF's (unfortunately invalid) electronic mail address: B1FF@BIT.NET.

[1993: Now It Can Be Told! My spies inform me that B1FF was originally created by Joe Talmadge <>, also the author of the infamous and much-plagiarized "Flamer's Bible". The BIFF filter he wrote was later passed to Richard Sexton, who posted BIFFisms much more widely. Versions have since been posted for the amusement of the net at large. --ESR]

Node:BI, Next:, Previous:B1FF, Up:= B =

BI //

Common written abbreviation for Breidbart Index.

Node:biff, Next:, Previous:BI, Up:= B =

biff /bif/ vt.

To notify someone of incoming mail. From the BSD utility biff(1), which was in turn named after a friendly dog who used to chase frisbees in the halls at UCB while 4.2BSD was in development. There was a legend that it had a habit of barking whenever the mailman came, but the author of biff says this is not true. No relation to B1FF.

Node:Big Gray Wall, Next:, Previous:biff, Up:= B =

Big Gray Wall n.

What faces a VMS user searching for documentation. A full VMS kit comes on a pallet, the documentation taking up around 15 feet of shelf space before the addition of layered products such as compilers, databases, multivendor networking, and programming tools. Recent (since VMS version 5) documentation comes with gray binders; under VMS version 4 the binders were orange (`big orange wall'), and under version 3 they were blue. See VMS. Often contracted to `Gray Wall'.

Node:big iron, Next:, Previous:Big Gray Wall, Up:= B =

big iron n.

[common] Large, expensive, ultra-fast computers. Used generally of number-crunching supercomputers such as Crays, but can include more conventional big commercial IBMish mainframes. Term of approval; compare heavy metal, oppose dinosaur.

Node:Big Red Switch, Next:, Previous:big iron, Up:= B =

Big Red Switch n.

[IBM] The power switch on a computer, esp. the `Emergency Pull' switch on an IBM mainframe or the power switch on an IBM PC where it really is large and red. "This !@%$% bitty box is hung again; time to hit the Big Red Switch." Sources at IBM report that, in tune with the company's passion for TLAs, this is often abbreviated as `BRS' (this has also become established on FidoNet and in the PC clone world). It is alleged that the emergency pull switch on an IBM 360/91 actually fired a non-conducting bolt into the main power feed; the BRSes on more recent mainframes physically drop a block into place so that they can't be pushed back in. People get fired for pulling them, especially inappropriately (see also molly-guard). Compare power cycle, three-finger salute, 120 reset; see also scram switch.

Node:Big Room, Next:, Previous:Big Red Switch, Up:= B =

Big Room n.

(Also `Big Blue Room') The extremely large room with the blue ceiling and intensely bright light (during the day) or black ceiling with lots of tiny night-lights (during the night) found outside all computer installations. "He can't come to the phone right now, he's somewhere out in the Big Room."

Node:big win, Next:, Previous:Big Room, Up:= B =

big win n.

1. [common] Major success. 2. [MIT] Serendipity. "Yes, those two physicists discovered high-temperature superconductivity in a batch of ceramic that had been prepared incorrectly according to their experimental schedule. Small mistake; big win!" See win big.

Node:big-endian, Next:, Previous:big win, Up:= B =

big-endian adj.

[common; From Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" via the famous paper "On Holy Wars and a Plea for Peace" by Danny Cohen, USC/ISI IEN 137, dated April 1, 1980] 1. Describes a computer architecture in which, within a given multi-byte numeric representation, the most significant byte has the lowest address (the word is stored `big-end-first'). Most processors, including the IBM 370 family, the PDP-10, the Motorola microprocessor families, and most of the various RISC designs are big-endian. Big-endian byte order is also sometimes called `network order'. See little-endian, middle-endian, NUXI problem, swab. 2. An Internet address the wrong way round. Most of the world follows the Internet standard and writes email addresses starting with the name of the computer and ending up with the name of the country. In the U.K. the Joint Networking Team had decided to do it the other way round before the Internet domain standard was established. Most gateway sites have ad-hockery in their mailers to handle this, but can still be confused. In particular, the address could be interpreted in JANET's big-endian way as one in the U.K. (domain uk) or in the standard little-endian way as one in the domain as (American Samoa) on the opposite side of the world.

Node:bignum, Next:, Previous:big-endian, Up:= B =

bignum /big'nuhm/ n.

[common; orig. from MIT MacLISP] 1. [techspeak] A multiple-precision computer representation for very large integers. 2. More generally, any very large number. "Have you ever looked at the United States Budget? There's bignums for you!" 3. [Stanford] In backgammon, large numbers on the dice especially a roll of double fives or double sixes (compare moby, sense 4). See also El Camino Bignum.

Sense 1 may require some explanation. Most computer languages provide a kind of data called `integer', but such computer integers are usually very limited in size; usually they must be smaller than 2^(31) (2,147,483,648) or (on a bitty box) 2^(15) (32,768). If you want to work with numbers larger than that, you have to use floating-point numbers, which are usually accurate to only six or seven decimal places. Computer languages that provide bignums can perform exact calculations on very large numbers, such as 1000! (the factorial of 1000, which is 1000 times 999 times 998 times ... times 2 times 1). For example, this value for 1000! was computed by the MacLISP system using bignums:


Node:bigot, Next:, Previous:bignum, Up:= B =

bigot n.

[common] A person who is religiously attached to a particular computer, language, operating system, editor, or other tool (see religious issues). Usually found with a specifier; thus, `cray bigot', `ITS bigot', `APL bigot', `VMS bigot', `Berkeley bigot'. Real bigots can be distinguished from mere partisans or zealots by the fact that they refuse to learn alternatives even when the march of time and/or technology is threatening to obsolete the favored tool. It is truly said "You can tell a bigot, but you can't tell him much." Compare weenie, Amiga Persecution Complex.

Node:bit, Next:, Previous:bigot, Up:= B =

bit n.

[from the mainstream meaning and `Binary digIT'] 1. [techspeak] The unit of information; the amount of information obtained by asking a yes-or-no question for which the two outcomes are equally probable. 2. [techspeak] A computational quantity that can take on one of two values, such as true and false or 0 and 1. 3. A mental flag: a reminder that something should be done eventually. "I have a bit set for you." (I haven't seen you for a while, and I'm supposed to tell or ask you something.) 4. More generally, a (possibly incorrect) mental state of belief. "I have a bit set that says that you were the last guy to hack on EMACS." (Meaning "I think you were the last guy to hack on EMACS, and what I am about to say is predicated on this, so please stop me if this isn't true.")

"I just need one bit from you" is a polite way of indicating that you intend only a short interruption for a question that can presumably be answered yes or no.

A bit is said to be `set' if its value is true or 1, and `reset' or `clear' if its value is false or 0. One speaks of setting and clearing bits. To toggle or `invert' a bit is to change it, either from 0 to 1 or from 1 to 0. See also flag, trit, mode bit.

The term `bit' first appeared in print in the computer-science sense in 1949, and seems to have been coined by early statistician and computer scientist John Tukey. Tukey records that it evolved over a lunch table as a handier alternative to `bigit' or `binit'.

Node:bit bang, Next:, Previous:bit, Up:= B =

bit bang n.

Transmission of data on a serial line, when accomplished by rapidly tweaking a single output bit, in software, at the appropriate times. The technique is a simple loop with eight OUT and SHIFT instruction pairs 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 bang was used on certain early models of Prime computers, presumably when UARTs were too expensive, and on archaic Z80 micros with a Zilog PIO but no SIO. In an interesting instance of the cycle of reincarnation, this technique returned to use in the early 1990s on some RISC architectures because it consumes such an infinitesimal part of the processor that it actually makes sense not to have a UART. Compare cycle of reincarnation.

Node:bit bashing, Next:, Previous:bit bang, Up:= B =

bit bashing n.

(alt. `bit diddling' or bit twiddling) Term used to describe any of several kinds of low-level programming characterized by manipulation of bit, flag, nybble, and other smaller-than-character-sized pieces of data; these include low-level device control, encryption algorithms, checksum and error-correcting codes, hash functions, some flavors of graphics programming (see bitblt), and assembler/compiler code generation. May connote either tedium or a real technical challenge (more usually the former). "The command decoding for the new tape driver looks pretty solid but the bit-bashing for the control registers still has bugs." See also bit bang, mode bit.

Node:bit bucket, Next:, Previous:bit bashing, Up:= B =

bit bucket n.

[very common] 1. The universal data sink (originally, the mythical receptacle used to catch bits when they fall off the end of a register during a shift instruction). Discarded, lost, or destroyed data is said to have `gone to the bit bucket'. On Unix, often used for /dev/null. Sometimes amplified as `the Great Bit Bucket in the Sky'. 2. The place where all lost mail and news messages eventually go. The selection is performed according to Finagle's Law; important mail is much more likely to end up in the bit bucket than junk mail, which has an almost 100% probability of getting delivered. Routing to the bit bucket is automatically performed by mail-transfer agents, news systems, and the lower layers of the network. 3. The ideal location for all unwanted mail responses: "Flames about this article to the bit bucket." Such a request is guaranteed to overflow one's mailbox with flames. 4. Excuse for all mail that has not been sent. "I mailed you those figures last week; they must have landed in the bit bucket." Compare black hole.

This term is used purely in jest. It is based on the fanciful notion that bits are objects that are not destroyed but only misplaced. This appears to have been a mutation of an earlier term `bit box', about which the same legend was current; old-time hackers also report that trainees used to be told that when the CPU stored bits into memory it was actually pulling them `out of the bit box'. See also chad box.

Another variant of this legend has it that, as a consequence of the `parity preservation law', the number of 1 bits that go to the bit bucket must equal the number of 0 bits. Any imbalance results in bits filling up the bit bucket. A qualified computer technician can empty a full bit bucket as part of scheduled maintenance.

Node:bit decay, Next:, Previous:bit bucket, Up:= B =

bit decay n.

See bit rot. People with a physics background tend to prefer this variant for the analogy with particle decay. See also computron, quantum bogodynamics.

Node:bit rot, Next:, Previous:bit decay, Up:= B =

bit rot n.

[common] Also bit decay. Hypothetical disease the existence of which has been deduced from the observation that unused programs or features will often stop working after sufficient time has passed, even if `nothing has changed'. The theory explains that bits decay as if they were radioactive. As time passes, the contents of a file or the code in a program will become increasingly garbled.

There actually are physical processes that produce such effects (alpha particles generated by trace radionuclides in ceramic chip packages, for example, can change the contents of a computer memory unpredictably, and various kinds of subtle media failures can corrupt files in mass storage), but they are quite rare (and computers are built with error-detecting circuitry to compensate for them). The notion long favored among hackers that cosmic rays are among the causes of such events turns out to be a myth; see the cosmic rays entry for details.

The term software rot is almost synonymous. Software rot is the effect, bit rot the notional cause.

Node:bit twiddling, Next:, Previous:bit rot, Up:= B =

bit twiddling n.

[very common] 1. (pejorative) An exercise in tuning (see tune) in which incredible amounts of time and effort go to produce little noticeable improvement, often with the result that the code becomes incomprehensible. 2. Aimless small modification to a program, esp. for some pointless goal. 3. Approx. syn. for bit bashing; esp. used for the act of frobbing the device control register of a peripheral in an attempt to get it back to a known state.

Node:bit-paired keyboard, Next:, Previous:bit twiddling, Up:= B =

bit-paired keyboard n.,obs.

(alt. `bit-shift keyboard') A non-standard keyboard layout that seems to have originated with the Teletype ASR-33 and remained common for several years on early computer equipment. The ASR-33 was a mechanical device (see EOU), so the only way to generate the character codes from keystrokes was by some physical linkage. The design of the ASR-33 assigned each character key a basic pattern that could be modified by flipping bits if the SHIFT or the CTRL key was pressed. In order to avoid making the thing even more of a kluge than it already was, the design had to group characters that shared the same basic bit pattern on one key.

Looking at the ASCII chart, we find:

high  low bits
bits  0000 0001 0010 0011 0100 0101 0110 0111 1000 1001
 010        !    "    #    $    %    &    '    (    )
 011   0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

This is why the characters !"#$%&'() appear where they do on a Teletype (thankfully, they didn't use shift-0 for space). The Teletype Model 33 was actually designed before ASCII existed, and was originally intended to use a code that contained these two rows:

      low bits
high  0000  0010  0100  0110  1000  1010  1100  1110
bits     0001  0011  0101  0111  1001  1011  1101  1111
  10   )  ! bel #  $  % wru &  *  (  "  :  ?  _  ,   .
  11   0  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  '  ;  /  - esc del

The result would have been something closer to a normal keyboard. But as it happened, Teletype had to use a lot of persuasion just to keep ASCII, and the Model 33 keyboard, from looking like this instead:

          !  "  ?  $  '  &  -  (  )  ;  :  *  /  ,  .
       0  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  +  ~  <  >  �  |

Teletype's was not the weirdest variant of the QWERTY layout widely seen, by the way; that prize should probably go to one of several (differing) arrangements on IBM's even clunkier 026 and 029 card punches.

When electronic terminals became popular, in the early 1970s, there was no agreement in the industry over how the keyboards should be laid out. Some vendors opted to emulate the Teletype keyboard, while others used the flexibility of electronic circuitry to make their product look like an office typewriter. Either choice was supported by the ANSI computer keyboard standard, X4.14-1971, which referred to the alternatives as `logical bit pairing' and `typewriter pairing'. These alternatives became known as `bit-paired' and `typewriter-paired' keyboards. To a hacker, the bit-paired keyboard seemed far more logical -- and because most hackers in those days had never learned to touch-type, there was little pressure from the pioneering users to adapt keyboards to the typewriter standard.

The doom of the bit-paired keyboard was the large-scale introduction of the computer terminal into the normal office environment, where out-and-out technophobes were expected to use the equipment. The `typewriter-paired' standard became universal, X4.14 was superseded by X4.23-1982, `bit-paired' hardware was quickly junked or relegated to dusty corners, and both terms passed into disuse.

However, in countries without a long history of touch typing, the argument against the bit-paired keyboard layout was weak or nonexistent. As a result, the standard Japanese keyboard, used on PCs, Unix boxen etc. still has all of the !"#$%&'()" characters above the numbers in the ASR-33 layout.

Node:bitblt, Next:, Previous:bit-paired keyboard, Up:= B =

bitblt /bit'blit/ n.

[from BLT, q.v.] 1. [common] Any of a family of closely related 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. Synonym for blit or BLT. Both uses are borderline techspeak.

Node:BITNET, Next:, Previous:bitblt, Up:= B =

BITNET /bit'net/ n., obs.

[acronym: Because It's Time NETwork] Everybody's least favorite piece of the network (see the network) - until AOL happened. The BITNET hosts were a collection of IBM dinosaurs and VAXen (the latter with lobotomized comm hardware) that communicate using 80-character EBCDIC card images (see eighty-column mind); thus, they tend to mangle the headers and text of third-party traffic from the rest of the ASCII/RFC-822 world with annoying regularity. BITNET was also notorious as the apparent home of B1FF. By 1995 it had, much to everyone's relief, been obsolesced and absorbed into the Internet. Unfortunately, around this time we also got AOL.

Node:bits, Next:, Previous:BITNET, Up:= B =

bits pl.n.

1. Information. Examples: "I need some bits about file formats." ("I need to know about file formats.") Compare core dump, sense 4. 2. Machine-readable representation of a document, specifically as contrasted with paper: "I have only a photocopy of the Jargon File; does anyone know where I can get the bits?". See softcopy, source of all good bits See also bit.

Node:bitty box, Next:, Previous:bits, Up:= B =

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 software on or for it. Especially used of small, obsolescent, single-tasking-only personal machines such as the Atari 800, Osborne, Sinclair, VIC-20, TRS-80, or IBM PC. 2. [Pejorative] More generally, the opposite of `real computer' (see Get a real computer!). See also mess-dos, toaster, and toy.

Node:bixen, Next:, Previous:bitty box, Up:= B =

bixen pl.n.

Users of BIX (the BIX Information eXchange, formerly the Byte Information eXchange). Parallels other plurals like boxen, VAXen, oxen.

Node:bixie, Next:, Previous:bixen, Up:= B =

bixie /bik'see/ n.

Variant emoticons used on BIX (the BIX Information eXchange). The most common (smiley) bixie is <@_@>, representing two cartoon eyes and a mouth. These were originally invented in an SF fanzine called APA-L and imported to BIX by one of the earliest users.

Node:black art, Next:, Previous:bixie, Up:= B =

black art n.

[common] A collection of arcane, unpublished, and (by implication) mostly ad-hoc techniques developed for a particular application or systems area (compare black magic). VLSI design and compiler code optimization were (in their beginnings) considered classic examples of black art; as theory developed they became deep magic, and once standard textbooks had been written, became merely heavy wizardry. The huge proliferation of formal and informal channels for spreading around new computer-related technologies during the last twenty years has made both the term `black art' and what it describes less common than formerly. See also voodoo programming.

Node:black hole, Next:, Previous:black art, Up:= B =

black hole n.,vt.

[common] What data (a piece of email or netnews, or a stream of TCP/IP packets) has fallen into if it disappears mysteriously between its origin and destination sites (that is, without returning a bounce message). "I think there's a black hole at foovax!" conveys suspicion that site foovax has been dropping a lot of stuff on the floor lately (see drop on the floor). The implied metaphor of email as interstellar travel is interesting in itself. Readily verbed as `blackhole': "That router is blackholing IDP packets." Compare bit bucket aand see RBL.

Node:black magic, Next:, Previous:black hole, Up:= B =

black magic n.

[common] A technique that works, though nobody really understands why. More obscure than voodoo programming, which may be done by cookbook. Compare also black art, deep magic, and magic number (sense 2).

Node:Black Screen of Death, Next:, Previous:black magic, Up:= B =

Black Screen of Death n.

[prob. related to the Floating Head of Death in a famous "Far Side" cartoon.] A failure mode of Microsloth Windows. On an attempt to launch a DOS box, a networked Windows system not uncommonly blanks the screen and locks up the PC so hard that it requires a cold boot to recover. This unhappy phenomenon is known as The Black Screen of Death. See also Blue Screen of Death, which has become rather more common.

Node:Black Thursday, Next:, Previous:Black Screen of Death, Up:= B =

Black Thursday n.

February 8th, 1996 - the day of the signing into law of the CDA, so called by analogy with the catastrophic "Black Friday" in 1929 that began the Great Depression.

Node:blammo, Next:, Previous:Black Thursday, Up:= B =

blammo v.

[Oxford Brookes University and alumni, UK] To forcibly remove someone from any interactive system, especially talker systems. The operators, who may remain hidden, may `blammo' a user who is misbehaving. Very similar to MIT gun; in fact, the `blammo-gun' is a notional device used to `blammo' someone. While in actual fact the only incarnation of the blammo-gun is the command used to forcibly eject a user, operators speak of different levels of blammo-gun fire; e.g., a blammo-gun to `stun' will temporarily remove someone, but a blammo-gun set to `maim' will stop someone coming back on for a while.

Node:blargh, Next:, Previous:blammo, Up:= B =

blargh /blarg/ n.

[MIT; now common] The opposite of ping, sense 5; an exclamation indicating that one has absorbed or is emitting a quantum of unhappiness. Less common than ping.

Node:blast, Next:, Previous:blargh, Up:= B =

blast 1. v.,n.

Synonym for BLT, used esp. for large data sends over a network or comm line. Opposite of snarf. Usage: uncommon. The variant `blat' has been reported. 2. vt. [HP/Apollo] Synonymous with nuke (sense 3). Sometimes the message Unable to kill all processes. Blast them (y/n)? would appear in the command window upon logout.

Node:blat, Next:, Previous:blast, Up:= B =

blat n.

1. Syn. blast, sense 1. 2. See thud.

Node:bletch, Next:, Previous:blat, Up:= B =

bletch /blech/ interj.

[very common; from Yiddish/German `brechen', to vomit, poss. via comic-strip exclamation `blech'] Term of disgust. Often used in "Ugh, bletch". Compare barf.

Node:bletcherous, Next:, Previous:bletch, Up:= B =

bletcherous /blech'*-r*s/ adj.

Disgusting in design or function; esthetically unappealing. This word is seldom used of people. "This keyboard is bletcherous!" (Perhaps the keys don't work very well, or are misplaced.) See losing, cretinous, bagbiting, bogus, and random. The term bletcherous applies to the esthetics of the thing so described; similarly for cretinous. By contrast, something that is `losing' or `bagbiting' may be failing to meet objective criteria. See also bogus and random, which have richer and wider shades of meaning than any of the above.

Node:blink, Next:, Previous:bletcherous, Up:= B =

blink vi.,n.

[now rare] To use a navigator or off-line message reader to minimize time spent on-line to a commercial network service (a necessity in many places outside the U.S. where the telecoms monopolies charge per-minute for local calls). As of late 1994, this term was said to be in wide use in the UK, but is rare or unknown in the US. In early 2000 it was reported that the term had apparently passed out of use in the U.K.

Node:blinkenlights, Next:, Previous:blink, Up:= B =

blinkenlights /blink'*n-li:tz/ n.

[common] Front-panel diagnostic lights on a computer, esp. a dinosaur. Now that dinosaurs are rare, this term usually refers to status lights on a modem, network hub, or the like.

This term derives from the last word of the famous blackletter-Gothic sign in mangled pseudo-German that once graced about half the computer rooms in the English-speaking world. One version ran in its entirety as follows:


Das computermachine ist nicht fuer gefingerpoken und mittengrabben. Ist easy schnappen der springenwerk, blowenfusen und poppencorken mit spitzensparken. Ist nicht fuer gewerken bei das dumpkopfen. Das rubbernecken sichtseeren keepen das cotten-pickenen hans in das pockets muss; relaxen und watchen das blinkenlichten.

This silliness dates back at least as far as 1959 at Stanford University and had already gone international by the early 1960s, when it was reported at London University's ATLAS computing site. There are several variants of it in circulation, some of which actually do end with the word `blinkenlights'.

In an amusing example of turnabout-is-fair-play, German hackers have developed their own versions of the blinkenlights poster in fractured English, one of which is reproduced here:


This room is fullfilled mit special electronische equippment. Fingergrabbing and pressing the cnoeppkes from the computers is allowed for die experts only! So all the "lefthanders" stay away and do not disturben the brainstorming von here working intelligencies. Otherwise you will be out thrown and kicked anderswhere! Also: please keep still and only watchen astaunished the blinkenlights.

See also geef.

Old-time hackers sometimes get nostalgic for blinkenlights because they were so much more fun to look at than a blank panel. Sadly, very few computers still have them (the three LEDs on a PC keyboard certainly don't count). The obvious reasons (cost of wiring, cost of front-panel cutouts, almost nobody needs or wants to interpret machine-register states on the fly anymore) are only part of the story. Another part of it is that radio-frequency leakage from the lamp wiring was beginning to be a problem as far back as transistor machines. But the most fundamental fact is that there are very few signals slow enough to blink an LED these days! With slow CPUs, you could watch the bus register or instruction counter tick, but at 33/66/150MHz it's all a blur.

Finally, a version updated for the Internet has been seen on


Das Internet is nicht fuer gefingerclicken und giffengrabben. Ist easy droppenpacket der routers und overloaden der backbone mit der spammen und der me-tooen. Ist nicht fuer gewerken bei das dumpkopfen. Das mausklicken sichtseeren keepen das bandwit-spewin hans in das pockets muss; relaxen und watchen das cursorblinken.

This newest version partly reflects reports that the word `blinkenlights' is (in 1999) undergoing something of a revival in usage, but applied to networking equipment. The transmit and receive lights on routers, activity lights on switches and hubs, and other network equipment often blink in visually pleasing and seemingly coordinated ways. Although this is different in some ways from register readings, a tall stack of Cisco equipment or a 19-inch rack of ISDN terminals can provoke a similar feeling of hypnotic awe, especially in a darkened network operations center or server room.

Node:blit, Next:, Previous:blinkenlights, Up:= B =

blit /blit/ vt.

1. [common] To copy a large array of bits from one part of a computer's memory to another part, particularly when the memory is being used to determine what is shown on a display screen. "The storage allocator picks through the table and copies the good parts up into high memory, and then blits it all back down again." See bitblt, BLT, dd, cat, blast, snarf. More generally, to perform some operation (such as toggling) on a large array of bits while moving them. 2. [historical, rare] Sometimes all-capitalized as `BLIT': an early experimental bit-mapped terminal designed by Rob Pike at Bell Labs, later commercialized as the AT&T 5620. (The folk etymology from `Bell Labs Intelligent Terminal' is incorrect. Its creators liked to claim that "Blit" stood for the Bacon, Lettuce, and Interactive Tomato.)

Node:blitter, Next:, Previous:blit, Up:= B =

blitter /blit'r/ n.

[common] A special-purpose chip or hardware system built to perform blit operations, esp. used for fast implementation of bit-mapped graphics. The Commodore Amiga and a few other micros have these, but since 1990 the trend has been away from them (however, see cycle of reincarnation). Syn. raster blaster.

Node:blivet, Next:, Previous:blitter, Up:= B =

blivet /bliv'*t/ n.

[allegedly from a World War II military term meaning "ten pounds of manure in a five-pound bag"] 1. An intractable problem. 2. A crucial piece of hardware that can't be fixed or replaced if it breaks. 3. A tool that has been hacked over by so many incompetent programmers that it has become an unmaintainable tissue of hacks. 4. An out-of-control but unkillable development effort. 5. An embarrassing bug that pops up during a customer demo. 6. In the subjargon of computer security specialists, a denial-of-service attack performed by hogging limited resources that have no access controls (for example, shared spool space on a multi-user system).

This term has other meanings in other technical cultures; among experimental physicists and hardware engineers of various kinds it seems to mean any random object of unknown purpose (similar to hackish use of frob). It has also been used to describe an amusing trick-the-eye drawing resembling a three-pronged fork that appears to depict a three-dimensional object until one realizes that the parts fit together in an impossible way.

Node:bloatware, Next:, Previous:blivet, Up:= B =

bloatware n.

[common] Software that provides minimal functionality while requiring a disproportionate amount of diskspace and memory. Especially used for application and OS upgrades. This term is very common in the Windows/NT world. So is its cause.

Node:BLOB, Next:, Previous:bloatware, Up:= B =


1. n. [acronym: Binary Large OBject] Used by database people to refer to any random large block of bits that needs to be stored in a database, such as a picture or sound file. The essential point about a BLOB is that it's an object that cannot be interpreted within the database itself. 2. v. To mailbomb someone by sending a BLOB to him/her; esp. used as a mild threat. "If that program crashes again, I'm going to BLOB the core dump to you."

Node:block, Next:, Previous:BLOB, Up:= B =

block v.

[common; from process scheduling terminology in OS theory] 1. vi. To delay or sit idle while waiting for something. "We're blocking until everyone gets here." Compare busy-wait. 2. `block on' vt. To block, waiting for (something). "Lunch is blocked on Phil's arrival."

Node:block transfer computations, Next:, Previous:block, Up:= B =

block transfer computations n.

[from the television series "Dr. Who"] 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. (The Z80's LDIR instruction, "Computed Block Transfer with increment", may also be relevant.)

Node:Bloggs Family, Next:, Previous:block transfer computations, Up:= B =

Bloggs Family n.

An imaginary family consisting of Fred and Mary Bloggs and their children. Used as a standard example in knowledge representation to show the difference between extensional and intensional objects. For example, every occurrence of "Fred Bloggs" is the same unique person, whereas occurrences of "person" may refer to different people. Members of the Bloggs family have been known to pop up in bizarre places such as the old DEC Telephone Directory. Compare Dr. Fred Mbogo; J. Random Hacker; Fred Foobar.

Node:blow an EPROM, Next:, Previous:Bloggs Family, Up:= B =

blow an EPROM /bloh *n ee'prom/ v.

(alt. `blast an EPROM', `burn an EPROM') To program a read-only memory, e.g. for use with an embedded system. This term arose because the programming process for the Programmable Read-Only Memories (PROMs) that preceded present-day Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memories (EPROMs) involved intentionally blowing tiny electrical fuses on the chip. The usage lives on (it's too vivid and expressive to discard) even though the write process on EPROMs is nondestructive.

Node:blow away, Next:, Previous:blow an EPROM, Up:= B =

blow away vt.

To remove (files and directories) from permanent storage, generally by accident. "He reformatted the wrong partition and blew away last night's netnews." Oppose nuke.

Node:blow out, Next:, Previous:blow away, Up:= B =

blow out vi.

[prob. from mining and tunneling jargon] Of software, to fail spectacularly; almost as serious as crash and burn. See blow past, blow up, die horribly.

Node:blow past, Next:, Previous:blow out, Up:= B =

blow past vt.

To blow out despite a safeguard. "The server blew past the 5K reserve buffer."

Node:blow up, Next:, Previous:blow past, Up:= B =

blow up vi.

1. [scientific computation] To become unstable. Suggests that the computation is diverging so rapidly that it will soon overflow or at least go nonlinear. 2. Syn. blow out.

Node:BLT, Next:, Previous:blow up, Up:= B =

BLT /B-L-T/, /bl*t/ or (rarely) /belt/ n.,vt.

Synonym for blit. This is the original form of blit and the ancestor of bitblt. It referred to any large bit-field copy or move operation (one resource-intensive memory-shuffling operation done on pre-paged versions of ITS, WAITS, and TOPS-10 was sardonically referred to as `The Big BLT'). The jargon usage has outlasted the PDP-10 BLock Transfer instruction from which BLT derives; nowadays, the assembler mnemonic BLT almost always means `Branch if Less Than zero'.

Node:Blue Book, Next:, Previous:BLT, Up:= B =

Blue Book n.

1. Informal name for one of the four standard references on the page-layout and graphics-control language PostScript ("PostScript Language Tutorial and Cookbook", Adobe Systems, Addison-Wesley 1985, QA76.73.P67P68, ISBN 0-201-10179-3); the other three official guides are known as the Green Book, the Red Book, and the White Book (sense 2). 2. Informal name for one of the three standard references on Smalltalk: "Smalltalk-80: The Language and its Implementation", David Robson, Addison-Wesley 1983, QA76.8.S635G64, ISBN 0-201-11371-63 (this book also has green and red siblings). 3. Any of the 1988 standards issued by the CCITT's ninth plenary assembly. These include, among other things, the X.400 email spec and the Group 1 through 4 fax standards. See also book titles.

Node:blue box, Next:, Previous:Blue Book, Up:= B =

blue box

n. 1. obs. Once upon a time, before all-digital switches made it possible for the phone companies to move them out of band, one could actually hear the switching tones used to route long-distance calls. Early phreakers built devices called `blue boxes' that could reproduce these tones, which could be used to commandeer portions of the phone network. (This was not as hard as it may sound; one early phreak acquired the sobriquet `Captain Crunch' after he proved that he could generate switching tones with a plastic whistle pulled out of a box of Captain Crunch cereal!) There were other colors of box with more specialized phreaking uses; red boxes, black boxes, silver boxes, etc. 2. n. An IBM machine, especially a large (non-PC) one.

Node:Blue Glue, Next:, Previous:blue box, Up:= B =

Blue Glue n.

[IBM] IBM's SNA (Systems Network Architecture), an incredibly losing and bletcherous communications protocol widely favored at commercial shops that don't know any better. The official IBM definition is "that which binds blue boxes together." See fear and loathing. It may not be irrelevant that Blue Glue is the trade name of a 3M product that is commonly used to hold down the carpet squares to the removable panel floors common in dinosaur pens. A correspondent at U. Minn. reports that the CS department there has about 80 bottles of the stuff hanging about, so they often refer to any messy work to be done as `using the blue glue'.

Node:blue goo, Next:, Previous:Blue Glue, Up:= B =

blue goo n.

Term for `police' nanobots intended to prevent gray goo, denature hazardous waste, destroy pollution, put ozone back into the stratosphere, prevent halitosis, and promote truth, justice, and the American way, etc. The term `Blue Goo' can be found in Dr. Seuss's "Fox In Socks" to refer to a substance much like bubblegum. `Would you like to chew blue goo, sir?'. See nanotechnology.

Node:Blue Screen of Death, Next:, Previous:blue goo, Up:= B =

Blue Screen of Death n.

[common] This term is closely related to the older Black Screen of Death but much more common (many non-hackers have picked it up). Due to the extreme fragility and bugginess of Microsoft Windows (3.1/95/NT versions), misbehaving applications can crash the OS. The Blue Screen of Death, sometimes decorated with hex error codes, is what you get when this happens. (Commonly abbreviated BSOD.) This event is sufficiently common to have inspired the following haiku from Alan Tuplin:

        Your system which soared
        So freely on gliding wings
        now hangs, frozen and blue

The following entry from the Salon Haiku Contest, seems to have predated popular use of the term (and may indeed have inspired it):

        Windows NT crashed.
        I am the Blue Screen of Death
        No one hears your screams.

Node:blue wire, Next:, Previous:Blue Screen of Death, Up:= B =

blue wire n.

[IBM] Patch wires (esp. 30 AWG gauge) added to circuit boards at the factory to correct design or fabrication problems. Blue wire is not necessarily blue, the term describes function rather than color. These may be necessary if there hasn't been time to design and qualify another board version. Compare purple wire, red wire, yellow wire, pink wire.

Node:blurgle, Next:, Previous:blue wire, Up:= B =

blurgle /bler'gl/ n.

[UK] Spoken metasyntactic variable, to indicate some text that is obvious from context, or which is already known. If several words are to be replaced, blurgle may well be doubled or tripled. "To look for something in several files use `grep string blurgle blurgle'." In each case, "blurgle blurgle" would be understood to be replaced by the file you wished to search. Compare mumble, sense 7.

Node:BNF, Next:, Previous:blurgle, Up:= B =

BNF /B-N-F/ n.

1. [techspeak] Acronym for `Backus Normal Form' (often incorrectly expanded as `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 U.S. postal address:

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

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

 <name-part> ::= <personal-part> <last-name> [<jr-part>] <EOL>
               | <personal-part> <name-part>

 <street-address> ::= [<apt>] <house-num> <street-name> <EOL>

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

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 personal-part consists of either a first name or an initial followed by a dot. A name-part consists of either: a personal-part followed by a last name followed by an optional `jr-part' (Jr., Sr., or dynastic number) and end-of-line, or a personal part followed by a name part (this rule illustrates the use of recursion in BNFs, covering the case of people who use multiple first and middle names and/or initials). A street address consists of an optional apartment specifier, followed by a street number, followed by a street name. A zip-part consists of a town-name, followed by a comma, followed by a state code, followed by a ZIP-code followed by an end-of-line." Note that many things (such as the format of a personal-part, apartment specifier, or ZIP-code) are left unspecified. These are presumed to be obvious from context or detailed somewhere nearby. See also parse. 2. Any of a number of variants and extensions of BNF proper, possibly containing some or all of the regexp wildcards such as * or +. In fact the example above isn't the pure form invented for the Algol-60 report; it uses [], which was introduced a few years later in IBM's PL/I definition but is now universally recognized. 3. In science-fiction fandom, a `Big-Name Fan' (someone famous or notorious). Years ago a fan started handing out black-on-green BNF buttons at SF conventions; this confused the hacker contingent terribly.

Node:boa, Next:, Previous:BNF, Up:= B =

boa [IBM] n.

Any one of the fat cables that lurk under the floor in a dinosaur pen. Possibly so called because they display a ferocious life of their own when you try to lay them straight and flat after they have been coiled for some time. It is rumored within IBM that channel cables for the 370 are limited to 200 feet because beyond that length the boas get dangerous -- and it is worth noting that one of the major cable makers uses the trademark `Anaconda'.

Node:board, Next:, Previous:boa, Up:= B =

board n.

1. In-context synonym for bboard; sometimes used even for Usenet newsgroups (but see usage note under bboard, sense 1). 2. An electronic circuit board.

Node:boat anchor, Next:, Previous:board, Up:= B =

boat anchor n.

[common; from ham radio] 1. Like doorstop but more severe; implies that the offending hardware is irreversibly dead or useless. "That was a working motherboard once. One lightning strike later, instant boat anchor!" 2. A person who just takes up space. 3. Obsolete but still working hardware, especially when used of an old S100-bus hobbyist system; originally a term of annoyance, but became more and more affectionate as the hardware became more and more obsolete.

Node:bob, Next:, Previous:boat anchor, Up:= B =

bob n.

At Demon Internet, all tech support personal are called "Bob". (Female support personnel have an option on "Bobette"). This has nothing to do with Bob the divine drilling-equipment salesman of the Church of the SubGenius. Nor is it acronymized from "Brother Of BOFH", though all parties agree it could have been. Rather, it was triggered by an unusually large draft of new tech-support people in 1995. It was observed that there would be much duplication of names. To ease the confusion, it was decided that all support techs would henceforth be known as "Bob", and identity badges were created labelled "Bob 1" and "Bob 2". (No, we never got any further).

The reason for "Bob" rather than anything else is due to a luser calling and asking to speak to "Bob", despite the fact that no "Bob" was currently working for Tech Support. Since we all know "the customer is always right", it was decided that there had to be at least one "Bob" on duty at all times, just in case.

This sillyness inexorably snowballed. Shift leaders and managers began to refer to their groups of "bobs". Whole ranks of support machines were set up (and still exist in the DNS as of 1999) as bob1 through bobN. Then came, and it was filled with Demon support personnel. They all referred to themselves, and to others, as `bob', and after a while it caught on. There is now a Bob Code describing the Bob nature.

Node:bodysurf code, Next:, Previous:bob, Up:= B =

bodysurf code n.

A program or segment of code written quickly in the heat of inspiration without the benefit of formal design or deep thought. Like its namesake sport, the result is too often a wipeout that leaves the programmer eating sand.

Node:BOF, Next:, Previous:bodysurf code, Up:= B =

BOF /B-O-F/ or /bof/ n.

1. [common] Abbreviation for the phrase "Birds Of a Feather" (flocking together), an informal discussion group and/or bull session scheduled on a conference program. It is not clear where or when this term originated, but it is now associated with the USENIX conferences for Unix techies and was already established there by 1984. It was used earlier than that at DECUS conferences and is reported to have been common at SHARE meetings as far back as the early 1960s. 2. Acronym, `Beginning of File'.

Node:BOFH, Next:, Previous:BOF, Up:= B =

BOFH // n.

[common] Acronym, Bastard Operator From Hell. A system administrator with absolutely no tolerance for lusers. "You say you need more filespace? <massive-global-delete> Seems to me you have plenty left..." Many BOFHs (and others who would be BOFHs if they could get away with it) hang out in the newsgroup alt.sysadmin.recovery, although there has also been created a top-level newsgroup hierarchy (bofh.*) of their own.

Several people have written stories about BOFHs. The set usually considered canonical is by Simon Travaglia and may be found at the Bastard Home Page, BOFHs and BOFH wannabes hang out on scary devil monastery and wield LARTs.

Node:bogo-sort, Next:, Previous:BOFH, Up:= B =

bogo-sort /boh`goh-sort'/ n.

(var. `stupid-sort') The archetypical perversely awful algorithm (as opposed to bubble sort, which is merely the generic bad algorithm). Bogo-sort is equivalent to repeatedly throwing a deck of cards in the air, picking them up at random, and then testing whether they are in order. It serves as a sort of canonical example of awfulness. Looking at a program and seeing a dumb algorithm, one might say "Oh, I see, this program uses bogo-sort." Esp. appropriate for algorithms with factorial or super-exponential running time in the average case and probabilistically infinite worst-case running time. Compare bogus, brute force, lasherism.

A spectacular variant of bogo-sort has been proposed which has the interesting property that, if the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is true, it can sort an arbitrarily large array in constant time. (In the Many-Worlds model, the result of any quantum action is to split the universe-before into a sheaf of universes-after, one for each possible way the state vector can collapse; in any one of the universes-after the result appears random.) The steps are: 1. Permute the array randomly using a quantum process, 2. If the array is not sorted, destroy the universe. Implementation of step 2 is left as an exercise for the reader.

Node:bogometer, Next:, Previous:bogo-sort, Up:= B =

bogometer /boh-gom'-*t-er/ n.

A notional instrument for measuring bogosity. Compare the Troll-O-Meter and the `wankometer' described in the wank entry; see also bogus.

Node:BogoMIPS, Next:, Previous:bogometer, Up:= B =


The number of million times a second a processor can do absolutely nothing. The GNU/Linux OS measures BogoMIPS at startup in order to calibrate some soft timing loops that will be used later on; details at the BogoMIPS mini-HOWTO. The name Linus chose, of course, is an ironic comment on the uselessness of all other MIPS figures.

Node:bogon, Next:, Previous:BogoMIPS, Up:= B =

bogon /boh'gon/ n.

[very common; by analogy with proton/electron/neutron, but doubtless reinforced after 1980 by the similarity to Douglas Adams's `Vogons'; see the Bibliography in Appendix C and note that Arthur Dent actually mispronounces `Vogons' as `Bogons' at one point] 1. The elementary particle of bogosity (see quantum bogodynamics). For instance, "the Ethernet is emitting bogons again" means 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 synecdoche, used to refer to any bogus thing, as in "I'd like to go to lunch with you but I've got to go to the weekly staff bogon". 5. A person who is bogus or who says bogus things. This was historically the original usage, but has been overtaken by its derivative senses 1-4. See also bogosity, bogus; compare psyton, fat electrons, magic smoke.

The bogon has become the type case for a whole bestiary of nonce particle names, including the `clutron' or `cluon' (indivisible particle of cluefulness, obviously the antiparticle of the bogon) and the futon (elementary particle of randomness, or sometimes of lameness). These are not so much live usages in themselves as examples of a live meta-usage: that is, it has become a standard joke or linguistic maneuver to "explain" otherwise mysterious circumstances by inventing nonce particle names. And these imply nonce particle theories, with all their dignity or lack thereof (we might note parenthetically that this is a generalization from "(bogus particle) theories" to "bogus (particle theories)"!). Perhaps such particles are the modern-day equivalents of trolls and wood-nymphs as standard starting-points around which to construct explanatory myths. Of course, playing on an existing word (as in the `futon') yields additional flavor. Compare magic smoke.

Node:bogon filter, Next:, Previous:bogon, Up:= B =

bogon filter /boh'gon fil'tr/ n.

Any device, software or hardware, that limits or suppresses the flow and/or emission of bogons. "Engineering hacked a bogon filter between the Cray and the VAXen, and now we're getting fewer dropped packets." See also bogosity, bogus.

Node:bogon flux, Next:, Previous:bogon filter, Up:= B =

bogon flux /boh'gon fluhks/ n.

A measure of a supposed field of bogosity emitted by a speaker, measured by a bogometer; as a speaker starts to wander into increasing bogosity a listener might say "Warning, warning, bogon flux is rising". See quantum bogodynamics.

Node:bogosity, Next:, Previous:bogon flux, Up:= B =

bogosity /boh-go's*-tee/ n.

1. [orig. CMU, now very common] The degree to which something is bogus. Bogosity is measured with a bogometer; in a seminar, when a speaker says something bogus, a listener might raise his hand and say "My bogometer just triggered". More extremely, "You just pinned my bogometer" means you just said or did something so outrageously bogus that it is off the scale, pinning the bogometer needle at the highest possible reading (one might also say "You just redlined my bogometer"). The agreed-upon unit of bogosity is the microLenat, or the microReid. 2. The potential field generated by a bogon flux; see quantum bogodynamics. See also bogon flux, bogon filter, bogus.

Node:bogotify, Next:, Previous:bogosity, Up:= B =

bogotify /boh-go't*-fi:/ vt.

To make or become bogus. A program that has been changed so many times as to become completely disorganized has become bogotified. If you tighten a nut too hard and strip the threads on the bolt, the bolt has become bogotified and you had better not use it any more. This coinage led to the notional `autobogotiphobia' defined as `the fear of becoming bogotified'; but is not clear that the latter has ever been `live' jargon rather than a self-conscious joke in jargon about jargon. See also bogosity, bogus.

Node:bogue out, Next:, Previous:bogotify, Up:= B =

bogue out /bohg owt/ vi.

To become bogus, suddenly and unexpectedly. "His talk was relatively sane until somebody asked him a trick question; then he bogued out and did nothing but flame afterwards." See also bogosity, bogus.

Node:bogus, Next:, Previous:bogue out, Up:= B =

bogus 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. Unbelievable. "You claim to have solved the halting problem for Turing Machines? That's totally bogus." 6. Silly. "Stop writing those bogus sagas."

Astrology is bogus. So is a bolt that is obviously about to break. So is someone who makes blatantly false claims to have solved a scientific problem. (This word seems to have some, but not all, of the connotations of random -- mostly the negative ones.)

It is claimed that `bogus' was originally used in the hackish sense at Princeton in the late 1960s. It was spread to CMU and Yale by Michael Shamos, a migratory Princeton alumnus. A glossary of bogus words was compiled at Yale when the word was first popularized there about 1975-76. These coinages spread into hackerdom from CMU and MIT. Most of them remained wordplay objects rather than actual vocabulary items or live metaphors. Examples: `amboguous' (having multiple bogus interpretations); `bogotissimo' (in a gloriously bogus manner); `bogotophile' (one who is pathologically fascinated by the bogus); `paleobogology' (the study of primeval bogosity).

Some bogowords, however, obtained sufficient live currency to be listed elsewhere in this lexicon; see bogometer, bogon, bogotify, and quantum bogodynamics and the related but unlisted Dr. Fred Mbogo.

By the early 1980s `bogus' was also current in something like hacker usage sense in West Coast teen slang, and it had gone mainstream by 1985. A correspondent from Cambridge reports, by contrast, that these uses of `bogus' grate on British nerves; in Britain the word means, rather specifically, `counterfeit', as in "a bogus 10-pound note".

Node:Bohr bug, Next:, Previous:bogus, Up:= B =

Bohr bug /bohr buhg/ n.

[from quantum physics] A repeatable bug; one that manifests reliably under a possibly unknown but well-defined set of conditions. Antonym of heisenbug; see also mandelbug, schroedinbug.

Node:boink, Next:, Previous:Bohr bug, Up:= B =

boink /boynk/

[Usenet: variously ascribed to the TV series "Cheers" "Moonlighting", and "Soap"] 1. v. To have sex with; compare bounce, sense 3. (This is mainstream slang.) In Commonwealth hackish the variant `bonk' is more common. 2. n. After the original Peter Korn `Boinkon' 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. Compare @-party. 3. Var of `bonk'; see bonk/oif.

Node:bomb, Next:, Previous:boink, Up:= B =


1. v. General synonym for crash (sense 1) except that it is not used as a noun; esp. used of software or OS failures. "Don't run Empire with less than 32K stack, it'll bomb." 2. n.,v. Atari ST and Macintosh equivalents of a Unix `panic' or Amiga guru (sense 2), in which icons of little black-powder bombs or mushroom clouds are displayed, indicating that the system has died. On the Mac, this may be accompanied by a decimal (or occasionally hexadecimal) number indicating what went wrong, similar to the Amiga guru meditation number. MS-DOS machines tend to get locked up in this situation.

Node:bondage-and-discipline language, Next:, Previous:bomb, Up:= B =

bondage-and-discipline language n.

A language (such as Pascal, Ada, 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 hacking or even vanilla general-purpose programming. Often abbreviated `B&D'; thus, one may speak of things "having the B&D nature". See Pascal; oppose languages of choice.

Node:bonk/oif, Next:, Previous:bondage-and-discipline language, Up:= B =

bonk/oif /bonk/, /oyf/ interj.

In the U.S. MUD community, it has become traditional to express pique or censure by `bonking' the offending person. Convention holds that one should acknowledge a bonk by saying `oif!' and there is a myth to the effect that failing to do so upsets the cosmic bonk/oif balance, causing much trouble in the universe. Some MUDs have implemented special commands for bonking and oifing. Note: in parts of the U.K. `bonk' is a sexually loaded slang term; care is advised in transatlantic conversations. Commonwealth hackers report a similar convention involving the `fish/bang' balance. See also talk mode.

Node:book titles, Next:, Previous:bonk/oif, Up:= B =

book titles

There is a tradition in hackerdom of informally tagging important textbooks and standards documents with the dominant color of their covers or with some other conspicuous feature of the cover. Many of these are described in this lexicon under their own entries. See Aluminum Book, Blue Book, Camel Book, Cinderella Book, Devil Book, Dragon Book, Green Book, Orange Book, Purple Book, Red Book, Silver Book, White Book, Wizard Book, Yellow Book, and bible; see also rainbow series. Since about 1983 this tradition has gotten a boost from the popular O'Reilly and Associates line of technical books, which usually feature some kind of exotic animal on the cover.

Node:boot, Next:, Previous:book titles, Up:= B =

boot v.,n.

[techspeak; from `by one's bootstraps'] To load and initialize the operating system on a machine. This usage is no longer jargon (having passed into techspeak) but has given rise to some derivatives that are still jargon.

The derivative `reboot' implies that the machine hasn't been down for long, or that the boot is a bounce (sense 4) intended to clear some state of wedgitude. This is sometimes used of human thought processes, as in the following exchange: "You've lost me." "OK, reboot. Here's the theory...."

This term is also found in the variants `cold boot' (from power-off condition) and `warm boot' (with the CPU and all devices already powered up, as after a hardware reset or software crash).

Another variant: `soft boot', reinitialization of only part of a system, under control of other software still running: "If you're running the mess-dos emulator, control-alt-insert will cause a soft-boot of the emulator, while leaving the rest of the system running."

Opposed to this there is `hard boot', which connotes hostility towards or frustration with the machine being booted: "I'll have to hard-boot this losing Sun." "I recommend booting it hard." One often hard-boots by performing a power cycle.

Historical note: this term derives from `bootstrap loader', a short program that was read in from cards or paper tape, or toggled in from the front panel switches. This program was always very short (great efforts were expended on making it short in order to minimize the labor and chance of error involved in toggling it in), but was just smart enough to read in a slightly more complex program (usually from a card or paper tape reader), to which it handed control; this program in turn was smart enough to read the application or operating system from a magnetic tape drive or disk drive. Thus, in successive steps, the computer `pulled itself up by its bootstraps' to a useful operating state. Nowadays the bootstrap is usually found in ROM or EPROM, and reads the first stage in from a fixed location on the disk, called the `boot block'. When this program gains control, it is powerful enough to load the actual OS and hand control over to it.

Node:Borg, Next:, Previous:boot, Up:= B =

Borg n.

In "Star Trek: The Next Generation" the Borg is a species of cyborg that ruthlessly seeks to incorporate all sentient life into itself; their slogan is "Resistence is futile. You will be assimilated." In hacker parlance, the Borg is usually Microsoft, which is thought to be trying just as ruthlessly to assimilate all computers and the entire Internet to itself (there is a widely circulated image of Bill Gates as a Borg). Being forced to use Windows or NT is often referred to as being "Borged". Interestingly, the Halloween Documents reveal that this jargon is live within Microsoft itself. (Other companies, notably Intel and UUNet, have also occasionally been equated to the Borg.) See also Evil Empire, Internet Exploiter.

Node:borken, Next:, Previous:Borg, Up:= B =

borken adj.

(also `borked') Common deliberate typo for `broken'.

Node:bot, Next:, Previous:borken, Up:= B =

bot n

[common on IRC, MUD and among gamers; from `robot'] 1. An IRC or MUD user who is actually a program. On IRC, typically the robot provides some useful service. Examples are NickServ, which tries to prevent random users from adopting nicks already claimed by others, and MsgServ, which allows one to send asynchronous messages to be delivered when the recipient signs on. Also common are `annoybots', such as KissServ, which perform no useful function except to send cute messages to other people. Service bots are less common on MUDs; but some others, such as the `Julia' bot active in 1990-91, have been remarkably impressive Turing-test experiments, able to pass as human for as long as ten or fifteen minutes of conversation. 2. An AI-controlled player in a computer game (especially a first-person shooter such as Quake) which, unlike ordinary monsters, operates like a human-controlled player, with access to a player's weapons and abilities. An example can be found at

Note that bots in both senses were `robots' when the term first appeared in the early 1990s, but the shortened form is now habitual.

Node:bot spot, Next:, Previous:bot, Up:= B =

bot spot n.

[MUD] The user on a MUD with the longest connect time. Derives from the fact that bots on MUDS often stay constantly connected and appear at the bottom of the list.

Node:bottom feeder, Next:, Previous:bot spot, Up:= B =

bottom feeder n.

Syn. for slopsucker, derived from the fishermen's and naturalists' term for finny creatures who subsist on the primordial ooze.

Node:bottom-up implementation, Next:, Previous:bottom feeder, Up:= B =

bottom-up implementation n.

Hackish opposite of the techspeak term `top-down design'. It has been received wisdom in most programming cultures that it is best to design from higher levels of abstraction down to lower, specifying sequences of action in increasing detail until you get to actual code. Hackers often find (especially in exploratory designs that cannot be closely specified in advance) that it works best to build things in the opposite order, by writing and testing a clean set of primitive operations and then knitting them together. Naively applied, this leads to hacked-together bottom-up implementations; a more sophisticated response is `middle-out implementation', in which scratch code within primitives at the mid-level of the system is gradually replaced with a more polished version of the lowest level at the same time the structure above the midlevel is being built.

Node:bounce, Next:, Previous:bottom-up implementation, Up:= B =

bounce v.

1. [common; perhaps by analogy to a bouncing check] An electronic mail message that is undeliverable and returns an error notification to the sender is said to `bounce'. See also bounce message. 2. [Stanford] To play volleyball. The now-demolished D. C. Power Lab building used by the Stanford AI Lab in the 1970s had a volleyball court on the front lawn. From 5 P.M. to 7 P.M. was the scheduled maintenance time for the computer, so every afternoon at 5 would come over the intercom the cry: "Now hear this: bounce, bounce!", followed by Brian McCune loudly bouncing a volleyball on the floor outside the offices of known volleyballers. 3. To engage in sexual intercourse; prob. from the expression `bouncing the mattress', but influenced by Roo's psychosexually loaded "Try bouncing me, Tigger!" from the "Winnie-the-Pooh" books. Compare boink. 4. To casually reboot a system in order to clear up a transient problem. Reported primarily among VMS and Unix users. 5. [VM/CMS programmers] Automatic warm-start of a machine after an error. "I logged on this morning and found it had bounced 7 times during the night" 6. [IBM] To power cycle a peripheral in order to reset it.

Node:bounce message, Next:, Previous:bounce, Up:= B =

bounce message n.

[common] 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, sense 1). 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 and software laser. The terms `bounce mail' and `barfmail' are also common.

Node:boustrophedon, Next:, Previous:bounce message, Up:= B =

boustrophedon n.

[from a Greek word for turning like an ox while plowing] An ancient method of writing using alternate left-to-right and right-to-left lines. This term is actually philologists' techspeak and typesetters' jargon. Erudite hackers use it for an optimization performed by some computer typesetting software and moving-head printers. The adverbial form `boustrophedonically' is also found (hackers purely love constructions like this).

Node:box, Next:, Previous:boustrophedon, Up:= B =

box n.

1. A computer; esp. in the construction `foo box' where foo is some functional qualifier, like `graphics', or the name of an OS (thus, `Unix box', `MS-DOS box', etc.) "We preprocess the data on Unix boxes before handing it up to the mainframe." 2. [IBM] Without qualification but within an SNA-using site, this refers specifically to an IBM front-end processor or FEP /F-E-P/. An FEP is a small computer necessary to enable an IBM mainframe to communicate beyond the limits of the dinosaur pen. Typically used in expressions like the cry that goes up when an SNA network goes down: "Looks like the box has fallen over." (See fall over.) See also IBM, fear and loathing, Blue Glue.

Node:boxed comments, Next:, Previous:box, Up:= B =

boxed comments n.

Comments (explanatory notes attached to program instructions) that occupy several lines by themselves; so called because in assembler and C code they are often surrounded by a box in a style something like this:

 * This is a boxed comment in C style

Common variants of this style omit the asterisks in column 2 or add a matching row of asterisks closing the right side of the box. The sparest variant omits all but the comment delimiters themselves; the `box' is implied. Oppose winged comments.

Node:boxen, Next:, Previous:boxed comments, Up:= B =

boxen /bok'sn/ pl.n.

[very common; by analogy with VAXen] Fanciful plural of box often encountered in the phrase `Unix boxen', used to describe commodity Unix hardware. The connotation is that any two Unix boxen are interchangeable.

Node:boxology, Next:, Previous:boxen, Up:= B =

boxology /bok-sol'*-jee/ n.

Syn. ASCII art. This term implies a more restricted domain, that of box-and-arrow drawings. "His report has a lot of boxology in it." Compare macrology.

Node:bozotic, Next:, Previous:boxology, Up:= B =

bozotic /boh-zoh'tik/ or /boh-zo'tik/ adj.

[from the name of a TV clown even more losing than Ronald McDonald] Resembling or having the quality of a bozo; that is, clownish, ludicrously wrong, unintentionally humorous. Compare wonky, demented. Note that the noun `bozo' occurs in slang, but the mainstream adjectival form would be `bozo-like' or (in New England) `bozoish'.

Node:BQS, Next:, Previous:bozotic, Up:= B =

BQS /B-Q-S/ adj.

Syn. Berkeley Quality Software.

Node:brain dump, Next:, Previous:BQS, Up:= B =

brain dump n.

[common] The act of telling someone everything one knows about a particular topic or project. Typically used when someone is going to let a new party maintain a piece of code. Conceptually analogous to an operating system core dump in that it saves a lot of useful state before an exit. "You'll have to give me a brain dump on FOOBAR before you start your new job at HackerCorp." See core dump (sense 4). At Sun, this is also known as `TOI' (transfer of information).

Node:brain fart, Next:, Previous:brain dump, Up:= B =

brain fart n.

The actual result of a braino, as opposed to the mental glitch that is the braino itself. E.g., typing dir on a Unix box after a session with DOS.

Node:brain-damaged, Next:, Previous:brain fart, Up:= B =

brain-damaged adj.

1. [common; generalization of `Honeywell Brain Damage' (HBD), a theoretical disease invented to explain certain utter cretinisms in Honeywell 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, and that its failure to work is due to poor design rather than some accident. "Only six monocase characters per file name? Now that's brain-damaged!" 2. [esp. in the Mac world] May refer to free demonstration software that has been deliberately crippled in some way so as not to compete with the product it is intended to sell. Syn. crippleware.

Node:brain-dead, Next:, Previous:brain-damaged, Up:= B =

brain-dead adj.

[common] Brain-damaged in the extreme. It tends to imply terminal design failure rather than malfunction or simple stupidity. "This comm program doesn't know how to send a break -- how brain-dead!"

Node:braino, Next:, Previous:brain-dead, Up:= B =

braino /bray'no/ n.

Syn. for thinko. See also brain fart.

Node:branch to Fishkill, Next:, Previous:braino, Up:= B =

branch to Fishkill n.

[IBM: from the location of one of the corporation's facilities] Any unexpected jump in a program that produces catastrophic or just plain weird results. See jump off into never-never land, hyperspace.

Node:bread crumbs, Next:, Previous:branch to Fishkill, Up:= B =

bread crumbs n.

Debugging statements inserted into a program that emit output or log indicators of the program's state to a file so you can see where it dies or pin down the cause of surprising behavior. The term is probably a reference to the Hansel and Gretel story from the Brothers Grimm or the older French folktale of Thumbelina; in several variants of these, a character leaves a trail of bread crumbs so as not to get lost in the woods.

Node:break, Next:, Previous:bread crumbs, Up:= B =


1. vt. To cause to be broken (in any sense). "Your latest patch to the editor broke the paragraph commands." 2. v. (of a program) To stop temporarily, so that it may debugged. The place where it stops is a `breakpoint'. 3. [techspeak] vi. To send an RS-232 break (two character widths of line high) over a serial comm line. 4. [Unix] vi. To strike whatever key currently causes the tty driver to send SIGINT to the current process. Normally, break (sense 3), delete or control-C does this. 5. `break break' may be said to interrupt a conversation (this is an example of verb doubling). This usage comes from radio communications, which in turn probably came from landline telegraph/teleprinter usage, as badly abused in the Citizen's Band craze a few years ago.

Node:break-even point, Next:, Previous:break, Up:= B =

break-even point n.

In the process of implementing a new computer language, the point at which the language is sufficiently effective that one can implement the language in itself. That is, for a new language called, hypothetically, FOOGOL, one has reached break-even when one can write a demonstration compiler for FOOGOL in FOOGOL, discard the original implementation language, and thereafter use working versions of FOOGOL to develop newer ones. This is an important milestone; see MFTL.

Since this entry was first written, several correspondents have reported that there actually was a compiler for a tiny Algol-like language called Foogol floating around on various VAXen in the early and mid-1980s. A FOOGOL implementation is available at the Retrocomputing Museum

Node:breath-of-life packet, Next:, Previous:break-even point, Up:= B =

breath-of-life packet n.

[XEROX PARC] An Ethernet packet that contains bootstrap (see boot) code, periodically sent out from a working computer to infuse the `breath of life' into any computer on the network that has happened to crash. Machines depending on such packets have sufficient hardware or firmware code to wait for (or request) such a packet during the reboot process. See also dickless workstation.

The notional `kiss-of-death packet', with a function complementary to that of a breath-of-life packet, is recommended for dealing with hosts that consume too many network resources. Though `kiss-of-death packet' is usually used in jest, there is at least one documented instance of an Internet subnet with limited address-table slots in a gateway machine in which such packets were routinely used to compete for slots, rather like Christmas shoppers competing for scarce parking spaces.

Node:breedle, Next:, Previous:breath-of-life packet, Up:= B =

breedle n.

See feep.

Node:Breidbart Index, Next:, Previous:breedle, Up:= B =

Breidbart Index /bri:d'bart ind*ks/

A measurement of the severity of spam invented by long-time hacker Seth Breidbart, used for programming cancelbots. The Breidbart Index takes into account the fact that excessive multi-posting EMP is worse than excessive cross-posting ECP. The Breidbart Index is computed as follows: For each article in a spam, take the square-root of the number of newsgroups to which the article is posted. The Breidbart Index is the sum of the square roots of all of the posts in the spam. For example, one article posted to nine newsgroups and again to sixteen would have BI = sqrt(9) + sqrt(16) = 7. It is generally agreed that a spam is cancelable if the Breidbart Index exceeds 20.

The Breidbart Index accumulates over a 45-day window. Ten articles yesterday and ten articles today and ten articles tomorrow add up to a 30-article spam. Spam fighters will often reset the count if you can convince them that the spam was accidental and/or you have seen the error of your ways and won't repeat it. Breidbart Index can accumulate over multiple authors. For example, the "Make Money Fast" pyramid scheme exceeded a BI of 20 a long time ago, and is now considered "cancel on sight".

Node:bring X to its knees, Next:, Previous:Breidbart Index, Up:= B =

bring X to its knees v.

[common] To present a machine, operating system, piece of software, or algorithm with a load so extreme or pathological that it grinds to a halt. "To bring a MicroVAX to its knees, try twenty users running vi -- or four running EMACS." Compare hog.

Node:brittle, Next:, Previous:bring X to its knees, Up:= B =

brittle adj.

Said of software that is functional but easily broken by changes in operating environment or configuration, or by any minor tweak to the software itself. Also, any system that responds inappropriately and disastrously to abnormal but expected external stimuli; e.g., a file system that is usually totally scrambled by a power failure is said to be brittle. This term is often used to describe the results of a research effort that were never intended to be robust, but it can be applied to commercial software, which (due to closed-source development) displays the quality far more often than it ought to. Oppose robust.

Node:broadcast storm, Next:, Previous:brittle, Up:= B =

broadcast storm n.

[common] 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. See network meltdown; compare mail storm.

Node:brochureware, Next:, Previous:broadcast storm, Up:= B =

brochureware n.

Planned but non-existent product like vaporware, but with the added implication that marketing is actively selling and promoting it (they've printed brochures). Brochureware is often deployed as a strategic weapon; the idea is to con customers into not committing to an existing product of the competition's. It is a safe bet that when a brochureware product finally becomes real, it will be more expensive than and inferior to the alternatives that had been available for years.

Node:broken, Next:, Previous:brochureware, Up:= B =

broken adj.

1. Not working properly (of programs). 2. Behaving strangely; especially (when used of people) exhibiting extreme depression.

Node:broken arrow, Next:, Previous:broken, Up:= B =

broken arrow n.

[IBM] The error code displayed on line 25 of a 3270 terminal (or a PC emulating a 3270) for various kinds of protocol violations and "unexpected" error conditions (including connection to a down computer). On a PC, simulated with `->/_', with the two center characters overstruck.

Note: to appreciate this term fully, it helps to know that `broken arrow' is also military jargon for an accident involving nuclear weapons....

Node:BrokenWindows, Next:, Previous:broken arrow, Up:= B =

BrokenWindows n.

Abusive hackerism for the crufty and elephantine X environment on Sun machines; properly called `OpenWindows'.

Node:broket, Next:, Previous:BrokenWindows, Up:= B =

broket /broh'k*t/ or /broh'ket`/ n.

[rare; by analogy with `bracket': a `broken bracket'] Either of the characters < and >, when used as paired enclosing delimiters. This word originated as a contraction of the phrase `broken bracket', that is, a bracket that is bent in the middle. (At MIT, and apparently in the Real World as well, these are usually called angle brackets.)

Node:Brooks's Law, Next:, Previous:broket, Up:= B =

Brooks's Law prov.

"Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later" -- a result of the fact that the expected advantage from splitting development work among N programmers is O(N) (that is, proportional to N), but the complexity and communications cost associated with coordinating and then merging their work is O(N^2) (that is, proportional to the square of N). The quote is from Fred Brooks, a manager of IBM's OS/360 project and author of "The Mythical Man-Month" (Addison-Wesley, 1975, ISBN 0-201-00650-2), an excellent early book on software engineering. The myth in question has been most tersely expressed as "Programmer time is fungible" and Brooks established conclusively that it is not. Hackers have never forgotten his advice (though it's not the whole story; see bazaar); too often, management still does. See also creationism, second-system effect, optimism.

Node:brown-paper-bag bug, Next:, Previous:Brooks's Law, Up:= B =

brown-paper-bag bug n.

A bug in a public software release that is so embarassing that the author notionally wears a brown paper bag over his head for a while so he won't be recognized on the net. Entered popular usage after the early-1999 release of the first Linux 2.2, which had one. The phrase was used in Linus Torvalds's apology posting.

Node:browser, Next:, Previous:brown-paper-bag bug, Up:= B =

browser n.

A program specifically designed to help users view and navigate hypertext, on-line documentation, or a database. While this general sense has been present in jargon for a long time, the proliferation of browsers for the World Wide Web after 1992 has made it much more popular and provided a central or default meaning of the word previously lacking in hacker usage. Nowadays, if someone mentions using a `browser' without qualification, one may assume it is a Web browser.

Node:BRS, Next:, Previous:browser, Up:= B =

BRS /B-R-S/ n.

Syn. Big Red Switch. This abbreviation is fairly common on-line.

Node:brute force, Next:, Previous:BRS, Up:= B =

brute force adj.

Describes a primitive programming style, one in which the programmer relies on the computer's processing power instead of using his or her own intelligence to simplify the problem, often ignoring problems of scale and applying naive methods suited to small problems directly to large ones. The term can also be used in reference to programming style: brute-force programs are written in a heavyhanded, tedious way, full of repetition and devoid of any elegance or useful abstraction (see also brute force and ignorance).

The canonical example of a brute-force algorithm is associated with the `traveling salesman problem' (TSP), a classical NP-hard problem: Suppose a person is in, say, Boston, and wishes to drive to N other cities. In what order should the cities be visited in order to minimize the distance travelled? The brute-force method is to simply generate all possible routes and compare the distances; while guaranteed to work and simple to implement, this algorithm is clearly very stupid in that it considers even obviously absurd routes (like going from Boston to Houston via San Francisco and New York, in that order). For very small N it works well, but it rapidly becomes absurdly inefficient when N increases (for N = 15, there are already 1,307,674,368,000 possible routes to consider, and for N = 1000 -- well, see bignum). Sometimes, unfortunately, there is no better general solution than brute force. See also NP-.

A more simple-minded example of brute-force programming is finding the smallest number in a large list by first using an existing program to sort the list in ascending order, and then picking the first number off the front.

Whether brute-force programming should actually be considered stupid or not depends on the context; if the problem is not terribly big, the extra CPU time spent on a brute-force solution may cost less than the programmer time it would take to develop a more `intelligent' algorithm. Additionally, a more intelligent algorithm may imply more long-term complexity cost and bug-chasing than are justified by the speed improvement.

Ken Thompson, co-inventor of Unix, is reported to have uttered the epigram "When in doubt, use brute force". He probably intended this as a ha ha only serious, but the original Unix kernel's preference for simple, robust, and portable algorithms over brittle `smart' ones does seem to have been a significant factor in the success of that OS. Like so many other tradeoffs in software design, the choice between brute force and complex, finely-tuned cleverness is often a difficult one that requires both engineering savvy and delicate esthetic judgment.

Node:brute force and ignorance, Next:, Previous:brute force, Up:= B =

brute force and ignorance n.

A popular design technique at many software houses -- brute force coding unrelieved by any knowledge of how problems have been previously solved in elegant ways. Dogmatic adherence to design methodologies tends to encourage this sort of thing. Characteristic of early larval stage programming; unfortunately, many never outgrow it. Often abbreviated BFI: "Gak, they used a bubble sort! That's strictly from BFI." Compare bogosity.

Node:BSD, Next:, Previous:brute force and ignorance, Up:= B =

BSD /B-S-D/ n.

[abbreviation for `Berkeley Software Distribution'] a family of Unix versions for the DEC VAX and PDP-11 developed by Bill Joy and others at Berzerkeley starting around 1980, incorporating paged virtual memory, TCP/IP networking enhancements, and many other features. The BSD versions (4.1, 4.2, and 4.3) and the commercial versions derived from them (SunOS, ULTRIX, and Mt. Xinu) held the technical lead in the Unix world until AT&T's successful standardization efforts after about 1986; descendants are still widely popular. Note that BSD versions going back to 2.9 are often referred to by their version numbers, without the BSD prefix. See 4.2, Unix, USG Unix.

Node:BSOD, Next:, Previous:BSD, Up:= B =


Very commmon abbreviation for Blue Screen of Death. Both spoken and written.

Node:BUAF, Next:, Previous:BSOD, Up:= B =

BUAF // n.

[abbreviation, from] Big Ugly ASCII Font -- a special form of ASCII art. Various programs exist for rendering text strings into block, bloob, and pseudo-script fonts in cells between four and six character cells on a side; this is smaller than the letters generated by older banner (sense 2) programs. These are sometimes used to render one's name in a sig block, and are critically referred to as `BUAF's. See warlording.

Node:BUAG, Next:, Previous:BUAF, Up:= B =

BUAG // n.

[abbreviation, from] Big Ugly ASCII Graphic. Pejorative term for ugly ASCII art, especially as found in sig blocks. For some reason, mutations of the head of Bart Simpson are particularly common in the least imaginative sig blocks. See warlording.

Node:bubble sort, Next:, Previous:BUAG, Up:= B =

bubble sort n.

Techspeak for a particular sorting technique in which pairs of adjacent values in the list to be sorted are compared and interchanged if they are out of order; thus, list entries `bubble upward' in the list until they bump into one with a lower sort value. Because it is not very good relative to other methods and is the one typically stumbled on by naive and untutored programmers, hackers consider it the canonical example of a naive algorithm. (However, it's been shown by repeated experiment that below about 5000 records bubble-sort is OK anyway.) The canonical example of a really bad algorithm is bogo-sort. A bubble sort might be used out of ignorance, but any use of bogo-sort could issue only from brain damage or willful perversity.

Node:bucky bits, Next:, Previous:bubble sort, Up:= B =

bucky bits /buh'kee bits/ n.

1. obs. The bits produced by the CONTROL and META shift keys on a SAIL keyboard (octal 200 and 400 respectively), resulting in a 9-bit keyboard character set. The MIT AI TV (Knight) keyboards extended this with TOP and separate left and right CONTROL and META keys, resulting in a 12-bit character set; later, LISP Machines added such keys as SUPER, HYPER, and GREEK (see space-cadet keyboard). 2. By extension, bits associated with `extra' shift keys on any keyboard, e.g., the ALT on an IBM PC or command and option keys on a Macintosh.

It has long been rumored that `bucky bits' were named for Buckminster Fuller during a period when he was consulting at Stanford. Actually, bucky bits were invented by Niklaus Wirth when he was at Stanford in 1964-65; he first suggested the idea of an EDIT key to set the 8th bit of an otherwise 7-bit ASCII character). It seems that, unknown to Wirth, certain Stanford hackers had privately nicknamed him `Bucky' after a prominent portion of his dental anatomy, and this nickname transferred to the bit. Bucky-bit commands were used in a number of editors written at Stanford, including most notably TV-EDIT and NLS.

The term spread to MIT and CMU early and is now in general use. Ironically, Wirth himself remained unaware of its derivation for nearly 30 years, until GLS dug up this history in early 1993! See double bucky, quadruple bucky.

Node:buffer chuck, Next:, Previous:bucky bits, Up:= B =

buffer chuck n.

Shorter and ruder syn. for buffer overflow.

Node:buffer overflow, Next:, Previous:buffer chuck, Up:= B =

buffer overflow n.

What happens when you try to stuff more data into a buffer (holding area) than it can handle. This problem is commonly exploited by crackers to get arbitrary commands executed by a program running with root permissions. This may be due to a mismatch in the processing rates of the producing and consuming processes (see overrun and firehose syndrome), or because the buffer is simply too small to hold all the data that must accumulate before a piece of it can be processed. For example, in a text-processing tool that crunches a line at a time, a short line buffer can result in lossage as input from a long line overflows the buffer and trashes data beyond it. Good defensive programming would check for overflow on each character and stop accepting data when the buffer is full up. The term is used of and by humans in a metaphorical sense. "What time did I agree to meet you? My buffer must have overflowed." Or "If I answer that phone my buffer is going to overflow." See also spam, overrun screw.

Node:bug, Next:, Previous:buffer overflow, Up:= B =

bug n.

An unwanted and unintended property of a program or piece of hardware, esp. one that causes it to malfunction. Antonym of feature. Examples: "There's a bug in the editor: it writes things out backwards." "The system crashed because of a hardware bug." "Fred is a winner, but he has a few bugs" (i.e., Fred is a good guy, but he has a few personality problems).

Historical note: Admiral Grace Hopper (an early computing pioneer better known for inventing COBOL) liked to tell a story in which a technician solved a glitch in the Harvard Mark II machine by pulling an actual insect out from between the contacts of one of its relays, and she subsequently promulgated bug in its hackish sense as a joke about the incident (though, as she was careful to admit, she was not there when it happened). For many years the logbook associated with the incident and the actual bug in question (a moth) sat in a display case at the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC). The entire story, with a picture of the logbook and the moth taped into it, is recorded in the "Annals of the History of Computing", Vol. 3, No. 3 (July 1981), pp. 285-286.

The text of the log entry (from September 9, 1947), reads "1545 Relay #70 Panel F (moth) in relay. First actual case of bug being found". This wording establishes that the term was already in use at the time in its current specific sense -- and Hopper herself reports that the term `bug' was regularly applied to problems in radar electronics during WWII.

Indeed, the use of `bug' to mean an industrial defect was already established in Thomas Edison's time, and a more specific and rather modern use can be found in an electrical handbook from 1896 ("Hawkin's New Catechism of Electricity", Theo. Audel & Co.) which says: "The term `bug' is used to a limited extent to designate any fault or trouble in the connections or working of electric apparatus." It further notes that the term is "said to have originated in quadruplex telegraphy and have been transferred to all electric apparatus."

The latter observation may explain a common folk etymology of the term; that it came from telephone company usage, in which "bugs in a telephone cable" were blamed for noisy lines. Though this derivation seems to be mistaken, it may well be a distorted memory of a joke first current among telegraph operators more than a century ago!

Or perhaps not a joke. Historians of the field inform us that the term "bug" was regularly used in the early days of telegraphy to refer to a variety of semi-automatic telegraphy keyers that would send a string of dots if you held them down. In fact, the Vibroplex keyers (which were among the most common of this type) even had a graphic of a beetle on them (and still do)! While the ability to send repeated dots automatically was very useful for professional morse code operators, these were also significantly trickier to use than the older manual keyers, and it could take some practice to ensure one didn't introduce extraneous dots into the code by holding the key down a fraction too long. In the hands of an inexperienced operator, a Vibroplex "bug" on the line could mean that a lot of garbled Morse would soon be coming your way.

Further, the term "bug" has long been used among radio technicians to describe a device that converts electromagnetic field variations into acoustic signals. It is used to trace radio interference and look for dangerous radio emissions. Radio community usage derives from the roach-like shape of the first versions used by 19th century physicists. The first versions consisted of a coil of wire (roach body), with the two wire ends sticking out and bent back to nearly touch forming a spark gap (roach antennae). The bug is to the radio technician what the stethoscope is to the stereotype medical doctor. This sense is almost certainly ancestral to modern use of "bug" for a covert monitoring device, but may also have contributed to the use of "bug" for the effects of radio interference itself.

Actually, use of `bug' in the general sense of a disruptive event goes back to Shakespeare! (Henry VI, part III - Act V, Scene II: King Edward: "So, lie thou there. Die thou; and die our fear; For Warwick was a bug that fear'd us all.") In the first edition of Samuel Johnson's dictionary one meaning of `bug' is "A frightful object; a walking spectre"; this is traced to `bugbear', a Welsh term for a variety of mythological monster which (to complete the circle) has recently been reintroduced into the popular lexicon through fantasy role-playing games.

In any case, in jargon the word almost never refers to insects. Here is a plausible conversation that never actually happened:

"There is a bug in this ant farm!"

"What do you mean? I don't see any ants in it."

"That's the bug."

A careful discussion of the etymological issues can be found in a paper by Fred R. Shapiro, 1987, "Entomology of the Computer Bug: History and Folklore", American Speech 62(4):376-378.

[There has been a widespread myth that the original bug was moved to the Smithsonian, and an earlier version of this entry so asserted. A correspondent who thought to check discovered that the bug was not there. While investigating this in late 1990, your editor discovered that the NSWC still had the bug, but had unsuccessfully tried to get the Smithsonian to accept it -- and that the present curator of their History of American Technology Museum didn't know this and agreed that it would make a worthwhile exhibit. It was moved to the Smithsonian in mid-1991, but due to space and money constraints was not actually exhibited years afterwards. Thus, the process of investigating the original-computer-bug bug fixed it in an entirely unexpected way, by making the myth true! --ESR]

Node:bug-compatible, Next:, Previous:bug, Up:= B =

bug-compatible adj.

[common] Said of a design or revision that has been badly compromised by a requirement to be compatible with fossils or misfeatures in other programs or (esp.) previous releases of itself. "MS-DOS 2.0 used \ as a path separator to be bug-compatible with some cretin's choice of / as an option character in 1.0."

Node:bug-for-bug compatible, Next:, Previous:bug-compatible, Up:= B =

bug-for-bug compatible n.

Same as bug-compatible, with the additional implication that much tedious effort went into ensuring that each (known) bug was replicated.

Node:bug-of-the-month club, Next:, Previous:bug-for-bug compatible, Up:= B =

bug-of-the-month club n.

[from "book-of-the-month club", a time-honored mail-order-marketing technique in the U.S.] A mythical club which users of `sendmail(8)' (the UNIX mail daemon) belong to; this was coined on the Usenet newsgroup at a time when sendmail security holes, which allowed outside crackers access to the system, were being uncovered at an alarming rate, forcing sysadmins to update very often. Also, more completely, `fatal security bug-of-the-month club'.

Node:buglix, Next:, Previous:bug-of-the-month club, Up:= B =

buglix /buhg'liks/ n.

[uncommon] Pejorative term referring to DEC's ULTRIX operating system in its earlier severely buggy versions. Still used to describe ULTRIX, but without nearly so much venom. Compare AIDX, HP-SUX, Nominal Semidestructor, Telerat, sun-stools.

Node:bulletproof, Next:, Previous:buglix, Up:= B =

bulletproof adj.

Used of an algorithm or implementation considered extremely robust; lossage-resistant; capable of correctly recovering from any imaginable exception condition -- a rare and valued quality. Implies that the programmer has thought of all possible errors, and added code to protect against each one. Thus, in some cases, this can imply code that is too heavyweight, due to excessive paranoia on the part of the programmer. Syn. armor-plated.

Node:bum, Next:, Previous:bulletproof, Up:= B =


1. vt. To make highly efficient, either in time or space, often at the expense of clarity. "I managed to bum three more instructions out of that code." "I spent half the night bumming the interrupt code." In 1996, this term and the practice it describes are semi-obsolete. In elder days, John McCarthy (inventor of LISP) used to compare some efficiency-obsessed hackers among his students to "ski bums"; thus, optimization became "program bumming", and eventually just "bumming". 2. To squeeze out excess; to remove something in order to improve whatever it was removed from (without changing function; this distinguishes the process from a featurectomy). 3. n. A small change to an algorithm, program, or hardware device to make it more efficient. "This hardware bum makes the jump instruction faster." Usage: now uncommon, largely superseded by v. tune (and n. tweak, hack), though none of these exactly capture sense 2. All these uses are rare in Commonwealth hackish, because in the parent dialects of English the noun `bum' is a rude synonym for `buttocks' and the verb `bum' for buggery.

Node:bump, Next:, Previous:bum, Up:= B =

bump vt.

Synonym for increment. Has the same meaning as C's ++ operator. Used esp. of counter variables, pointers, and index dummies in for, while, and do-while loops.

Node:burble, Next:, Previous:bump, Up:= B =

burble v.

[from Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky"] Like flame, but connotes that the source is truly clueless and ineffectual (mere flamers can be competent). A term of deep contempt. "There's some guy on the phone burbling about how he got a DISK FULL error and it's all our comm software's fault." This is mainstream slang in some parts of England.

Node:buried treasure, Next:, Previous:burble, Up:= B =

buried treasure n.

A surprising piece of code found in some program. While usually not wrong, it tends to vary from crufty to bletcherous, and has lain undiscovered only because it was functionally correct, however horrible it is. Used sarcastically, because what is found is anything but treasure. Buried treasure almost always needs to be dug up and removed. "I just found that the scheduler sorts its queue using bubble sort! Buried treasure!"

Node:burn-in period, Next:, Previous:buried treasure, Up:= B =

burn-in period n.

1. A factory test designed to catch systems with marginal components before they get out the door; the theory is that burn-in will protect customers by outwaiting the steepest part of the bathtub curve (see infant mortality). 2. A period of indeterminate length in which a person using a computer is so intensely involved in his project that he forgets basic needs such as food, drink, sleep, etc. Warning: Excessive burn-in can lead to burn-out. See hack mode, larval stage.

Historical note: the origin of "burn-in" (sense 1) is apparently the practice of setting a new-model airplane's brakes on fire, then extinguishing the fire, in order to make them hold better. This was done on the first version of the U.S. spy-plane, the U-2.

Node:burst page, Next:, Previous:burn-in period, Up:= B =

burst page n.

Syn. banner, sense 1.

Node:busy-wait, Next:, Previous:burst page, Up:= B =

busy-wait vi.

Used of human behavior, conveys that the subject is busy waiting for someone or something, intends to move instantly as soon as it shows up, and thus cannot do anything else at the moment. "Can't talk now, I'm busy-waiting till Bill gets off the phone."

Technically, `busy-wait' means to wait on an event by spinning through a tight or timed-delay loop that polls for the event on each pass, as opposed to setting up an interrupt handler and continuing execution on another part of the task. This is a wasteful technique, best avoided on time-sharing systems where a busy-waiting program may hog the processor.

Node:buzz, Next:, Previous:busy-wait, Up:= B =

buzz vi.

1. Of a program, to run with no indication of progress and perhaps without guarantee of ever finishing; esp. said of programs thought to be executing tight loops of code. A program that is buzzing appears to be catatonic, but never gets out of catatonia, while a buzzing loop may eventually end of its own accord. "The program buzzes for about 10 seconds trying to sort all the names into order." See spin; see also grovel. 2. [ETA Systems] To test a wire or printed circuit trace for continuity, esp. by applying an AC rather than DC signal. Some wire faults will pass DC tests but fail an AC buzz test. 3. To process an array or list in sequence, doing the same thing to each element. "This loop buzzes through the tz array looking for a terminator type."

Node:BWQ, Next:, Previous:buzz, Up:= B =

BWQ /B-W-Q/ n.

[IBM: abbreviation, `Buzz Word Quotient'] The percentage of buzzwords in a speech or documents. Usually roughly proportional to bogosity. See TLA.

Node:by hand, Next:, Previous:BWQ, Up:= B =

by hand adv.

[common] 1. Said of an operation (especially a repetitive, trivial, and/or tedious one) that ought to be performed automatically by the computer, but which a hacker instead has to step tediously through. "My mailer doesn't have a command to include the text of the message I'm replying to, so I have to do it by hand." This does not necessarily mean the speaker has to retype a copy of the message; it might refer to, say, dropping into a subshell from the mailer, making a copy of one's mailbox file, reading that into an editor, locating the top and bottom of the message in question, deleting the rest of the file, inserting `>' characters on each line, writing the file, leaving the editor, returning to the mailer, reading the file in, and later remembering to delete the file. Compare eyeball search. 2. By extension, writing code which does something in an explicit or low-level way for which a presupplied library routine ought to have been available. "This cretinous B-tree library doesn't supply a decent iterator, so I'm having to walk the trees by hand."

Node:byte, Next:, Previous:by hand, Up:= B =

byte /bi:t/ n.

[techspeak] A unit of memory or data equal to the amount used to represent one character; on modern architectures this is usually 8 bits, but may be 9 on 36-bit machines. Some older architectures used `byte' for quantities of 6 or 7 bits, and the PDP-10 supported `bytes' that were actually bitfields of 1 to 36 bits! These usages are now obsolete, and even 9-bit bytes have become rare in the general trend toward power-of-2 word sizes.

Historical note: The term was coined by Werner Buchholz in 1956 during the early design phase for the IBM Stretch computer; originally it was described as 1 to 6 bits (typical I/O equipment of the period used 6-bit chunks of information). The move to an 8-bit byte happened in late 1956, and this size was later adopted and promulgated as a standard by the System/360. The word was coined by mutating the word `bite' so it would not be accidentally misspelled as bit. See also nybble.

Node:byte sex, Next:, Previous:byte, Up:= B =

byte sex n.

[common] The byte sex of hardware is big-endian or little-endian; see those entries.

Node:bytesexual, Next:, Previous:byte sex, Up:= B =

bytesexual /bi:t`sek'shu-*l/ adj.

[rare] 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). See also NUXI problem.

Node:Bzzzt! Wrong., Next:, Previous:bytesexual, Up:= B =

Bzzzt! Wrong. /bzt rong/ excl.

[common; Usenet/Internet; punctuation varies] From a Robin Williams routine in the movie "Dead Poets Society" spoofing radio or TV quiz programs, such as Truth or Consequences, where an incorrect answer earns one a blast from the buzzer and condolences from the interlocutor. A way of expressing mock-rude disagreement, usually immediately following an included quote from another poster. The less abbreviated "*Bzzzzt*, wrong, but thank you for playing" is also common; capitalization and emphasis of the buzzer sound varies.

Node:= C =, Next:, Previous:= B =, Up:The Jargon Lexicon

= C =

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C n.

1. The third letter of the English alphabet. 2. ASCII 1000011. 3. The name of a programming language designed by Dennis Ritchie during the early 1970s and immediately used to reimplement Unix; so called because many features derived from an earlier compiler named `B' in commemoration of its parent, BCPL. (BCPL was in turn descended from an earlier Algol-derived language, CPL.) 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 also languages of choice, indent style.

C is often described, with a mixture of fondness and disdain varying according to the speaker, as "a language that combines all the elegance and power of assembly language with all the readability and maintainability of assembly language".

Node:C Programmer's Disease, Next:, Previous:C, Up:= C =

C Programmer's Disease n.

The tendency of the undisciplined C programmer to set arbitrary but supposedly generous static limits on table sizes (defined, if you're lucky, by constants in header files) rather than taking the trouble to do proper dynamic storage allocation. If an application user later needs to put 68 elements into a table of size 50, the afflicted programmer reasons that he or she can easily reset the table size to 68 (or even as much as 70, to allow for future expansion) and recompile. This gives the programmer the comfortable feeling of having made the effort to satisfy the user's (unreasonable) demands, and often affords the user multiple opportunities to explore the marvelous consequences of fandango on core. In severe cases of the disease, the programmer cannot comprehend why each fix of this kind seems only to further disgruntle the user.

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C++ /C'-pluhs-pluhs/ n.

Designed by Bjarne Stroustrup of AT&T Bell Labs as a successor to C. Now one of the languages of choice, although many hackers still grumble that it is the successor to either Algol 68 or Ada (depending on generation), and a prime example of second-system effect. Almost anything that can be done in any language can be done in C++, but it requires a language lawyer to know what is and what is not legal-- the design is almost too large to hold in even hackers' heads. Much of the cruft results from C++'s attempt to be backward compatible with C. Stroustrup himself has said in his retrospective book "The Design and Evolution of C++" (p. 207), "Within C++, there is a much smaller and cleaner language struggling to get out." [Many hackers would now add "Yes, and it's called Java" --ESR]

Node:calculator, Next:, Previous:C++, Up:= C =

calculator [Cambridge] n.

Syn. for bitty box.

Node:Camel Book, Next:, Previous:calculator, Up:= C =

Camel Book n.

Universally recognized nickname for the book "Programming Perl", by Larry Wall and Randal L. Schwartz, O'Reilly and Associates 1991, ISBN 0-937175-64-1 (second edition 1996, ISBN 1-56592-149-6). The definitive reference on Perl.

Node:can, Next:, Previous:Camel Book, Up:= C =

can vt.

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!" Synonymous with gun. It is said that the ASCII character with mnemonic CAN (0011000) was used as a kill-job character on some early OSes. Alternatively, this term may derive from mainstream slang `canned' for being laid off or fired.

Node:can't happen, Next:, Previous:can, Up:= C =

can't happen

The traditional program comment for code executed under a condition that should never be true, for example a file size computed as negative. Often, such a condition being true indicates data corruption or a faulty algorithm; it is almost always handled by emitting a fatal error message and terminating or crashing, since there is little else that can be done. Some case variant of "can't happen" is also often the text emitted if the `impossible' error actually happens! Although "can't happen" events are genuinely infrequent in production code, programmers wise enough to check for them habitually are often surprised at how frequently they are triggered during development and how many headaches checking for them turns out to head off. See also firewall code (sense 2).

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cancelbot /kan'sel-bot/

[Usenet: compound, cancel + robot] 1. Mythically, a robocanceller 2. In reality, most cancelbots are manually operated by being fed lists of spam message IDs.

Node:Cancelmoose[tm], Next:, Previous:cancelbot, Up:= C =

Cancelmoose[tm] /kan'sel-moos/

[Usenet] The archetype and model of all good spam-fighters. Once upon a time, the 'Moose would send out spam-cancels and then post notice anonymously to news.admin.policy, news.admin.misc, and The 'Moose stepped to the fore on its own initiative, at a time (mid-1994) when spam-cancels were irregular and disorganized, and behaved altogether admirably - fair, even-handed, and quick to respond to comments and criticism, all without self-aggrandizement or martyrdom. Cancelmoose[tm] quickly gained near-unanimous support from the readership of all three above-mentioned groups.

Nobody knows who Cancelmoose[tm] really is, and there aren't even any good rumors. However, the 'Moose now has an e-mail address ( and a web site (

By early 1995, others had stepped into the spam-cancel business, and appeared to be comporting themselves well, after the 'Moose's manner. The 'Moose has now gotten out of the business, and is more interested in ending spam (and cancels) entirely.

Node:candygrammar, Next:, Previous:Cancelmoose[tm], Up:= C =

candygrammar n.

A programming-language grammar that is mostly syntactic sugar; the term is also a play on `candygram'. COBOL, Apple's Hypertalk language, and a lot of the so-called `4GL' database languages share this property. The usual intent of such designs is that they be as English-like as possible, on the theory that they will then be easier for unskilled people to program. This intention comes to grief on the reality that syntax isn't what makes programming hard; it's the mental effort and organization required to specify an algorithm precisely that costs. Thus the invariable result is that `candygrammar' languages are just as difficult to program in as terser ones, and far more painful for the experienced hacker.

[The overtones from the old Chevy Chase skit on Saturday Night Live should not be overlooked. This was a "Jaws" parody. Someone lurking outside an apartment door tries all kinds of bogus ways to get the occupant to open up, while ominous music plays in the background. The last attempt is a half-hearted "Candygram!" When the door is opened, a shark bursts in and chomps the poor occupant. [There is a similar gag in "Blazing Saddles" --ESR] There is a moral here for those attracted to candygrammars. Note that, in many circles, pretty much the same ones who remember Monty Python sketches, all it takes is the word "Candygram!", suitably timed, to get people rolling on the floor. -- GLS]

Node:canonical, Next:, Previous:candygrammar, Up:= C =

canonical adj.

[very common; historically, `according to religious law'] The usual or standard state or manner of something. This word has a somewhat more technical meaning in mathematics. Two formulas such as 9 + x and x + 9 are said to be equivalent because they mean the same thing, but the second one is in `canonical form' because it is written in the usual way, with the highest power of x first. Usually there are fixed rules you can use to decide whether something is in canonical form. The jargon meaning, a relaxation of the technical meaning, acquired its present loading in computer-science culture largely through its prominence in Alonzo Church's work in computation theory and mathematical logic (see Knights of the Lambda Calculus). Compare vanilla.

Non-technical academics do not use the adjective `canonical' in any of the senses defined above with any regularity; they do however use the nouns `canon' and `canonicity' (not **canonicalness or **canonicality). The `canon' of a given author is the complete body of authentic works by that author (this usage is familiar to Sherlock Holmes fans as well as to literary scholars). `The canon' is the body of works in a given field (e.g., works of literature, or of art, or of music) deemed worthwhile for students to study and for scholars to investigate.

The word `canon' has an interesting history. It derives ultimately from the Greek `kanon' (akin to the English `cane') referring to a reed. Reeds were used for measurement, and in Latin and later Greek the word `canon' meant a rule or a standard. The establishment of a canon of scriptures within Christianity was meant to define a standard or a rule for the religion. The above non-techspeak academic usages stem from this instance of a defined and accepted body of work. Alongside this usage was the promulgation of `canons' (`rules') for the government of the Catholic Church. The techspeak usages ("according to religious law") derive from this use of the Latin `canon'.

Hackers invest this term with a playfulness that makes an ironic contrast with its historical meaning. A true story: One Bob Sjoberg, new at the MIT AI Lab, expressed some annoyance at the incessant use of jargon. Over his loud objections, GLS and RMS made a point of using as much of it 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: "Bob just used `canonical' in the canonical way."

Of course, canonicality depends on context, but it is implicitly defined as the way hackers normally expect things to be. Thus, a hacker may claim with a straight face that `according to religious law' is not the canonical meaning of `canonical'.

Node:card walloper, Next:, Previous:canonical, Up:= C =

card walloper n.

An EDP programmer who grinds out batch programs that do stupid things like print people's paychecks. Compare code grinder. See also punched card, eighty-column mind.

Node:careware, Next:, Previous:card walloper, Up:= C =

careware /keir'weir/ n.

A variety of shareware for which either the author suggests that some payment be made to a nominated charity or a levy directed to charity is included on top of the distribution charge. Syn. charityware; compare crippleware, sense 2.

Node:cargo cult programming, Next:, Previous:careware, Up:= C =

cargo cult programming n.

A style of (incompetent) programming dominated by ritual inclusion of code or program structures that serve no real purpose. A cargo cult programmer will usually explain the extra code as a way of working around some bug encountered in the past, but usually neither the bug nor the reason the code apparently avoided the bug was ever fully understood (compare shotgun debugging, voodoo programming).

The term `cargo cult' is a reference to aboriginal religions that grew up in the South Pacific after World War II. The practices of these cults center on building elaborate mockups of airplanes and military style landing strips in the hope of bringing the return of the god-like airplanes that brought such marvelous cargo during the war. Hackish usage probably derives from Richard Feynman's characterization of certain practices as "cargo cult science" in his book "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" (W. W. Norton & Co, New York 1985, ISBN 0-393-01921-7).

Node:cascade, Next:, Previous:cargo cult programming, Up:= C =

cascade n.

1. A huge volume of spurious error-message output produced by a compiler with poor error recovery. Too frequently, one trivial syntax error (such as a missing `)' or `}') throws the parser out of synch so that much of the remaining program text is interpreted as garbaged or ill-formed. 2. A chain of Usenet followups, each adding some trivial variation or riposte to the text of the previous one, all of which is reproduced in the new message; an include war in which the object is to create a sort of communal graffito.

Node:case and paste, Next:, Previous:cascade, Up:= C =

case and paste n.

[from `cut and paste'] 1. The addition of a new feature to an existing system by selecting the code from an existing feature and pasting it in with minor changes. Common in telephony circles because most operations in a telephone switch are selected using case statements. Leads to software bloat.

In some circles of EMACS users this is called `programming by Meta-W', because Meta-W is the EMACS command for copying a block of text to a kill buffer in preparation to pasting it in elsewhere. The term is condescending, implying that the programmer is acting mindlessly rather than thinking carefully about what is required to integrate the code for two similar cases.

At DEC (now Compaq), this is sometimes called `clone-and-hack' coding.

Node:casters-up mode, Next:, Previous:case and paste, Up:= C =

casters-up mode n.

[IBM, prob. fr. slang belly up] Yet another synonym for `broken' or `down'. Usually connotes a major failure. A system (hardware or software) which is `down' may be already being restarted before the failure is noticed, whereas one which is `casters up' is usually a good excuse to take the rest of the day off (as long as you're not responsible for fixing it).

Node:casting the runes, Next:, Previous:casters-up mode, Up:= C =

casting the runes n.

What a guru does when you ask him or her to run a particular program and type at it because it never works for anyone else; esp. used when nobody can ever see what the guru is doing different from what J. Random Luser does. Compare incantation, runes, examining the entrails; also see the AI koan about Tom Knight in "Some AI Koans" (Appendix A).

A correspondent from England tells us that one of ICL's most talented systems designers used to be called out occasionally to service machines which the field circus had given up on. Since he knew the design inside out, he could often find faults simply by listening to a quick outline of the symptoms. He used to play on this by going to some site where the field circus had just spent the last two weeks solid trying to find a fault, and spreading a diagram of the system out on a table top. He'd then shake some chicken bones and cast them over the diagram, peer at the bones intently for a minute, and then tell them that a certain module needed replacing. The system would start working again immediately upon the replacement.

Node:cat, Next:, Previous:casting the runes, Up:= C =

cat [from `catenate' via Unix cat(1)] vt.

1. [techspeak] To spew an entire file to the screen or some other output sink without pause. 2. 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.

Among Unix fans, cat(1) is considered an excellent example of user-interface design, because it delivers the file contents without such verbosity as spacing or headers between the files, and because it does not require the files to consist of lines of text, but works with any sort of data.

Among Unix haters, cat(1) is considered the canonical example of bad user-interface design, because of its woefully unobvious name. It is far more often used to blast a file to standard output than to concatenate two files. The name cat for the former operation is just as unintuitive as, say, LISP's cdr.

Of such oppositions are holy wars made....

Node:catatonic, Next:, Previous:cat, Up:= C =

catatonic adj.

Describes a condition of suspended animation in which something is so wedged or hung that it makes no response. If you are typing on a terminal and suddenly the computer doesn't even echo the letters back to the screen as you type, let alone do what you're asking it to do, then the computer is suffering from catatonia (possibly because it has crashed). "There I was in the middle of a winning game of nethack and it went catatonic on me! Aaargh!" Compare buzz.

Node:cathedral, Next:, Previous:catatonic, Up:= C =

cathedral n.,adj.

[see bazaar for derivation] The `classical' mode of software engineering long thought to be necessarily implied by Brooks's Law. Features small teams, tight project control, and long release intervals. This term came into use after analysis of the GNU/Linux experience suggested there might be something wrong (or at least incomplete) in the classical assumptions.

Node:cd tilde, Next:, Previous:cathedral, Up:= C =

cd tilde /C-D til-d*/ vi.

To go home. From the Unix C-shell and Korn-shell command cd ~, which takes one to one's $HOME (cd with no arguments happens to do the same thing). By extension, may be used with other arguments; thus, over an electronic chat link, cd ~coffee would mean "I'm going to the coffee machine."

Node:CDA, Next:, Previous:cd tilde, Up:= C =


The "Communications Decency Act" of 1996, passed on Black Thursday as section 502 of a major telecommunications reform bill. The CDA made it a federal crime in the USA to send a communication which is "obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, or indecent, with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass another person." It also threatened with imprisonment anyone who "knowingly" makes accessible to minors any message that "describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards, sexual or excretory activities or organs".

While the CDA was sold as a measure to protect minors from the putative evils of pornography, the repressive political aims of the bill were laid bare by the Hyde amendment, which intended to outlaw discussion of abortion on the Internet.

To say that this direct attack on First Amendment free-speech rights was not well received on the Internet would be putting it mildly. A firestorm of protest followed, including a February 29th mass demonstration by thousands of netters who turned their home pages black for 48 hours. Several civil-rights groups and computing/telecommunications companies mounted a constitutional challenge. The CDA was demolished by a strongly-worded decision handed down on in 8th-circuit Federal court and subsequently affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court on 26 June 1997 (`White Thursday'). See also Exon.

Node:cdr, Next:, Previous:CDA, Up:= C =

cdr /ku'dr/ or /kuh'dr/ vt.

[from LISP] To skip past the first item from a list of things (generalized from the LISP operation on binary tree structures, which returns a list consisting of all but the first element of its argument). In the form `cdr down', to trace down a list of elements: "Shall we cdr down the agenda?" Usage: silly. See also loop through.

Historical note: The instruction format of the IBM 704 that hosted the original LISP implementation featured two 15-bit fields called the `address' and `decrement' parts. The term `cdr' was originally `Contents of Decrement part of Register'. Similarly, `car' stood for `Contents of Address part of Register'.

The cdr and car operations have since become bases for formation of compound metaphors in non-LISP contexts. GLS recalls, for example, a programming project in which strings were represented as linked lists; the get-character and skip-character operations were of course called CHAR and CHDR.

Node:chad, Next:, Previous:cdr, Up:= C =

chad /chad/ n.

1. [common] The perforated edge strips on printer paper, after they have been separated from the printed portion. Also called selvage, perf, and ripoff. 2. obs. The confetti-like paper bits punched out of cards or paper tape; this has also been called `chaff', `computer confetti', and `keypunch droppings'. It's reported that this was very old Army slang, and it may now be mainstream; it has been reported seen (1993) in directions for a card-based voting machine in California.

Historical note: One correspondent believes `chad' (sense 2) derives from the Chadless keypunch (named for its inventor), which cut little u-shaped tabs in the card to make a hole when the tab folded back, rather than punching out a circle/rectangle; it was clear that if the Chadless keypunch didn't make them, then the stuff that other keypunches made had to be `chad'. There is a legend that the word was originally acronymic, standing for "Card Hole Aggregate Debris", but this has all the earmarks of a backronym.

Node:chad box, Next:, Previous:chad, Up:= C =

chad box n.

A metal box about the size of a lunchbox (or in some models a large wastebasket), for collecting the chad (sense 2) that accumulated in Iron Age card punches. You had to open the covers of the card punch periodically and empty the chad box. The bit bucket was notionally the equivalent device in the CPU enclosure, which was typically across the room in another great gray-and-blue box.

Node:chain, Next:, Previous:chad box, Up:= C =


1. vi. [orig. from BASIC's CHAIN statement] To hand off execution to a child or successor without going through the OS command interpreter that invoked it. 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'. 2. n. A series of linked data areas within an operating system or application. `Chain rattling' is the process of repeatedly running through the linked data areas searching for one which is of interest to the executing program. The implication is that there is a very large number of links on the chain.

Node:channel, Next:, Previous:chain, Up:= C =

channel n.

[IRC] The basic unit of discussion on IRC. Once one joins a channel, everything one types is read by others on that channel. Channels are named with strings that begin with a `#' sign and can have topic descriptions (which are generally irrelevant to the actual subject of discussion). Some notable channels are #initgame, #hottub, callahans, and #report. At times of international crisis, #report has hundreds of members, some of whom take turns listening to various news services and typing in summaries of the news, or in some cases, giving first-hand accounts of the action (e.g., Scud missile attacks in Tel Aviv during the Gulf War in 1991).

Node:channel hopping, Next:, Previous:channel, Up:= C =

channel hopping n.

[common; IRC, GEnie] To rapidly switch channels on IRC, or a GEnie chat board, just as a social butterfly might hop from one group to another at a party. This term may derive from the TV watcher's idiom, `channel surfing'.

Node:channel op, Next:, Previous:channel hopping, Up:= C =

channel op /chan'l op/ n.

[IRC] Someone who is endowed with privileges on a particular IRC channel; commonly abbreviated `chanop' or `CHOP'. These privileges include the right to kick users, to change various status bits, and to make others into CHOPs.

Node:chanop, Next:, Previous:channel op, Up:= C =

chanop /chan'-op/ n.

[IRC] See channel op.

Node:char, Next:, Previous:chanop, Up:= C =

char /keir/ or /char/; rarely, /kar/ n.

Shorthand for `character'. Esp. used by C programmers, as `char' is C's typename for character data.

Node:charityware, Next:, Previous:char, Up:= C =

charityware /cha'rit-ee-weir`/ n.

Syn. careware.

Node:chase pointers, Next:, Previous:charityware, Up:= C =

chase pointers

1. vi. 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. This is techspeak, but it remains jargon when used of human networks. "I'm chasing pointers. Bob said you could tell me who to talk to about...." See dangling pointer and snap. 2. [Cambridge] `pointer chase' or `pointer hunt': The process of going through a core dump (sense 1), interactively or on a large piece of paper printed with hex runes, following dynamic data-structures. Used only in a debugging context.

Node:chawmp, Next:, Previous:chase pointers, Up:= C =

chawmp n.

[University of Florida] 16 or 18 bits (half of a machine word). This term was used by FORTH hackers during the late 1970s/early 1980s; it is said to have been archaic then, and may now be obsolete. It was coined in revolt against the promiscuous use of `word' for anything between 16 and 32 bits; `word' has an additional special meaning for FORTH hacks that made the overloading intolerable. For similar reasons, /gaw'bl/ (spelled `gawble' or possibly `gawbul') was in use as a term for 32 or 48 bits (presumably a full machine word, but our sources are unclear on this). These terms are more easily understood if one thinks of them as faithful phonetic spellings of `chomp' and `gobble' pronounced in a Florida or other Southern U.S. dialect. For general discussion of similar terms, see nybble.

Node:check, Next:, Previous:chawmp, Up:= C =

check n.

A hardware-detected error condition, most commonly used to refer to actual hardware failures rather than software-induced traps. E.g., a `parity check' is the result of a hardware-detected parity error. Recorded here because the word often humorously extended to non-technical problems. For example, the term `child check' has been used to refer to the problems caused by a small child who is curious to know what happens when s/he presses all the cute buttons on a computer's console (of course, this particular problem could have been prevented with molly-guards).

Node:cheerfully, Next:, Previous:check, Up:= C =

cheerfully adv.

See happily.

Node:chemist, Next:, Previous:cheerfully, Up:= C =

chemist n.

[Cambridge] Someone who wastes computer time on number-crunching when you'd far rather the machine were doing something more productive, such as working out anagrams of your name or printing Snoopy calendars or running life patterns. May or may not refer to someone who actually studies chemistry.

Node:Chernobyl chicken, Next:, Previous:chemist, Up:= C =

Chernobyl chicken n.

See laser chicken.

Node:Chernobyl packet, Next:, Previous:Chernobyl chicken, Up:= C =

Chernobyl packet /cher-noh'b*l pak'*t/ n.

A network packet that induces a broadcast storm and/or network meltdown, in memory of the April 1986 nuclear accident at Chernobyl in Ukraine. The typical scenario involves an IP Ethernet datagram that passes through a gateway with both source and destination Ether and IP address set as the respective broadcast addresses for the subnetworks being gated between. Compare Christmas tree packet.

Node:chicken head, Next:, Previous:Chernobyl packet, Up:= C =

chicken head n.

[Commodore] The Commodore Business Machines logo, which strongly resembles a poultry part (within Commodore itself the logo was always called `chicken lips'). Rendered in ASCII as `C='. With the arguable exception of the Amiga (see amoeba), Commodore's machines are notoriously crocky little bitty boxes (see also PETSCII). Thus, this usage may owe something to Philip K. Dick's novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" (the basis for the movie "Blade Runner"; the novel is now sold under that title), in which a `chickenhead' is a mutant with below-average intelligence.

Node:chiclet keyboard, Next:, Previous:chicken head, Up:= C =

chiclet keyboard n.

A keyboard with a small, flat rectangular or lozenge-shaped rubber or plastic keys that look like pieces of chewing gum. (Chiclets is the brand name of a variety of chewing gum that does in fact resemble the keys of chiclet keyboards.) Used esp. to describe the original IBM PCjr keyboard. Vendors unanimously liked these because they were cheap, and a lot of early portable and laptop products got launched using them. Customers rejected the idea with almost equal unanimity, and chiclets are not often seen on anything larger than a digital watch any more.

Node:Chinese Army technique, Next:, Previous:chiclet keyboard, Up:= C =

Chinese Army technique n.

Syn. Mongolian Hordes technique.

Node:choad, Next:, Previous:Chinese Army technique, Up:= C =

choad /chohd/ n.

Synonym for `penis' used in alt.tasteless and popularized by the denizens thereof. They say: "We think maybe it's from Middle English but we're all too damned lazy to check the OED." [I'm not. It isn't. --ESR] This term is alleged to have been inherited through 1960s underground comics, and to have been recently sighted in the Beavis and Butthead cartoons. Speakers of the Hindi, Bengali and Gujarati languages have confirmed that `choad' is in fact an Indian vernacular word equivalent to `fuck'; it is therefore likely to have entered English slang via the British Raj.

Node:choke, Next:, Previous:choad, Up:= C =

choke v.

1. [common] To reject input, often ungracefully. "NULs make System V's lpr(1) choke." "I tried building an EMACS binary to use X, but cpp(1) choked on all those #defines." See barf, gag, vi. 2. [MIT] More generally, to fail at any endeavor, but with some flair or bravado; the popular definition is "to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory."

Node:chomp, Next:, Previous:choke, Up:= C =

chomp vi.

1. To lose; specifically, to chew on something of which more was bitten off than one can. Probably related to gnashing of teeth. 2. To bite the bag; See bagbiter.

A hand gesture commonly accompanies this. To perform it, hold the four fingers together and place the thumb against their tips. Now open and close your hand rapidly to suggest a biting action (much like what Pac-Man does in the classic video game, though this pantomime seems to predate that). The gesture alone means `chomp chomp' (see "Verb Doubling" in the "Jargon Construction" section of the Prependices). The hand may be pointed at the object of complaint, and for real emphasis you can use both hands at once. Doing this to a person is equivalent to saying "You chomper!" If you point the gesture at yourself, it is a humble but humorous admission of some failure. You might do this if someone told you that a program you had written had failed in some surprising way and you felt dumb for not having anticipated it.

Node:chomper, Next:, Previous:chomp, Up:= C =

chomper n.

Someone or something that is chomping; a loser. See loser, bagbiter, chomp.

Node:CHOP, Next:, Previous:chomper, Up:= C =

CHOP /chop/ n.

[IRC] See channel op.

Node:Christmas tree, Next:, Previous:CHOP, Up:= C =

Christmas tree n.

A kind of RS-232 line tester or breakout box featuring rows of blinking red and green LEDs suggestive of Christmas lights.

Node:Christmas tree packet, Next:, Previous:Christmas tree, Up:= C =

Christmas tree packet n.

A packet with every single option set for whatever protocol is in use. See kamikaze packet, Chernobyl packet. (The term doubtless derives from a fanciful image of each little option bit being represented by a different-colored light bulb, all turned on.) Compare Godzillagram.

Node:chrome, Next:, Previous:Christmas tree packet, Up:= C =

chrome n.

[from automotive slang via wargaming] Showy features added to attract users but contributing little or nothing to the power of a system. "The 3D icons in Motif are just chrome, but they certainly are pretty chrome!" Distinguished from bells and whistles by the fact that the latter are usually added to gratify developers' own desires for featurefulness. Often used as a term of contempt.

Node:chug, Next:, Previous:chrome, Up:= C =

chug vi.

To run slowly; to grind or grovel. "The disk is chugging like crazy."

Node:Church of the SubGenius, Next:, Previous:chug, Up:= C =

Church of the SubGenius n.

A mutant offshoot of Discordianism launched in 1981 as a spoof of fundamentalist Christianity by the `Reverend' 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 SubGenius theory is concerned with the acquisition of the mystical substance or quality of slack. There is a home page at

Node:Cinderella Book, Next:, Previous:Church of the SubGenius, Up:= C =

Cinderella Book [CMU] n.

"Introduction to Automata Theory, Languages, and Computation", by John Hopcroft and Jeffrey Ullman, (Addison-Wesley, 1979). So called because the cover depicts a girl (putatively Cinderella) sitting in front of a Rube Goldberg device and holding a rope coming out of it. On the back cover, the device is in shambles after she has (inevitably) pulled on the rope. See also book titles.

Node:CI$, Next:, Previous:Cinderella Book, Up:= C =

CI$ // n.

Hackerism for `CIS', CompuServe Information Service. The dollar sign refers to CompuServe's rather steep line charges. Often used in sig blocks just before a CompuServe address. Syn. Compu$erve.

Node:Classic C, Next:, Previous:CI$, Up:= C =

Classic C /klas'ik C/ n.

[a play on `Coke Classic'] The C programming language as defined in the first edition of K&R, with some small additions. It is also known as `K&R C'. The name came into use while C was being standardized by the ANSI X3J11 committee. Also `C Classic'.

An analogous construction is sometimes applied elsewhere: thus, `X Classic', where X = Star Trek (referring to the original TV series) or X = PC (referring to IBM's ISA-bus machines as opposed to the PS/2 series). This construction is especially used of product series in which the newer versions are considered serious losers relative to the older ones.

Node:clean, Next:, Previous:Classic C, Up:= C =

clean 1. adj.

Used of hardware or software designs, implies `elegance in the small', that is, a design or implementation that may not hold any surprises but does things in a way that is reasonably intuitive and relatively easy to comprehend from the outside. The antonym is `grungy' or crufty. 2. v. To remove unneeded or undesired files in a effort to reduce clutter: "I'm cleaning up my account." "I cleaned up the garbage and now have 100 Meg free on that partition."

Node:CLM, Next:, Previous:clean, Up:= C =


[Sun: `Career Limiting Move'] 1. n. An action endangering one's future prospects of getting plum projects and raises, and possibly one's job: "His Halloween costume was a parody of his manager. He won the prize for `best CLM'." 2. adj. Denotes extreme severity of a bug, discovered by a customer and obviously missed earlier because of poor testing: "That's a CLM bug!"

Node:clobber, Next:, Previous:CLM, Up:= C =

clobber vt.

To overwrite, usually unintentionally: "I walked off the end of the array and clobbered the stack." Compare mung, scribble, trash, and smash the stack.

Node:clock, Next:, Previous:clobber, Up:= C =


1. n 1. [techspeak] The master oscillator that steps a CPU or other digital circuit through its paces. This has nothing to do with the time of day, although the software counter that keeps track of the latter may be derived from the former. 2. vt. To run a CPU or other digital circuit at a particular rate. "If you clock it at 100MHz, it gets warm.". See overclock. 3. vt. To force a digital circuit from one state to the next by applying a single clock pulse. "The data must be stable 10ns before you clock the latch."

Node:clocks, Next:, Previous:clock, Up:= C =

clocks 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 second; one good reason for this is that clock speeds for various models of the machine may increase as technology improves, and it is usually the relative times one is interested in when discussing the instruction set. Compare cycle, jiffy.

Node:clone, Next:, Previous:clocks, Up:= C =

clone n.

1. An exact duplicate: "Our product is a clone of their product." Implies a legal reimplementation from documentation or by reverse-engineering. Also connotes lower price. 2. A shoddy, spurious copy: "Their product is a clone of our product." 3. A blatant ripoff, most likely violating copyright, patent, or trade secret protections: "Your product is a clone of my product." This use implies legal action is pending. 4. `PC clone:' a PC-BUS/ISA or EISA-compatible 80x86-based microcomputer (this use is sometimes spelled `klone' or `PClone'). These invariably have much more bang for the buck than the IBM archetypes they resemble. 5. In the construction `Unix clone': An OS designed to deliver a Unix-lookalike environment without Unix license fees, or with additional `mission-critical' features such as support for real-time programming. 6. v. To make an exact copy of something. "Let me clone that" might mean "I want to borrow that paper so I can make a photocopy" or "Let me get a copy of that file before you mung it".

Node:clone-and-hack coding, Next:, Previous:clone, Up:= C =

clone-and-hack coding n.

[DEC] Syn. case and paste.

Node:clover key, Next:, Previous:clone-and-hack coding, Up:= C =

clover key n.

[Mac users] See feature key.

Node:clue-by-four, Next:, Previous:clover key, Up:= C =


[Usenet: portmanteau, clue + two-by-four] The notional stick with which one whacks an aggressively clueless person. This term derives from a western American folk saying about training a mule "First, you got to hit him with a two-by-four. That's to get his attention." The clue-by-four is a close relative of the LART.

Node:clustergeeking, Next:, Previous:clue-by-four, Up:= C =

clustergeeking /kluh'st*r-gee`king/ n.

[CMU] Spending more time at a computer cluster doing CS homework than most people spend breathing.

Node:coaster, Next:, Previous:clustergeeking, Up:= C =

coaster n.

1. Unuseable CD produced during failed attempt at writing to writeable or re-writeable CD media. Certainly related to the coaster-like shape of a CD, and the relative value of these failures. "I made a lot of coasters before I got a good CD." 2. Useless CDs received in the mail from the likes of AOL, MSN, CI$, Prodigy, ad nauseam.

Node:COBOL, Next:, Previous:coaster, Up:= C =

COBOL /koh'bol/ n.

[COmmon Business-Oriented Language] (Synonymous with evil.) A weak, verbose, and flabby language used by card wallopers to do boring mindless things on dinosaur mainframes. Hackers believe that all COBOL programmers are suits or code grinders, and no self-respecting hacker will ever admit to having learned the language. Its very name is seldom uttered without ritual expressions of disgust or horror. One popular one is Edsger W. Dijkstra's famous observation that "The use of COBOL cripples the mind; its teaching should, therefore, be regarded as a criminal offense." (from "Selected Writings on Computing: A Personal Perspective") See also fear and loathing, software rot.

Node:COBOL fingers, Next:, Previous:COBOL, Up:= C =

COBOL fingers /koh'bol fing'grz/ n.

Reported from Sweden, a (hypothetical) disease one might get from coding in COBOL. The language requires code verbose beyond all reason (see candygrammar); thus it is alleged that programming too much in COBOL causes one's fingers to wear down to stubs by the endless typing. "I refuse to type in all that source code again; it would give me COBOL fingers!"

Node:cobweb site, Next:, Previous:COBOL fingers, Up:= C =

cobweb site n.

A World Wide Web Site that hasn't been updated so long it has figuratively grown cobwebs.

Node:code, Next:, Previous:cobweb site, Up:= C =

code n.

The stuff that software writers write, either in source form or after translation by a compiler or assembler. Often used in opposition to "data", which is the stuff that code operates on. This is a mass noun, as in "How much code does it take to do a bubble sort?", or "The code is loaded at the high end of RAM." Anyone referring to software as "the software codes" is probably a newbie or a suit.

Node:code grinder, Next:, Previous:code, Up:= C =

code grinder 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. In its native habitat, the code grinder often removes the suit jacket to reveal an underplumage consisting of button-down shirt (starch optional) and a tie. In times of dire stress, the sleeves (if long) may be rolled up and the tie loosened about half an inch. It seldom helps. The code grinder's milieu is about as far from hackerdom as one can get and still touch a computer; the term connotes pity. See Real World, suit. 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, brute force, and utter lack of imagination. Compare card walloper; contrast hacker, Real Programmer.

Node:code monkey, Next:, Previous:code grinder, Up:= C =

code monkey n

1. A person only capable of grinding out code, but unable to perform the higher-primate tasks of software architecture, analysis, and design. Mildly insulting. Often applied to the most junior people on a programming team. 2. Anyone who writes code for a living; a programmer. 3. A self-deprecating way of denying responsibility for a management decision, or of complaining about having to live with such decisions. As in "Don't ask me why we need to write a compiler in+COBOL, I'm just a code monkey."

Node:Code of the Geeks, Next:, Previous:code monkey, Up:= C =

Code of the Geeks n.

see geek code.

Node:code police, Next:, Previous:Code of the Geeks, Up:= C =

code police n.

[by analogy with George Orwell's `thought police'] A mythical team of Gestapo-like storm troopers that might burst into one's office and arrest one for violating programming style rules. May be used either seriously, to underline a claim that a particular style violation is dangerous, or ironically, to suggest that the practice under discussion is condemned mainly by anal-retentive weenies. "Dike out that goto or the code police will get you!" The ironic usage is perhaps more common.

Node:codes, Next:, Previous:code police, Up:= C =

codes n.

[scientific computing] Programs. This usage is common in people who hack supercomputers and heavy-duty number-crunching, rare to unknown elsewhere (if you say "codes" to hackers outside scientific computing, their first association is likely to be "and cyphers").

Node:codewalker, Next:, Previous:codes, Up:= C =

codewalker 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. Other utility programs that try to do too much with source code may turn into codewalkers. As in "This new vgrind feature would require a codewalker to implement."

Node:coefficient of X, Next:, Previous:codewalker, Up:= C =

coefficient of X n.

Hackish speech makes heavy use of pseudo-mathematical metaphors. Four particularly important ones involve the terms `coefficient', `factor', `index of X', and `quotient'. They are often loosely applied to things you cannot really be quantitative about, but there are subtle distinctions among them that convey information about the way the speaker mentally models whatever he or she is describing.

`Foo factor' and `foo quotient' tend to describe something for which the issue is one of presence or absence. The canonical example is fudge factor. It's not important how much you're fudging; the term simply acknowledges that some fudging is needed. You might talk of liking a movie for its silliness factor. Quotient tends to imply that the property is a ratio of two opposing factors: "I would have won except for my luck quotient." This could also be "I would have won except for the luck factor", but using quotient emphasizes that it was bad luck overpowering good luck (or someone else's good luck overpowering your own).

`Foo index' and `coefficient of foo' both tend to imply that foo is, if not strictly measurable, at least something that can be larger or smaller. Thus, you might refer to a paper or person as having a `high bogosity index', whereas you would be less likely to speak of a `high bogosity factor'. `Foo index' suggests that foo is a condensation of many quantities, as in the mundane cost-of-living index; `coefficient of foo' suggests that foo is a fundamental quantity, as in a coefficient of friction. The choice between these terms is often one of personal preference; e.g., some people might feel that bogosity is a fundamental attribute and thus say `coefficient of bogosity', whereas others might feel it is a combination of factors and thus say `bogosity index'.

Node:cokebottle, Next:, Previous:coefficient of X, Up:= C =

cokebottle /kohk'bot-l/ n.

Any very unusual character, particularly one you can't type because it isn't on your keyboard. MIT people used to complain about the `control-meta-cokebottle' commands at SAIL, and SAIL people complained right back about the `escape-escape-cokebottle' commands at MIT. After the demise of the space-cadet keyboard, `cokebottle' faded away as serious usage, but was often invoked humorously to describe an (unspecified) weird or non-intuitive keystroke command. It may be due for a second inning, however. The OSF/Motif window manager, mwm(1), has a reserved keystroke for switching to the default set of keybindings and behavior. This keystroke is (believe it or not) `control-meta-bang' (see bang). Since the exclamation point looks a lot like an upside down Coke bottle, Motif hackers have begun referring to this keystroke as `cokebottle'. See also quadruple bucky.

Node:cold boot, Next:, Previous:cokebottle, Up:= C =

cold boot n.

See boot.

Node:COME FROM, Next:, Previous:cold boot, Up:= C =


A semi-mythical language construct dual to the `go to'; COME FROM <label> would cause the referenced label to act as a sort of trapdoor, so that if the program ever reached it control would quietly and automagically be transferred to the statement following the COME FROM. COME FROM was first proposed in R. Lawrence Clark's "A Linguistic Contribution to GOTO-less programming", which appeared in a 1973 Datamation issue (and was reprinted in the April 1984 issue of "Communications of the ACM"). This parodied the then-raging `structured programming' holy wars (see considered harmful). Mythically, some variants are the `assigned COME FROM' and the `computed COME FROM' (parodying some nasty control constructs in FORTRAN and some extended BASICs). Of course, multi-tasking (or non-determinism) could be implemented by having more than one COME FROM statement coming from the same label.

In some ways the FORTRAN DO looks like a COME FROM statement. After the terminating statement number/CONTINUE is reached, control continues at the statement following the DO. Some generous FORTRANs would allow arbitrary statements (other than CONTINUE) for the statement, leading to examples like:

      DO 10 I=1,LIMIT
C imagine many lines of code here, leaving the
C original DO statement lost in the spaghetti...
      WRITE(6,10) I,FROB(I)
 10   FORMAT(1X,I5,G10.4)

in which the trapdoor is just after the statement labeled 10. (This is particularly surprising because the label doesn't appear to have anything to do with the flow of control at all!)

While sufficiently astonishing to the unsuspecting reader, this form of COME FROM statement isn't completely general. After all, control will eventually pass to the following statement. The implementation of the general form was left to Univac FORTRAN, ca. 1975 (though a roughly similar feature existed on the IBM 7040 ten years earlier). The statement AT 100 would perform a COME FROM 100. It was intended strictly as a debugging aid, with dire consequences promised to anyone so deranged as to use it in production code. More horrible things had already been perpetrated in production languages, however; doubters need only contemplate the ALTER verb in COBOL.

COME FROM was supported under its own name for the first time 15 years later, in C-INTERCAL (see INTERCAL, retrocomputing); knowledgeable observers are still reeling from the shock.

Node:comm mode, Next:, Previous:COME FROM, Up:= C =

comm mode /kom mohd/ n.

[ITS: from the feature supporting on-line chat; the term may spelled with one or two m's] Syn. for talk mode.

Node:command key, Next:, Previous:comm mode, Up:= C =

command key n.

[Mac users] Syn. feature key.

Node:comment out, Next:, Previous:command key, Up:= C =

comment out vt.

To surround a section of code with comment delimiters or to prefix every line in the section with a comment marker; this prevents it from being compiled or interpreted. Often done when the code is redundant or obsolete, but is being left in the source to make the intent of the active code clearer; also when the code in that section is broken and you want to bypass it in order to debug some other part of the code. Compare condition out, usually the preferred technique in languages (such as C) that make it possible.

Node:Commonwealth Hackish, Next:, Previous:comment out, Up:= C =

Commonwealth Hackish n.

Hacker jargon as spoken in English outside the U.S., esp. in the British Commonwealth. It is reported that Commonwealth speakers are more likely to pronounce truncations like `char' and `soc', etc., as spelled (/char/, /sok/), as opposed to American /keir/ and /sohsh/. Dots in newsgroup names (especially two-component names) tend to be pronounced more often (so soc.wibble is /sok dot wib'l/ rather than /sohsh wib'l/). The prefix meta may be pronounced /mee't*/; similarly, Greek letter beta is usually /bee't*/, zeta is usually /zee't*/, and so forth. Preferred metasyntactic variables include blurgle, eek, ook, frodo, and bilbo; wibble, wobble, and in emergencies wubble; flob, banana, tom, dick, harry, wombat, frog, fish, womble and so on and on (see foo, sense 4).

Alternatives to verb doubling include suffixes `-o-rama', `frenzy' (as in feeding frenzy), and `city' (examples: "barf city!" "hack-o-rama!" "core dump frenzy!"). Finally, note that the American terms `parens', `brackets', and `braces' for (), [], and {} are uncommon; Commonwealth hackish prefers `brackets', `square brackets', and `curly brackets'. Also, the use of `pling' for bang is common outside the United States.

See also attoparsec, calculator, chemist, console jockey, fish, go-faster stripes, grunge, hakspek, heavy metal, leaky heap, lord high fixer, loose bytes, muddie, nadger, noddy, psychedelicware, plingnet, raster blaster, RTBM, seggie, spod, sun lounge, terminal junkie, tick-list features, weeble, weasel, YABA, and notes or definitions under Bad Thing, barf, bogus, bum, chase pointers, cosmic rays, crippleware, crunch, dodgy, gonk, hamster, hardwarily, mess-dos, nybble, proglet, root, SEX, tweak, womble, and xyzzy.

Node:compact, Next:, Previous:Commonwealth Hackish, Up:= C =

compact adj.

Of a design, describes the valuable property that it can all be apprehended at once in one's head. This generally means the thing created from the design can be used with greater facility and fewer errors than an equivalent tool that is not compact. Compactness does not imply triviality or lack of power; for example, C is compact and FORTRAN is not, but C is more powerful than FORTRAN. Designs become non-compact through accreting features and cruft that don't merge cleanly into the overall design scheme (thus, some fans of Classic C maintain that ANSI C is no longer compact).

Node:compiler jock, Next:, Previous:compact, Up:= C =

compiler jock n.

See jock (sense 2).

Node:compo, Next:, Previous:compiler jock, Up:= C =

compo n.

[demoscene] Finnish-originated slang for `competition'. Demo compos are held at a demoparty. The usual protocol is that several groups make demos for a compo, they are shown on a big screen, and then the party participants vote for the best one. Prizes (from sponsors and party entrance fees) are given. Standard compo formats include intro compos (4k or 64k demos), music compos, graphics compos, quick demo compos (build a demo within 4 hours for example), etc.

Node:compress, Next:, Previous:compo, Up:= C =

compress [Unix] vt.

When used without a qualifier, generally refers to crunching of a file using a particular C implementation of compression by Joseph M. Orost et al. and widely circulated via Usenet; use of crunch itself in this sense is rare among Unix hackers. Specifically, compress is built around the Lempel-Ziv-Welch algorithm as described in "A Technique for High Performance Data Compression", Terry A. Welch, "IEEE Computer", vol. 17, no. 6 (June 1984), pp. 8-19.

Node:Compu$erve, Next:, Previous:compress, Up:= C =

Compu$erve n.

See CI$. Synonyms CompuSpend and Compu$pend are also reported.

Node:computer confetti, Next:, Previous:Compu$erve, Up:= C =

computer confetti n.

Syn. chad. Though this term is common, this use of punched-card chad is not a good idea, as the pieces are stiff and have sharp corners that could injure the eyes. GLS reports that he once attended a wedding at MIT during which he and a few other guests enthusiastically threw chad instead of rice. The groom later grumbled that he and his bride had spent most of the evening trying to get the stuff out of their hair.

Node:computer geek, Next:, Previous:computer confetti, Up:= C =

computer geek n.

1. One who eats (computer) bugs for a living. One who fulfills all the dreariest negative stereotypes about hackers: an asocial, malodorous, pasty-faced monomaniac with all the personality of a cheese grater. Cannot be used by outsiders without implied insult to all hackers; compare black-on-black vs. white-on-black usage of `nigger'. A computer geek may be either a fundamentally clueless individual or a proto-hacker in larval stage. Also called `turbo nerd', `turbo geek'. See also propeller head, clustergeeking, geek out, wannabee, terminal junkie, spod, weenie. 2. Some self-described computer geeks use this term in a positive sense and protest sense 1 (this seems to have been a post-1990 development). For one such argument, see See also geek code.

Node:computron, Next:, Previous:computer geek, Up:= C =

computron /kom'pyoo-tron`/

n. 1. [common] A notional unit of computing power combining instruction speed and storage capacity, dimensioned roughly in instructions-per-second times megabytes-of-main-store times megabytes-of-mass-storage. "That machine can't run GNU Emacs, it doesn't have enough computrons!" This usage is usually found in metaphors that treat computing power as a fungible commodity good, like a crop yield or diesel horsepower. See bitty box, Get a real computer!, toy, crank. 2. A mythical subatomic particle that bears the unit quantity of computation or information, in much the same way that an electron bears one unit of electric charge (see also bogon). An elaborate pseudo-scientific theory of computrons has been developed based on the physical fact that the molecules in a solid object move more rapidly as it is heated. It is argued that an object melts because the molecules have lost their information about where they are supposed to be (that is, they have emitted computrons). This explains why computers get so hot and require air conditioning; they use up computrons. Conversely, it should be possible to cool down an object by placing it in the path of a computron beam. It is believed that this may also explain why machines that work at the factory fail in the computer room: the computrons there have been all used up by the other hardware. (The popularity of this theory probably owes something to the "Warlock" stories by Larry Niven, the best known being "What Good is a Glass Dagger?", in which magic is fueled by an exhaustible natural resource called `mana'.)

Node:con, Next:, Previous:computron, Up:= C =

con n.

[from SF fandom] A science-fiction convention. Not used of other sorts of conventions, such as professional meetings. This term, unlike many others imported from SF-fan slang, is widely recognized even by hackers who aren't fans. "We'd been corresponding on the net for months, then we met face-to-face at a con."

Node:condition out, Next:, Previous:con, Up:= C =

condition out vt.

To prevent a section of code from being compiled by surrounding it with a conditional-compilation directive whose condition is always false. The canonical examples of these directives are #if 0 (or #ifdef notdef, though some find the latter bletcherous) and #endif in C. Compare comment out.

Node:condom, Next:, Previous:condition out, Up:= C =

condom n.

1. The protective plastic bag that accompanies 3.5-inch microfloppy diskettes. Rarely, also used of (paper) disk envelopes. Unlike the write protect tab, the condom (when left on) not only impedes the practice of SEX but has also been shown to have a high failure rate as drive mechanisms attempt to access the disk -- and can even fatally frustrate insertion. 2. The protective cladding on a light pipe. 3. `keyboard condom': A flexible, transparent plastic cover for a keyboard, designed to provide some protection against dust and programming fluid without impeding typing. 4. `elephant condom': the plastic shipping bags used inside cardboard boxes to protect hardware in transit. 5. n. obs. A dummy directory /usr/tmp/sh, created to foil the Great Worm by exploiting a portability bug in one of its parts. So named in the title of a comp.risks article by Gene Spafford during the Worm crisis, and again in the text of "The Internet Worm Program: An Analysis", Purdue Technical Report CSD-TR-823.

Node:confuser, Next:, Previous:condom, Up:= C =

confuser n.

Common soundalike slang for `computer'. Usually encountered in compounds such as `confuser room', `personal confuser', `confuser guru'. Usage: silly.

Node:connector conspiracy, Next:, Previous:confuser, Up:= C =

connector conspiracy n.

[probably came into prominence with the appearance of the KL-10 (one model of the PDP-10), none of whose connectors matched anything else] The tendency of manufacturers (or, by extension, programmers or purveyors of anything) to come up with new products that don't fit together with the old stuff, thereby making you buy either all new stuff or expensive interface devices. The KL-10 Massbus connector was actually patented by DEC, which reputedly refused to license the design and thus effectively locked third parties out of competition for the lucrative Massbus peripherals market. This policy is a source of never-ending frustration for the diehards who maintain older PDP-10 or VAX systems. Their CPUs work fine, but they are stuck with dying, obsolescent disk and tape drives with low capacity and high power requirements.

(A closely related phenomenon, with a slightly different intent, is the habit manufacturers have of inventing new screw heads so that only Designated Persons, possessing the magic screwdrivers, can remove covers and make repairs or install options. A good 1990s example is the use of Torx screws for cable-TV set-top boxes. Older Apple Macintoshes took this one step further, requiring not only a long Torx screwdriver but a specialized case-cracking tool to open the box.)

In these latter days of open-systems computing this term has fallen somewhat into disuse, to be replaced by the observation that "Standards are great! There are so many of them to choose from!" Compare backward combatability.

Node:cons, Next:, Previous:connector conspiracy, Up:= C =

cons /konz/ or /kons/

[from LISP] 1. vt. To add a new element to a specified list, esp. at the top. "OK, cons picking a replacement for the console TTY onto the agenda." 2. `cons up': vt. To synthesize from smaller pieces: "to cons up an example".

In LISP itself, cons is the most fundamental operation for building structures. It takes any two objects and returns a `dot-pair' or two-branched tree with one object hanging from each branch. Because the result of a cons is an object, it can be used to build binary trees of any shape and complexity. Hackers think of it as a sort of universal constructor, and that is where the jargon meanings spring from.

Node:considered harmful, Next:, Previous:cons, Up:= C =

considered harmful adj.

[very common] Edsger W. Dijkstra's note in the March 1968 "Communications of the ACM", "Goto Statement Considered Harmful", fired the first salvo in the structured programming wars (text at Amusingly, the ACM considered the resulting acrimony sufficiently harmful that it will (by policy) no longer print an article taking so assertive a position against a coding practice. (Years afterwards, a contrary view contrary view was uttered in a CACM letter called, inevitably, "`Goto considered harmful' considered harmful'"'. In the ensuing decades, a large number of both serious papers and parodies have borne titles of the form "X considered Y". The structured-programming wars eventually blew over with the realization that both sides were wrong, but use of such titles has remained as a persistent minor in-joke (the `considered silly' found at various places in this lexicon is related).

Node:console, Next:, Previous:considered harmful, Up:= C =

console n.

1. The operator's station of a mainframe. In times past, this was a privileged location that conveyed godlike powers to anyone with fingers on its keys. Under Unix and other modern timesharing OSes, such privileges are guarded by passwords instead, and the console is just the tty the system was booted from. Some of the mystique remains, however, and it is traditional for sysadmins to post urgent messages to all users from the console (on Unix, /dev/console). 2. On microcomputer Unix boxes, the main screen and keyboard (as opposed to character-only terminals talking to a serial port). Typically only the console can do real graphics or run X.

Node:console jockey, Next:, Previous:console, Up:= C =

console jockey n.

See terminal junkie.

Node:content-free, Next:, Previous:console jockey, Up:= C =

content-free adj.

[by analogy with techspeak `context-free'] Used of a message that adds nothing to the recipient's knowledge. Though this adjective is sometimes applied to flamage, it more usually connotes derision for communication styles that exalt form over substance or are centered on concerns irrelevant to the subject ostensibly at hand. Perhaps most used with reference to speeches by company presidents and other professional manipulators. "Content-free? Uh... that's anything printed on glossy paper." (See also four-color glossies.) "He gave a talk on the implications of electronic networks for postmodernism and the fin-de-siecle aesthetic. It was content-free."

Node:control-C, Next:, Previous:content-free, Up:= C =

control-C vi.

1. "Stop whatever you are doing." From the interrupt character used on many operating systems to abort a running program. Considered silly. 2. interj. Among BSD Unix hackers, the canonical humorous response to "Give me a break!"

Node:control-O, Next:, Previous:control-C, Up:= C =

control-O vi.

"Stop talking." From the character used on some operating systems to abort output but allow the program to keep on running. Generally means that you are not interested in hearing anything more from that person, at least on that topic; a standard response to someone who is flaming. Considered silly. Compare control-S.

Node:control-Q, Next:, Previous:control-O, Up:= C =

control-Q vi.

"Resume." From the ASCII DC1 or XON character (the pronunciation /X-on/ is therefore also used), used to undo a previous control-S.

Node:control-S, Next:, Previous:control-Q, Up:= C =

control-S vi.

"Stop talking for a second." From the ASCII DC3 or XOFF character (the pronunciation /X-of/ is therefore also used). Control-S differs from control-O in that the person is asked to stop talking (perhaps because you are on the phone) but will be allowed to continue when you're ready to listen to him -- as opposed to control-O, which has more of the meaning of "Shut up." Considered silly.

Node:Conway's Law, Next:, Previous:control-S, Up:= C =

Conway's Law prov.

The rule that the organization of the software and the organization of the software team will be congruent; commonly stated as "If you have four groups working on a compiler, you'll get a 4-pass compiler". The original statement was more general, "Organizations which design systems are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations." This first appeared in the April 1968 issue of Datamation. Compare SNAFU principle.

The law was named after Melvin Conway, an early proto-hacker who wrote an assembler for the Burroughs 220 called SAVE. (The name `SAVE' didn't stand for anything; it was just that you lost fewer card decks and listings because they all had SAVE written on them.)

There is also Tom Cheatham's amendment of Conway's Law: "If a group of N persons implements a COBOL compiler, there will be N-1 passes. Someone in the group has to be the manager."

Node:cookbook, Next:, Previous:Conway's Law, Up:= C =

cookbook n.

[from amateur electronics and radio] A book of small code segments that the reader can use to do various magic things in programs. One current example is the "PostScript Language Tutorial and Cookbook" by Adobe Systems, Inc (Addison-Wesley, ISBN 0-201-10179-3), also known as the Blue Book which has recipes for things like wrapping text around arbitrary curves and making 3D fonts. Cookbooks, slavishly followed, can lead one into voodoo programming, but are useful for hackers trying to monkey up small programs in unknown languages. This function is analogous to the role of phrasebooks in human languages.

Node:cooked mode, Next:, Previous:cookbook, Up:= C =

cooked mode n.

[Unix, by opposition from raw mode] The normal character-input mode, with interrupts enabled and with erase, kill and other special-character interpretations performed directly by the tty driver. Oppose raw mode, rare mode. This term is techspeak under Unix but jargon elsewhere; other operating systems often have similar mode distinctions, and the raw/rare/cooked way of describing them has spread widely along with the C language and other Unix exports. Most generally, `cooked mode' may refer to any mode of a system that does extensive preprocessing before presenting data to a program.

Node:cookie, Next:, Previous:cooked mode, Up:= C =

cookie n.

A handle, transaction ID, or other token of agreement between cooperating programs. "I give him a packet, he gives me back a cookie." The claim check you get from a dry-cleaning shop is a perfect mundane example of a cookie; the only thing it's useful for is to relate a later transaction to this one (so you get the same clothes back). Compare magic cookie; see also fortune cookie. Now mainstream in the specific sense of web-browser cookies.

Node:cookie bear, Next:, Previous:cookie, Up:= C =

cookie bear n. obs.

Original term, pre-Sesame-Street, for what is now universally called a cookie monster. A correspondent observes "In those days, hackers were actually getting their yucks from...sit down now...Andy Williams. Yes, that Andy Williams. Seems he had a rather hip (by the standards of the day) TV variety show. One of the best parts of the show was the recurring `cookie bear' sketch. In these sketches, a guy in a bear suit tried all sorts of tricks to get a cookie out of Williams. The sketches would always end with Williams shrieking (and I don't mean figuratively), `No cookies! Not now, not ever...NEVER!!!' And the bear would fall down. Great stuff."

Node:cookie file, Next:, Previous:cookie bear, Up:= C =

cookie file n.

A collection of fortune cookies in a format that facilitates retrieval by a fortune program. There are several different cookie files in public distribution, and site admins often assemble their own from various sources including this lexicon.

Node:cookie jar, Next:, Previous:cookie file, Up:= C =

cookie jar n.

An area of memory set aside for storing cookies. Most commonly heard in the Atari ST community; many useful ST programs record their presence by storing a distinctive magic number in the jar. Programs can inquire after the presence or otherwise of other programs by searching the contents of the jar.

Node:cookie monster, Next:, Previous:cookie jar, Up:= C =

cookie monster n.

[from the children's TV program "Sesame Street"] Any of a family of early (1970s) hacks reported on TOPS-10, ITS, Multics, and elsewhere that would lock up either the victim's terminal (on a time-sharing machine) or the console (on a batch mainframe), repeatedly demanding "I WANT A COOKIE". The required responses ranged in complexity from "COOKIE" through "HAVE A COOKIE" and upward. Folklorist Jan Brunvand (see FOAF) has described these programs as urban legends (implying they probably never existed) but they existed, all right, in several different versions. See also wabbit. Interestingly, the term `cookie monster' appears to be a retcon; the original term was cookie bear.

Node:copious free time, Next:, Previous:cookie monster, Up:= C =

copious free time n.

[Apple; orig. fr. the intro to Tom Lehrer's song "It Makes A Fellow Proud To Be A Soldier"] 1. [used ironically to indicate the speaker's lack of the quantity in question] A mythical schedule slot for accomplishing tasks held to be unlikely or impossible. Sometimes used to indicate that the speaker is interested in accomplishing the task, but believes that the opportunity will not arise. "I'll implement the automatic layout stuff in my copious free time." 2. [Archly] Time reserved for bogus or otherwise idiotic tasks, such as implementation of chrome, or the stroking of suits. "I'll get back to him on that feature in my copious free time."

Node:copper, Next:, Previous:copious free time, Up:= C =

copper n.

Conventional electron-carrying network cable with a core conductor of copper -- or aluminum! Opposed to light pipe or, say, a short-range microwave link.

Node:copy protection, Next:, Previous:copper, Up:= C =

copy protection n.

A class of methods for preventing incompetent pirates from stealing software and legitimate customers from using it. Considered silly.

Node:copybroke, Next:, Previous:copy protection, Up:= C =

copybroke /kop'ee-brohk/ adj.

1. [play on `copyright'] Used to describe an instance of a copy-protected program that has been `broken'; that is, a copy with the copy-protection scheme disabled. Syn. copywronged. 2. Copy-protected software which is unusable because of some bit-rot or bug that has confused the anti-piracy check. See also copy protection.

Node:copycenter, Next:, Previous:copybroke, Up:= C =

copycenter n.

[play on `copyright' and `copyleft'] 1. The copyright notice carried by the various flavors of freeware BSD. According to Kirk McKusick at BSDCon 1999: "The way it was characterized politically, you had copyright, which is what the big companies use to lock everything up; you had copyleft, which is free software's way of making sure they can't lock it up; and then Berkeley had what we called "copycenter", which is "take it down to the copy center and make as many copies as you want"".

Node:copyleft, Next:, Previous:copycenter, Up:= C =

copyleft /kop'ee-left/ n.

[play on `copyright'] 1. The copyright notice (`General Public License') carried by GNU EMACS and other Free Software Foundation software, granting reuse and reproduction rights to all comers (but see also General Public Virus). 2. By extension, any copyright notice intended to achieve similar aims.

Node:copyparty, Next:, Previous:copyleft, Up:= C =

copyparty n.

[C64/amiga demoscene ]A computer party organized so demosceners can meet other in real life, and to facilitate software copying (mostly pirated software). The copyparty has become less common as the Internet makes communication easier. The demoscene has gradually evolved the demoparty to replace it.

Node:copywronged, Next:, Previous:copyparty, Up:= C =

copywronged /kop'ee-rongd/ adj.

[play on `copyright'] Syn. for copybroke.

Node:core, Next:, Previous:copywronged, Up:= C =

core n.

Main storage or RAM. Dates from the days of ferrite-core memory; now archaic as techspeak most places outside IBM, but also still used in the Unix community and by old-time hackers or those who would sound like them. Some derived idioms are quite current; `in core', for example, means `in memory' (as opposed to `on disk'), and both core dump and the `core image' or `core file' produced by one are terms in favor. Some varieties of Commonwealth hackish prefer store.

Node:core cancer, Next:, Previous:core, Up:= C =

core cancer n.

[rare] A process that exhibits a slow but inexorable resource leak -- like a cancer, it kills by crowding out productive `tissue'.

Node:core dump, Next:, Previous:core cancer, Up:= C =

core dump n.

[common Iron Age jargon, preserved by Unix] 1. [techspeak] A copy of the contents of core, produced when a process is aborted by certain kinds of internal error. 2. By extension, used for humans passing out, vomiting, or registering extreme shock. "He dumped core. All over the floor. What a mess." "He heard about X and dumped core." 3. Occasionally used for a human rambling on pointlessly at great length; esp. in apology: "Sorry, I dumped core on you". 4. A recapitulation of knowledge (compare bits, sense 1). Hence, spewing all one knows about a topic (syn. brain dump), esp. in a lecture or answer to an exam question. "Short, concise answers are better than core dumps" (from the instructions to an exam at Columbia). See core.

Node:core leak, Next:, Previous:core dump, Up:= C =

core leak n.

Syn. memory leak.

Node:Core Wars, Next:, Previous:core leak, Up:= C =

Core Wars n.

A game between `assembler' programs in a machine or machine simulator, where the objective is to kill your opponent's program by overwriting it. Popularized in the 1980s by A. K. Dewdney's column in "Scientific American" magazine, but described in "Software Practice And Experience" a decade earlier. The game was actually devised and played by Victor Vyssotsky, Robert Morris Sr., and Doug McIlroy in the early 1960s (Dennis Ritchie is sometimes incorrectly cited as a co-author, but was not involved). Their original game was called `Darwin' and ran on a IBM 7090 at Bell Labs. See core. For information on the modern game, do a web search for the ` FAQ' or surf to the King Of The Hill site.

Node:corge, Next:, Previous:Core Wars, Up:= C =

corge /korj/ n.

[originally, the name of a cat] Yet another metasyntactic variable, invented by Mike Gallaher and propagated by the GOSMACS documentation. See grault.

Node:cosmic rays, Next:, Previous:corge, Up:= C =

cosmic rays n.

Notionally, the cause of bit rot. However, this is a semi-independent usage that may be invoked as a humorous way to handwave away any minor randomness that doesn't seem worth the bother of investigating. "Hey, Eric -- I just got a burst of garbage on my tube, where did that come from?" "Cosmic rays, I guess." Compare sunspots, phase of the moon. The British seem to prefer the usage `cosmic showers'; `alpha particles' is also heard, because stray alpha particles passing through a memory chip can cause single-bit errors (this becomes increasingly more likely as memory sizes and densities increase).

Factual note: Alpha particles cause bit rot, cosmic rays do not (except occasionally in spaceborne computers). Intel could not explain random bit drops in their early chips, and one hypothesis was cosmic rays. So they created the World's Largest Lead Safe, using 25 tons of the stuff, and used two identical boards for testing. One was placed in the safe, one outside. The hypothesis was that if cosmic rays were causing the bit drops, they should see a statistically significant difference between the error rates on the two boards. They did not observe such a difference. Further investigation demonstrated conclusively that the bit drops were due to alpha particle emissions from thorium (and to a much lesser degree uranium) in the encapsulation material. Since it is impossible to eliminate these radioactives (they are uniformly distributed through the earth's crust, with the statistically insignificant exception of uranium lodes) it became obvious that one has to design memories to withstand these hits.

Node:cough and die, Next:, Previous:cosmic rays, Up:= C =

cough and die v.

Syn. barf. Connotes that the program is throwing its hands up by design rather than because of a bug or oversight. "The parser saw a control-A in its input where it was looking for a printable, so it coughed and died." Compare die, die horribly, scream and die.

Node:cow orker, Next:, Previous:cough and die, Up:= C =

cow orker n.

[Usenet] n. fortuitous typo for co-worker, widely used in Usenet, with perhaps a hint that orking cows is illegal. This term was popularized by Scott Adams (the creator of Dilbert) but seems to have originated earlier in a 1997 scary devil monastery FAQ. Compare hing, grilf, filk, newsfroup.

Node:cowboy, Next:, Previous:cow orker, Up:= C =

cowboy n.

[Sun, from William Gibson's cyberpunk SF] Synonym for hacker. It is reported that at Sun this word is often said with reverence.

Node:CP/M, Next:, Previous:cowboy, Up:= C =

CP/M /C-P-M/ n.

[Control Program/Monitor; later retconned to Control Program for Microcomputers] An early microcomputer OS written by hacker Gary Kildall for 8080- and Z80-based machines, very popular in the late 1970s but virtually wiped out by MS-DOS after the release of the IBM PC in 1981. Legend has it that Kildall's company blew its chance to write the OS for the IBM PC because Kildall decided to spend a day IBM's reps wanted to meet with him enjoying the perfect flying weather in his private plane. Many of CP/M's features and conventions strongly resemble those of early DEC operating systems such as TOPS-10, OS/8, RSTS, and RSX-11. See MS-DOS, operating system.

Node:CPU Wars, Next:, Previous:CP/M, Up:= C =

CPU Wars /C-P-U worz/ n.

A 1979 large-format comic by Chas Andres chronicling the attempts of the brainwashed androids of IPM (Impossible to Program Machines) to conquer and destroy the peaceful denizens of HEC (Human Engineered Computers). This rather transparent allegory featured many references to ADVENT and the immortal line "Eat flaming death, minicomputer mongrels!" (uttered, of course, by an IPM stormtrooper). The whole shebang is now available on the Web.

It is alleged that the author subsequently received a letter of appreciation on IBM company stationery from the head of IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Laboratories (then, as now, one of the few islands of true hackerdom in the IBM archipelago). The lower loop of the B in the IBM logo, it is said, had been carefully whited out. See eat flaming death.

Node:crack root, Next:, Previous:CPU Wars, Up:= C =

crack root v.

[very common] To defeat the security system of a Unix machine and gain root privileges thereby; see cracking.

Node:cracker, Next:, Previous:crack root, Up:= C =

cracker n.

One who breaks security on a system. Coined ca. 1985 by hackers in defense against journalistic misuse of hacker (q.v., sense 8). An earlier attempt to establish `worm' in this sense around 1981-82 on Usenet was largely a failure.

Use of both these neologisms reflects a strong revulsion against the theft and vandalism perpetrated by cracking rings. While it is expected that any real hacker will have done some playful cracking and knows many of the basic techniques, anyone past larval stage is expected to have outgrown the desire to do so except for immediate, benign, practical reasons (for example, if it's necessary to get around some security in order to get some work done).

Thus, there is far less overlap between hackerdom and crackerdom than the mundane reader misled by sensationalistic journalism might expect. Crackers tend to gather in small, tight-knit, very secretive groups that have little overlap with the huge, open poly-culture this lexicon describes; though crackers often like to describe themselves as hackers, most true hackers consider them a separate and lower form of life.

Ethical considerations aside, hackers figure that anyone who can't imagine a more interesting way to play with their computers than breaking into someone else's has to be pretty losing. Some other reasons crackers are looked down on are discussed in the entries on cracking and phreaking. See also samurai, dark-side hacker, and hacker ethic. For a portrait of the typical teenage cracker, see warez d00dz.

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cracking n.

[very common] The act of breaking into a computer system; what a cracker does. Contrary to widespread myth, this does not usually involve some mysterious leap of hackerly brilliance, but rather persistence and the dogged repetition of a handful of fairly well-known tricks that exploit common weaknesses in the security of target systems. Accordingly, most crackers are only mediocre hackers.

Node:crank, Next:, Previous:cracking, Up:= C =

crank vt.

[from automotive slang] Verb used to describe the performance of a machine, especially sustained performance. "This box cranks (or, cranks at) about 6 megaflops, with a burst mode of twice that on vectorized operations."

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crapplet n.

[portmanteau, crap + applet] A worthless applet, esp. a Java widget attached to a web page that doesn't work or even crashes your browser. Also spelled `craplet'.

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CrApTeX /krap'tekh/ n.

[University of York, England] Term of abuse used to describe TeX and LaTeX when they don't work (when used by TeXhackers), or all the time (by everyone else). The non-TeX-enthusiasts generally dislike it because it is more verbose than other formatters (e.g. troff) and because (particularly if the standard Computer Modern fonts are used) it generates vast output files. See religious issues, TeX.

Node:crash, Next:, Previous:CrApTeX, Up:= C =


1. n. A sudden, usually drastic failure. Most often said of the system (q.v., sense 1), esp. of magnetic disk drives (the term originally described what happens when the air gap of a hard disk collapses). "Three lusers lost their files in last night's disk crash." A disk crash that involves the read/write heads dropping onto the surface of the disks and scraping off the oxide may also be referred to as a `head crash', whereas the term `system crash' usually, though not always, implies that the operating system or other software was at fault. 2. v. To fail suddenly. "Has the system just crashed?" "Something crashed the OS!" See down. Also used transitively to indicate the cause of the crash (usually a person or a program, or both). "Those idiots playing SPACEWAR crashed the system." 3. vi. Sometimes said of people hitting the sack after a long hacking run; see gronk out.

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crash and burn vi.,n.

A spectacular crash, in the mode of the conclusion of the car-chase scene in the movie "Bullitt" and many subsequent imitators (compare die horribly). Sun-3 monitors losing the flyback transformer and lightning strikes on VAX-11/780 backplanes are notable crash and burn generators. The construction `crash-and-burn machine' is reported for a computer used exclusively for alpha or beta testing, or reproducing bugs (i.e., not for development). The implication is that it wouldn't be such a disaster if that machine crashed, since only the testers would be inconvenienced.

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crawling horror n.

Ancient crufty hardware or software that is kept obstinately alive by forces beyond the control of the hackers at a site. Like dusty deck or gonkulator, but connotes that the thing described is not just an irritation but an active menace to health and sanity. "Mostly we code new stuff in C, but they pay us to maintain one big FORTRAN II application from nineteen-sixty-X that's a real crawling horror...." Compare WOMBAT.

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cray /kray/ n.

1. (properly, capitalized) One of the line of supercomputers designed by Cray Research. 2. Any supercomputer at all. 3. The canonical number-crunching machine.

The term is actually the lowercased last name of Seymour Cray, a noted computer architect and co-founder of the company. Numerous vivid legends surround him, some true and some admittedly invented by Cray Research brass to shape their corporate culture and image.

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cray instability n.

1. A shortcoming of a program or algorithm that manifests itself only when a large problem is being run on a powerful machine (see cray). Generally more subtle than bugs that can be detected in smaller problems running on a workstation or mini. 2. More specifically, a shortcoming of algorithms which are well behaved when run on gentle floating point hardware (such as IEEE-standard or PDP-series machines) but which break down badly when exposed to a Cray's unique `rounding' rules.

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crayola /kray-oh'l*/ n.

A super-mini or -micro computer that provides some reasonable percentage of supercomputer performance for an unreasonably low price. Might also be a killer micro.

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crayola books n.

The rainbow series of National Computer Security Center (NCSC) computer security standards (see Orange Book). Usage: humorous and/or disparaging.

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crayon n.

1. Someone who works on Cray supercomputers. More specifically, it implies a programmer, probably of the CDC ilk, probably male, and almost certainly wearing a tie (irrespective of gender). Systems types who have a Unix background tend not to be described as crayons. 2. Formerly, anyone who worked for Cray Research; since the buyout by SGI, anyone they inherited from Cray. 3. A computron (sense 2) that participates only in number-crunching. 4. A unit of computational power equal to that of a single Cray-1. There is a standard joke about this usage that derives from an old Crayola crayon promotional gimmick: When you buy 64 crayons you get a free sharpener.

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creationism n.

The (false) belief that large, innovative software designs can be completely specified in advance and then painlessly magicked out of the void by the normal efforts of a team of normally talented programmers. In fact, experience has shown repeatedly that good designs arise only from evolutionary, exploratory interaction between one (or at most a small handful of) exceptionally able designer(s) and an active user population -- and that the first try at a big new idea is always wrong. Unfortunately, because these truths don't fit the planning models beloved of management, they are generally ignored.

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creep v.

To advance, grow, or multiply inexorably. In hackish usage this verb has overtones of menace and silliness, evoking the creeping horrors of low-budget monster movies.

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creeping elegance n.

Describes a tendency for parts of a design to become elegant past the point of diminishing return, something which often happens at the expense of the less interesting parts of the design, the schedule, and other things deemed important in the Real World. See also creeping featurism, second-system effect, tense.

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creeping featurism /kree'ping fee'chr-izm/ n.

[common] 1. Describes a systematic tendency to load more chrome and features onto systems at the expense of whatever elegance they may have possessed when originally designed. See also feeping creaturism. "You know, the main problem with BSD Unix has always been creeping featurism." 2. More generally, the tendency for anything complicated to become even more complicated because people keep saying "Gee, it would be even better if it had this feature too". (See feature.) The result is usually a patchwork because it grew one ad-hoc step at a time, rather than being planned. Planning is a lot of work, but it's easy to add just one extra little feature to help someone ... and then another ... and another.... When creeping featurism gets out of hand, it's like a cancer. Usually this term is used to describe computer programs, but it could also be said of the federal government, the IRS 1040 form, and new cars. A similar phenomenon sometimes afflicts conscious redesigns; see second-system effect. See also creeping elegance.

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creeping featuritis /kree'ping fee'-chr-i:`t*s/ n.

Variant of creeping featurism, with its own spoonerization: `feeping creaturitis'. Some people like to reserve this form for the disease as it actually manifests in software or hardware, as opposed to the lurking general tendency in designers' minds. (After all, -ism means `condition' or `pursuit of', whereas -itis usually means `inflammation of'.)

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cretin /kret'in/ or /kree'tn/ n.

Congenital loser; an obnoxious person; someone who can't do anything right. It has been observed that many American hackers tend to favor the British pronunciation /kret'in/ over standard American /kree'tn/; it is thought this may be due to the insidious phonetic influence of Monty Python's Flying Circus.

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cretinous /kret'n-*s/ or /kreet'n-*s/ adj.

Wrong; stupid; non-functional; very poorly designed. Also used pejoratively of people. See dread high-bit disease for an example. Approximate synonyms: bletcherous, bagbiting losing, brain-damaged.

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crippleware n.

1. [common] Software that has some important functionality deliberately removed, so as to entice potential users to pay for a working version. 2. [Cambridge] Variety of guiltware that exhorts you to donate to some charity (compare careware, nagware). 3. Hardware deliberately crippled, which can be upgraded to a more expensive model by a trivial change (e.g., cutting a jumper).

An excellent example of crippleware (sense 3) is Intel's 486SX chip, which is a standard 486DX chip with the co-processor dyked out (in some early versions it was present but disabled). To upgrade, you buy a complete 486DX chip with working co-processor (its identity thinly veiled by a different pinout) and plug it into the board's expansion socket. It then disables the SX, which becomes a fancy power sink. Don't you love Intel?

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critical mass n.

In physics, the minimum amount of fissionable material required to sustain a chain reaction. Of a software product, describes a condition of the software such that fixing one bug introduces one plus epsilon bugs. (This malady has many causes: creeping featurism, ports to too many disparate environments, poor initial design, etc.) When software achieves critical mass, it can never be fixed; it can only be discarded and rewritten.

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crlf /ker'l*f/, sometimes /kru'l*f/ or /C-R-L-F/ n.

(often capitalized as `CRLF') A carriage return (CR, ASCII 0001101) followed by a line feed (LF, ASCII 0001010). More loosely, whatever it takes to get you from the end of one line of text to the beginning of the next line. See newline, terpri. Under Unix influence this usage has become less common (Unix uses a bare line feed as its `CRLF').

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crock n.

[from the American scatologism `crock of shit'] 1. An awkward feature or programming technique that ought to be made cleaner. For example, using small integers to represent error codes without the program interpreting them to the user (as in, for example, Unix make(1), which returns code 139 for a process that dies due to segfault). 2. A technique that works acceptably, but which is quite prone to failure if disturbed in the least. For example, a too-clever programmer might write an assembler which mapped instruction mnemonics to numeric opcodes algorithmically, a trick which depends far too intimately on the particular bit patterns of the opcodes. (For another example of programming with a dependence on actual opcode values, see The Story of Mel in Appendix A.) Many crocks have a tightly woven, almost completely unmodifiable structure. See kluge, brittle. The adjectives `crockish' and `crocky', and the nouns `crockishness' and `crockitude', are also used.

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cross-post vi.

[Usenet; very common] To post a single article simultaneously to several newsgroups. Distinguished from posting the article repeatedly, once to each newsgroup, which causes people to see it multiple times (which is very bad form). Gratuitous cross-posting without a Followup-To line directing responses to a single followup group is frowned upon, as it tends to cause followup articles to go to inappropriate newsgroups when people respond to only one part of the original posting.

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crudware /kruhd'weir/ n.

Pejorative term for the hundreds of megabytes of low-quality freeware circulated by user's groups and BBS systems in the micro-hobbyist world. "Yet another set of disk catalog utilities for MS-DOS? What crudware!"

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cruft /kruhft/

[very common; back-formation from crufty] 1. n. An unpleasant substance. The dust that gathers under your bed is cruft; the TMRC Dictionary correctly noted that attacking it with a broom only produces more. 2. n. The results of shoddy construction. 3. vt. [from `hand cruft', pun on `hand craft'] To write assembler code for something normally (and better) done by a compiler (see hand-hacking). 4. n. Excess; superfluous junk; used esp. of redundant or superseded code. 5. [University of Wisconsin] n. Cruft is to hackers as gaggle is to geese; that is, at UW one properly says "a cruft of hackers".

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cruft together vt.

(also `cruft up') To throw together something ugly but temporarily workable. Like vt. kluge up, but more pejorative. "There isn't any program now to reverse all the lines of a file, but I can probably cruft one together in about 10 minutes." See hack together, hack up, kluge up, crufty.

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cruftsmanship /kruhfts'm*n-ship / n.

[from cruft] The antithesis of craftsmanship.

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crufty /kruhf'tee/ adj.

[very common; origin unknown; poss. from `crusty' or `cruddy'] 1. Poorly built, possibly over-complex. The canonical example is "This is standard old crufty DEC software". In fact, one fanciful theory of the origin of `crufty' holds that was originally a mutation of `crusty' applied to DEC software so old that the `s' characters were tall and skinny, looking more like `f' characters. 2. Unpleasant, especially to the touch, often with encrusted junk. Like spilled coffee smeared with peanut butter and catsup. 3. Generally unpleasant. 4. (sometimes spelled `cruftie') n. A small crufty object (see frob); often one that doesn't fit well into the scheme of things. "A LISP property list is a good place to store crufties (or, collectively, random cruft)."

This term is one of the oldest in the jargon and no one is sure of its etymology, but it is suggestive that there is a Cruft Hall at Harvard University which is part of the old physics building; it's said to have been the physics department's radar lab during WWII. To this day (early 1993) the windows appear to be full of random techno-junk. MIT or Lincoln Labs people may well have coined the term as a knock on the competition.

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crumb n.

Two binary digits; a quad. Larger than a bit, smaller than a nybble. Considered silly. Syn. tayste. General discussion of such terms is under nybble.

Node:crunch, Next:, Previous:crumb, Up:= C =

crunch 1. vi.

To process, usually in a time-consuming or complicated way. Connotes an essentially trivial operation that is nonetheless painful to perform. The pain may be due to the triviality's being embedded in a loop from 1 to 1,000,000,000. "FORTRAN programs do mostly number-crunching." 2. vt. To reduce the size of a file by a complicated scheme that produces bit configurations completely unrelated to the original data, such as by a Huffman code. (The file ends up looking something like a paper document would if somebody crunched the paper into a wad.) Since such compression usually takes more computations than simpler methods such as run-length encoding, the term is doubly appropriate. (This meaning is usually used in the construction `file crunch(ing)' to distinguish it from number-crunching.) See compress. 3. n. The character #. Used at XEROX and CMU, among other places. See ASCII. 4. vt. To squeeze program source into a minimum-size representation that will still compile or execute. The term came into being specifically for a famous program on the BBC micro that crunched BASIC source in order to make it run more quickly (it was a wholly interpretive BASIC, so the number of characters mattered). Obfuscated C Contest entries are often crunched; see the first example under that entry.

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cryppie /krip'ee/ n.

A cryptographer. One who hacks or implements cryptographic software or hardware.

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CTSS /C-T-S-S/ n.

Compatible Time-Sharing System. An early (1963) experiment in the design of interactive time-sharing operating systems, ancestral to Multics, Unix, and ITS. The name ITS (Incompatible Time-sharing System) was a hack on CTSS, meant both as a joke and to express some basic differences in philosophy about the way I/O services should be presented to user programs.

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cube n.

1. [short for `cubicle'] A module in the open-plan offices used at many programming shops. "I've got the manuals in my cube." 2. A NeXT machine (which resembles a matte-black cube).

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cubing vi.

[parallel with `tubing'] 1. Hacking on an IPSC (Intel Personal SuperComputer) hypercube. "Louella's gone cubing again!!" 2. Hacking Rubik's Cube or related puzzles, either physically or mathematically. 3. An indescribable form of self-torture (see sense 1 or 2).

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cup holder n.

The tray of a CD-ROM drive, or by extension the CD drive itself. So called because of a common tech support legend about the idiot who called to complain that the cup holder on his computer broke. A joke program was once distributed around the net called "cupholder.exe", which when run simply extended the CD drive tray. The humor of this was of course lost on people whose drive had a slot or a caddy instead.

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cursor dipped in X n.

There are a couple of metaphors in English of the form `pen dipped in X' (perhaps the most common values of X are `acid', `bile', and `vitriol'). These map over neatly to this hackish usage (the cursor being what moves, leaving letters behind, when one is composing on-line). "Talk about a nastygram! He must've had his cursor dipped in acid when he wrote that one!"

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cuspy /kuhs'pee/ adj.

[WPI: from the DEC abbreviation CUSP, for `Commonly Used System Program', i.e., a utility program used by many people] 1. (of a program) Well-written. 2. Functionally excellent. A program that performs well and interfaces well to users is cuspy. See rude.

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cut a tape vi.

To write a software or document distribution on magnetic tape for shipment. Has nothing to do with physically cutting the medium! Early versions of this lexicon claimed that one never analogously speaks of `cutting a disk', but this has since been reported as live usage. Related slang usages are mainstream business's `cut a check', the recording industry's `cut a record', and the military's `cut an order'.

All of these usages reflect physical processes in obsolete recording and duplication technologies. The first stage in manufacturing an old-style vinyl record involved cutting grooves in a stamping die with a precision lathe. More mundanely, the dominant technology for mass duplication of paper documents in pre-photocopying days involved "cutting a stencil", punching away portions of the wax overlay on a silk screen. More directly, paper tape with holes punched in it was an important early storage medium.

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cybercrud /si:'ber-kruhd/ n.

1. [coined by Ted Nelson] Obfuscatory tech-talk. Verbiage with a high MEGO factor. The computer equivalent of bureaucratese. 2. Incomprehensible stuff embedded in email. First there were the "Received" headers that show how mail flows through systems, then MIME (Multi-purpose Internet Mail Extensions) headers and part boundaries, and now huge blocks of radix-64 for PEM (Privacy Enhanced Mail) or PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) digital signatures and certificates of authenticity. This stuff all services a purpose and good user interfaces should hide it, but all too often users are forced to wade through it.

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cyberpunk /si:'ber-puhnk/ n.,adj.

[orig. by SF writer Bruce Bethke and/or editor Gardner Dozois] A subgenre of SF launched in 1982 by William Gibson's epoch-making novel "Neuromancer" (though its roots go back through Vernor Vinge's "True Names" (see the Bibliography in Appendix C) to John Brunner's 1975 novel "The Shockwave Rider"). Gibson's near-total ignorance of computers and the present-day hacker culture enabled him to speculate about the role of computers and hackers in the future in ways hackers have since found both irritatingly na�ve and tremendously stimulating. Gibson's work was widely imitated, in particular by the short-lived but innovative "Max Headroom" TV series. See cyberspace, ice, jack in, go flatline.

Since 1990 or so, popular culture has included a movement or fashion trend that calls itself `cyberpunk', associated especially with the rave/techno subculture. Hackers have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, self-described cyberpunks too often seem to be shallow trendoids in black leather who have substituted enthusiastic blathering about technology for actually learning and doing it. Attitude is no substitute for competence. On the other hand, at least cyberpunks are excited about the right things and properly respectful of hacking talent in those who have it. The general consensus is to tolerate them politely in hopes that they'll attract people who grow into being true hackers.

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cyberspace /si:'br-spays`/ n.

1. Notional `information-space' loaded with visual cues and navigable with brain-computer interfaces called `cyberspace decks'; a characteristic prop of cyberpunk SF. Serious efforts to construct virtual reality interfaces modeled explicitly on Gibsonian cyberspace are under way, using more conventional devices such as glove sensors and binocular TV headsets. Few hackers are prepared to deny outright the possibility of a cyberspace someday evolving out of the network (see the network). 2. The Internet or Matrix (sense #2) as a whole, considered as a crude cyberspace (sense 1). Although this usage became widely popular in the mainstream press during 1994 when the Internet exploded into public awareness, it is strongly deprecated among hackers because the Internet does not meet the high, SF-inspired standards they have for true cyberspace technology. Thus, this use of the term usually tags a wannabee or outsider. Oppose meatspace. 3. Occasionally, the metaphoric location of the mind of a person in hack mode. Some hackers report experiencing strong eidetic imagery when in hack mode; interestingly, independent reports from multiple sources suggest that there are common features to the experience. In particular, the dominant colors of this subjective `cyberspace' are often gray and silver, and the imagery often involves constellations of marching dots, elaborate shifting patterns of lines and angles, or moire patterns.

Node:cycle, Next:, Previous:cyberspace, Up:= C =


1. n. The basic unit of computation. What every hacker wants more of (noted hacker Bill Gosper described himself as a "cycle junkie"). One can describe an instruction as taking so many `clock cycles'. Often the computer can access its memory once on every clock cycle, and so one speaks also of `memory cycles'. These are technical meanings of cycle. The jargon meaning comes from the observation that there are only so many cycles per second, and when you are sharing a computer the cycles get divided up among the users. The more cycles the computer spends working on your program rather than someone else's, the faster your program will run. That's why every hacker wants more cycles: so he can spend less time waiting for the computer to respond. 2. By extension, a notional unit of human thought power, emphasizing that lots of things compete for the typical hacker's think time. "I refused to get involved with the Rubik's Cube back when it was big. Knew I'd burn too many cycles on it if I let myself." 3. vt. Syn. bounce (sense 4), 120 reset; from the phrase `cycle power'. "Cycle the machine again, that serial port's still hung."

Node:cycle crunch, Next:, Previous:cycle, Up:= C =

cycle crunch n.,obs.

A situation wherein the number of people trying to use a computer simultaneously has reached the point where no one can get enough cycles because they are spread too thin and the system has probably begun to thrash. This scenario is an inevitable result of Parkinson's Law applied to timesharing. Usually the only solution is to buy more computer. Happily, this has rapidly become easier since the mid-1980s, so much so that the very term `cycle crunch' now has a faintly archaic flavor; most hackers now use workstations or personal computers as opposed to traditional timesharing systems, and are far more likely to complain of `bandwidth crunch' on their shared networks rather than cycle crunch.

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cycle drought n.

A scarcity of cycles. It may be due to a cycle crunch, but it could also occur because part of the computer is temporarily not working, leaving fewer cycles to go around. "The high moby is down, so we're running with only half the usual amount of memory. There will be a cycle drought until it's fixed."

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cycle of reincarnation n.

See wheel of reincarnation.

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cycle server n.

A powerful machine that exists primarily for running large compute-, disk-, or memory-intensive jobs (more formally called a `compute server'). Implies that interactive tasks such as editing are done on other machines on the network, such as workstations.

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cypherpunk n.

[from cyberpunk] Someone interested in the uses of encryption via electronic ciphers for enhancing personal privacy and guarding against tyranny by centralized, authoritarian power structures, especially government. There is an active cypherpunks mailing list at coordinating work on public-key encryption freeware, privacy, and digital cash. See also tentacle.

Node:C|N>K, Next:, Previous:cypherpunk, Up:= C =

C|N>K n.

[Usenet] Coffee through Nose to Keyboard; that is, "I laughed so hard I snarfed my coffee onto my keyboard.". Common on and scary devil monastery; recognized elsewhere. The Acronymphomania FAQ on recognizes variants such as T|N>K = `Tea through Nose to Keyboard' and C|N>S = `Coffee through Nose to Screen'.

Node:= D =, Next:, Previous:= C =, Up:The Jargon Lexicon

= D =

Node:D. C. Power Lab, Next:, Previous:C|N>K, Up:= D =

D. C. Power Lab n.

The former site of SAIL. Hackers thought this was very funny because the obvious connection to electrical engineering was nonexistent -- the lab was named for a Donald C. Power. Compare Marginal Hacks.

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daemon /day'mn/ or /dee'mn/ n.

[from the mythological meaning, later rationalized as the acronym `Disk And Execution MONitor'] A program that is not invoked explicitly, but lies 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, under ITS writing a file on the LPT spooler's directory would invoke the spooling daemon, which would then print the file. The advantage is that programs wanting (in this example) files printed need neither compete for access to nor understand any idiosyncrasies of 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.

Daemon and demon are often used interchangeably, but seem to have distinct connotations. The term `daemon' was introduced to computing by CTSS people (who pronounced it /dee'mon/) and used it to refer to what ITS called a dragon; the prototype was a program called DAEMON that automatically made tape backups of the file system. Although the meaning and the pronunciation have drifted, we think this glossary reflects current (2000) usage.

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daemon book n.

"The Design and Implementation of the 4.3BSD UNIX Operating System", by Samuel J. Leffler, Marshall Kirk McKusick, Michael J. Karels, and John S. Quarterman (Addison-Wesley Publishers, 1989, ISBN 0-201-06196-1); or "The Design and Implementation of the 4.4 BSD Operating System" by Marshall Kirk McKusick, Keith Bostic, Michael J. Karels and John S. Quarterman (Addison-Wesley Longman, 1996, SBN 0-201-54979-4) Either of the standard reference books on the internals of BSD Unix. So called because the covers have a picture depicting a little devil (a visual play on daemon) in sneakers, holding a pitchfork (referring to one of the characteristic features of Unix, the fork(2) system call). Also known as the Devil Book.

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dahmum /dah'mum/ n.

[Usenet] The material of which protracted flame wars, especially those about operating systems, is composed. Homeomorphic to spam. The term `dahmum' is derived from the name of a militant OS/2 advocate, and originated when an extensively crossposted OS/2-versus-GNU/Linux debate was fed through Dissociated Press.

Node:dancing frog, Next:, Previous:dahmum, Up:= D =

dancing frog n.

[Vancouver area] A problem that occurs on a computer that will not reappear while anyone else is watching. From the classic Warner Brothers cartoon "One Froggy Evening", featuring a dancing and singing Michigan J. Frog that just croaks when anyone else is around (now the WB network mascot).

Node:dangling pointer, Next:, Previous:dancing frog, Up:= D =

dangling pointer n.

[common] A reference that doesn't actually lead anywhere (in C and some other languages, a pointer that doesn't actually point at anything valid). Usually this happens because it formerly pointed to something that has moved or disappeared. Used as jargon in a generalization of its techspeak meaning; for example, a local phone number for a person who has since moved to the other coast is a dangling pointer. Compare dead link.

Node:dark-side hacker, Next:, Previous:dangling pointer, Up:= D =

dark-side hacker n.

A criminal or malicious hacker; a cracker. From George Lucas's Darth Vader, "seduced by the dark side of the Force". The implication that hackers form a sort of elite of technological Jedi Knights is intended. Oppose samurai.

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Datamation /day`t*-may'sh*n/ n.

A magazine that many hackers assume all suits read. Used to question an unbelieved quote, as in "Did you read that in `Datamation?'" (But see below; this slur may be dated by the time you read this.) It used to publish something hackishly funny every once in a while, like the original paper on COME FROM in 1973, and Ed Post's "Real Programmers Don't Use Pascal" ten years later, but for a long time after that it was much more exclusively suit-oriented and boring. Following a change of editorship in 1994, Datamation is trying for more of the technical content and irreverent humor that marked its early days.

Datamation now has a WWW page at worth visiting for its selection of computer humor, including "Real Programmers Don't Use Pascal" and the `Bastard Operator From Hell' stories by Simon Travaglia (see BOFH).

Node:DAU, Next:, Previous:Datamation, Up:= D =

DAU /dow/ n.

[German FidoNet] German acronym for D�mmster Anzunehmender User (stupidest imaginable user). From the engineering-slang GAU for Gr�sster Anzunehmender Unfall, worst assumable accident, esp. of a LNG tank farm plant or something with similarly disastrous consequences. In popular German, GAU is used only to refer to worst-case nuclear acidents such as a core meltdown. See cretin, fool, loser and weasel.

Node:Dave the Resurrector, Next:, Previous:DAU, Up:= D =

Dave the Resurrector n.

[Usenet; also abbreviated DtR] A cancelbot that cancels cancels. Dave the Resurrector originated when some spam-spewers decided to try to impede spam-fighting by wholesale cancellation of anti-spam coordination messages in the newsgroup.

Node:day mode, Next:, Previous:Dave the Resurrector, Up:= D =

day mode n.

See phase (sense 1). Used of people only.

Node:dd, Next:, Previous:day mode, Up:= D =

dd /dee-dee/ vt.

[Unix: from IBM JCL] Equivalent to cat or BLT. Originally the name of a Unix copy command with special options suitable for block-oriented devices; it was often used in heavy-handed system maintenance, as in "Let's dd the root partition onto a tape, then use the boot PROM to load it back on to a new disk". The Unix dd(1) was designed with a weird, distinctly non-Unixy keyword option syntax reminiscent of IBM System/360 JCL (which had an elaborate DD `Dataset Definition' specification for I/O devices); though the command filled a need, the interface design was clearly a prank. The jargon usage is now very rare outside Unix sites and now nearly obsolete even there, as dd(1) has been deprecated for a long time (though it has no exact replacement). The term has been displaced by BLT or simple English `copy'.

Node:DDT, Next:, Previous:dd, Up:= D =

DDT /D-D-T/ n.

[from the insecticide para-dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethene] 1. Generic term for a program that assists in debugging other programs by showing individual machine instructions in a readable symbolic form and letting the user change them. In this sense the term DDT is now archaic, having been widely displaced by `debugger' or names of individual programs like adb, sdb, dbx, or gdb. 2. [ITS] Under MIT's fabled ITS operating system, DDT (running under the alias HACTRN, a six-letterism for `Hack Translator') was also used as the shell or top level command language used to execute other programs. 3. Any one of several specific DDTs (sense 1) supported on early DEC hardware and CP/M. The PDP-10 Reference Handbook (1969) contained a footnote on the first page of the documentation for DDT that illuminates the origin of the term:

Historical footnote: DDT was developed at MIT for the PDP-1 computer in 1961. At that time DDT stood for "DEC Debugging Tape". Since then, the idea of an on-line debugging program has propagated throughout the computer industry. DDT programs are now available for all DEC computers. Since media other than tape are now frequently used, the more descriptive name "Dynamic Debugging Technique" has been adopted, retaining the DDT abbreviation. Confusion between DDT-10 and another well known pesticide, dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (C14-H9-Cl5) should be minimal since each attacks a different, and apparently mutually exclusive, class of bugs.

(The `tape' referred to was, incidentally, not magnetic but paper.) Sadly, this quotation was removed from later editions of the handbook after the suits took over and DEC became much more `businesslike'.

The history above is known to many old-time hackers. But there's more: Peter Samson, compiler of the original TMRC lexicon, reports that he named `DDT' after a similar tool on the TX-0 computer, the direct ancestor of the PDP-1 built at MIT's Lincoln Lab in 1957. The debugger on that ground-breaking machine (the first transistorized computer) rejoiced in the name FLIT (FLexowriter Interrogation Tape).

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de-rezz /dee-rez'/

[from `de-resolve' via the movie "Tron"] (also `derez') 1. vi. 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 jargon, and adopted in a spirit of irony by real hackers years after the fact. 2. vt. The Macintosh resource decompiler. On a Macintosh, many program structures (including the code itself) are managed in small segments of the program file known as `resources'; `Rez' and `DeRez' are a pair of utilities for compiling and decompiling resource files. Thus, decompiling a resource is `derezzing'. Usage: very common.

Node:dead, Next:, Previous:de-rezz, Up:= D =

dead adj.

1. Non-functional; down; crashed. Especially used of hardware. 2. At XEROX PARC, software that is working but not undergoing continued development and support. 3. Useless; inaccessible. Antonym: `live'. Compare dead code.

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dead code n.

Routines that can never be accessed because all calls to them have been removed, or code that cannot be reached because it is guarded by a control structure that provably must always transfer control somewhere else. The presence of dead code may reveal either logical errors due to alterations in the program or significant changes in the assumptions and environment of the program (see also software rot); a good compiler should report dead code so a maintainer can think about what it means. (Sometimes it simply means that an extremely defensive programmer has inserted can't happen tests which really can't happen -- yet.) Syn. grunge. See also dead, and The Story of Mel.

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dead link n.

[very common] A World-Wide-Web URL that no longer points to the information it was written to reach. Usually this happens because the document has been moved or deleted. Lots of dead links make a WWW page frustrating and useless and are the #1 sign of poor page maintainance. Compare dangling pointer, link rot.

Node:DEADBEEF, Next:, Previous:dead link, Up:= D =

DEADBEEF /ded-beef/ n.

The hexadecimal word-fill pattern for freshly allocated memory (decimal -21524111) under a number of IBM environments, including the RS/6000. Some modern debugging tools deliberately fill freed memory with this value as a way of converting heisenbugs into Bohr bugs. As in "Your program is DEADBEEF" (meaning gone, aborted, flushed from memory); if you start from an odd half-word boundary, of course, you have BEEFDEAD. See also the anecdote under fool.

Node:deadlock, Next:, Previous:DEADBEEF, Up:= D =

deadlock n.

1. [techspeak] A situation wherein two or more processes are unable to proceed because each is waiting for one of the others to do something. A common example is a program communicating to a server, which may find itself waiting for output from the server before sending anything more to it, while the server is similarly waiting for more input from the controlling program before outputting anything. (It is reported that this particular flavor of deadlock is sometimes called a `starvation deadlock', though the term `starvation' is more properly used for situations where a program can never run simply because it never gets high enough priority. Another common flavor is `constipation', in which each process is trying to send stuff to the other but all buffers are full because nobody is reading anything.) See deadly embrace. 2. Also used of deadlock-like interactions between humans, as when two people meet in a narrow corridor, and each tries to be polite by moving aside to let the other pass, but they end up swaying from side to side without making any progress because they always move the same way at the same time.

Node:deadly embrace, Next:, Previous:deadlock, Up:= D =

deadly embrace n.

Same as deadlock, though usually used only when exactly two processes are involved. This is the more popular term in Europe, while deadlock predominates in the United States.

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death code n.

A routine whose job is to set everything in the computer -- registers, memory, flags, everything -- to zero, including that portion of memory where it is running; its last act is to stomp on its own "store zero" instruction. Death code isn't very useful, but writing it is an interesting hacking challenge on architectures where the instruction set makes it possible, such as the PDP-8 (it has also been done on the DG Nova).

Perhaps the ultimate death code is on the TI 990 series, where all registers are actually in RAM, and the instruction "store immediate 0" has the opcode "0". The PC will immediately wrap around core as many times as it can until a user hits HALT. Any empty memory location is death code. Worse, the manufacturer recommended use of this instruction in startup code (which would be in ROM and therefore survive).

Node:Death Square, Next:, Previous:death code, Up:= D =

Death Square n.

The corporate logo of Novell, the people who acquired USL after AT&T let go of it (Novell eventually sold the Unix group to SCO). Coined by analogy with Death Star, because many people believed Novell was bungling the lead in Unix systems exactly as AT&T did for many years.

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Death Star n.

[from the movie "Star Wars"] 1. The AT&T corporate logo, which appears on computers sold by AT&T and bears an uncanny resemblance to the Death Star in the movie. This usage is particularly common among partisans of BSD Unix, who tend to regard the AT&T versions as inferior and AT&T as a bad guy. Copies still circulate of a poster printed by Mt. Xinu showing a starscape with a space fighter labeled 4.2 BSD streaking away from a broken AT&T logo wreathed in flames. 2. AT&T's internal magazine, "Focus", uses `death star' to describe an incorrectly done AT&T logo in which the inner circle in the top left is dark instead of light -- a frequent result of dark-on-light logo images.

Node:DEC, Next:, Previous:Death Star, Up:= D =

DEC /dek/ n.

1. v. Verbal (and only rarely written) shorthand for decrement, i.e. `decrease by one'. Especially used by assembly programmers, as many assembly languages have a dec mnemonic. Antonym: inc. 2. n. Commonly used abbreviation for Digital Equipment Corporation, later deprecated by DEC itself in favor of "Digital" and now entirely obsolete following the buyout by Compaq. Before the killer micro revolution of the late 1980s, hackerdom was closely symbiotic with DEC's pioneering timesharing machines. The first of the group of cultures described by this lexicon nucleated around the PDP-1 (see TMRC). Subsequently, the PDP-6, PDP-10, PDP-20, PDP-11 and VAX were all foci of large and important hackerdoms, and DEC machines long dominated the ARPANET and Internet machine population. DEC was the technological leader of the minicomputer era (roughly 1967 to 1987), but its failure to embrace microcomputers and Unix early cost it heavily in profits and prestige after silicon got cheap. Nevertheless, the microprocessor design tradition owes a major debt to the PDP-11 instruction set, and every one of the major general-purpose microcomputer OSs so far (CP/M, MS-DOS, Unix, OS/2, Windows NT) was either genetically descended from a DEC OS, or incubated on DEC hardware, or both. Accordingly, DEC was for many years still regarded with a certain wry affection even among many hackers too young to have grown up on DEC machines.

DEC reclaimed some of its old reputation among techies in the first half of the 1990s. The success of the Alpha, an innovatively-designed and very high-performance killer micro, helped a lot. So did DEC's newfound receptiveness to Unix and open systems in general. When Compaq acquired DEC at the end of 1998 there was some concern that these gains would be lost along with the DEC nameplate, but the merged company has so far turned out to be culturally dominated by the ex-DEC side.

Node:DEC Wars, Next:, Previous:DEC, Up:= D =

DEC Wars n.

A 1983 Usenet posting by Alan Hastings and Steve Tarr spoofing the "Star Wars" movies in hackish terms. Some years later, ESR (disappointed by Hastings and Tarr's failure to exploit a great premise more thoroughly) posted a 3-times-longer complete rewrite called Unix WARS; the two are often confused.

Node:decay, Next:, Previous:DEC Wars, Up:= D =

decay n.,vi

[from nuclear physics] An automatic conversion which is applied to most array-valued expressions in C; they `decay into' pointer-valued expressions pointing to the array's first element. This term is borderline techspeak, but is not used in the official standard for the language.

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deckle /dek'l/ n.

[from dec- and nybble; the original spelling seems to have been `decle'] Two nickles; 10 bits. Reported among developers for Mattel's GI 1600 (the Intellivision games processor), a chip with 16-bit-wide RAM but 10-bit-wide ROM. See nybble for other such terms.

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DED /D-E-D/ n.

Dark-Emitting Diode (that is, a burned-out LED). Compare SED, LER, write-only memory. In the early 1970s both Signetics and Texas instruments released DED spec sheets as AFJs (suggested uses included "as a power-off indicator").

Node:deep hack mode, Next:, Previous:DED, Up:= D =

deep hack mode n.

See hack mode.

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deep magic n.

[poss. from C. S. Lewis's "Narnia" books] An awesomely arcane technique central to a program or system, esp. one neither generally published nor available to hackers at large (compare black art); one that could only have been composed by a true wizard. Compiler optimization techniques and many aspects of OS design used to be deep magic; many techniques in cryptography, signal processing, graphics, and AI still are. Compare heavy wizardry. Esp. found in comments of the form "Deep magic begins here...". Compare voodoo programming.

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deep space n.

1. Describes the notional location of any program that has gone off the trolley. Esp. used of programs that just sit there silently grinding long after either failure or some output is expected. "Uh oh. I should have gotten a prompt ten seconds ago. The program's in deep space somewhere." Compare buzz, catatonic, hyperspace. 2. The metaphorical location of a human so dazed and/or confused or caught up in some esoteric form of bogosity that he or she no longer responds coherently to normal communication. Compare page out.

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defenestration n.

[mythically from a traditional Czech assasination method, via SF fandom] 1. Proper karmic retribution for an incorrigible punster. "Oh, ghod, that was awful!" "Quick! Defenestrate him!" 2. The act of exiting a window system in order to get better response time from a full-screen program. This comes from the dictionary meaning of `defenestrate', which is to throw something out a window. 3. The act of discarding something under the assumption that it will improve matters. "I don't have any disk space left." "Well, why don't you defenestrate that 100 megs worth of old core dumps?" 4. Under a GUI, the act of dragging something out of a window (onto the screen). "Next, defenestrate the MugWump icon." 5. The act of completely removing Micro$oft Windows from a PC in favor of a better OS (typically GNU/Linux).

Node:defined as, Next:, Previous:defenestration, Up:= D =

defined as adj.

In the role of, usually in an organization-chart sense. "Pete is currently defined as bug prioritizer." Compare logical.

Node:dehose, Next:, Previous:defined as, Up:= D =

dehose /dee-hohz/ vt.

To clear a hosed condition.

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deliminator /de-lim'-in-ay-t*r/ n.

[portmanteau, delimiter + eliminate] A string or pattern used to delimit text into fields, but which is itself eliminated from the resulting list of fields. This jargon seems to have originated among Perl hackers in connection with the Perl split() function; however, it has been sighted in live use among Java and even Visual Basic programmers.

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delint /dee-lint/ v. obs.

To modify code to remove problems detected when linting. Confusingly, this process is also referred to as `linting' code. This term is no longer in general use because ANSI C compilers typically issue compile-time warnings almost as detailed as lint warnings.

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delta n.

1. [techspeak] A quantitative change, especially a small or incremental one (this use is general in physics and engineering). "I just doubled the speed of my program!" "What was the delta on program size?" "About 30 percent." (He doubled the speed of his program, but increased its size by only 30 percent.) 2. [Unix] A diff, especially a diff stored under the set of version-control tools called SCCS (Source Code Control System) or RCS (Revision Control System). 3. n. A small quantity, but not as small as epsilon. The jargon usage of delta and epsilon stems from the traditional use of these letters in mathematics for very small numerical quantities, particularly in `epsilon-delta' proofs in limit theory (as in the differential calculus). The term delta is often used, once epsilon has been mentioned, to mean a quantity that is slightly bigger than epsilon but still very small. "The cost isn't epsilon, but it's delta" means that the cost isn't totally negligible, but it is nevertheless very small. Common constructions include `within delta of --', `within epsilon of --': that is, `close to' and `even closer to'.

Node:demented, Next:, Previous:delta, Up:= D =

demented adj.

Yet another term of disgust used to describe a malfunctioning program. The connotation in this case is that the program works as designed, but the design is bad. Said, for example, of a program that generates large numbers of meaningless error messages, implying that it is on the brink of imminent collapse. Compare wonky, brain-damaged, bozotic.

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demigod n.

A hacker with years of experience, a world-wide reputation, and a major role in the development of at least one design, tool, or game used by or known to more than half 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), Richard M. Stallman (inventor of EMACS and the GNU project), Larry Wall (inventor of Perl), Linus Torvalds (inventor of Linux), James Gosling (inventor of Java), and Guido van Rossum (inventor of Python, whose users prefer the term "Benevolent Dictator for Life"). 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.

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demo /de'moh/

[short for `demonstration'] 1. v. To demonstrate a product or prototype. A far more effective way of inducing bugs to manifest than any number of test runs, especially when important people are watching. 2. n. The act of demoing. "I've gotta give a demo of the drool-proof interface; how does it work again?" 3. n. Esp. as `demo version', can refer either to an early, barely-functional version of a program which can be used for demonstration purposes as long as the operator uses exactly the right commands and skirts its numerous bugs, deficiencies, and unimplemented portions, or to a special version of a program (frequently with some features crippled) which is distributed at little or no cost to the user for enticement purposes. 4. [demoscene] A sequence of demoeffects (usually) combined with self-composed music and hand-drawn ("pixelated") graphics. These days (1997) usually built to attend a compo. Often called `eurodemos' outside Europe, as most of the demoscene activity seems to have gathered in northern Europe and especially Scandinavia. See also intro, dentro.

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demo mode n.

1. [Sun] The state of being heads down in order to finish code in time for a demo, usually due yesterday. 2. A mode in which video games sit by themselves running through a portion of the game, also known as `attract mode'. Some serious apps have a demo mode they use as a screen saver, or may go through a demo mode on startup (for example, the Microsoft Windows opening screen -- which lets you impress your neighbors without actually having to put up with Microsloth Windows).

Node:demoeffect, Next:, Previous:demo mode, Up:= D =

demoeffect n.

[demoscene] What among hackers is called a display hack. Classical effects include "plasma" (colorful mess), "keftales" (x*x+y*y and other similar patterns, usually combined with color-cycling), realtime fractals, realtime 3d graphics, etc. Historically, demo effects have cheated as much as possible to gain more speed and more complexity, using low-precision math and masses of assembler code and building animation realtime are three common tricks, but use of special hardware to fake effects is a Good Thing on the demoscene (though this is becoming less common as platforms like the Amiga fade away).

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demogroup n.

[demoscene] A group of demo (sense 4) composers. Job titles within a group include coders (the ones who write programs), graphicians (the ones who painstakingly pixelate the fine art), musicians (the music composers), sysops, traders/swappers (the ones who do the trading and other PR), and organizers (in larger groups). It is not uncommon for one person to do multiple jobs, but it has been observed that good coders are rarely good composers and vice versa. [How odd. Musical talent seems common among Internet/Unix hackers --ESR]

Node:demon, Next:, Previous:demogroup, Up:= D =

demon n.

1. [MIT] A portion of a program that is not invoked explicitly, but that lies 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. 2. [outside MIT] Often used equivalently to daemon -- especially in the Unix world, where the latter spelling and pronunciation is considered mildly archaic.

Demons in sense 1 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.

Node:demon dialer, Next:, Previous:demon, Up:= D =

demon dialer n.

A program which repeatedly calls the same telephone number. Demon dialing may be benign (as when a number of communications programs contend for legitimate access to a BBS line) or malign (that is, used as a prank or denial-of-service attack). This term dates from the blue box days of the 1970s and early 1980s and is now semi-obsolescent among phreakers; see war dialer for its contemporary progeny.

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demoparty n.

[demoscene] Aboveground descendant of the copyparty, with emphasis shifted away from software piracy and towards compos. Smaller demoparties, for 100 persons or less, are held quite often, sometimes even once a month, and usually last for one to two days. On the other end of the scale, huge demo parties are held once a year (and four of these have grown very large and occur annually - Assembly in Finland, The Party in Denmark, The Gathering in Norway, and NAID somewhere in north America). These parties usually last for three to five days, have room for 3000-5000 people, and have a party network with connection to the internet.

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demoscene /dem'oh-seen/

[also `demo scene'] A culture of multimedia hackers located primarily in Scandinavia and northern Europe. Demoscene folklore recounts that when old-time warez d00dz cracked some piece of software they often added an advertisement of in the beginning, usually containing colorful display hacks with greetings to other cracking groups. The demoscene was born among people who decided building these display hacks is more interesting than hacking and began to build self-contained display hacks of considerable elaboration and beauty (within the culture such a hack is called a demo). The split seems to have happened at the end of the 1980s. As more of these demogroups emerged, they started to have compos at copying parties (see copyparty), which later evolved to standalone events (see demoparty). The demoscene has retained some traits from the warez d00dz, including their style of handles and group names and some of their jargon.

Traditionally demos were written in assembly language, with lots of smart tricks, self-modifying code, undocumented op-codes and the like. Some time around 1995, people started coding demos in C, and a couple of years after that, they also started using Java.

Ten years on (in 1998-1999), the demoscene is changing as its original platforms (C64, Amiga, Spectrum, Atari ST, IBM PC under DOS) die out and activity shifts towards Windows, GNU/Linux, and the Internet. While deeply underground in the past, demoscene is trying to get into the mainstream as accepted art form, and one symptom of this is the commercialization of bigger demoparties. Older demosceneers frown at this, but the majority think it's a good direction. Many demosceneers end up working in the computer game industry. Demoscene resource pages are available at and

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dentro /den'troh/

[demoscene] Combination of demo (sense 4) and intro. Other name mixings include intmo, dentmo etc. and are used usually when the authors are not quite sure whether the program is a demo or an intro. Special-purpose coinages like wedtro (some member of a group got married), invtro (invitation intro) etc. have also been sighted.

Node:depeditate, Next:, Previous:dentro, Up:= D =

depeditate /dee-ped'*-tayt/ n.

[by (faulty) analogy with `decapitate'] Humorously, to cut off the feet of. When one is using some computer-aided typesetting tools, careless placement of text blocks within a page or above a rule can result in chopped-off letter descenders. Such letters are said to have been depeditated.

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deprecated adj.

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. This term appears with distressing frequency in standards documents when the committees writing the documents realize that large amounts of extant (and presumably happily working) code depend on the feature(s) that have passed out of favor. See also dusty deck.

Node:derf, Next:, Previous:deprecated, Up:= D =

derf /derf/ v.,n.

[PLATO] The act of exploiting a terminal which someone else has absentmindedly left logged on, to use that person's account, especially to post articles intended to make an ass of the victim you're impersonating. It has been alleged that the term originated as a reversal of the name of the gentleman who most usually left himself vulnerable to it, who also happened to be the head of the department that handled PLATO at the University of Delaware.

Node:deserves to lose, Next:, Previous:derf, Up:= D =

deserves to lose adj.

[common] 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 mess-dos deserves to lose!" (ITS fans used to say the same thing of Unix; many still do.) See also screw, chomp, bagbiter.

Node:desk check, Next:, Previous:deserves to lose, Up:= D =

desk check n.,v.

To grovel over hardcopy of source code, mentally simulating the control flow; a method of catching bugs. No longer common practice in this age of on-screen editing, fast compiles, and sophisticated debuggers -- though some maintain stoutly that it ought to be. Compare eyeball search, vdiff, vgrep.

Node:despew, Next:, Previous:desk check, Up:= D =

despew /d*-spyoo'/ v.

[Usenet] To automatically generate a large amount of garbage to the net, esp. from an automated posting program gone wild. See ARMM.

Node:Devil Book, Next:, Previous:despew, Up:= D =

Devil Book n.

See daemon book, the term preferred by its authors.

Node:/dev/null, Next:, Previous:Devil Book, Up:= D =

/dev/null /dev-nuhl/ n.

[from the Unix null device, used as a data sink] A notional `black hole' in any information space being discussed, used, or referred to. A controversial posting, for example, might end "Kudos to, flames to /dev/null". See bit bucket.

Node:dickless workstation, Next:, Previous:/dev/null, Up:= D =

dickless workstation 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; typically, they cannot even boot themselves without help (in the form of some kind of breath-of-life packet) from the server.

Node:dictionary flame, Next:, Previous:dickless workstation, Up:= D =

dictionary flame n.

[Usenet] An attempt to sidetrack a debate away from issues by insisting on meanings for key terms that presuppose a desired conclusion or smuggle in an implicit premise. A common tactic of people who prefer argument over definitions to disputes about reality. Compare spelling flame.

Node:diddle, Next:, Previous:dictionary flame, Up:= D =


1. vt. To work with or modify in a not particularly serious manner. "I diddled 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. 2. n. The action or result of diddling. See also tweak, twiddle, frob.

Node:die, Next:, Previous:diddle, Up:= D =

die v.

Syn. crash. Unlike crash, which is used primarily of hardware, this verb is used of both hardware and software. See also go flatline, casters-up mode.

Node:die horribly, Next:, Previous:die, Up:= D =

die horribly v.

The software equivalent of crash and burn, and the preferred emphatic form of die. "The converter choked on an FF in its input and died horribly".

Node:diff, Next:, Previous:die horribly, Up:= D =

diff /dif/ n.

1. A change listing, especially giving differences between (and additions to) source code or documents (the term is often used in the plural `diffs'). "Send me your diffs for the Jargon File!" Compare vdiff. 2. Specifically, such a listing produced by the diff(1) command, esp. when used as specification input to the patch(1) utility (which can actually perform the modifications; see patch). This is a common method of distributing patches and source updates in the Unix/C world. 3. v. To compare (whether or not by use of automated tools on machine-readable files); see also vdiff, mod.

Node:digit, Next:, Previous:diff, Up:= D =

digit n.,obs.

An employee of Digital Equipment Corporation. See also VAX, VMS, PDP-10, TOPS-10, field circus.

Node:dike, Next:, Previous:digit, Up:= D =

dike vt.

To remove or disable a portion of something, as a wire from a computer or a subroutine from a program. A standard slogan is "When in doubt, dike it out". (The implication is that it is usually more effective to attack software problems by reducing complexity than by increasing it.) The word `dikes' is widely used among mechanics and engineers to mean `diagonal cutters', esp. the heavy-duty metal-cutting version, but may also refer to a kind of wire-cutters used by electronics techs. To `dike something out' means to use such cutters to remove something. Indeed, the TMRC Dictionary defined dike as "to attack with dikes". Among hackers this term has been metaphorically extended to informational objects such as sections of code.

Node:Dilbert, Next:, Previous:dike, Up:= D =


n. Name and title character of a comic strip nationally syndicated in the U.S. and enormously popular among hackers. Dilbert is an archetypical engineer-nerd who works at an anonymous high-technology company; the strips present a lacerating satire of insane working conditions and idiotic management practices all too readily recognized by hackers. Adams, who spent nine years in cube 4S700R at Pacific Bell (not DEC as often reported), often remarks that he has never been able to come up with a fictional management blunder that his correspondents didn't quickly either report to have actually happened or top with a similar but even more bizarre incident. In 1996 Adams distilled his insights into the collective psychology of businesses into an even funnier book, "The Dilbert Principle" (HarperCollins, ISBN 0-887-30787-6). See also pointy-haired, rat dance.

Node:ding, Next:, Previous:Dilbert, Up:= D =

ding n.,vi.

1. Synonym for feep. Usage: rare among hackers, but commoner in the Real World. 2. `dinged': What happens when someone in authority gives you a minor bitching about something, esp. something trivial. "I was dinged for having a messy desk."

Node:dink, Next:, Previous:ding, Up:= D =

dink /dink/ adj.

Said of a machine that has the bitty box nature; a machine too small to be worth bothering with -- sometimes the system you're currently forced to work on. First heard from an MIT hacker working on a CP/M system with 64K, in reference to any 6502 system, then from fans of 32-bit architectures about 16-bit machines. "GNUMACS will never work on that dink machine." Probably derived from mainstream `dinky', which isn't sufficiently pejorative. See macdink.

Node:dinosaur, Next:, Previous:dink, Up:= D =

dinosaur n.

1. Any hardware requiring raised flooring and special power. Used especially of old minis and mainframes, in contrast with newer microprocessor-based machines. In a famous quote from the 1988 Unix EXPO, Bill Joy compared the liquid-cooled 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; see also mainframe. 2. [IBM] A very conservative user; a zipperhead.

Node:dinosaur pen, Next:, Previous:dinosaur, Up:= D =

dinosaur 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.

Node:dinosaurs mating, Next:, Previous:dinosaur pen, Up:= D =

dinosaurs mating n.

Said to occur when yet another big iron merger or buyout occurs; reflects a perception by hackers that these signal another stage in the long, slow dying of the mainframe industry. In its glory days of the 1960s, it was `IBM and the Seven Dwarves': Burroughs, Control Data, General Electric, Honeywell, NCR, RCA, and Univac. RCA and GE sold out early, and it was `IBM and the Bunch' (Burroughs, Univac, NCR, Control Data, and Honeywell) for a while. Honeywell was bought out by Bull; Burroughs merged with Univac to form Unisys (in 1984 -- this was when the phrase `dinosaurs mating' was coined); and in 1991 AT&T absorbed NCR (but spat it back out a few years later). Control Data still exists but is no longer in the mainframe business. More such earth-shaking unions of doomed giants seem inevitable.

Node:dirtball, Next:, Previous:dinosaurs mating, Up:= D =

dirtball n.

[XEROX PARC] A small, perhaps struggling outsider; not in the major or even the minor leagues. For example, "Xerox is not a dirtball company".

[Outsiders often observe in the PARC culture an institutional arrogance which usage of this term exemplifies. The brilliance and scope of PARC's contributions to computer science have been such that this superior attitude is not much resented. --ESR]

Node:dirty power, Next:, Previous:dirtball, Up:= D =

dirty power n.

Electrical mains voltage that is unfriendly to the delicate innards of computers. Spikes, drop-outs, average voltage significantly higher or lower than nominal, or just plain noise can all cause problems of varying subtlety and severity (these are collectively known as power hits).

Node:disclaimer, Next:, Previous:dirty power, Up:= D =

disclaimer n.

[Usenet] Statement ritually appended to many Usenet postings (sometimes automatically, by the posting software) reiterating the fact (which should be obvious, but is easily forgotten) that the article reflects its author's opinions and not necessarily those of the organization running the machine through which the article entered the network.

Node:Discordianism, Next:, Previous:disclaimer, Up:= D =

Discordianism /dis-kor'di-*n-ism/ n.

The veneration of Eris, a.k.a. Discordia; widely popular among hackers. Discordianism was popularized by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's novel "Illuminatus!" 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. Consider, for example, the Fifth Commandment of the Pentabarf, from "Principia Discordia": "A Discordian is Prohibited of Believing What he Reads." Discordianism is usually connected with an elaborate conspiracy theory/joke involving millennia-long warfare between the anarcho-surrealist partisans of Eris and a malevolent, authoritarian secret society called the Illuminati. See Religion in Appendix B, Church of the SubGenius, and ha ha only serious.

Node:disk farm, Next:, Previous:Discordianism, Up:= D =

disk farm n.

(also laundromat) A large room or rooms filled with disk drives (esp. washing machines).

Node:display hack, Next:, Previous:disk farm, Up:= D =

display hack n.

A program with the same approximate purpose as a kaleidoscope: to make pretty pictures. Famous display hacks include munching squares, smoking clover, the BSD Unix rain(6) program, worms(6) on miscellaneous Unixes, and the X kaleid(1) program. Display hacks can also be implemented by creating text files containing numerous escape sequences for interpretation by a video terminal; one notable example displayed, on any VT100, a Christmas tree with twinkling lights and a toy train circling its base. The hack value of a display hack is proportional to the esthetic value of the images times the cleverness of the algorithm divided by the size of the code. Syn. psychedelicware.

Node:dispress, Next:, Previous:display hack, Up:= D =

dispress vt.

[contraction of `Dissociated Press' due to eight-character MS-DOS filenames] To apply the Dissociated Press algorithm to a block of text. The resultant output is also referred to as a 'dispression'.

Node:Dissociated Press, Next:, Previous:dispress, Up:= D =

Dissociated Press n.

[play on `Associated Press'; perhaps inspired by a reference in the 1950 Bugs Bunny cartoon "What's Up, Doc?"] An algorithm for transforming any text into potentially humorous garbage even more efficiently than by passing it through a marketroid. The algorithm starts by printing any N consecutive words (or letters) in the text. Then at every step it searches for any random occurrence in the original text of the last N words (or letters) already printed and then prints the next word or letter. EMACS has a handy command for this. Here is a short example of word-based Dissociated Press applied to an earlier version of this Jargon File:

wart: n. A small, crocky feature that sticks out of an array (C has no checks for this). This is relatively benign and easy to spot if the phrase is bent so as to be not worth paying attention to the medium in question.

Here is a short example of letter-based Dissociated Press applied to the same source:

window sysIWYG: n. A bit was named aften /bee't*/ prefer to use the other guy's re, especially in every cast a chuckle on neithout getting into useful informash speech makes removing a featuring a move or usage actual abstractionsidered interj. Indeed spectace logic or problem!

A hackish idle pastime is to apply letter-based Dissociated Press to a random body of text and vgrep the output in hopes of finding an interesting new word. (In the preceding example, `window sysIWYG' and `informash' show some promise.) Iterated applications of Dissociated Press usually yield better results. Similar techniques called `travesty generators' have been employed with considerable satirical effect to the utterances of Usenet flamers; see pseudo.

Node:distribution, Next:, Previous:Dissociated Press, Up:= D =

distribution n.

1. A software source tree packaged for distribution; but see kit. Since about 1996 unqualified use of this term often implies `(GNU/)Linux distribution'. 2. A vague term encompassing mailing lists and Usenet newsgroups (but not BBS fora); any topic-oriented message channel with multiple recipients. 3. An information-space domain (usually loosely correlated with geography) to which propagation of a Usenet message is restricted; a much-underutilized feature.

Node:disusered, Next:, Previous:distribution, Up:= D =

disusered adj.

[Usenet] Said of a person whose account on a computer has been removed, esp. for cause rather than through normal attrition. "He got disusered when they found out he'd been cracking through the school's Internet access." The verbal form `disuser' is live but less common. Both usages probably derive from the DISUSER account status flag on VMS; setting it disables the account. Compare star out.

Node:do protocol, Next:, Previous:disusered, Up:= D =

do protocol vi.

[from network protocol programming] 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 for the check, calculate the tip and everybody's share, collect money from everybody, generate change as necessary, and pay the bill. See protocol.

Node:doc, Next:, Previous:do protocol, Up:= D =

doc /dok/ n.

Common spoken and written shorthand for `documentation'. Often used in the plural `docs' and in the construction `doc file' (i.e., documentation available on-line).

Node:documentation, Next:, Previous:doc, Up:= D =

documentation n.

The multiple kilograms of macerated, pounded, steamed, bleached, and pressed trees that accompany most modern software or hardware products (see also tree-killer). Hackers seldom read paper documentation and (too) often resist writing it; they prefer theirs to be terse and on-line. A common comment on this predilection is "You can't grep dead trees". See drool-proof paper, verbiage, treeware.

Node:dodgy, Next:, Previous:documentation, Up:= D =

dodgy adj.

Syn. with flaky. Preferred outside the U.S.

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dogcow /dog'kow/ n.

See Moof. The dogcow is a semi-legendary creature that lurks in the depths of the Macintosh Technical Notes Hypercard stack V3.1. The full story of the dogcow is told in technical note #31 (the particular dogcow illustrated is properly named `Clarus'). Option-shift-click will cause it to emit a characteristic `Moof!' or `!fooM' sound. Getting to tech note 31 is the hard part; to discover how to do that, one must needs examine the stack script with a hackerly eye. Clue: rot13 is involved. A dogcow also appears if you choose `Page Setup...' with a LaserWriter selected and click on the `Options' button. It also lurks in other Mac printer drivers, notably those for the now-discontinued Style Writers. Pointers to all things dogcowish can be found at

Node:dogfood, Next:, Previous:dogcow, Up:= D =

dogfood n.

[Microsoft, Netscape] Interim software used internally for testing. "To eat one's own dogfood" (from which the slang noun derives) means to use the software one is developing, as part of one's everyday development environment (the phrase is used outside Microsoft and Netscape). The practice is normal in the GNU/Linux community and elsewhere, but the term `dogfood' is seldom used as open-source betas tend to be quite tasty and nourishing. The idea is that developers who are using their own software will quickly learn what's missing or broken. Dogfood is typically not even of beta quality.

Node:dogpile, Next:, Previous:dogfood, Up:= D =

dogpile v.

[Usenet: prob. fr. mainstream "puppy pile"] When many people post unfriendly responses in short order to a single posting, they are sometimes said to "dogpile" or "dogpile on" the person to whom they're responding. For example, when a religious missionary posts a simplistic appeal to alt.atheism, he can expect to be dogpiled. It has been suggested that this derives from U.S, football slang for a tackle involving three or more people.

Node:dogwash, Next:, Previous:dogpile, Up:= D =

dogwash /dog'wosh/

[From a quip in the `urgency' field of a very optional software change request, ca. 1982. It was something like "Urgency: Wash your dog first".] 1. n. A project of minimal priority, undertaken as an escape from more serious work. 2. v. To engage in such a project. Many games and much freeware get written this way.

Node:domainist, Next:, Previous:dogwash, Up:= D =

domainist /doh-mayn'ist/ adj.

1. [Usenet, by pointed analogy with "sexist", "racist", etc.] Someone who judges people by the domain of their email addresses; esp. someone who dismisses anyone who posts from a public internet provider. "What do you expect from an article posted from" 2. Said of an Internet address (as opposed to a bang path) because the part to the right of the @ specifies a nested series of `domains'; for example, specifies the machine called snark in the subdomain called thyrsus within the top-level domain called com. See also big-endian, sense 2.

The meaning of this term has drifted. At one time sense 2 was primary. In elder days it was also used of a site, mailer, or routing program which knew how to handle domainist addresses; or of a person (esp. a site admin) who preferred domain addressing, supported a domainist mailer, or proselytized for domainist addressing and disdained bang paths. These senses are now (1996) obsolete, as effectively all sites have converted.

Node:Don't do that then!, Next:, Previous:domainist, Up:= D =

Don't do that then! imp.

[from an old doctor's office joke about a patient with a trivial complaint] 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!" (or "So don't do that!"). Compare RTFM.

Node:dongle, Next:, Previous:Don't do that then!, Up:= D =

dongle /dong'gl/ n.

1. A security or copy protection device for proprietary software consisting of a serialized EPROM and some drivers in a D-25 connector shell, which must be connected to an I/O port of the computer while the program is run. Programs that use a dongle query the port at startup and at programmed intervals thereafter, and terminate if it does not respond with the dongle's programmed validation code. Thus, users can make as many copies of the program as they want but must pay for each dongle. The idea was clever, but it was initially a failure, as users disliked tying up a serial port this way. Almost all dongles on the market today (1993) will pass data through the port and monitor for magic codes (and combinations of status lines) with minimal if any interference with devices further down the line -- this innovation was necessary to allow daisy-chained dongles for multiple pieces of software. The devices are still not widely used, as the industry has moved away from copy-protection schemes in general. 2. By extension, any physical electronic key or transferable ID required for a program to function. Common variations on this theme have used parallel or even joystick ports. See dongle-disk.

[Note: in early 1992, advertising copy from Rainbow Technologies (a manufacturer of dongles) included a claim that the word derived from "Don Gall", allegedly the inventor of the device. The company's receptionist will cheerfully tell you that the story is a myth invented for the ad copy. Nevertheless, I expect it to haunt my life as a lexicographer for at least the next ten years. :-( --ESR]

Node:dongle-disk, Next:, Previous:dongle, Up:= D =

dongle-disk /don'gl disk/ n.

A special floppy disk that is required in order to perform some task. Some contain special coding that allows an application to identify it uniquely, others are special code that does something that normally-resident programs don't or can't. (For example, AT&T's "Unix PC" would only come up in root mode with a special boot disk.) Also called a `key disk'. See dongle.

Node:donuts, Next:, Previous:dongle-disk, Up:= D =

donuts n. obs.

A collective noun for any set of memory bits. This usage is extremely archaic and may no longer be live jargon; it dates from the days of ferrite-core memories in which each bit was implemented by a doughnut-shaped magnetic flip-flop.

Node:doorstop, Next:, Previous:donuts, Up:= D =

doorstop n.

Used to describe equipment that is non-functional and halfway expected to remain so, especially obsolete equipment kept around for political reasons or ostensibly as a backup. "When we get another Wyse-50 in here, that ADM 3 will turn into a doorstop." Compare boat anchor.

Node:DoS attack, Next:, Previous:doorstop, Up:= D =

DoS attack //

[Usenet; note that it's unrelated to `DOS' as name of an operating system] Abbreviation for Denial-Of-Service attack. This abbreviation is most often used of attempts to shut down newsgroups with floods of spam.

Node:dot file, Next:, Previous:DoS attack, Up:= D =

dot file [Unix] n.

A file that is not visible by default to normal directory-browsing tools (on Unix, files named with a leading dot are, by convention, not normally presented in directory listings). Many programs define one or more dot files in which startup or configuration information may be optionally recorded; a user can customize the program's behavior by creating the appropriate file in the current or home directory. (Therefore, dot files tend to creep -- with every nontrivial application program defining at least one, a user's home directory can be filled with scores of dot files, of course without the user's really being aware of it.) See also profile (sense 1), rc file.

Node:double bucky, Next:, Previous:dot file, Up:= D =

double bucky adj.

Using both the CTRL and META keys. "The command to burn all LEDs is double bucky F."

This term originated on the Stanford extended-ASCII keyboard, and was later taken up by users of the space-cadet keyboard at MIT. A typical MIT comment was that the Stanford bucky bits (control and meta shifting keys) were nice, but there weren't enough of them; you could type only 512 different characters on a Stanford keyboard. An obvious way to address this was simply to add more shifting keys, and this was eventually done; but a keyboard with that many shifting keys is hard on touch-typists, who don't like to move their hands away from the home position on the keyboard. It was half-seriously suggested that the extra shifting keys be implemented as pedals; typing on such a keyboard would be very much like playing a full pipe organ. This idea is mentioned in a parody of a very fine song by Jeffrey Moss called "Rubber Duckie", which was published in "The Sesame Street Songbook" (Simon and Schuster 1971, ISBN 0-671-21036-X). These lyrics were written on May 27, 1978, in celebration of the Stanford keyboard:

			Double Bucky

	Double bucky, you're the one!
	You make my keyboard lots of fun.
	    Double bucky, an additional bit or two:
	Control and meta, side by side,
	Augmented ASCII, nine bits wide!
	    Double bucky!  Half a thousand glyphs, plus a few!
		I sure wish that I
		Had a couple of
		    Bits more!
		Perhaps a
		Set of pedals to
		Make the number of
		    Bits four:
		Double double bucky!
	Double bucky, left and right
	OR'd together, outta sight!
	    Double bucky, I'd like a whole word of
	    Double bucky, I'm happy I heard of
	    Double bucky, I'd like a whole word of you!

	--- The Great Quux (with apologies to Jeffrey Moss)

[This, by the way, is an excellent example of computer filk --ESR] See also meta bit, cokebottle, and quadruple bucky.

Node:doubled sig, Next:, Previous:double bucky, Up:= D =

doubled sig [Usenet] n.

A sig block that has been included twice in a Usenet article or, less commonly, in an electronic mail message. An article or message with a doubled sig can be caused by improperly configured software. More often, however, it reveals the author's lack of experience in electronic communication. See B1FF, pseudo.

Node:down, Next:, Previous:doubled sig, Up:= D =


1. adj. Not operating. "The up escalator is down" is considered a humorous thing to say (unless of course you were expecting to use it), and "The elevator is down" always means "The elevator isn't working" and never refers to what floor the elevator is on. With respect to computers, this term has passed into the mainstream; the extension to other kinds of machine is still confined to techies (e.g. boiler mechanics may speak of a boiler being down). 2. `go down' vi. To stop functioning; usually said of the system. The message from the console that every hacker hates to hear from the operator is "System going down in 5 minutes". 3. `take down', `bring down' vt. To deactivate purposely, usually for repair work or PM. "I'm taking the system down to work on that bug in the tape drive." Occasionally one hears the word `down' by itself used as a verb in this vt. sense. See crash; oppose up.

Node:download, Next:, Previous:down, Up:= D =

download vt.

1. [techspeak] 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. Oppose upload. 2. [jargon] To fetch data (especially large relatively standalone pieces of data like files and images) over the wire from a remote location.

However, note that ground-to-space communications has its own usage rule for this term. Space-to-earth transmission is always `down' and the reverse `up' regardless of the relative size of the computers involved. So far the in-space machines have invariably been smaller; thus the upload/download distinction has been reversed from its usual sense.

Node:DP, Next:, Previous:download, Up:= D =

DP /D-P/ n.

1. Data Processing. Listed here because, according to hackers, use of the term marks one immediately as a suit. See DPer. 2. Common abbrev for Dissociated Press.

Node:DPB, Next:, Previous:DP, Up:= D =

DPB /d*-pib'/ vt.

[from the PDP-10 instruction set] To plop something down in the middle. Usage: silly. "DPB yourself into that couch there." The connotation would be that the couch is full except for one slot just big enough for one last person to sit in. DPB means `DePosit Byte', and was the name of a PDP-10 instruction that inserts some bits into the middle of some other bits. Hackish usage has been kept alive by the Common LISP function of the same name.

Node:DPer, Next:, Previous:DPB, Up:= D =

DPer /dee-pee-er/ n.

Data Processor. Hackers are absolutely amazed that suits use this term self-referentially. Computers process data, not people! See DP.

Node:Dr. Fred Mbogo, Next:, Previous:DPer, Up:= D =

Dr. Fred Mbogo /*m-boh'goh, dok'tr fred/ n.

[Stanford] The archetypal man you don't want to see about a problem, esp. an incompetent professional; a shyster. "Do you know a good eye doctor?" "Sure, try Mbogo Eye Care and Professional Dry Cleaning." The name comes from synergy between bogus and the original Dr. Mbogo, a witch doctor who was Gomez Addams' physician on the old "Addams Family" TV show. Interestingly enough, it turns out that under the rules for Swahili noun classes, `m-' is the characteristic prefix of "nouns referring to human beings". As such, "mbogo" is quite plausible as a Swahili coinage for a person having the nature of a bogon. Compare Bloggs Family and J. Random Hacker; see also Fred Foobar and fred.

Node:dragon, Next:, Previous:Dr. Fred Mbogo, Up:= D =

dragon n.

[MIT] A program similar to a daemon, 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 were, what they were running, etc., along with some random picture (such as a unicorn, Snoopy, or the Enterprise), which was generated by the `name dragon'. Usage: rare outside MIT -- under Unix and most other OSes this would be called a `background demon' or daemon. The best-known Unix example of a dragon is cron(1). At SAIL, they called this sort of thing a `phantom'.

Node:Dragon Book, Next:, Previous:dragon, Up:= D =

Dragon Book n.

The classic text "Compilers: Principles, Techniques and Tools", by Alfred V. Aho, Ravi Sethi, and Jeffrey D. Ullman (Addison-Wesley 1986; ISBN 0-201-10088-6), so called because of the cover design featuring a dragon labeled `complexity of compiler design' and a knight bearing the lance `LALR parser generator' among his other trappings. This one is more specifically known as the `Red Dragon Book' (1986); an earlier edition, sans Sethi and titled "Principles Of Compiler Design" (Alfred V. Aho and Jeffrey D. Ullman; Addison-Wesley, 1977; ISBN 0-201-00022-9), was the `Green Dragon Book' (1977). (Also `New Dragon Book', `Old Dragon Book'.) The horsed knight and the Green Dragon were warily eying each other at a distance; now the knight is typing (wearing gauntlets!) at a terminal showing a video-game representation of the Red Dragon's head while the rest of the beast extends back in normal space. See also book titles.

Node:drain, Next:, Previous:Dragon Book, Up:= D =

drain v.

[IBM] Syn. for flush (sense 2). Has a connotation of finality about it; one speaks of draining a device before taking it offline.

Node:dread high-bit disease, Next:, Previous:drain, Up:= D =

dread high-bit disease n.

A condition endemic to some now-obsolete computers and peripherals (including ASR-33 teletypes and PRIME minicomputers) that results in all characters having their high (0x80) bit forced on. This of course makes transporting files to other systems much more difficult, not to mention the problems these machines have talking with true 8-bit devices.

This term was originally used specifically of PRIME (a.k.a. PR1ME) minicomputers. Folklore has it that PRIME adopted the reversed-8-bit convention in order to save 25 cents per serial line per machine; PRIME old-timers, on the other hand, claim they inherited the disease from Honeywell via customer NASA's compatibility requirements and struggled heroically to cure it. Whoever was responsible, this probably qualifies as one of the most cretinous design tradeoffs ever made. See meta bit.

Node:Dread Questionmark Disease, Next:, Previous:dread high-bit disease, Up:= D =

Dread Questionmark Disease

n. The result of saving HTML from Microsoft Word or some other program that uses the nonstandard Microsoft variant of Latin-1; the symptom is that various of those nonstandard characters in positions 128-160 show up as questionmarks. The usual culprit is the misnamed `smart quotes' feature in Microsoft Word. For more details (and a program called `demoroniser' that cleans up the mess) see

Node:DRECNET, Next:, Previous:Dread Questionmark Disease, Up:= D =

DRECNET /drek'net/ n.

[from Yiddish/German `dreck', meaning filth] 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 in a way that made it incompatible. See also connector conspiracy.

Node:driver, Next:, Previous:DRECNET, Up:= D =

driver n.

1. The main loop of an event-processing program; the code that gets commands and dispatches them for execution. 2. [techspeak] In `device driver', code designed to handle a particular peripheral device such as a magnetic disk or tape unit. 3. In the TeX world and the computerized typesetting world in general, a program that translates some device-independent or other common format to something a real device can actually understand.

Node:droid, Next:, Previous:driver, Up:= D =

droid n.

[from `android', SF terminology for a humanoid robot of essentially biological (as opposed to mechanical/electronic) construction] A person (esp. a low-level bureaucrat or service-business employee) exhibiting most of the following characteristics: (a) naive trust in the wisdom of the parent organization or `the system'; (b) a blind-faith propensity to believe obvious nonsense emitted by authority figures (or computers!); (c) a rule-governed mentality, one unwilling or unable to look beyond the `letter of the law' in exceptional situations; (d) a paralyzing fear of official reprimand or worse if Procedures are not followed No Matter What; and (e) no interest in doing anything above or beyond the call of a very narrowly-interpreted duty, or in particular in fixing that which is broken; an "It's not my job, man" attitude.

Typical droid positions include supermarket checkout assistant and bank clerk; the syndrome is also endemic in low-level government employees. The implication is that the rules and official procedures constitute software that the droid is executing; problems arise when the software has not been properly debugged. The term `droid mentality' is also used to describe the mindset behind this behavior. Compare suit, marketroid; see -oid.

In England there is equivalent mainstream slang; a `jobsworth' is an obstructive, rule-following bureaucrat, often of the uniformed or suited variety. Named for the habit of denying a reasonable request by sucking his teeth and saying "Oh no, guv, sorry I can't help you: that's more than my job's worth".

Node:drone, Next:, Previous:droid, Up:= D =

drone n.

Ignorant sales or customer service personnel in computer or electronics superstores. Characterized by a lack of even superficial knowledge about the products they sell, yet possessed of the conviction that they are more competent than their hacker customers. Usage: "That video board probably sucks, it was recommended by a drone at Fry's" In the year 2000, their natural habitats include Fry's Electronics, Best Buy, and CompUSA.

Node:drool-proof paper, Next:, Previous:drone, Up:= D =

drool-proof paper n.

Documentation that 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'. For example, this is an actual quote from Apple's LaserWriter manual: "Do not expose your LaserWriter to open fire or flame."

Node:drop on the floor, Next:, Previous:drool-proof paper, Up:= D =

drop on the floor vt.

To react to an error condition by silently discarding messages or other valuable data. "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. See also black hole, bit bucket.

Node:drop-ins, Next:, Previous:drop on the floor, Up:= D =

drop-ins n.

[prob. by analogy with drop-outs] Spurious characters appearing on a terminal or console as a result of line noise or a system malfunction of some sort. Esp. used when these are interspersed with one's own typed input. Compare drop-outs, sense 2.

Node:drop-outs, Next:, Previous:drop-ins, Up:= D =

drop-outs n.

1. A variety of `power glitch' (see glitch); momentary 0 voltage on the electrical mains. 2. Missing characters in typed input due to software malfunction or system saturation (one cause of such behavior under Unix when a bad connection to a modem swamps the processor with spurious character interrupts; see screaming tty). 3. Mental glitches; used as a way of describing those occasions when the mind just seems to shut down for a couple of beats. See glitch, fried.

Node:drugged, Next:, Previous:drop-outs, Up:= D =

drugged adj.

(also `on drugs') 1. Conspicuously stupid, heading toward brain-damaged. Often accompanied by a pantomime of toking a joint. 2. Of hardware, very slow relative to normal performance.

Node:drum, Next:, Previous:drugged, Up:= D =

drum adj, n.

Ancient techspeak term referring to slow, cylindrical magnetic media that were once state-of-the-art storage devices. Under BSD Unix the disk partition used for swapping is still called /dev/drum; this has led to considerable humor and not a few straight-faced but utterly bogus `explanations' getting foisted on newbies. See also "The Story of Mel" in Appendix A.

Node:drunk mouse syndrome, Next:, Previous:drum, Up:= D =

drunk mouse syndrome n.

(also `mouse on drugs') A malady exhibited by the mouse pointing device of some computers. The typical symptom is for the mouse cursor on the screen to move in random directions and not in sync with the motion of the actual mouse. Can usually be corrected by unplugging the mouse and plugging it back again. Another recommended fix for optical mice is to rotate your mouse pad 90 degrees.

At Xerox PARC in the 1970s, most people kept a can of copier cleaner (isopropyl alcohol) at their desks. When the steel ball on the mouse had picked up enough cruft to be unreliable, the mouse was doused in cleaner, which restored it for a while. However, this operation left a fine residue that accelerated the accumulation of cruft, so the dousings became more and more frequent. Finally, the mouse was declared `alcoholic' and sent to the clinic to be dried out in a CFC ultrasonic bath.

Node:dub dub dub, Next:, Previous:drunk mouse syndrome, Up:= D =

dub dub dub

[common] Spoken-only shorthand for the "www" (double-u double-u double-u) in many web host names. Nothing to do with the style of reggae music called `dub'.

Node:Duff's device, Next:, Previous:dub dub dub, Up:= D =

Duff's device n.

The most dramatic use yet seen of fall through in C, invented by Tom Duff when he was at Lucasfilm. Trying to bum all the instructions he could out of an inner loop that copied data serially onto an output port, he decided to unroll it. He then realized that the unrolled version could be implemented by interlacing the structures of a switch and a loop:

   register n = (count + 7) / 8;      /* count > 0 assumed */

   switch (count % 8)
   case 0:        do {  *to = *from++;
   case 7:              *to = *from++;
   case 6:              *to = *from++;
   case 5:              *to = *from++;
   case 4:              *to = *from++;
   case 3:              *to = *from++;
   case 2:              *to = *from++;
   case 1:              *to = *from++;
                      } while (--n > 0);

Shocking though it appears to all who encounter it for the first time, the device is actually perfectly valid, legal C. C's default fall through in case statements has long been its most controversial single feature; Duff observed that "This code forms some sort of argument in that debate, but I'm not sure whether it's for or against." Duff has discussed the device in detail at Note that the omission of postfix ++ from *to was intentional (though confusing). Duff's device can be used to implement memory copy, but the original aim was to copy values serially into a magic IO register.

[For maximal obscurity, the outermost pair of braces above could be actually be removed -- GLS]

Node:dumb terminal, Next:, Previous:Duff's device, Up:= D =

dumb terminal n.

A terminal that is one step above a glass tty, having a minimally addressable cursor but no on-screen editing or other features normally supported by a smart terminal. Once upon a time, when glass ttys were common and addressable cursors were something special, what is now called a dumb terminal could pass for a smart terminal.

Node:dumbass attack, Next:, Previous:dumb terminal, Up:= D =

dumbass attack /duhm'as *-tak'/ n.

[Purdue] Notional cause of a novice's mistake made by the experienced, especially one made while running as root under Unix, e.g., typing rm -r * or mkfs on a mounted file system. Compare adger.

Node:dumbed down, Next:, Previous:dumbass attack, Up:= D =

dumbed down adj.

Simplified, with a strong connotation of oversimplified. Often, a marketroid will insist that the interfaces and documentation of software be dumbed down after the designer has burned untold gallons of midnight oil making it smart. This creates friction. See user-friendly.

Node:dump, Next:, Previous:dumbed down, Up:= D =

dump n.

1. An undigested and voluminous mass of information about a problem or the state of a system, especially one routed to the slowest available output device (compare core dump), and most especially one consisting of hex or octal runes describing the byte-by-byte state of memory, mass storage, or some file. In elder days, debugging was generally done by `groveling over' a dump (see grovel); increasing use of high-level languages and interactive debuggers has made such tedium uncommon, and the term `dump' now has a faintly archaic flavor. 2. A backup. This usage is typical only at large timesharing installations.

Node:dumpster diving, Next:, Previous:dump, Up:= D =

dumpster diving /dump'-ster di:'-ving/ n.

1. The practice of sifting refuse from an office or technical installation to extract confidential data, especially security-compromising information (`dumpster' is an Americanism for what is elsewhere called a `skip'). Back in AT&T's monopoly days, before paper shredders became common office equipment, phone phreaks (see phreaking) used to organize regular dumpster runs against phone company plants and offices. Discarded and damaged copies of AT&T internal manuals taught them much. The technique is still rumored to be a favorite of crackers operating against careless targets. 2. The practice of raiding the dumpsters behind buildings where producers and/or consumers of high-tech equipment are located, with the expectation (usually justified) of finding discarded but still-valuable equipment to be nursed back to health in some hacker's den. Experienced dumpster-divers not infrequently accumulate basements full of moldering (but still potentially useful) cruft.

Node:dup killer, Next:, Previous:dumpster diving, Up:= D =

dup killer /d[y]oop kill'r/ n.

[FidoNet] Software that is supposed to detect and delete duplicates of a message that may have reached the FidoNet system via different routes.

Node:dup loop, Next:, Previous:dup killer, Up:= D =

dup loop /d[y]oop loop/ (also `dupe loop') n.

[FidoNet] An infinite stream of duplicated, near-identical messages on a FidoNet echo, the only difference being unique or mangled identification information applied by a faulty or incorrectly configured system or network gateway, thus rendering dup killers ineffective. If such a duplicate message eventually reaches a system through which it has already passed (with the original identification information), all systems passed on the way back to that system are said to be involved in a dup loop.

Node:dusty deck, Next:, Previous:dup loop, Up:= D =

dusty deck n.

Old software (especially applications) which one is obliged to remain compatible with, or to maintain (DP types call this `legacy code', a term hackers consider smarmy and excessively reverent). The term implies that the software in question is a holdover from card-punch days. Used esp. when referring to old scientific and number-crunching software, much of which was written in FORTRAN and very poorly documented but is believed to be too expensive to replace. See fossil; compare crawling horror.

Node:DWIM, Next:, Previous:dusty deck, Up:= D =

DWIM /dwim/

[acronym, `Do What I Mean'] 1. adj. Able to guess, sometimes even correctly, the result intended when bogus input was provided. 2. n. obs. The BBNLISP/INTERLISP function that attempted to accomplish this feat by correcting many of the more common errors. See hairy. 3. Occasionally, an interjection hurled at a balky computer, esp. when one senses one might be tripping over legalisms (see legalese). 4. Of a person, someone whose directions are incomprehensible and vague, but who nevertheless has the expectation that you will solve the problem using the specific method he/she has in mind.

Warren Teitelman originally wrote DWIM to fix his typos and spelling errors, so it was somewhat idiosyncratic to his style, and would often make hash of anyone else's typos if they were stylistically different. Some victims of DWIM thus claimed that the acronym stood for `Damn Warren's Infernal Machine!'.

In one notorious incident, Warren added a DWIM feature to the command interpreter used at Xerox PARC. One day another hacker there typed delete *$ to free up some disk space. (The editor there named backup files by appending $ to the original file name, so he was trying to delete any backup files left over from old editing sessions.) It happened that there weren't any editor backup files, so DWIM helpfully reported *$ not found, assuming you meant 'delete *'. It then started to delete all the files on the disk! The hacker managed to stop it with a Vulcan nerve pinch after only a half dozen or so files were lost.

The disgruntled victim later said he had been sorely tempted to go to Warren's office, tie Warren down in his chair in front of his workstation, and then type delete *$ twice.

DWIM is often suggested in jest as a desired feature for a complex program; it is also occasionally described as the single instruction the ideal computer would have. Back when proofs of program correctness were in vogue, there were also jokes about `DWIMC' (Do What I Mean, Correctly). A related term, more often seen as a verb, is DTRT (Do The Right Thing); see Right Thing.

Node:dynner, Next:, Previous:DWIM, Up:= D =

dynner /din'r/ n.

32 bits, by analogy with nybble and byte. Usage: rare and extremely silly. See also playte, tayste, crumb. General discussion of such terms is under nybble.

Node:= E =, Next:, Previous:= D =, Up:The Jargon Lexicon

= E =

Node:earthquake, Next:, Previous:dynner, Up:= E =

earthquake n.

[IBM] The ultimate real-world shock test for computer hardware. Hackish sources at IBM deny the rumor that the Bay Area quake of 1989 was initiated by the company to test quality-assurance procedures at its California plants.

Node:Easter egg, Next:, Previous:earthquake, Up:= E =

Easter egg n.

[from the custom of the Easter Egg hunt observed in the U.S. and many parts of Europe] 1. A message hidden in the object code of a program as a joke, intended to be found by persons disassembling or browsing the code. 2. A message, graphic, or sound effect emitted by a program (or, on a PC, the BIOS ROM) in response to some undocumented set of commands or keystrokes, intended as a joke or to display program credits. One well-known early Easter egg found in a couple of OSes caused them to respond to the command make love with not war?. Many personal computers have much more elaborate eggs hidden in ROM, including lists of the developers' names, political exhortations, snatches of music, and (in one case) graphics images of the entire development team.

Node:Easter egging, Next:, Previous:Easter egg, Up:= E =

Easter egging n.

[IBM] The act of replacing unrelated components 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. See also the jokes under field circus. Compare shotgun debugging.

Node:eat flaming death, Next:, Previous:Easter egging, Up:= E =

eat flaming death imp.

A construction popularized among hackers by the infamous CPU Wars comic; supposedly derive from a famously turgid line in a WWII-era anti-Nazi propaganda comic that ran "Eat flaming death, non-Aryan mongrels!" or something of the sort (however, it is also reported that the Firesign Theatre's 1975 album "In The Next World, You're On Your Own" a character won the right to scream "Eat flaming death, fascist media pigs" in the middle of Oscar night on a game show; this may have been an influence). Used in humorously overblown expressions of hostility. "Eat flaming death, EBCDIC users!"

Node:EBCDIC, Next:, Previous:eat flaming death, Up:= E =

EBCDIC /eb's*-dik/, /eb'see`dik/, or /eb'k*-dik/ n.

[abbreviation, Extended Binary Coded Decimal Interchange Code] An alleged character set used on IBM dinosaurs. It exists in at least six mutually incompatible versions, all featuring such delights as non-contiguous letter sequences and the absence of several ASCII punctuation characters fairly important for modern computer languages (exactly which characters are absent varies according to which version of EBCDIC you're looking at). IBM adapted EBCDIC from punched card code in the early 1960s and promulgated it as a customer-control tactic (see connector conspiracy), spurning the already established ASCII standard. Today, IBM claims to be an open-systems company, but IBM's own description of the EBCDIC variants and how to convert between them is still internally classified top-secret, burn-before-reading. Hackers blanch at the very name of EBCDIC and consider it a manifestation of purest evil. See also fear and loathing.

Node:echo, Next:, Previous:EBCDIC, Up:= E =

echo [FidoNet] n.

A topic group on FidoNet's echomail system. Compare newsgroup.

Node:ECP, Next:, Previous:echo, Up:= E =

ECP /E-C-P/ n.

See spam and velveeta.

Node:ed, Next:, Previous:ECP, Up:= E =

ed n.

"ed is the standard text editor." Line taken from original the Unix manual page on ed, an ancient line-oriented editor that is by now used only by a few Real Programmers, and even then only for batch operations. The original line is sometimes uttered near the beginning of an emacs vs. vi holy war on Usenet, with the (vain) hope to quench the discussion before it really takes off. Often followed by a standard text describing the many virtues of ed (such as the small memory footprint on a Timex Sinclair, and the consistent (because nearly non-existent) user interface).

Node:egosurf, Next:, Previous:ed, Up:= E =

egosurf vi.

To search the net for your name or links to your web pages. Perhaps connected to long-established SF-fan slang `egoscan', to search for one's name in a fanzine.

Node:eighty-column mind, Next:, Previous:egosurf, Up:= E =

eighty-column mind n.

[IBM] The sort said to be possessed by persons for whom the transition from punched card to tape was traumatic (nobody has dared tell them about disks yet). It is said that these people, including (according to an old joke) the founder of IBM, will be buried `face down, 9-edge first' (the 9-edge being the bottom of the card). This directive is inscribed on IBM's 1402 and 1622 card readers and is referenced in a famous bit of doggerel called "The Last Bug", the climactic lines of which are as follows:

   He died at the console
   Of hunger and thirst.
   Next day he was buried,
   Face down, 9-edge first.

The eighty-column mind was thought by most hackers to dominate IBM's customer base and its thinking. This only began to change in the mid-1990s when IBM began to reinvent itself after the triumph of the killer micro. See IBM, fear and loathing, card walloper. A copy of "The Last Bug" lives on the the GNU site at

Node:El Camino Bignum, Next:, Previous:eighty-column mind, Up:= E =

El Camino Bignum /el' k*-mee'noh big'nuhm/ n.

The road mundanely called El Camino Real, running along San Francisco peninsula. It originally extended all the way down to Mexico City; many portions of the old road are still intact. Navigation on the San Francisco peninsula is usually done relative to El Camino Real, which defines logical north and south even though it isn't really north-south in many places. El Camino Real runs right past Stanford University and so is familiar to hackers.

The Spanish word `real' (which has two syllables: /ray-ahl'/) means `royal'; El Camino Real is `the royal road'. In the FORTRAN language, a `real' quantity is a number typically precise to seven significant digits, and a `double precision' quantity is a larger floating-point number, precise to perhaps fourteen significant digits (other languages have similar `real' types).

When a hacker from MIT visited Stanford in 1976, he remarked what a long road El Camino Real was. Making a pun on `real', he started calling it `El Camino Double Precision' -- but when the hacker was told that the road was hundreds of miles long, he renamed it `El Camino Bignum', and that name has stuck. (See bignum.)

[GLS has since let slip that the unnamed hacker in this story was in fact himself --ESR]

In recent years, the synonym `El Camino Virtual' has been reported as an alternate at IBM and Amdahl sites in the Valley. Mathematically literate hackers in the Valley have also been heard to refer to some major cross-street intersecting El Camino Real as "El Camino Imaginary". One popular theory is that the intersection is located near Moffett Field - where they keep all those complex planes.

Node:elder days, Next:, Previous:El Camino Bignum, Up:= E =

elder days n.

The heroic age of hackerdom (roughly, pre-1980); the era of the PDP-10, TECO, ITS, and the ARPANET. This term has been rather consciously adopted from J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy epic "The Lord of the Rings". Compare Iron Age; see also elvish and Great Worm.

Node:elegant, Next:, Previous:elder days, Up:= E =

elegant adj.

[common; from mathematical usage] Combining simplicity, power, and a certain ineffable grace of design. Higher praise than `clever', `winning', or even cuspy.

The French aviator, adventurer, and author Antoine de Saint-Exup�ry, probably best known for his classic children's book "The Little Prince", was also an aircraft designer. He gave us perhaps the best definition of engineering elegance when he said "A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."

Node:elephantine, Next:, Previous:elegant, Up:= E =

elephantine adj.

Used of programs or systems that are both conspicuous hogs (owing 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 (as in the old joke about being in bed with an elephant) it's tough to have around all the same (and, like a pachyderm, difficult to maintain). In extreme cases, hackers have been known to make trumpeting sounds or perform expressive proboscatory 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 effect and baroque.

Node:elevator controller, Next:, Previous:elephantine, Up:= E =

elevator controller n.

An archetypal dumb embedded-systems application, like toaster (which superseded it). During one period (1983-84) in the deliberations of ANSI X3J11 (the C standardization committee) this was the canonical example of a really stupid, memory-limited computation environment. "You can't require printf(3) to be part of the default runtime library -- what if you're targeting an elevator controller?" Elevator controllers became important rhetorical weapons on both sides of several holy wars.

Node:elite, Next:, Previous:elevator controller, Up:= E =

elite adj.

Clueful. Plugged-in. One of the cognoscenti. Also used as a general positive adjective. This term is not actually hacker slang in the strict sense; it is used primarily by crackers and warez d00dz, for which reason hackers use it only with heavy irony. The term used to refer to the folks allowed in to the "hidden" or "privileged" sections of BBSes in the early 1980s (which, typically, contained pirated software). Frequently, early boards would only let you post, or even see, a certain subset of the sections (or `boards') on a BBS. Those who got to the frequently legendary `triple super secret' boards were elite. Misspellings of this term in warez d00dz style abound; the forms `eleet', and `31337' (among others) have been sighted.

A true hacker would be more likely to use `wizardly'. Oppose lamer.

Node:ELIZA effect, Next:, Previous:elite, Up:= E =

ELIZA effect /*-li:'z* *-fekt'/ n.

[AI community] The tendency of humans to attach associations to terms from prior experience. For example, there is nothing magic about the symbol + that makes it well-suited to indicate addition; it's just that people associate it with addition. Using + or `plus' to mean addition in a computer language is taking advantage of the ELIZA effect.

This term comes from the famous ELIZA program by Joseph Weizenbaum, which simulated a Rogerian psychotherapist by rephrasing many of the patient's statements as questions and posing them to the patient. It worked by simple pattern recognition and substitution of key words into canned phrases. It was so convincing, however, that there are many anecdotes about people becoming very emotionally caught up in dealing with ELIZA. All this was due to people's tendency to attach to words meanings which the computer never put there. The ELIZA effect is a Good Thing when writing a programming language, but it can blind you to serious shortcomings when analyzing an Artificial Intelligence system. Compare ad-hockery; see also AI-complete. Sources for a clone of the original Eliza are available at

Node:elvish, Next:, Previous:ELIZA effect, Up:= E =

elvish n.

1. The Tengwar of Feanor, a table of letterforms resembling the beautiful Celtic half-uncial hand of the "Book of Kells". Invented and described by J. R. R. Tolkien in "The Lord of The Rings" as an orthography for his fictional `elvish' languages, this system (which is both visually and phonetically elegant) has long fascinated hackers (who tend to be intrigued by artificial languages in general). It is traditional for graphics printers, plotters, window systems, and the like to support a Feanorian typeface as one of their demo items. See also elder days. 2. By extension, any odd or unreadable typeface produced by a graphics device. 3. The typeface mundanely called `B�cklin', an art-Noveau display font.

Node:EMACS, Next:, Previous:elvish, Up:= E =

EMACS /ee'maks/ n.

[from Editing MACroS] The ne plus ultra of hacker editors, a programmable text editor with an entire LISP system inside it. It was originally written by Richard Stallman in TECO under ITS at the MIT AI lab; AI Memo 554 described it as "an advanced, self-documenting, customizable, extensible real-time display editor". It has since been reimplemented any number of times, by various hackers, and versions exist that run under most major operating systems. Perhaps the most widely used version, also written by Stallman and now called "GNU EMACS" or GNUMACS, runs principally under Unix. (Its close relative XEmacs is the second most popular version.) It includes facilities to run compilation subprocesses and send and receive mail or news; many hackers spend up to 80% of their tube time inside it. Other variants include GOSMACS, CCA EMACS, UniPress EMACS, Montgomery EMACS, jove, epsilon, and MicroEMACS. (Though we use the original all-caps spelling here, it is nowadays very commonly `Emacs'.)

Some EMACS versions running under window managers iconify as an overflowing kitchen sink, perhaps to suggest the one feature the editor does not (yet) include. Indeed, some hackers find EMACS too heavyweight and baroque for their taste, and expand the name as `Escape Meta Alt Control Shift' to spoof its heavy reliance on keystrokes decorated with bucky bits. Other spoof expansions include `Eight Megabytes And Constantly Swapping' (from when that was a lot of core), `Eventually malloc()s All Computer Storage', and `EMACS Makes A Computer Slow' (see recursive acronym). See also vi.

Node:email, Next:, Previous:EMACS, Up:= E =

email /ee'mayl/

(also written `e-mail' and `E-mail') 1. n. Electronic mail automatically passed through computer networks and/or via modems over common-carrier lines. Contrast snail-mail, paper-net, voice-net. See network address. 2. vt. To send electronic mail.

Oddly enough, the word `emailed' is actually listed in the OED; it means "embossed (with a raised pattern) or perh. arranged in a net or open work". A use from 1480 is given. The word is probably derived from French `�maill�' (enameled) and related to Old French `emmaille�re' (network). A French correspondent tells us that in modern French, `email' is a hard enamel obtained by heating special paints in a furnace; an `emailleur' (no final e) is a craftsman who makes email (he generally paints some objects (like, say, jewelry) and cooks them in a furnace).

There are numerous spelling variants of this word. In Internet traffic up to 1995, `email' predominates, `e-mail' runs a not-too-distant second, and `E-mail' and `Email' are a distant third and fourth.

Node:emoticon, Next:, Previous:email, Up:= E =

emoticon /ee-moh'ti-kon/ n.

[common] An ASCII glyph used to indicate an emotional state in email or news. Although originally intended mostly as jokes, emoticons (or some other explicit humor indication) are virtually required under certain circumstances in high-volume text-only communication forums such as Usenet; the lack of verbal and visual cues can otherwise cause what were intended to be humorous, sarcastic, ironic, or otherwise non-100%-serious comments to be badly misinterpreted (not always even by newbies), resulting in arguments and flame wars.

Hundreds of emoticons have been proposed, but only a few are in common use. These include:

`smiley face' (for humor, laughter, friendliness, occasionally sarcasm)
`frowney face' (for sadness, anger, or upset)
`half-smiley' (ha ha only serious); also known as `semi-smiley' or `winkey face'.
`wry face'

(These may become more comprehensible if you tilt your head sideways, to the left.)

The first two listed are by far the most frequently encountered. Hyphenless forms of them are common on CompuServe, GEnie, and BIX; see also bixie. On Usenet, `smiley' is often used as a generic term synonymous with emoticon, as well as specifically for the happy-face emoticon.

It appears that the emoticon was invented by one Scott Fahlman on the CMU bboard systems sometime between early 1981 and mid-1982. He later wrote: "I wish I had saved the original post, or at least recorded the date for posterity, but I had no idea that I was starting something that would soon pollute all the world's communication channels." [GLS confirms that he remembers this original posting].

Note for the newbie: Overuse of the smiley is a mark of loserhood! More than one per paragraph is a fairly sure sign that you've gone over the line.

Node:EMP, Next:, Previous:emoticon, Up:= E =


See spam.

Node:empire, Next:, Previous:EMP, Up:= E =

empire n.

Any of a family of military simulations derived from a game written by Peter Langston many years ago. A number of multi-player variants of varying degrees of sophistication exist, and one single-player version implemented for both Unix and VMS; the latter is even available as MS-DOS freeware. All are notoriously addictive. Of various commercial derivatives the best known is probably "Empire Deluxe" on PCs and Amigas.

Modern empire is a real-time wargame played over the internet by up to 120 players. Typical games last from 24 hours (blitz) to a couple of months (long term). The amount of sleep you can get while playing is a function of the rate at which updates occur and the number of co-rulers of your country. Empire server software is available for unix-like machines, and clients for Unix and other platforms. A comprehensive history of the game is available at The Empire resource site is at

Node:engine, Next:, Previous:empire, Up:= E =

engine n.

1. A piece of hardware that encapsulates some function but can't be used without some kind of front end. Today we have, especially, `print engine': the guts of a laser printer. 2. An analogous piece of software; notionally, one that does a lot of noisy crunching, such as a `database engine'.

The hacker senses of `engine' are actually close to its original, pre-Industrial-Revolution sense of a skill, clever device, or instrument (the word is cognate to `ingenuity'). This sense had not been completely eclipsed by the modern connotation of power-transducing machinery in Charles Babbage's time, which explains why he named the stored-program computer that he designed in 1844 the `Analytical Engine'.

Node:English, Next:, Previous:engine, Up:= E =


1. n. obs. The source code for a program, which may be in any language, as opposed to the linkable or executable binary produced from it by a compiler. The idea behind the term is that to a real hacker, a program written in his favorite programming language is at least as readable as English. Usage: mostly by old-time hackers, though recognizable in context. 2. The official name of the database language used by old the Pick Operating System, actually a sort of crufty, brain-damaged SQL with delusions of grandeur. The name permitted marketroids to say "Yes, and you can program our computers in English!" to ignorant suits without quite running afoul of the truth-in-advertising laws.

Node:enhancement, Next:, Previous:English, Up:= E =

enhancement n.

Common marketroid-speak for a bug fix. This abuse of language is a popular and time-tested way to turn incompetence into increased revenue. A hacker being ironic would instead call the fix a feature -- or perhaps save some effort by declaring the bug itself to be a feature.

Node:ENQ, Next:, Previous:enhancement, Up:= E =

ENQ /enkw/ or /enk/

[from the ASCII mnemonic ENQuire for 0000101] An on-line convention for querying someone's availability. After opening a talk mode connection to someone apparently in heavy hack mode, one might type SYN SYN ENQ? (the SYNs representing notional synchronization bytes), and expect a return of ACK or NAK depending on whether or not the person felt interruptible. Compare ping, finger, and the usage of FOO? listed under talk mode.

Node:EOF, Next:, Previous:ENQ, Up:= E =

EOF /E-O-F/ n.

[abbreviation, `End Of File'] 1. [techspeak] The out-of-band value returned by C's sequential character-input functions (and their equivalents in other environments) when end of file has been reached. This value is usually -1 under C libraries postdating V6 Unix, but was originally 0. DOS hackers think EOF is ^Z, and a few Amiga hackers think it's ^\. 2. [Unix] The keyboard character (usually control-D, the ASCII EOT (End Of Transmission) character) that is mapped by the terminal driver into an end-of-file condition. 3. Used by extension in non-computer contexts when a human is doing something that can be modeled 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." See also EOL.

Node:EOL, Next:, Previous:EOF, Up:= E =

EOL /E-O-L/ n.

[End Of Line] Syn. for newline, derived perhaps from the original CDC6600 Pascal. Now rare, but widely recognized and occasionally used for brevity. Used in the example entry under BNF. See also EOF.

Node:EOU, Next:, Previous:EOL, Up:= E =

EOU /E-O-U/ n.

The mnemonic of a mythical ASCII control character (End Of User) that would make an ASR-33 Teletype explode on receipt. This construction parodies the numerous obscure delimiter and control characters left in ASCII from the days when it was associated more with wire-service teletypes than computers (e.g., FS, GS, RS, US, EM, SUB, ETX, and esp. EOT). It is worth remembering that ASR-33s were big, noisy mechanical beasts with a lot of clattering parts; the notion that one might explode was nowhere near as ridiculous as it might seem to someone sitting in front of a tube or flatscreen today.

Node:epoch, Next:, Previous:EOU, Up:= E =

epoch n.

[Unix: prob. from astronomical timekeeping] The time and date corresponding to 0 in an operating system's clock and timestamp values. Under most Unix versions the epoch is 00:00:00 GMT, January 1, 1970; under VMS, it's 00:00:00 of November 17, 1858 (base date of the U.S. Naval Observatory's ephemerides); on a Macintosh, it's the midnight beginning January 1 1904. System time is measured in seconds or ticks past the epoch. Weird problems may ensue when the clock wraps around (see wrap around), which is not necessarily a rare event; on systems counting 10 ticks per second, a signed 32-bit count of ticks is good only for 6.8 years. The 1-tick-per-second clock of Unix is good only until January 18, 2038, assuming at least some software continues to consider it signed and that word lengths don't increase by then. See also wall time. Microsoft Windows, on the other hand, has an epoch problem every 49.7 days - but this is seldom noticed as Windows is almost incapable of staying up continuously for that long.

Node:epsilon, Next:, Previous:epoch, Up:= E =


[see delta] 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, even closer than being `within delta of'. "That's not what I asked for, but it's within epsilon of what I wanted." Alternatively, it may mean not close enough, but very little is required to get it there: "My program is within epsilon of working."

Node:epsilon squared, Next:, Previous:epsilon, Up:= E =

epsilon squared n.

A quantity even smaller than epsilon, as small in comparison to epsilon as epsilon is to something normal; completely negligible. If you buy a supercomputer for a million dollars, the cost of the thousand-dollar terminal to go with it is epsilon, and the cost of the ten-dollar cable to connect them is epsilon squared. Compare lost in the underflow, lost in the noise.

Node:era the, Next:, Previous:epsilon squared, Up:= E =

era n.

Syn. epoch. Webster's Unabridged makes these words almost synonymous, but `era' more often connotes a span of time rather than a point in time, whereas the reverse is true for epoch. The epoch usage is recommended.

Node:Eric Conspiracy, Next:, Previous:era the, Up:= E =

Eric Conspiracy n.

A shadowy group of mustachioed hackers named Eric first pinpointed as a sinister conspiracy by an infamous talk.bizarre posting ca. 1987; this was doubtless influenced by the numerous `Eric' jokes in the Monty Python oeuvre. There do indeed seem to be considerably more mustachioed Erics in hackerdom than the frequency of these three traits can account for unless they are correlated in some arcane way. Well-known examples include Eric Allman (he of the `Allman style' described under indent style) and Erik Fair (co-author of NNTP); your editor has heard from more than sixty others by email, and the organization line `Eric Conspiracy Secret Laboratories' now emanates regularly from more than one site. See the Eric Conspiracy Web Page at for full details.

Node:Eris, Next:, Previous:Eric Conspiracy, Up:= E =

Eris /e'ris/ n.

The Greek goddess of Chaos, Discord, Confusion, and Things You Know Not Of; her name was latinized to Discordia and she was worshiped by that name in Rome. Not a very friendly deity in the Classical original, she was reinvented 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 hackerdom. See Discordianism, Church of the SubGenius.

Node:erotics, Next:, Previous:Eris, Up:= E =

erotics /ee-ro'tiks/ n.

[Helsinki University of Technology, Finland] n. English-language university slang for electronics. Often used by hackers in Helsinki, maybe because good electronics excites them and makes them warm.

Node:error 33, Next:, Previous:erotics, Up:= E =

error 33 [XEROX PARC] n.

1. Predicating one research effort upon the success of another. 2. Allowing your own research effort to be placed on the critical path of some other project (be it a research effort or not).

Node:esoteric programming language Next: Previous:error 33 Up:= E =

esoteric programming language n.

A programming language with humorous syntax-- usually designed to look like some other sort of document (as in "Shakespeare" or "Chef", two highly regarded esoteric languages) or to be intentionally confusing and arcane (as in INTERCAL or brainfuck)

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eurodemo /yoor'o-dem`-o/

a demo, sense 4

Node:evil, Next:, Previous:eurodemo, Up:= E =

evil adj.

As used by hackers, implies that some system, program, person, or institution is sufficiently maldesigned as to be not worth the bother of dealing with. Unlike the adjectives in the cretinous/losing/brain-damaged series, `evil' does not imply incompetence or bad design, but rather a set of goals or design criteria fatally incompatible with the speaker's. This usage is more an esthetic and engineering judgment than a moral one in the mainstream sense. "We thought about adding a Blue Glue interface but decided it was too evil to deal with." "TECO is neat, but it can be pretty evil if you're prone to typos." Often pronounced with the first syllable lengthened, as /eeee'vil/. Compare evil and rude.

Node:evil and rude, Next:, Previous:evil, Up:= E =

evil and rude adj.

Both evil and rude, but with the additional connotation that the rudeness was due to malice rather than incompetence. Thus, for example: Microsoft's Windows NT is evil because it's a competent implementation of a bad design; it's rude because it's gratuitously incompatible with Unix in places where compatibility would have been as easy and effective to do; but it's evil and rude because the incompatibilities are apparently there not to fix design bugs in Unix but rather to lock hapless customers and developers into the Microsoft way. Hackish evil and rude is close to the mainstream sense of `evil'.

Node:Evil Empire, Next:, Previous:evil and rude, Up:= E =

Evil Empire n.

[from Ronald Reagan's famous characterization of the Soviet Union] Formerly IBM, now Microsoft. Functionally, the company most hackers love to hate at any given time. Hackers like to see themselves as romantic rebels against the Evil Empire, and frequently adopt this role to the point of ascribing rather more power and malice to the Empire than it actually has. See also Borg and search for Evil Empire pages on the Web.

Node:exa-, Next:, Previous:Evil Empire, Up:= E =

exa- /ek's*/ pref.

[SI] See quantifiers.

Node:examining the entrails, Next:, Previous:exa-, Up:= E =

examining the entrails n.

The process of grovelling through a core dump or hex image in an attempt to discover the bug that brought a program or system down. The reference is to divination from the entrails of a sacrified animal. Compare runes, incantation, black art, desk check.

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EXCH /eks'ch*/ or /eksch/ vt.

To exchange two things, each for the other; to swap places. If you point to two people sitting down and say "Exch!", you are asking them to trade places. EXCH, meaning EXCHange, was originally the name of a PDP-10 instruction that exchanged the contents of a register and a memory location. Many newer hackers are probably thinking instead of the PostScript exchange operator (which is usually written in lowercase).

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excl /eks'kl/ n.

Abbreviation for `exclamation point'. See bang, shriek, ASCII.

Node:EXE, Next:, Previous:excl, Up:= E =

EXE /eks'ee/ or /eek'see/ or /E-X-E/ n.

An executable binary file. Some operating systems (notably MS-DOS, VMS, and TWENEX) use the extension .EXE to mark such files. This usage is also occasionally found among Unix programmers even though Unix executables don't have any required suffix.

Node:exec, Next:, Previous:EXE, Up:= E =

exec /eg-zek'/ or /eks'ek/ vt., n.

1. [Unix: from `execute'] Synonym for chain, derives from the exec(2) call. 2. [from `executive'] obs. The command interpreter for an OS (see shell); term esp. used around mainframes, and prob. derived from UNIVAC's archaic EXEC 2 and EXEC 8 operating systems. 3. At IBM and VM/CMS shops, the equivalent of a shell command file (among VM/CMS users).

The mainstream `exec' as an abbreviation for (human) executive is not used. To a hacker, an `exec' is a always a program, never a person.

Node:exercise left as an, Next:, Previous:exec, Up:= E =

exercise, left as an adj.

[from technical books] Used to complete a proof when one doesn't mind a handwave, or to avoid one entirely. The complete phrase is: "The proof [or `the rest'] is left as an exercise for the reader." This comment has occasionally been attached to unsolved research problems by authors possessed of either an evil sense of humor or a vast faith in the capabilities of their audiences.

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Exon /eks'on/ excl.

A generic obscenity that quickly entered wide use on the Internet and Usenet after Black Thursday. From the last name of Senator James Exon (Democrat-Nebraska), primary author of the CDA.

Node:Exploder, Next:, Previous:Exon, Up:= E =

Exploder n.

Used within Microsoft to refer to the Windows Explorer, the interface component of Windows 95 and WinNT 4. Our spies report that most of the heavy guns at MS came from a Unix background and use command line utilities; even they are scornful of the over-gingerbreaded WIMP environments that they have been called upon to create.

Node:exploit, Next:, Previous:Exploder, Up:= E =

exploit n.

[originally cracker slang] 1. A vulnerability in software that can be used for breaking security or otherwise attacking an Internet host over the network. The Ping O' Death is a famous exploit. 2. More grammatically, a program that exploits an exploit in sense 1,

Node:external memory, Next:, Previous:exploit, Up:= E =

external memory n.

A memo pad, palmtop computer, or written notes. "Hold on while I write that to external memory". The analogy is with store or DRAM versus nonvolatile disk storage on computers.

Node:eye candy, Next:, Previous:external memory, Up:= E =

eye candy /i:' kand`ee/ n.

[from mainstream slang "ear candy"] A display of some sort that's presented to lusers to keep them distracted while the program performs necessary background tasks. "Give 'em some eye candy while the back-end slurps that BLOB into core." Reported as mainstream usage among players of graphics-heavy computer games. We're also told this term is mainstream slang for soft pornography, but that sense does not appear to be live among hackers.

Node:eyeball search, Next:, Previous:eye candy, Up:= E =

eyeball search n.,v.

To look for something in a mass of code or data with one's own native optical sensors, as opposed to using some sort of pattern matching software like grep or any other automated search tool. Also called a vgrep; compare vdiff, desk check.

Node:= F =, Next:, Previous:= E =, Up:The Jargon Lexicon

= F =

Node:face time, Next:, Previous:eyeball search, Up:= F =

face time n.

[common] Time spent interacting with somebody face-to-face (as opposed to via electronic links). "Oh, yeah, I spent some face time with him at the last Usenix."

Node:factor, Next:, Previous:face time, Up:= F =

factor n.

See coefficient of X.

Node:fairings, Next:, Previous:factor, Up:= F =

fairings n. /fer'ingz/

[FreeBSD; orig. a typo for `fairness'] A term thrown out in discussion whenever a completely and transparently nonsensical argument in one's favor(?) seems called for, e,g. at the end of a really long thread for which the outcome is no longer even cared about since everyone is now so sick of it; or in rebuttal to another nonsensical argument ("Change the loader to look for / What about fairings?")

Node:fall over, Next:, Previous:fairings, Up:= F =

fall over vi.

[IBM] Yet another synonym for crash or lose. `Fall over hard' equates to crash and burn.

Node:fall through, Next:, Previous:fall over, Up:= F =

fall through v.

(n. `fallthrough', var. `fall-through') 1. To exit a loop by exhaustion, i.e., by having fulfilled its exit condition rather than via a break or exception condition that exits from the middle of it. This usage appears to be really old, dating from the 1940s and 1950s. 2. To fail a test that would have passed control to a subroutine or some other distant portion of code. 3. In C, `fall-through' occurs when the flow of execution in a switch statement reaches a case label other than by jumping there from the switch header, passing a point where one would normally expect to find a break. A trivial example:

switch (color)
case GREEN:
case PINK:
case RED:

The variant spelling /* FALL THRU */ is also common.

The effect of the above code is to do_green() when color is GREEN, do_red() when color is RED, do_blue() on any other color other than PINK, and (and this is the important part) do_pink() and then do_red() when color is PINK. Fall-through is considered harmful by some, though there are contexts (such as the coding of state machines) in which it is natural; it is generally considered good practice to include a comment highlighting the fall-through where one would normally expect a break. See also Duff's device.

Node:fan, Next:, Previous:fall through, Up:= F =

fan n.

Without qualification, indicates a fan of science fiction, especially one who goes to cons and tends to hang out with other fans. Many hackers are fans, so this term has been imported from fannish slang; however, unlike much fannish slang it is recognized by most non-fannish hackers. Among SF fans the plural is correctly `fen', but this usage is not automatic to hackers. "Laura reads the stuff occasionally but isn't really a fan."

Node:fandango on core, Next:, Previous:fan, Up:= F =

fandango on core n.

[Unix/C hackers, from the Iberian dance] 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 (or Windows boxes, which have an MMU but use it incompetently), this can corrupt the OS itself, causing massive lossage. Other frenetic dances such as the cha-cha or the watusi, may be substituted. See aliasing bug, precedence lossage, smash the stack, memory leak, memory smash, overrun screw, core.

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FAQ /F-A-Q/ or /fak/ n.

[Usenet] 1. A Frequently Asked Question. 2. A compendium of accumulated lore, posted periodically to high-volume newsgroups in an attempt to forestall such questions. Some people prefer the term `FAQ list' or `FAQL' /fa'kl/, reserving `FAQ' for sense 1.

This lexicon itself serves as a good example of a collection of one kind of lore, although it is far too big for a regular FAQ posting. Examples: "What is the proper type of NULL?" and "What's that funny name for the # character?" are both Frequently Asked Questions. Several FAQs refer readers to this file.

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FAQ list /F-A-Q list/ or /fak list/ n.

[common; Usenet] Syn FAQ, sense 2.

Node:FAQL, Next:, Previous:FAQ list, Up:= F =

FAQL /fa'kl/ n.

Syn. FAQ list.

Node:faradize, Next:, Previous:FAQL, Up:= F =

faradize /far'*-di:z/ v.

[US Geological Survey] To start any hyper-addictive process or trend, or to continue adding current to such a trend. Telling one user about a new octo-tetris game you compiled would be a faradizing act -- in two weeks you might find your entire department playing the faradic game.

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farkled /far'kld/ adj.

[DeVry Institute of Technology, Atlanta] Syn. hosed. Poss. owes something to Yiddish `farblondjet' and/or the `Farkle Family' skits on "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In", a popular comedy show of the late 1960s.

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farming n.

[Adelaide University, Australia] What the heads of a disk drive are said to do when they plow little furrows in the magnetic media. Associated with a crash. Typically used as follows: "Oh no, the machine has just crashed; I hope the hard drive hasn't gone farming again." No longer common; modern drives automatically park their heads in a safe zone on power-down, so it takes a real mechanical problem to induce this.

Node:fascist, Next:, Previous:farming, Up:= F =

fascist adj.

1. [common] 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. The variant `fascistic' seems to have been preferred at MIT, poss. by analogy with `touristic' (see tourist or under the influence of German/Yiddish `faschistisch'). 2. In the design of languages and other software tools, `the fascist alternative' is the most restrictive and structured way of capturing a particular function; the implication is that this may be desirable in order to simplify the implementation or provide tighter error checking. Compare bondage-and-discipline language, although that term is global rather than local.

Node:fat electrons, Next:, Previous:fascist, Up:= F =

fat electrons n.

Old-time hacker David Cargill's theory on the causation of computer glitches. Your typical electric utility draws its line current out of the big generators with a pair of coil taps located near the top of the dynamo. When the normal tap brushes get dirty, they take them off line to clean them up, and use special auxiliary taps on the bottom of the coil. Now, this is a problem, because when they do that they get not ordinary or `thin' electrons, but the fat'n'sloppy electrons that are heavier and so settle to the bottom of the generator. These flow down ordinary wires just fine, but when they have to turn a sharp corner (as in an integrated-circuit via), they're apt to get stuck. This is what causes computer glitches. [Fascinating. Obviously, fat electrons must gain mass by bogon absorption --ESR] Compare bogon, magic smoke.

Node:fat-finger, Next:, Previous:fat electrons, Up:= F =

fat-finger vt.

1. To introduce a typo while editing in such a way that the resulting manglification of a configuration file does something useless, damaging, or wildly unexpected. "NSI fat-fingered their DNS zone file and took half the net down again." 2. More generally, any typo that produces dramatically bad results.

Node:faulty, Next:, Previous:fat-finger, Up:= F =

faulty adj.

Non-functional; buggy. Same denotation as bletcherous, losing, q.v., but the connotation is much milder.

Node:fd leak, Next:, Previous:faulty, Up:= F =

fd leak /F-D leek/ n.

A kind of programming bug analogous to a core leak, in which a program fails to close file descriptors (`fd's) after file operations are completed, and thus eventually runs out of them. See leak.

Node:fear and loathing, Next:, Previous:fd leak, Up:= F =

fear and loathing n.

[from Hunter S. Thompson] A state inspired by the prospect of dealing with certain real-world systems and standards that are totally brain-damaged but ubiquitous -- Intel 8086s, or COBOL, or EBCDIC, or any IBM machine bigger than a workstation. "Ack! They want PCs to be able to talk to the AI machine. Fear and loathing time!"

Node:feature, Next:, Previous:fear and loathing, Up:= F =

feature n.

1. [common] A good property or behavior (as of a program). Whether it was intended or not is immaterial. 2. [common] An intended property or behavior (as of a program). Whether it is good or not is immaterial (but if bad, it is also a misfeature). 3. A surprising property or behavior; in particular, one that is purposely inconsistent because it works better that way -- such an inconsistency is therefore a feature and not a bug. This kind of feature is sometimes called a miswart; see that entry for a classic example. 4. A property or behavior that is gratuitous or unnecessary, though perhaps also impressive or cute. For example, one feature of Common LISP's format function is the ability to print numbers in two different Roman-numeral formats (see bells whistles and gongs). 5. A property or behavior that was put in to help someone else but that happens to be in your way. 6. [common] A bug that has been documented. To call something a feature sometimes means the author of the program did not consider the particular case, and that the program responded in a way that was unexpected but not strictly incorrect. A standard joke is that a bug can be turned into a feature simply by documenting it (then theoretically no one can complain about it because it's in the manual), or even by simply declaring it to be good. "That's not a bug, that's a feature!" is a common catchphrase. See also feetch feetch, creeping featurism, wart, green lightning.

The relationship among bugs, features, misfeatures, warts, and miswarts might be clarified by the following hypothetical exchange between two hackers on an airliner:

A: "This seat doesn't recline."

B: "That's not a bug, that's a feature. There is an emergency exit door built around the window behind you, and the route has to be kept clear."

A: "Oh. Then it's a misfeature; they should have increased the spacing between rows here."

B: "Yes. But if they'd increased spacing in only one section it would have been a wart -- they would've had to make nonstandard-length ceiling panels to fit over the displaced seats."

A: "A miswart, actually. If they increased spacing throughout they'd lose several rows and a chunk out of the profit margin. So unequal spacing would actually be the Right Thing."

B: "Indeed."

`Undocumented feature' is a common, allegedly humorous euphemism for a bug. There's a related joke that is sometimes referred to as the "one-question geek test". You say to someone "I saw a Volkswagen Beetle today with a vanity license plate that read FEATURE". If he/she laughs, he/she is a geek (see computer geek, sense 2).

Node:feature creature, Next:, Previous:feature, Up:= F =

feature creature n.

[poss. fr. slang `creature feature' for a horror movie] 1. One who loves to add features to designs or programs, perhaps at the expense of coherence, concision, or taste. 2. Alternately, a mythical being that induces otherwise rational programmers to perpetrate such crocks. See also feeping creaturism, creeping featurism.

Node:feature creep, Next:, Previous:feature creature, Up:= F =

feature creep n.

[common] The result of creeping featurism, as in "Emacs has a bad case of feature creep".

Node:feature key, Next:, Previous:feature creep, Up:= F =

feature key n.

[common] The Macintosh key with the cloverleaf graphic on its keytop; sometimes referred to as `flower', `pretzel', `clover', `propeller', `beanie' (an apparent reference to the major feature of a propeller beanie), splat, `open-apple' or (officially, in Mac documentation) the `command key'. In French, the term `papillon' (butterfly) has been reported. The proliferation of terms for this creature may illustrate one subtle peril of iconic interfaces.

Many people have been mystified by the cloverleaf-like symbol that appears on the feature key. Its oldest name is `cross of St. Hannes', but it occurs in pre-Christian Viking art as a decorative motif. Throughout Scandinavia today the road agencies use it to mark sites of historical interest. Apple picked up the symbol from an early Mac developer who happened to be Swedish. Apple documentation gives the translation "interesting feature"!

There is some dispute as to the proper (Swedish) name of this symbol. It technically stands for the word `sev�rdhet' (thing worth seeing); many of these are old churches. Some Swedes report as an idiom for the sign the word `kyrka', cognate to English `church' and pronounced (roughly) /chur'ka/ in modern Swedish. Others say this is nonsense. Other idioms reported for the sign are `runa' (rune) or `runsten' /roon'stn/ (runestone), derived from the fact that many of the interesting features are Viking rune-stones. The term `fornminne' /foorn'min'*/ (relic of antiquity, ancient monument) is also reported, especially among those who think that the Mac itself is a relic of antiquity.

Node:feature shock, Next:, Previous:feature key, Up:= F =

feature shock n.

[from Alvin Toffler's book title "Future Shock"] A user's (or programmer's!) confusion when confronted with a package that has too many features and poor introductory material.

Node:featurectomy, Next:, Previous:feature shock, Up:= F =

featurectomy /fee`ch*r-ek't*-mee/ n.

The act of removing a feature from a program. Featurectomies come in two flavors, 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. (Doing so 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.

Node:feep, Next:, Previous:featurectomy, Up:= F =

feep /feep/

1. n. The soft electronic `bell' sound of a display terminal (except for a VT-52); a beep (in fact, the microcomputer world seems to prefer beep). 2. vi. To cause the display to make a feep sound. ASR-33s (the original TTYs) do not feep; they have mechanical bells that ring. Alternate forms: beep, `bleep', or just about anything suitably onomatopoeic. (Jeff MacNelly, in his comic strip "Shoe", uses the word `eep' for sounds made by computer terminals and video games; this is perhaps the closest written approximation yet.) The term `breedle' was sometimes heard at SAIL, where the terminal bleepers are not particularly soft (they sound more like the musical equivalent of a raspberry or Bronx cheer; for a close approximation, imagine the sound of a Star Trek communicator's beep lasting for five seconds). The `feeper' on a VT-52 has been compared to the sound of a '52 Chevy stripping its gears. See also ding.

Node:feeper, Next:, Previous:feep, Up:= F =

feeper /fee'pr/ n.

The device in a terminal or workstation (usually a loudspeaker of some kind) that makes the feep sound.

Node:feeping creature, Next:, Previous:feeper, Up:= F =

feeping creature n.

[from feeping creaturism] An unnecessary feature; a bit of chrome that, in the speaker's judgment, is the camel's nose for a whole horde of new features.

Node:feeping creaturism, Next:, Previous:feeping creature, Up:= F =

feeping creaturism /fee'ping kree`ch*r-izm/ n.

A deliberate spoonerism for creeping featurism, meant to imply that the system or program in question has become a misshapen creature of hacks. This term isn't really well defined, but it sounds so neat that most hackers have said or heard it. It is probably reinforced by an image of terminals prowling about in the dark making their customary noises.

Node:feetch feetch, Next:, Previous:feeping creaturism, Up:= F =

feetch feetch /feech feech/ interj.

If someone tells you about some new improvement to a program, you might respond: "Feetch, feetch!" The meaning of this depends critically on vocal inflection. With enthusiasm, it means something like "Boy, that's great! What a great hack!" Grudgingly or with obvious doubt, it means "I don't know; it sounds like just one more unnecessary and complicated thing". With a tone of resignation, it means, "Well, I'd rather keep it simple, but I suppose it has to be done".

Node:fence, Next:, Previous:feetch feetch, Up:= F =

fence n. 1.

A sequence of one or more distinguished (out-of-band) characters (or other data items), used to delimit a piece of data intended to be treated as a unit (the computer-science literature calls this a `sentinel'). The NUL (ASCII 0000000) character that terminates strings in C is a fence. Hex FF is also (though slightly less frequently) used this way. See zigamorph. 2. An extra data value inserted in an array or other data structure in order to allow some normal test on the array's contents also to function as a termination test. For example, a highly optimized routine for finding a value in an array might artificially place a copy of the value to be searched for after the last slot of the array, thus allowing the main search loop to search for the value without having to check at each pass whether the end of the array had been reached. 3. [among users of optimizing compilers] Any technique, usually exploiting knowledge about the compiler, that blocks certain optimizations. Used when explicit mechanisms are not available or are overkill. Typically a hack: "I call a dummy procedure there to force a flush of the optimizer's register-coloring info" can be expressed by the shorter "That's a fence procedure".

Node:fencepost error, Next:, Previous:fence, Up:= F =

fencepost error n.

1. [common] A problem with 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 10 feet apart, how many posts do you need?" (Either 9 or 11 is a better answer than the obvious 10.) For example, suppose you have a long list or array of items, and want to process items m through n; how many items are there? The obvious answer is n - m, but that is off by one; the right answer is n - m + 1. A program that used the `obvious' formula would have a fencepost error in it. See also zeroth and off-by-one error, and note that not all off-by-one errors are fencepost errors. The game of Musical Chairs involves a catastrophic off-by-one error where N people try to sit in N - 1 chairs, but it's not a fencepost error. Fencepost errors come from counting things rather than the spaces between them, or vice versa, or by neglecting to consider whether one should count one or both ends of a row. 2. [rare] An error induced by unexpected regularities in input values, which can (for instance) completely thwart a theoretically efficient binary tree or hash table implementation. (The error here involves the difference between expected and worst case behaviors of an algorithm.)

Node:FidoNet, Next:, Previous:fencepost error, Up:= F =

FidoNet n.

A worldwide hobbyist network of personal computers which exchanges mail, discussion groups, and files. Founded in 1984 and originally consisting only of IBM PCs and compatibles, FidoNet now includes such diverse machines as Apple ][s, Ataris, Amigas, and Unix systems. For years FidoNet actually grew faster than Usenet, but the advent of cheap Internet access probably means its days are numbered. In early 1999 Fidonet has approximately 30,000 nodes, down from 38K in 1996.

Node:field circus, Next:, Previous:FidoNet, Up:= F =

field circus n.

[a derogatory pun on `field service'] The field service organization of any hardware manufacturer, but originally DEC. There is an entire genre of jokes about field circus engineers:

Q: How can you recognize a field circus engineer
   with a flat tire?
A: He's changing one tire at a time to see which one is flat.

Q: How can you recognize a field circus engineer
   who is out of gas?
A: He's changing one tire at a time to see which one is flat.

Q: How can you tell it's your field circus engineer?
A: The spare is flat, too.

[See Easter egging for additional insight on these jokes.]

There is also the `Field Circus Cheer' (from the old plan file for DEC on MIT-AI):

Maynard! Maynard!
Don't mess with us!
We're mean and we're tough!
If you get us confused
We'll screw up your stuff.

(DEC's service HQ, still extant under the Compaq regime, is located in Maynard, Massachusetts.)

Node:field servoid, Next:, Previous:field circus, Up:= F =

field servoid [play on `android'] /fee'ld ser'voyd/ n.

Representative of a field service organization (see field circus). This has many of the implications of droid.

Node:Fight-o-net, Next:, Previous:field servoid, Up:= F =

Fight-o-net n.

[FidoNet] Deliberate distortion of FidoNet, often applied after a flurry of flamage in a particular echo, especially the SYSOP echo or Fidonews (see 'Snooze).

Node:File Attach, Next:, Previous:Fight-o-net, Up:= F =

File Attach [FidoNet]

1. n. A file sent along with a mail message from one FidoNet to another. 2. vt. Sending someone a file by using the File Attach option in a FidoNet mailer.

Node:File Request, Next:, Previous:File Attach, Up:= F =

File Request [FidoNet]

1. n. The FidoNet equivalent of FTP, in which one FidoNet system automatically dials another and snarfs one or more files. Often abbreviated `FReq'; files are often announced as being "available for FReq" in the same way that files are announced as being "available for/by anonymous FTP" on the Internet. 2. vt. The act of getting a copy of a file by using the File Request option of the FidoNet mailer.

Node:file signature, Next:, Previous:File Request, Up:= F =

file signature n.

A magic number, sense 3.

Node:filk, Next:, Previous:file signature, Up:= F =

filk /filk/ n.,v.

[from SF fandom, where a typo for `folk' was adopted as a new word] A popular or folk song with lyrics revised or completely new lyrics and/or music, 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 rather sophisticated technical humor. See double bucky for an example. Compare grilf, hing, pr0n, and newsfroup.

Node:film at 11, Next:, Previous:filk, Up:= F =

film at 11

[MIT: in parody of TV newscasters] 1. Used in conversation to announce ordinary events, with a sarcastic implication that these events are earth-shattering. "ITS crashes; film at 11." "Bug found in scheduler; film at 11." 2. Also widely used outside MIT to indicate that additional information will be available at some future time, without the implication of anything particularly ordinary about the referenced event. For example, "The mail file server died this morning; we found garbage all over the root directory. Film at 11." would indicate that a major failure had occurred but that the people working on it have no additional information about it as yet; use of the phrase in this way suggests gently that the problem is liable to be fixed more quickly if the people doing the fixing can spend time doing the fixing rather than responding to questions, the answers to which will appear on the normal "11:00 news", if people will just be patient.

The variant "MPEGs at 11" has recently been cited (MPEG is a digital-video format.)

Node:filter, Next:, Previous:film at 11, Up:= F =

filter n.

[very common; orig. Unix, now also in MS-DOS] A program that processes an input data stream into an output data 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' (see plumbing). Compare sponge.

Node:Finagle's Law, Next:, Previous:filter, Up:= F =

Finagle's Law n.

The generalized or `folk' version of Murphy's Law, fully named "Finagle's Law of Dynamic Negatives" and usually rendered "Anything that can go wrong, will". One variant favored among hackers is "The perversity of the Universe tends towards a maximum" (but see also Hanlon's Razor). The label `Finagle's Law' was popularized by SF author Larry Niven in several stories depicting a frontier culture of asteroid miners; this `Belter' culture professed a religion and/or running joke involving the worship of the dread god Finagle and his mad prophet Murphy. Some technical and scientific cultures (e.g., paleontologists) know it under the name `Sod's Law'; this usage may be more common in Great Britain.

Node:fine, Next:, Previous:Finagle's Law, Up:= F =

fine adj.

[WPI] 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.

Node:finger, Next:, Previous:fine, Up:= F =


[WAITS, via BSD Unix] 1. n. A program that displays information about 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 (where applicable). May also display a plan file left by the user (see also Hacking X for Y). 2. vt. To apply finger to a username. 3. vt. By extension, to check a human's current state by any means. "Foodp?" "T!" "OK, finger Lisa and see if she's idle." 4. Any picture (composed of ASCII characters) depicting `the finger'. Originally a humorous component of one's plan file to deter the curious fingerer (sense 2), it has entered the arsenal of some flamers.

Node:finger trouble, Next:, Previous:finger, Up:= F =

finger trouble n.

Mistyping, typos, or generalized keyboard incompetence (this is surprisingly common among hackers, given the amount of time they spend at keyboards). "I keep putting colons at the end of statements instead of semicolons", "Finger trouble again, eh?".

Node:finger-pointing syndrome, Next:, Previous:finger trouble, Up:= F =

finger-pointing syndrome n.

All-too-frequent result of bugs, esp. in new or experimental configurations. The hardware vendor points a finger at the software. The software vendor points a finger at the hardware. All the poor users get is the finger.

Node:finn, Next:, Previous:finger-pointing syndrome, Up:= F =

finn v.

[IRC] To pull rank on somebody based on the amount of time one has spent on IRC. The term derives from the fact that IRC was originally written in Finland in 1987. There may be some influence from the `Finn' character in William Gibson's seminal cyberpunk novel "Count Zero", who at one point says to another (much younger) character "I have a pair of shoes older than you are, so shut up!"

Node:firebottle, Next:, Previous:finn, Up:= F =

firebottle n.obs.

A large, primitive, power-hungry active electrical device, similar in function to a FET but 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; another hackish term is glassfet.

Node:firefighting, Next:, Previous:firebottle, Up:= F =

firefighting n.

1. What sysadmins have to do to correct sudden operational problems. An opposite of hacking. "Been hacking your new newsreader?" "No, a power glitch hosed the network and I spent the whole afternoon fighting fires." 2. The act of throwing lots of manpower and late nights at a project, esp. to get it out before deadline. See also gang bang, Mongolian Hordes technique; however, the term `firefighting' connotes that the effort is going into chasing bugs rather than adding features.

Node:firehose syndrome, Next:, Previous:firefighting, Up:= F =

firehose syndrome n.

In mainstream folklore it is observed that trying to drink from a firehose can be a good way to rip your lips off. On computer networks, the absence or failure of flow control mechanisms can lead to situations in which the sending system sprays a massive flood of packets at an unfortunate receiving system, more than it can handle. Compare overrun, buffer overflow.

Node:firewall code, Next:, Previous:firehose syndrome, Up:= F =

firewall code n.

1. The code you put in a system (say, a telephone switch) to make sure that the users can't do any damage. Since users always want to be able to do everything but never want to suffer for any mistakes, the construction of a firewall is a question not only of defensive coding but also of interface presentation, so that users don't even get curious about those corners of a system where they can burn themselves. 2. Any sanity check inserted to catch a can't happen error. Wise programmers often change code to fix a bug twice: once to fix the bug, and once to insert a firewall which would have arrested the bug before it did quite as much damage.

Node:firewall machine, Next:, Previous:firewall code, Up:= F =

firewall machine n.

A dedicated gateway machine with special security precautions on it, used to service outside network connections and dial-in lines. The idea is to protect a cluster of more loosely administered machines hidden behind it from crackers. The typical 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 patterns. Syn. flytrap, Venus flytrap.

[When first coined in the mid-1980s this term was pure jargon. Now (1999) it is techspeak, and has been retained only as an example of uptake --ESR]

Node:fireworks mode, Next:, Previous:firewall machine, Up:= F =

fireworks mode n.

1. The mode a machine is sometimes said to be in when it is performing a crash and burn operation. 2. There is (or was) a more specific meaning of this term in the Amiga community. The word fireworks described the effects of a particularly serious crash which prevented the video pointer(s) from getting reset at the start of the vertical blank. This caused the DAC to scroll through the entire contents of CHIP (video or video+CPU) memory. Since each bit plane would scroll separately this was quite a spectacular effect.

Node:firmware, Next:, Previous:fireworks mode, Up:= F =

firmware /ferm'weir/ n.

Embedded software contained in EPROM or flash memory. It isn't quite hardware, but at least doesn't have to be loaded from a disk like regular software. Hacker usage differs from straight techspeak in that hackers don't normally apply it to stuff that you can't possibly get at, such as the program that runs a pocket calculator. Instead, it implies that the firmware could be changed, even if doing so would mean opening a box and plugging in a new chip. A computer's BIOS is the classic example, although nowadays there is firmware in disk controllers, modems, video cards and even CD-ROM drives.

Node:firmy, Next:, Previous:firmware, Up:= F =

firmy /fer'mee/ n.

Syn. stiffy (a 3.5-inch floppy disk).

Node:fish, Next:, Previous:firmy, Up:= F =

fish n.

[Adelaide University, Australia] 1. Another metasyntactic variable. See foo. Derived originally from the Monty Python skit in the middle of "The Meaning of Life" entitled "Find the Fish". 2. A pun for `microfiche'. A microfiche file cabinet may be referred to as a `fish tank'.

Node:FISH queue, Next:, Previous:fish, Up:= F =

FISH queue n.

[acronym, by analogy with FIFO (First In, First Out)] `First In, Still Here'. A joking way of pointing out that processing of a particular sequence of events or requests has stopped dead. Also `FISH mode' and `FISHnet'; the latter may be applied to any network that is running really slowly or exhibiting extreme flakiness.

Node:FITNR, Next:, Previous:FISH queue, Up:= F =

FITNR // adj.

[Thinking Machines, Inc.] Fixed In The Next Release. A written-only notation attached to bug reports. Often wishful thinking.

Node:fix, Next:, Previous:FITNR, Up:= F =

fix n.,v.

What one does when a problem has been reported too many times to be ignored.

Node:FIXME, Next:, Previous:fix, Up:= F =

FIXME imp.

[common] A standard tag often put in C comments near a piece of code that needs work. The point of doing so is that a grep or a similar pattern-matching tool can find all such places quickly.

/* FIXME: note this is common in GNU code. */

Compare XXX.

Node:flag, Next:, Previous:FIXME, Up:= F =

flag n.

[very common] A variable or quantity that can take on one of two values; a bit, particularly one that is used to indicate one of two outcomes or is used to control which of two things is to be done. "This flag controls whether to clear the screen before printing the message." "The program status word contains several flag bits." Used of humans analogously to bit. See also hidden flag, mode bit.

Node:flag day, Next:, Previous:flag, Up:= F =

flag day n.

A software change that is neither forward- nor backward-compatible, and which is costly to make and costly to reverse. "Can we install that without causing a flag day for all users?" This term has nothing to do with the use of the word flag to mean a variable that has two values. It came into use when a massive change was made to the Multics timesharing system to convert from the short-lived 1965 version of the ASCII code to the 1967 version (in draft at the time); this was scheduled for Flag Day (a U.S. holiday), June 14, 1966. See also backward combatability.

Node:flaky, Next:, Previous:flag day, Up:= F =

flaky adj.

(var sp. `flakey') Subject to frequent lossage. This use is of course related to the common slang use of the word to describe a person as eccentric, crazy, or just unreliable. A system that is flaky is working, sort of -- enough that you are tempted to try to use it -- but fails frequently enough that the odds in favor of finishing what you start are low. Commonwealth hackish prefers dodgy or wonky.

Node:flamage, Next:, Previous:flaky, Up:= F =

flamage /flay'm*j/ n.

[very common] Flaming verbiage, esp. high-noise, low-signal postings to Usenet or other electronic fora. Often in the phrase `the usual flamage'. `Flaming' is the act itself; `flamage' the content; a `flame' is a single flaming message. See flame, also dahmum.

Node:flame, Next:, Previous:flamage, Up:= F =


[at MIT, orig. from the phrase `flaming asshole'] 1. vi. To post an email message intended to insult and provoke. 2. vi. To speak incessantly and/or rabidly on some relatively uninteresting subject or with a patently ridiculous attitude. 3. vt. Either of senses 1 or 2, directed with hostility at a particular person or people. 4. n. An instance of flaming. When a discussion degenerates into useless controversy, one might tell the participants "Now you're just flaming" or "Stop all that flamage!" to try to get them to cool down (so to speak).

The term may have been independently invented at several different places. It has been reported from MIT, Carleton College and RPI (among many other places) from as far back as 1969, and from the University of Virginia in the early 1960s.

It is possible that the hackish sense of `flame' is much older than that. The poet Chaucer was also what passed for a wizard hacker in his time; he wrote a treatise on the astrolabe, the most advanced computing device of the day. In Chaucer's "Troilus and Cressida", Cressida laments her inability to grasp the proof of a particular mathematical theorem; her uncle Pandarus then observes that it's called "the fleminge of wrecches." This phrase seems to have been intended in context as "that which puts the wretches to flight" but was probably just as ambiguous in Middle English as "the flaming of wretches" would be today. One suspects that Chaucer would feel right at home on Usenet.

Node:flame bait, Next:, Previous:flame, Up:= F =

flame bait n.

[common] A posting intended to trigger a flame war, or one that invites flames in reply. See also troll.

Node:flame on, Next:, Previous:flame bait, Up:= F =

flame on vi.,interj.

1. To begin to flame. The punning reference to Marvel Comics's Human Torch is no longer widely recognized. 2. To continue to flame. See rave, burble.

Node:flame war, Next:, Previous:flame on, Up:= F =

flame war n.

[common] (var. `flamewar') An acrimonious dispute, especially when conducted on a public electronic forum such as Usenet.

Node:flamer, Next:, Previous:flame war, Up:= F =

flamer n.

[common] One who habitually flames. Said esp. of obnoxious Usenet personalities.

Node:flap, Next:, Previous:flamer, Up:= F =

flap vt.

1. [obs.] To unload a DECtape (so it goes flap, flap, flap...). Old-time hackers at MIT tell of the days when the disk was device 0 and DEC microtapes were 1, 2,... and attempting to flap device 0 would instead start a motor banging inside a cabinet near the disk. 2. By extension, to unload any magnetic tape. See also macrotape. Modern cartridge tapes no longer actually flap, but the usage has remained. (The term could well be re-applied to DEC's TK50 cartridge tape drive, a spectacularly misengineered contraption which makes a loud flapping sound, almost like an old reel-type lawnmower, in one of its many tape-eating failure modes.)

Node:flarp, Next:, Previous:flap, Up:= F =

flarp /flarp/ n.

[Rutgers University] Yet another metasyntactic variable (see foo). Among those who use it, it is associated with a legend that any program not containing the word `flarp' somewhere will not work. The legend is discreetly silent on the reliability of programs which do contain the magic word.

Node:flat, Next:, Previous:flarp, Up:= F =

flat adj.

1. [common] Lacking any complex internal structure. "That bitty box has only a flat filesystem, not a hierarchical one." The verb form is flatten. 2. Said of a memory architecture (like that of the VAX or 680x0) that is one big linear address space (typically with each possible value of a processor register corresponding to a unique core address), as opposed to a `segmented' architecture (like that of the 80x86) in which addresses are composed from a base-register/offset pair (segmented designs are generally considered cretinous).

Note that sense 1 (at least with respect to filesystems) is usually used pejoratively, while sense 2 is a Good Thing.

Node:flat-ASCII, Next:, Previous:flat, Up:= F =

flat-ASCII adj.

[common] Said of a text file that contains only 7-bit ASCII characters and uses only ASCII-standard control characters (that is, has no embedded codes specific to a particular text formatter markup language, or output device, and no meta-characters). Syn. plain-ASCII. Compare flat-file.

Node:flat-file, Next:, Previous:flat-ASCII, Up:= F =

flat-file adj.

A flattened representation of some database or tree or network structure as a single file from which the structure could implicitly be rebuilt, esp. one in flat-ASCII form. See also sharchive.

Node:flatten, Next:, Previous:flat-file, Up:= F =

flatten vt.

[common] To remove structural information, esp. to filter something with an implicit tree structure into a simple sequence of leaves; also tends to imply mapping to flat-ASCII. "This code flattens an expression with parentheses into an equivalent canonical form."

Node:flavor, Next:, Previous:flatten, Up:= F =

flavor n.

1. [common] Variety, type, kind. "DDT commands come in two flavors." "These lights come in two flavors, big red ones and small green ones." "GNU/Linux is a flavor of Unix" See vanilla. 2. The attribute that causes something to be flavorful. Usually used in the phrase "yields additional flavor". "This convention yields additional flavor by allowing one to print text either right-side-up or upside-down." See vanilla. This usage was certainly reinforced by the terminology of quantum chromodynamics, in which quarks (the constituents of, e.g., protons) come in six flavors (up, down, strange, charm, top, bottom) and three colors (red, blue, green) -- however, hackish use of `flavor' at MIT predated QCD. 3. The term for `class' (in the object-oriented sense) in the LISP Machine Flavors system. Though the Flavors design has been superseded (notably by the Common LISP CLOS facility), the term `flavor' is still used as a general synonym for `class' by some LISP hackers.

Node:flavorful, Next:, Previous:flavor, Up:= F =

flavorful adj.

Full of flavor (sense 2); esthetically pleasing. See random and losing for antonyms. See also the entries for taste and elegant.

Node:flippy, Next:, Previous:flavorful, Up:= F =

flippy /flip'ee/ n.

A single-sided 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 common.

Node:flood, Next:, Previous:flippy, Up:= F =

flood v.

[common; IRC] To dump large amounts of text onto an IRC channel. This is especially rude when the text is uninteresting and the other users are trying to carry on a serious conversation. Also used in a similar sense on Usenet.

Node:flowchart, Next:, Previous:flood, Up:= F =

flowchart n.

[techspeak] An archaic form of visual control-flow specification employing arrows and `speech balloons' of various shapes. Hackers never use flowcharts, consider them extremely silly, and associate them with COBOL programmers, card wallopers, and other lower forms of life. This attitude follows from the observations that flowcharts (at least from a hacker's point of view) are no easier to read than code, are less precise, and tend to fall out of sync with the code (so that they either obfuscate it rather than explaining it, or require extra maintenance effort that doesn't improve the code). See also PDL, sense 1.

Node:flower key, Next:, Previous:flowchart, Up:= F =

flower key n.

[Mac users] See feature key.

Node:flush, Next:, Previous:flower key, Up:= F =

flush v.

1. [common] To delete something, usually superfluous, or to abort an operation. "All that nonsense has been flushed." 2. [Unix/C] To force buffered I/O to disk, as with an fflush(3) call. This is not an abort or deletion as in sense 1, but a demand for early completion! 3. 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." 4. To exclude someone from an activity, or to ignore a person.

`Flush' was standard ITS terminology for aborting an output operation; one spoke of the text that would have been printed, but was not, as having been flushed. It is speculated that this term arose from a vivid image of flushing unwanted characters by hosing down the internal output buffer, washing the characters away before they could be printed. The Unix/C usage, on the other hand, was propagated by the fflush(3) call in C's standard I/O library (though it is reported to have been in use among BLISS programmers at DEC and on Honeywell and IBM machines as far back as 1965). Unix/C hackers found the ITS usage confusing, and vice versa.

Node:flypage, Next:, Previous:flush, Up:= F =

flypage /fli:'payj/ n.

(alt. `fly page') A banner, sense 1.

Node:Flyspeck 3, Next:, Previous:flypage, Up:= F =

Flyspeck 3 n.

Standard name for any font that is so tiny as to be unreadable (by analogy with names like `Helvetica 10' for 10-point Helvetica). Legal boilerplate is usually printed in Flyspeck 3.

Node:flytrap, Next:, Previous:Flyspeck 3, Up:= F =

flytrap n.

[rare] See firewall machine.

Node:FM, Next:, Previous:flytrap, Up:= F =

FM /F-M/ n.

1. [common] Not `Frequency Modulation' but rather an abbreviation for `Fucking Manual', the back-formation from RTFM. Used to refer to the manual itself in the RTFM. "Have you seen the Networking FM lately?" 2. Abbreviation for "Fucking Magic", used in the sense of black magic.

Node:fnord, Next:, Previous:FM, Up:= F =

fnord n.

[from the "Illuminatus Trilogy"] 1. A word used in email and news postings to tag utterances as surrealist mind-play or humor, esp. in connection with Discordianism and elaborate conspiracy theories. "I heard that David Koresh is sharing an apartment in Argentina with Hitler. (Fnord.)" "Where can I fnord get the Principia Discordia from?" 2. A metasyntactic variable, commonly used by hackers with ties to Discordianism or the Church of the SubGenius.

Node:FOAF, Next:, Previous:fnord, Up:= F =

FOAF // n.

[Usenet; common] Acronym for `Friend Of A Friend'. The source of an unverified, possibly untrue story. This term was not originated by hackers (it is used in Jan Brunvand's books on urban folklore), but is much better recognized on Usenet and elsewhere than in mainstream English.

Node:FOD, Next:, Previous:FOAF, Up:= F =

FOD /fod/ v.

[Abbreviation for `Finger of Death', originally a spell-name from fantasy gaming] To terminate with extreme prejudice and with no regard for other people. From MUDs where the wizard command `FOD <player>' results in the immediate and total death of <player>, usually as punishment for obnoxious behavior. This usage migrated to other circumstances, such as "I'm going to fod the process that is burning all the cycles." Compare gun.

In aviation, FOD means Foreign Object Damage, e.g., what happens when a jet engine sucks up a rock on the runway or a bird in flight. Finger of Death is a distressingly apt description of what this generally does to the engine.

Node:fold case, Next:, Previous:FOD, Up:= F =

fold case v.

See smash case. This term tends to be used more by people who don't mind that their tools smash case. It also connotes that case is ignored but case distinctions in data processed by the tool in question aren't destroyed.

Node:followup, Next:, Previous:fold case, Up:= F =

followup n.

[common] On Usenet, a posting generated in response to another posting (as opposed to a reply, which goes by email rather than being broadcast). Followups include the ID of the parent message in their headers; smart news-readers can use this information to present Usenet news in `conversation' sequence rather than order-of-arrival. See thread.

Node:fontology, Next:, Previous:followup, Up:= F =

fontology n.

[XEROX PARC] The body of knowledge dealing with the construction and use of new fonts (e.g., for window systems and typesetting software). It has been said that fontology recapitulates file-ogeny.

[Unfortunately, this reference to the embryological dictum that "Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" is not merely a joke. On the Macintosh, for example, System 7 has to go through contortions to compensate for an earlier design error that created a whole different set of abstractions for fonts parallel to `files' and `folders' --ESR]

Node:foo, Next:, Previous:fontology, Up:= F =

foo /foo/

1. interj. Term of disgust. 2. [very common] Used very generally as a sample name for absolutely anything, esp. programs and files (esp. scratch files). 3. First on the standard list of metasyntactic variables used in syntax examples. See also bar, baz, qux, quux, corge, grault, garply, waldo, fred, plugh, xyzzy, thud.

When `foo' is used in connection with `bar' it has generally traced to the WWII-era Army slang acronym FUBAR (`Fucked Up Beyond All Repair'), later modified to foobar. Early versions of the Jargon File interpreted this change as a post-war bowdlerization, but it it now seems more likely that FUBAR was itself a derivative of `foo' perhaps influenced by German `furchtbar' (terrible) - `foobar' may actually have been the original form.

For, it seems, the word `foo' itself had an immediate prewar history in comic strips and cartoons. The earliest documented uses were in the "Smokey Stover" comic strip popular in the 1930s, which frequently included the word "foo". Bill Holman, the author of the strip, filled it with odd jokes and personal contrivances, including other nonsense phrases such as "Notary Sojac" abd "1506 nix nix". According to the Warner Brothers Cartoon Companion Holman claimed to have found the word "foo" on the bottom of a Chinese figurine. This is plausible; Chinese statuettes often have apotropaic inscriptions, and this may have been the Chinese word `fu' (sometimes transliterated `foo'), which can mean "happiness" when spoken with the proper tone (the lion-dog guardians flanking the steps of many Chinese restaurants are properly called "fu dogs"). English speakers' reception of Holman's `foo' nonsense word was undoubtedly influenced by Yiddish `feh' and English `fooey' and `fool'.

Holman's strip featured a firetruck called the Foomobile that rode on two wheels. The comic strip was tremendously popular in the late 1930s, and legend has it that a manufacturer in Indiana even produced an operable version of Holman's Foomobile. According to the Encyclopedia of American Comics, `Foo' fever swept the U.S., finding its way into popular songs and generating over 500 `Foo Clubs.' The fad left `foo' references embedded in popular culture (including a couple of appearances in Warner Brothers cartoons of 1938-39) but with their origins rapidly forgotten.

One place they are known to have remained live is in the U.S. military during the WWII years. In 1944-45, the term `foo fighters' was in use by radar operators for the kind of mysterious or spurious trace that would later be called a UFO (the older term resurfaced in popular American usage in 1995 via the name of one of the better grunge-rock bands). Informants connected the term to the Smokey Stover strip.

The U.S. and British militaries frequently swapped slang terms during the war (see kluge and kludge for another important example) Period sources reported that `FOO' became a semi-legendary subject of WWII British-army graffiti more or less equivalent to the American Kilroy. Where British troops went, the graffito "FOO was here" or something similar showed up. Several slang dictionaries aver that FOO probably came from Forward Observation Officer, but this (like the contemporaneous "FUBAR") was probably a backronym . Forty years later, Paul Dickson's excellent book "Words" (Dell, 1982, ISBN 0-440-52260-7) traced "Foo" to an unspecified British naval magazine in 1946, quoting as follows: "Mr. Foo is a mysterious Second World War product, gifted with bitter omniscience and sarcasm."

Earlier versions of this entry suggested the possibility that hacker usage actually sprang from "FOO, Lampoons and Parody", the title of a comic book first issued in September 1958, a joint project of Charles and Robert Crumb. Though Robert Crumb (then in his mid-teens) later became one of the most important and influential artists in underground comics, this venture was hardly a success; indeed, the brothers later burned most of the existing copies in disgust. The title FOO was featured in large letters on the front cover. However, very few copies of this comic actually circulated, and students of Crumb's `oeuvre' have established that this title was a reference to the earlier Smokey Stover comics. The Crumbs may also have been influenced by a short-lived Canadian parody magazine named `Foo' published in 1951-52.

An old-time member reports that in the 1959 "Dictionary of the TMRC Language", compiled at TMRC, there was an entry that went something like this:

FOO: The first syllable of the sacred chant phrase "FOO MANE PADME HUM." Our first obligation is to keep the foo counters turning.

(For more about the legendary foo counters, see TMRC.) This definition used Bill Holman's nonsense word, only then two decades old and demonstrably still live in popular culture and slang, to a ha ha only serious analogy with esoteric Tibetan Buddhism. Today's hackers would find it difficulty to resist elaborating a joke like that, and it would be hard to believe 1959's were any less susceptible. Almost the entire staff of what later became the MIT AI Lab was involved with TMRC, and the word spread from there.

Node:foobar, Next:, Previous:foo, Up:= F =

foobar n.

[very common] Another widely used metasyntactic variable; see foo for etymology. Probably originally propagated through DECsystem manuals by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) in 1960s and early 1970s; confirmed sightings there go back to 1972. Hackers do not generally use this to mean FUBAR in either the slang or jargon sense. See also Fred Foobar. In RFC1639, "FOOBAR" was made an abbreviation for "FTP Operation Over Big Address Records", but this was an obvious backronym.

Node:fool, Next:, Previous:foobar, Up:= F =

fool n.

As used by hackers, specifically describes a person who habitually reasons from obviously or demonstrably incorrect premises and cannot be persuaded by evidence to do otherwise; 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, fool file.

The Algol 68-R compiler used to initialize its storage to the character string "F00LF00LF00LF00L..." because as a pointer or as a floating point number it caused a crash, and as an integer or a character string it was very recognizable in a dump. Sadly, one day a very senior professor at Nottingham University wrote a program that called him a fool. He proceeded to demonstrate the correctness of this assertion by lobbying the university (not quite successfully) to forbid the use of Algol on its computers. See also DEADBEEF.

Node:fool file, Next:, Previous:fool, Up:= F =

fool file n.

[Usenet] A notional repository of all the most dramatically and abysmally stupid utterances ever. An entire subgenre of sig blocks consists of the header "From the fool file:" followed by some quote the poster wishes to represent as an immortal gem of dimwittery; for this usage to be really effective, the quote has to be so obviously wrong as to be laughable. More than one Usenetter has achieved an unwanted notoriety by being quoted in this way.

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Foonly n.

1. The PDP-10 successor that was to have been built by the Super Foonly project at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory along with a new operating system. (The name itself came from FOO NLI, an error message emitted by a PDP-10 assembler at SAIL meaning "FOO is Not a Legal Identifier". The intention was to leapfrog from the old DEC timesharing system SAIL was then running to a new generation, bypassing TENEX which at that time was the ARPANET standard. ARPA funding for both the Super Foonly and the new operating system was cut in 1974. Most of the design team went to DEC and contributed greatly to the design of the PDP-10 model KL10. 2. The name of the company formed by Dave Poole, one of the principal Super Foonly designers, and one of hackerdom's more colorful personalities. Many people remember the parrot which sat on Poole's shoulder and was a regular companion. 3. Any of the machines built by Poole's company. The first was the F-1 (a.k.a. Super Foonly), which was the computational engine used to create the graphics in the movie "TRON". The F-1 was the fastest PDP-10 ever built, but only one was ever made. The effort drained Foonly of its financial resources, and the company turned towards building smaller, slower, and much less expensive machines. Unfortunately, these ran not the popular TOPS-20 but a TENEX variant called Foonex; this seriously limited their market. Also, the machines shipped were actually wire-wrapped engineering prototypes requiring individual attention from more than usually competent site personnel, and thus had significant reliability problems. Poole's legendary temper and unwillingness to suffer fools gladly did not help matters. By the time of the Jupiter project cancellation in 1983, Foonly's proposal to build another F-1 was eclipsed by the Mars, and the company never quite recovered. See the Mars entry for the continuation and moral of this story.

Node:footprint, Next:, Previous:Foonly, Up:= F =

footprint 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'). See also toeprint. 3. RAM footprint: The minimum amount of RAM which an OS or other program takes; this figure gives one an idea of how much will be left for other applications. How actively this RAM is used is another matter entirely. Recent tendencies to featuritis and software bloat can expand the RAM footprint of an OS to the point of making it nearly unusable in practice. [This problem is, thankfully, limited to operating systems so stupid that they don't do virtual memory - ESR]

Node:for free, Next:, Previous:footprint, Up:= F =

for free adj.

[common] Said of a capability of a programming language or hardware that is available by its design without needing cleverness to implement: "In APL, we get the matrix operations for free." "And owing to the way revisions are stored in this system, you get revision trees for free." The term usually refers to a serendipitous feature of doing things a certain way (compare big win), but it may refer to an intentional but secondary feature.

Node:for the rest of us, Next:, Previous:for free, Up:= F =

for the rest of us adj.

[from the Mac slogan "The computer for the rest of us"] 1. Used to describe a spiffy product whose affordability shames other comparable products, or (more often) used sarcastically to describe spiffy but very overpriced products. 2. Describes a program with a limited interface, deliberately limited capabilities, non-orthogonality, inability to compose primitives, or any other limitation designed to not `confuse' a naive user. This places an upper bound on how far that user can go before the program begins to get in the way of the task instead of helping accomplish it. Used in reference to Macintosh software which doesn't provide obvious capabilities because it is thought that the poor lusers might not be able to handle them. Becomes `the rest of them' when used in third-party reference; thus, "Yes, it is an attractive program, but it's designed for The Rest Of Them" means a program that superficially looks neat but has no depth beyond the surface flash. See also WIMP environment, Macintrash, point-and-drool interface, user-friendly.

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for values of

[MIT] A common rhetorical maneuver at MIT is to use any of the canonical random numbers as placeholders for variables. "The max function takes 42 arguments, for arbitrary values of 42." "There are 69 ways to leave your lover, for 69 = 50." This is especially likely when the speaker has uttered a random number and realizes that it was not recognized as such, but even `non-random' numbers are occasionally used in this fashion. A related joke is that pi equals 3 -- for small values of pi and large values of 3.

Historical note: at MIT this usage has traditionally been traced to the programming language MAD (Michigan Algorithm Decoder), an Algol-58-like language that was the most common choice among mainstream (non-hacker) users at MIT in the mid-60s. It inherited from Algol-58 a control structure FOR VALUES OF X = 3, 7, 99 DO ... that would repeat the indicated instructions for each value in the list (unlike the usual FOR that only works for arithmetic sequences of values). MAD is long extinct, but similar for-constructs still flourish (e.g., in Unix's shell languages).

Node:fora, Next:, Previous:for values of, Up:= F =

fora pl.n.

Plural of forum.

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foreground vt.

[Unix; common] To bring a task to the top of one's stack for immediate processing, and hackers often use it in this sense for non-computer tasks. "If your presentation is due next week, I guess I'd better foreground writing up the design document."

Technically, on a time-sharing system, a task executing in foreground is one able to accept input from and return output to the user; oppose background. Nowadays this term is primarily associated with Unix, but it appears first to have been used in this sense on OS/360. Normally, there is only one foreground task per terminal (or terminal window); having multiple processes simultaneously reading the keyboard is a good way to lose.

Node:fork bomb, Next:, Previous:foreground, Up:= F =

fork bomb n.

[Unix] A particular species of wabbit that can be written in one line of C (main() {for(;;)fork();}) or shell ($0 & $0 &) on any Unix system, or occasionally created by an egregious coding bug. A fork bomb process `explodes' by recursively spawning copies of itself (using the Unix system call fork(2)). Eventually it eats all the process table entries and effectively wedges the system. Fortunately, fork bombs are relatively easy to spot and kill, so creating one deliberately seldom accomplishes more than to bring the just wrath of the gods down upon the perpetrator. See also logic bomb.

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forked adj.

[Unix; prob. influenced by a mainstream expletive] Terminally slow, or dead. Originated when one system was slowed to a snail's pace by an inadvertent fork bomb.

Node:Fortrash, Next:, Previous:forked, Up:= F =

Fortrash /for'trash/ n.

Hackerism for the FORTRAN (FORmula TRANslator) language, referring to its primitive design, gross and irregular syntax, limited control constructs, and slippery, exception-filled semantics.

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fortune cookie n.

[WAITS, via Unix; common] A random quote, item of trivia, joke, or maxim printed to the user's tty at login time or (less commonly) at logout time. Items from this lexicon have often been used as fortune cookies. See cookie file.

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forum n.

[Usenet, GEnie, CI$; pl. `fora' or `forums'] Any discussion group accessible through a dial-in BBS, a mailing list, or a newsgroup (see the network). A forum functions much like a bulletin board; users submit postings for all to read and discussion ensues. Contrast real-time chat via talk mode or point-to-point personal email.

Node:fossil, Next:, Previous:forum, Up:= F =

fossil 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 ASCII and modern byte-addressable architectures. See dusty deck. 2. More restrictively, a feature with past but no present utility. Example: the force-all-caps (LCASE) bits in the V7 and BSD Unix tty driver, designed for use with monocase terminals. (In a perversion of the usual backward-compatibility goal, this functionality has actually been expanded and renamed in some later USG Unix releases as the IUCLC and OLCUC bits.) 3. The FOSSIL (Fido/Opus/Seadog Standard Interface Level) driver specification for serial-port access to replace the brain-dead routines in the IBM PC ROMs. Fossils are used by most MS-DOS BBS software in preference to the `supported' ROM routines, which do not support interrupt-driven operation or setting speeds above 9600; the use of a semistandard FOSSIL library is preferable to the bare metal serial port programming otherwise required. Since the FOSSIL specification allows additional functionality to be hooked in, drivers that use the hook but do not provide serial-port access themselves are named with a modifier, as in `video fossil'.

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four-color glossies n.

1. Literature created by marketroids that allegedly contains technical specs but which is in fact as superficial as possible without being totally content-free. "Forget the four-color glossies, give me the tech ref manuals." Often applied as an indication of superficiality even when the material is printed on ordinary paper in black and white. Four-color-glossy manuals are never useful for solving a problem. 2. [rare] Applied by extension to manual pages that don't contain enough information to diagnose why the program doesn't produce the expected or desired output.

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frag n.,v.

[from Vietnam-era U.S. military slang via the games Doom and Quake] 1. To kill another player's avatar in a multiuser game. "I hold the office Quake record with 40 frags." 2. To completely ruin something. "Forget that power supply, the lightning strike fragged it".

Node:fragile, Next:, Previous:frag, Up:= F =

fragile adj.

Syn brittle.

Node:fred, Next:, Previous:fragile, Up:= F =

fred n.

1. The personal name most frequently used as a metasyntactic variable (see foo). Allegedly popular because it's easy for a non-touch-typist to type on a standard QWERTY keyboard. In Great Britain, `fred', `jim' and `sheila' are common metasyntactic variables because their uppercase versions were official names given to the 3 memory areas that held I/O status registers on the lovingly-remembered BBC Microcomputer! (It is reported that SHEILA was poked the most often.) Unlike J. Random Hacker or `J. Random Loser', the name `fred' has no positive or negative loading (but see Dr. Fred Mbogo). See also barney. 2. An acronym for `Flipping Ridiculous Electronic Device'; other F-verbs may be substituted for `flipping'.

Node:Fred Foobar, Next:, Previous:fred, Up:= F =

Fred Foobar n.

J. Random Hacker's cousin. Any typical human being, more or less synomous with `someone' except that Fred Foobar can be backreferenced by name later on. "So Fred Foobar will enter his phone number into the database, and it'll be archived with the others. Months later, when Fred searches..." See also Bloggs Family and Dr. Fred Mbogo

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frednet /fred'net/ n.

Used to refer to some random and uncommon protocol encountered on a network. "We're implementing bridging in our router to solve the frednet problem."

Node:free software, Next:, Previous:frednet, Up:= F =

free software n.

As defined by Richard M. Stallman and used by the Free Software movement, this means software that gives users enough freedom to be used by the free software community. Specifically, users must be free to modify the software for their private use, and free to redistribute it either with or without modifications, either commercially or noncommercially, either gratis or charging a distribution fee. Free software has existed since the dawn of computing; Free Software as a movement began in 1984 with the GNU Project. See also open source.

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freeware n.

[common] Free software, often written by enthusiasts and distributed by users' groups, or via electronic mail, local bulletin boards, Usenet, or other electronic media. At one time, `freeware' was a trademark of Andrew Fluegelman, the author of the well-known MS-DOS comm program PC-TALK III. It wasn't enforced after his mysterious disappearance and presumed death in 1984. See shareware, FRS.

Node:freeze, Next:, Previous:freeware, Up:= F =

freeze v.

To lock an evolving software distribution or document against changes so it can be released with some hope of stability. Carries the strong implication that the item in question will `unfreeze' at some future date. "OK, fix that bug and we'll freeze for release."

There are more specific constructions on this term. A `feature freeze', for example, locks out modifications intended to introduce new features but still allows bugfixes and completion of existing features; a `code freeze' connotes no more changes at all. At Sun Microsystems and elsewhere, one may also hear references to `code slush' -- that is, an almost-but-not-quite frozen state.

Node:fried, Next:, Previous:freeze, Up:= F =

fried adj.

1. [common] Non-working due to hardware failure; burnt out. Especially used of hardware brought down by a `power glitch' (see glitch), drop-outs, a short, or some other electrical event. (Sometimes this literally happens to electronic circuits! In particular, resistors can burn out and transformers can melt down, emitting noxious smoke -- see friode, SED and LER. However, this term is also used metaphorically.) Compare frotzed. 2. [common] 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." Esp. common in conjunction with `brain': "My brain is fried today, I'm very short on sleep."

Node:frink, Next:, Previous:fried, Up:= F =

frink /frink/ v.

The unknown ur-verb, fill in your own meaning. Found esp. on the Usenet newsgroup, where it is said that the lemurs know what `frink' means, but they aren't telling. Compare gorets.

Node:friode, Next:, Previous:frink, Up:= F =

friode /fri:'ohd/ n.

[TMRC] A reversible (that is, fused or blown) diode. Compare fried; see also SED, LER.

Node:fritterware, Next:, Previous:friode, Up:= F =

fritterware n.

An excess of capability that serves no productive end. The canonical example is font-diddling software on the Mac (see macdink); the term describes anything that eats huge amounts of time for quite marginal gains in function but seduces people into using it anyway. See also window shopping.

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frob /frob/ 1. n.

[MIT; very common] The TMRC definition was "FROB = a protruding arm or trunnion"; by metaphoric extension, a `frob' is any random small thing; an object that you can comfortably hold in one hand; something you can frob (sense 2). See frobnitz. 2. vt. Abbreviated form of frobnicate. 3. [from the MUD world] A command on some MUDs that changes a player's experience level (this can be used to make wizards); also, to request wizard privileges on the `professional courtesy' grounds that one is a wizard elsewhere. The command is actually `frobnicate' but is universally abbreviated to the shorter form.

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frobnicate /frob'ni-kayt/ vt.

[Poss. derived from frobnitz, and usually abbreviated to frob, but `frobnicate' is recognized as the official full form.] To manipulate or adjust, to tweak. One frequently frobs bits or other 2-state devices. Thus: "Please frob the light switch" (that is, flip it), but also "Stop frobbing that clasp; you'll break it". One also sees the construction `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. The variant `frobnosticate' has been recently reported.

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frobnitz /frob'nits/, pl. `frobnitzem' /frob'nit-zm/ or `frobni' /frob'ni:/ n.

[TMRC] 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' (/frob'n[y]ool/) and `frobule' (/frob'yool/). Starting perhaps in 1979, `frobozz' /fr*-boz'/ (plural: `frobbotzim' /fr*-bot'zm/) has also become very popular, largely through its exposure as a name via Zork. These variants can also be applied to nonphysical objects, such as data structures.

Pete Samson, compiler of the original TMRC lexicon, adds, "Under the TMRC [railroad] layout were many storage boxes, managed (in 1958) by David R. Sawyer. Several had fanciful designations written on them, such as `Frobnitz Coil Oil'. Perhaps DRS intended Frobnitz to be a proper name, but the name was quickly taken for the thing". This was almost certainly the origin of the term.

Node:frog, Next:, Previous:frobnitz, Up:= F =

frog alt. `phrog'

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. 4. n. Of people, somewhere in between a turkey and a toad. 5. `froggy': adj. Similar to bagbiting, but milder. "This froggy program is taking forever to run!"

Node:frogging, Next:, Previous:frog, Up:= F =

frogging [University of Waterloo] v.

1. Partial corruption of a text file or input stream by some bug or consistent glitch, as opposed to random events like line noise or media failures. Might occur, for example, if one bit of each incoming character on a tty were stuck, so that some characters were correct and others were not. See terminak for a historical example and compare dread high-bit disease. 2. By extension, accidental display of text in a mode where the output device emits special symbols or mnemonics rather than conventional ASCII. This often happens, for example, when using a terminal or comm program on a device like an IBM PC with a special `high-half' character set and with the bit-parity assumption wrong. A hacker sufficiently familiar with ASCII bit patterns might be able to read the display anyway.

Node:front end, Next:, Previous:frogging, Up:= F =

front end n.

1. An intermediary computer that does set-up and filtering for another (usually more powerful but less friendly) machine (a `back end'). 2. What you're talking to when you have a conversation with someone who is making replies without paying attention. "Look at the dancing elephants!" "Uh-huh." "Do you know what I just said?" "Sorry, you were talking to the front end." 3. Software that provides an interface to another program `behind' it, which may not be as user-friendly. Probably from analogy with hardware front-ends (see sense 1) that interfaced with mainframes.

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frotz /frots/

1. n. See frobnitz. 2. `mumble frotz': An interjection of mildest disgust.

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frotzed /frotst/ adj.

down because of hardware problems. Compare fried. A machine that is merely frotzed may be fixable without replacing parts, but a fried machine is more seriously damaged.

Node:frowney, Next:, Previous:frotzed, Up:= F =

frowney n.

(alt. `frowney face') See emoticon.

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FRS // n.,obs.

Abbreviation for "Freely Redistributable Software" which entered general use on the Internet in 1995 after years of low-level confusion over what exactly to call software written to be passed around and shared (contending terms including freeware, shareware, and `sourceware' were never universally felt to be satisfactory for various subtle reasons). The first formal conference on freely redistributable software was held in Cambridge, Massachussetts, in February 1996 (sponsored by the Free Software Foundation). The conference organizers used the FRS abbreviation heavily in its calls for papers and other literature during 1995. The term was in steady though not common use until 1998 and the invention of open source.

Node:fry, Next:, Previous:FRS, Up:= F =


1. vi. To fail. Said especially of smoke-producing hardware failures. More generally, to become non-working. Usage: never said of software, only of hardware and humans. See fried, magic smoke. 2. vt. To cause to fail; to roach, toast, or hose a piece of hardware. Never used of software or humans, but compare fried.

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fscking /fus'-king/ or /eff'-seek-ing/ adj.

[Usenet; common] Fucking, in the expletive sense (it refers to the Unix filesystem-repair command fsck(1), of which it can be said that if you have to use it at all you are having a bad day). Originated on scary devil monastery and the newsgroups, but became much more widespread following the passage of CDA. Also occasionally seen in the variant "What the fsck?"

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FSF /F-S-F/ abbrev.

Common abbreviation (both spoken and written) for the name of the Free Software Foundation, a nonprofit educational association formed to support the GNU project.

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FTP /F-T-P/, not /fit'ip/

1. [techspeak] n. The File Transfer Protocol for transmitting files between systems on the Internet. 2. vt. To beam a file using the File Transfer Protocol. 3. Sometimes used as a generic even for file transfers not using FTP. "Lemme get a copy of "Wuthering Heights" ftp'd from uunet."

Node:FUBAR, Next:, Previous:FTP, Up:= F =


The Failed UniBus Address Register in a VAX. A good example of how jargon can occasionally be snuck past the suits; see foobar, and foo for a fuller etymology.

Node:fuck me harder, Next:, Previous:FUBAR, Up:= F =

fuck me harder excl.

Sometimes uttered in response to egregious misbehavior, esp. in software, and esp. of misbehaviors which seem unfairly persistent (as though designed in by the imp of the perverse). Often theatrically elaborated: "Aiighhh! Fuck me with a piledriver and 16 feet of curare-tipped wrought-iron fence and no lubricants!" The phrase is sometimes heard abbreviated `FMH' in polite company.

[This entry is an extreme example of the hackish habit of coining elaborate and evocative terms for lossage. Here we see a quite self-conscious parody of mainstream expletives that has become a running gag in part of the hacker culture; it illustrates the hackish tendency to turn any situation, even one of extreme frustration, into an intellectual game (the point being, in this case, to creatively produce a long-winded description of the most anatomically absurd mental image possible -- the short forms implicitly allude to all the ridiculous long forms ever spoken). Scatological language is actually relatively uncommon among hackers, and there was some controversy over whether this entry ought to be included at all. As it reflects a live usage recognizably peculiar to the hacker culture, we feel it is in the hackish spirit of truthfulness and opposition to all forms of censorship to record it here. --ESR & GLS]

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FUD /fuhd/ n.

Defined by Gene Amdahl after he left IBM to found his own company: "FUD is the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that IBM sales people instill in the minds of potential customers who might be considering [Amdahl] products." The idea, of course, was to persuade them to go with safe IBM gear rather than with competitors' equipment. This implicit coercion was traditionally accomplished by promising that Good Things would happen to people who stuck with IBM, but Dark Shadows loomed over the future of competitors' equipment or software. See IBM. After 1990 the term FUD was associated increasingly frequently with Microsoft, and has become generalized to refer to any kind of disinformation used as a competitive weapon.

Node:FUD wars, Next:, Previous:FUD, Up:= F =

FUD wars /fuhd worz/ n.

[from FUD] Political posturing engaged in by hardware and software vendors ostensibly committed to standardization but actually willing to fragment the market to protect their own shares. The Unix International vs. OSF conflict about Unix standards was one outstanding example; Microsoft vs. Netscape vs. W3C about HTML standards is another.

Node:fudge, Next:, Previous:FUD wars, Up:= F =


1. vt. 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 -- I'll fix it later." 2. n. The resulting code.

Node:fudge factor, Next:, Previous:fudge, Up:= F =

fudge factor n.

[common] 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 that 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. A good example is the `fuzz' typically allowed in floating-point calculations: two numbers being compared for equality must be allowed to differ by a small amount; if that amount is too small, a computation may never terminate, while if it is too large, results will be needlessly inaccurate. Fudge factors are frequently adjusted incorrectly by programmers who don't fully understand their import. See also coefficient of X.

Node:fuel up, Next:, Previous:fudge factor, Up:= F =

fuel up vi.

To eat or drink hurriedly in order to get back to hacking. "Food-p?" "Yeah, let's fuel up." "Time for a great-wall!" See also oriental food.

Node:Full Monty, Next:, Previous:fuel up, Up:= F =

Full Monty n.

See monty, sense 2.

Node:fum, Next:, Previous:Full Monty, Up:= F =

fum n.

[XEROX PARC] At PARC, often the third of the standard metasyntactic variables (after foo and bar). Competes with baz, which is more common outside PARC.

Node:functino, Next:, Previous:fum, Up:= F =

functino n.

[uncommon, U.K.; originally a serendipitous typo in 1994] A pointer to a function in C and C++. By association with sub-atomic particles such as the neutrino, it accurately conveys an impression of smallness (one pointer is four bytes on most systems) and speed (hackers can and do use arrays of functinos to replace a switch() statement).

Node:funky, Next:, Previous:functino, Up:= F =

funky adj.

Said of something that 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."

Node:funny money, Next:, Previous:funky, Up:= F =

funny money n.

1. Notional `dollar' units of computing time and/or storage handed to students at the beginning of a computer course; also called `play money' or `purple money' (in implicit opposition to real or `green' money). In New Zealand and Germany the odd usage `paper money' has been recorded; in Germany, the particularly amusing synonym `transfer ruble' commemmorates the funny money used for trade between COMECON countries back when the Soviet Bloc still existed. When your funny money ran out, your account froze and you needed to go to a professor to get more. Fortunately, the plunging cost of timesharing cycles has made this less common. The amounts allocated were almost invariably too small, even for the non-hackers who wanted to slide by with minimum work. In extreme cases, the practice led to small-scale black markets in bootlegged computer accounts. 2. By extension, phantom money or quantity tickets of any kind used as a resource-allocation hack within a system. Antonym: `real money'.

Node:furrfu, Next:, Previous:funny money, Up:= F =

furrfu // excl.

[Usenet] Written-only equivalent of "Sheesh!"; it is, in fact, "sheesh" modified by rot13. Evolved in mid-1992 as a response to notably silly postings repeating urban myths on the Usenet newsgroup alt.folklore.urban, after some posters complained that "Sheesh!" as a response to newbies was being overused. See also FOAF.

Node:fuzzball, Next:, Previous:furrfu, Up:= F =

fuzzball n.

[TCP/IP hackers] A DEC LSI-11 running a particular suite of homebrewed software written by Dave Mills and assorted co-conspirators, used in the early 1980s for Internet protocol testbedding and experimentation. These were used as NSFnet backbone sites in its early 56kb-line days; a few were still active on the Internet as late as mid-1993, doing odd jobs such as network time service.

Node:= G =, Next:, Previous:= F =, Up:The Jargon Lexicon

= G =

Node:G, Next:, Previous:fuzzball, Up:= G =

G pref.,suff.

[SI] See quantifiers.

Node:g-file, Next:, Previous:G, Up:= G =

g-file n.

[Commodore BBS culture] Any file that is written with the intention of being read by a human rather than a machine, such as the Jargon File, documentation, humor files, hacker lore, and technical materials.

This term survives from the nearly forgotten Commodore 64 underground and BBS community. In the early 80s, C-Net had emerged as the most popular C64 BBS software for systems which encouraged messaging (as opposed to file transfer). There were three main options for files: Program files (p-files), which served the same function as `doors' in today's systems, UD files (the user upload/download section), and g-files. Anything that was meant to be read was included in g-files.

Node:gabriel, Next:, Previous:g-file, Up:= G =

gabriel /gay'bree-*l/ n.

[for Dick Gabriel, SAIL LISP hacker and volleyball fanatic] An unnecessary (in the opinion of the opponent) stalling tactic, e.g., tying one's shoelaces or combing one's hair repeatedly, asking the time, etc. Also used to refer to the perpetrator of such tactics. Also, `pulling a Gabriel', `Gabriel mode'.

Node:gag, Next:, Previous:gabriel, Up:= G =

gag vi.

Equivalent to choke, but connotes more disgust. "Hey, this is FORTRAN code. No wonder the C compiler gagged." See also barf.

Node:gang bang, Next:, Previous:gag, Up:= G =

gang bang n.

The use of large numbers of loosely coupled programmers in an attempt to wedge a great many features into a product in a short time. Though there have been memorable gang bangs (e.g., that over-the-weekend assembler port mentioned in Steven Levy's "Hackers"), most are perpetrated by large companies trying to meet deadlines; the inevitable result is enormous buggy masses of code entirely lacking in orthogonality. When market-driven managers make a list of all the features the competition has and assign one programmer to implement each, the probability of maintaining a coherent (or even functional) design goes infinitesimal. See also firefighting, Mongolian Hordes technique, Conway's Law.

Node:garbage collect, Next:, Previous:gang bang, Up:= G =

garbage collect vi.

(also `garbage collection', n.) See GC.

Node:garply, Next:, Previous:garbage collect, Up:= G =

garply /gar'plee/ n.

[Stanford] Another metasyntactic variable (see foo); once popular among SAIL hackers.

Node:gas, Next:, Previous:garply, Up:= G =


[as in `gas chamber'] 1. interj. 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. interj. A suggestion that someone or something ought to be flushed out of mercy. "The system's getting wedged every few minutes. Gas!" 3. vt. To flush (sense 1). "You should gas that old crufty software." 4. [IBM] n. Dead space in nonsequentially organized files that was occupied by data that has since been deleted; the compression operation that removes it is called `degassing' (by analogy, perhaps, with the use of the same term in vacuum technology). 5. [IBM] n. Empty space on a disk that has been clandestinely allocated against future need.

Node:gaseous, Next:, Previous:gas, Up:= G =

gaseous adj.

Deserving of being gassed. Disseminated by Geoff Goodfellow while at SRI; became particularly popular after the Moscone-Milk killings in San Francisco, when it was learned that the defendant Dan White (a politician who had supported Proposition 7) would get the gas chamber under Proposition 7 if convicted of first-degree murder (he was eventually convicted of manslaughter).

Node:gawble, Next:, Previous:gaseous, Up:= G =

gawble /gaw'bl/ n.

See chawmp.

Node:GC, Next:, Previous:gawble, Up:= G =

GC /G-C/

[from LISP terminology; `Garbage Collect'] 1. vt. To clean up and throw away useless things. "I think I'll GC the top of my desk today." When said of files, this is equivalent to GFR. 2. vt. To recycle, reclaim, or put to another use. 3. n. An instantiation of the garbage collector process.

`Garbage collection' is computer-science techspeak for a particular class of strategies for dynamically but transparently reallocating computer memory (i.e., without requiring explicit allocation and deallocation by higher-level software). One such strategy involves periodically scanning all the data in memory and determining what is no longer accessible; useless data items are then discarded so that the memory they occupy can be recycled and used for another purpose. Implementations of the LISP language usually use garbage collection.

In jargon, the full phrase is sometimes heard but the abbrev GC is more frequently used because it is shorter. Note that there is an ambiguity in usage that has to be resolved by context: "I'm going to garbage-collect my desk" usually means to clean out the drawers, but it could also mean to throw away or recycle the desk itself.

Node:GCOS, Next:, Previous:GC, Up:= G =

GCOS /jee'kohs/ n.

A quick-and-dirty clone of System/360 DOS that emerged from GE around 1970; originally called GECOS (the General Electric Comprehensive Operating System). Later kluged to support primitive timesharing and transaction processing. After the buyout of GE's computer division by Honeywell, the name was changed to General Comprehensive Operating System (GCOS). Other OS groups at Honeywell began referring to it as `God's Chosen Operating System', allegedly in reaction to the GCOS crowd's uninformed and snotty attitude about the superiority of their product. All this might be of zero interest, except for two facts: (1) The GCOS people won the political war, and this led in the orphaning and eventual death of Honeywell Multics, and (2) GECOS/GCOS left one permanent mark on Unix. Some early Unix systems at Bell Labs used GCOS machines for print spooling and various other services; the field added to /etc/passwd to carry GCOS ID information was called the `GECOS field' and survives today as the pw_gecos member used for the user's full name and other human-ID information. GCOS later played a major role in keeping Honeywell a dismal also-ran in the mainframe market, and was itself mostly ditched for Unix in the late 1980s when Honeywell began to retire its aging big iron designs.

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GECOS /jee'kohs/ n.


Node:gedanken, Next:, Previous:GECOS, Up:= G =

gedanken /g*-dahn'kn/ adj.

Ungrounded; impractical; not well-thought-out; untried; untested.

`Gedanken' is a German word for `thought'. A thought experiment is one you carry out in your head. In physics, the term `gedanken experiment' is used to refer to an experiment that is impractical to carry out, but useful to consider because it can be reasoned about theoretically. (A classic gedanken experiment of relativity theory involves thinking about a man in an elevator accelerating through space.) Gedanken experiments are very useful in physics, but must be used with care. It's too easy to idealize away some important aspect of the real world in constructing the `apparatus'.

Among hackers, accordingly, the word has a pejorative connotation. It is typically used of a project, especially one in artificial intelligence research, that is written up in grand detail (typically as a Ph.D. thesis) without ever being implemented to any great extent. Such a project is 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 an algorithm. See also AI-complete, DWIM.

Node:geef, Next:, Previous:gedanken, Up:= G =

geef v.

[ostensibly from `gefingerpoken'] vt. Syn. mung. See also blinkenlights.

Node:geek code, Next:, Previous:geef, Up:= G =

geek code n.

(also "Code of the Geeks"). A set of codes commonly used in sig blocks to broadcast the interests, skills, and aspirations of the poster. Features a G at the left margin followed by numerous letter codes, often suffixed with plusses or minuses. Because many net users are involved in computer science, the most common prefix is `GCS'. To see a copy of the current code, browse Here is a sample geek code (that of Robert Hayden, the code's inventor) from that page:

Version: 3.1
GED/J d-- s:++>: a- C++(++++)$ ULUO++ P+>+++ L++ !E---- W+(---) N+++
o+ K+++ w+(---) O- M+$>++ V-- PS++(+++)>$ PE++(+)>$ Y++ PGP++ t- 5+++
X++ R+++>$ tv+ b+ DI+++ D+++ G+++++>$ e++$>++++ h r-- y+**

The geek code originated in 1993; it was inspired (according to the inventor) by previous "bear", "smurf" and "twink" style-and-sexual-preference codes from lesbian and gay newsgroups. It has in turn spawned imitators; there is now even a "Saturn geek code" for owners of the Saturn car. See also computer geek.

Node:geek out, Next:, Previous:geek code, Up:= G =

geek out vi.

To temporarily enter techno-nerd mode while in a non-hackish context, for example at parties held near computer equipment. Especially used when you need to do or say something highly technical and don't have time to explain: "Pardon me while I geek out for a moment." See computer geek; see also propeller head.

Node:gen, Next:, Previous:geek out, Up:= G =

gen /jen/ n.,v.

Short for generate, used frequently in both spoken and written contexts.

Node:gender mender, Next:, Previous:gen, Up:= G =

gender mender n.

[common] A cable connector shell with either two male or two female connectors on it, used to correct the mismatches that result when some loser didn't understand the RS232C specification and the distinction between DTE and DCE. Used esp. for RS-232C parts in either the original D-25 or the IBM PC's bogus D-9 format. Also called `gender bender', `gender blender', `sex changer', and even `homosexual adapter;' however, there appears to be some confusion as to whether a `male homosexual adapter' has pins on both sides (is doubly male) or sockets on both sides (connects two males).

Node:General Public Virus, Next:, Previous:gender mender, Up:= G =

General Public Virus n.

Pejorative name for some versions of the GNU project copyleft or General Public License (GPL), which requires that any tools or apps incorporating copylefted code must be source-distributed on the same anti-proprietary terms as GNU stuff. Thus it is alleged that the copyleft `infects' software generated with GNU tools, which may in turn infect other software that reuses any of its code. The Free Software Foundation's official position as of January 1991 is that copyright law limits the scope of the GPL to "programs textually incorporating significant amounts of GNU code", and that the `infection' is not passed on to third parties unless actual GNU source is transmitted. Nevertheless, widespread suspicion that the copyleft language is `boobytrapped' has caused many developers to avoid using GNU tools and the GPL. Changes in the language of the version 2.0 GPL did not eliminate this problem.

Node:generate, Next:, Previous:General Public Virus, Up:= G =

generate vt.

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. "The guy is rational most of the time, but mention nuclear energy around him and he'll generate infinite flamage."

Node:Genius From Mars Technique, Next:, Previous:generate, Up:= G =

Genius From Mars Technique n.

[TMRC] A visionary quality which enables one to ignore the standard approach and come up with a totally unexpected new algorithm. An attack on a problem from an offbeat angle that no one has ever thought of before, but that in retrospect makes total sense. Compare grok, zen.

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gensym /jen'sim/

[from MacLISP for `generated symbol'] 1. v. To invent a new name for something temporary, in such a way that the name is almost certainly not in conflict with one already in use. 2. n. The resulting name. The canonical form of a gensym is `Gnnnn' where nnnn represents a number; any LISP hacker would recognize G0093 (for example) as a gensym. 3. A freshly generated data structure with a gensymmed name. Gensymmed names are useful for storing or uniquely identifying crufties (see cruft).

Node:Get a life!, Next:, Previous:gensym, Up:= G =

Get a life! imp.

Hacker-standard way of suggesting that the person to whom it is directed has succumbed to terminal geekdom (see computer geek). Often heard on Usenet, esp. as a way of suggesting that the target is taking some obscure issue of theology too seriously. This exhortation was popularized by William Shatner on a "Saturday Night Live" episode in a speech that ended "Get a life!", but some respondents believe it to have been in use before then. It was certainly in wide use among hackers for at least five years before achieving mainstream currency in early 1992.

Node:Get a real computer!, Next:, Previous:Get a life!, Up:= G =

Get a real computer! imp.

Typical hacker response to news that somebody is having trouble getting work done on a system that (a) is single-tasking, (b) has no hard disk, or (c) has an address space smaller than 16 megabytes. This is as of early 1996; note that the threshold for `real computer' rises with time. See bitty box and toy.

Node:GFR, Next:, Previous:Get a real computer!, Up:= G =

GFR /G-F-R/ vt.

[ITS: from `Grim File Reaper', an ITS and LISP Machine utility] To remove a file or files according to some program-automated or semi-automatic manual procedure, especially one designed to reclaim mass storage space or reduce name-space clutter (the original GFR actually moved files to tape). Often generalized to pieces of data below file level. "I used to have his phone number, but I guess I GFRed it." See also prowler, reaper. Compare GC, which discards only provably worthless stuff.

Node:GIFs at 11, Next:, Previous:GFR, Up:= G =

GIFs at 11

[Fidonet] Fidonet alternative to film at 11, especially in echoes (Fidonet topic areas) where uuencoded GIFs are permitted. Other formats, especially JPEG and MPEG, may be referenced instead.

Node:gig, Next:, Previous:GIFs at 11, Up:= G =

gig /jig/ or /gig/ n.

[SI] See quantifiers.

Node:giga-, Next:, Previous:gig, Up:= G =

giga- /ji'ga/ or /gi'ga/ pref.

[SI] See quantifiers.

Node:GIGO, Next:, Previous:giga-, Up:= G =

GIGO /gi:'goh/ [acronym]

1. `Garbage In, Garbage Out' -- usually said in response to lusers who complain that a program didn't "do the right thing" when given imperfect input or otherwise mistreated in some way. Also commonly used to describe failures in human decision making due to faulty, incomplete, or imprecise data. 2. `Garbage In, Gospel Out': this more recent expansion is a sardonic comment on the tendency human beings have to put excessive trust in `computerized' data.

Node:gilley, Next:, Previous:GIGO, Up:= G =

gilley n.

[Usenet] The unit of analogical bogosity. According to its originator, the standard for one gilley was "the act of bogotoficiously comparing the shutting down of 1000 machines for a day with the killing of one person". The milligilley has been found to suffice for most normal conversational exchanges.

Node:gillion, Next:, Previous:gilley, Up:= G =

gillion /gil'y*n/ or /jil'y*n/ n.

[formed from giga- by analogy with mega/million and tera/trillion] 10^9. Same as an American billion or a British `milliard'. How one pronounces this depends on whether one speaks giga- with a hard or soft `g'.

Node:GIPS, Next:, Previous:gillion, Up:= G =

GIPS /gips/ or /jips/ n.

[analogy with MIPS] Giga-Instructions per Second (also possibly `Gillions of Instructions per Second'; see gillion). In 1991, this is used of only a handful of highly parallel machines, but this is expected to change. Compare KIPS.

Node:glark, Next:, Previous:GIPS, Up:= G =

glark /glark/ vt.

To figure something out from context. "The System III manuals are pretty poor, but you can generally glark the meaning from context." Interestingly, the word was originally `glork'; the context was "This gubblick contains many nonsklarkish English flutzpahs, but the overall pluggandisp can be glorked [sic] from context" (David Moser, quoted by Douglas Hofstadter in his "Metamagical Themas" column in the January 1981 "Scientific American"). It is conjectured that hacker usage mutated the verb to `glark' because glork was already an established jargon term (some hackers do report using the original term). Compare grok, zen.

Node:glass, Next:, Previous:glark, Up:= G =

glass n.

[IBM] Synonym for silicon.

Node:glass tty, Next:, Previous:glass, Up:= G =

glass tty /glas T-T-Y/ or /glas ti'tee/ n.

A terminal that has a display screen but which, because of hardware or software limitations, behaves like a teletype or some other printing terminal, thereby combining the disadvantages of both: like a printing terminal, it can't do fancy display hacks, and like a display terminal, it doesn't produce hard copy. An example is the early `dumb' version of Lear-Siegler ADM 3 (without cursor control). See tube, tty; compare dumb terminal, smart terminal. See "TV Typewriters" (Appendix A) for an interesting true story about a glass tty.

Node:glassfet, Next:, Previous:glass tty, Up:= G =

glassfet /glas'fet/ n.

[by analogy with MOSFET, the acronym for `Metal-Oxide-Semiconductor Field-Effect Transistor'] Syn. firebottle, a humorous way to refer to a vacuum tube.

Node:glitch, Next:, Previous:glassfet, Up:= G =

glitch /glich/

[very common; from German `glitschig' to slip, via Yiddish `glitshen', to slide or skid] 1. n. A sudden interruption in electric service, sanity, continuity, or program function. Sometimes recoverable. An interruption in electric service is specifically called a `power glitch' (also power hit), of grave concern because it usually crashes all the computers. In jargon, though, a hacker who got to the middle of a sentence and then forgot how he or she intended to complete it might say, "Sorry, I just glitched". 2. vi. To commit a glitch. See gritch. 3. vt. [Stanford] To scroll a display screen, esp. several lines at a time. WAITS terminals used to do this in order to avoid continuous scrolling, which is distracting to the eye. 4. obs. Same as magic cookie, sense 2.

All these uses of `glitch' derive from the specific technical meaning the term has in the electronic hardware world, where it is now techspeak. A glitch can occur when the inputs of a circuit change, and the outputs change to some random value for some very brief time before they settle down to the correct value. If another circuit inspects the output at just the wrong time, reading the random value, the results can be very wrong and very hard to debug (a glitch is one of many causes of electronic heisenbugs).

Node:glob, Next:, Previous:glitch, Up:= G =

glob /glob/, not /glohb/ v.,n.

[Unix; common] To expand special characters in a wildcarded name, or the act of so doing (the action is also called `globbing'). The Unix conventions for filename wildcarding have become sufficiently pervasive that many hackers use some of them in written English, especially in email or news on technical topics. Those commonly encountered include the following:

wildcard for any string (see also UN*X)
wildcard for any single character (generally read this way only at the beginning or in the middle of a word)
delimits a wildcard matching any of the enclosed characters
alternation of comma-separated alternatives; thus, `foo{baz,qux}' would be read as `foobaz' or `fooqux'

Some examples: "He said his name was [KC]arl" (expresses ambiguity). "I don't read talk.politics.*" (any of the talk.politics subgroups on Usenet). Other examples are given under the entry for X. Note that glob patterns are similar, but not identical, to those used in regexps.

Historical note: The jargon usage derives from glob, the name of a subprogram that expanded wildcards in archaic pre-Bourne versions of the Unix shell.

Node:glork, Next:, Previous:glob, Up:= G =

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. vt. Similar to glitch, but usually used reflexively. "My program just glorked itself." 4. Syn. for glark, which see.

Node:glue, Next:, Previous:glork, Up:= G =

glue n.

Generic term for any interface logic or protocol that connects two component blocks. For example, Blue Glue is IBM's SNA protocol, and hardware designers call anything used to connect large VLSI's or circuit blocks `glue logic'.

Node:gnarly, Next:, Previous:glue, Up:= G =

gnarly /nar'lee/ adj.

Both obscure and hairy (sense 1). "Yow! -- the tuned assembler implementation of BitBlt is really gnarly!" From a similar but less specific usage in surfer slang.

Node:GNU, Next:, Previous:gnarly, Up:= G =

GNU /gnoo/, not /noo/

1. [acronym: `GNU's Not Unix!', see recursive acronym] A Unix-workalike development effort of the Free Software Foundation headed by Richard Stallman <>. GNU EMACS and the GNU C compiler, two tools designed for this project, have become very popular in hackerdom and elsewhere. The GNU project was designed partly to proselytize for RMS's position that information is community property and all software source should be shared. One of its slogans is "Help stamp out software hoarding!" Though this remains controversial (because it implicitly denies any right of designers to own, assign, and sell the results of their labors), many hackers who disagree with RMS have nevertheless cooperated to produce large amounts of high-quality software for free redistribution under the Free Software Foundation's imprimatur. The GNU project has a web page at See EMACS, copyleft, General Public Virus, GNU/Linux. 2. Noted Unix hacker John Gilmore <>, founder of Usenet's anarchic alt.* hierarchy.

Node:gnubie, Next:, Previous:GNU, Up:= G =

gnubie /noo'bee/ n.

Written-only variant of newbie in common use on IRC channels, which implies specifically someone who is new to the open source/free software world.

Node:GNUMACS, Next:, Previous:gnubie, Up:= G =

GNUMACS /gnoo'maks/ n.

[contraction of `GNU EMACS'] Often-heard abbreviated name for the GNU project's flagship tool, EMACS. Used esp. in contrast with GOSMACS.

Node:go flatline, Next:, Previous:GNUMACS, Up:= G =

go flatline v.

[from cyberpunk SF, refers to flattening of EEG traces upon brain-death] (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. Of a video tube, to fail by losing vertical scan, so all one sees is a bright horizontal line bisecting the screen.

Node:go root, Next:, Previous:go flatline, Up:= G =

go root vi.

[Unix; common] To temporarily enter root mode in order to perform a privileged operation. This use is deprecated in Australia, where v. `root' is a synonym for "fuck".

Node:go-faster stripes, Next:, Previous:go root, Up:= G =

go-faster stripes n.

[UK] Syn. chrome. Mainstream in some parts of UK.

Node:GoAT, Next:, Previous:go-faster stripes, Up:= G =

GoAT //

[Usenet] Abbreviation: "Go Away, Troll". See troll.

Node:gobble, Next:, Previous:GoAT, Up:= G =

gobble vt.

1. To consume, usu. used with `up'. "The output spy gobbles characters out of a tty output buffer." 2. To obtain, usu. used with `down'. "I guess I'll gobble down a copy of the documentation tomorrow." See also snarf.

Node:Godwin's Law, Next:, Previous:gobble, Up:= G =

Godwin's Law prov.

[Usenet] "As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one." There is a tradition in many groups that, once this occurs, that thread is over, and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever argument was in progress. Godwin's Law thus practically guarantees the existence of an upper bound on thread length in those groups.

Node:Godzillagram, Next:, Previous:Godwin's Law, Up:= G =

Godzillagram /god-zil'*-gram/ n.

[from Godzilla, a famous character in Japanese movies] 1. A network packet that in theory is a broadcast to every machine in the universe. The typical case is an IP datagram whose destination IP address is []. Fortunately, few gateways are foolish enough to attempt to implement this case! 2. A network packet of maximum size. An IP Godzillagram has 65,536 octets. Compare super source quench, Christmas tree packet, martian.

Node:golden, Next:, Previous:Godzillagram, Up:= G =

golden adj.

[prob. from folklore's `golden egg'] When used to describe a magnetic medium (e.g., `golden disk', `golden tape'), describes one containing a tested, up-to-spec, ready-to-ship software version. Compare platinum-iridium.

Node:golf-ball printer, Next:, Previous:golden, Up:= G =

golf-ball printer n. obs.

The IBM 2741, a slow but letter-quality printing device and terminal based on the IBM Selectric typewriter. The `golf ball' was a little spherical frob bearing reversed embossed images of 88 different characters arranged on four parallels of latitude; one could change the font by swapping in a different golf ball. The print element spun and jerked alarmingly in action and when in motion was sometimes described as an `infuriated golf ball'. This was the technology that enabled APL to use a non-EBCDIC, non-ASCII, and in fact completely non-standard character set. This put it 10 years ahead of its time -- where it stayed, firmly rooted, for the next 20, until character displays gave way to programmable bit-mapped devices with the flexibility to support other character sets.

Node:gonk, Next:, Previous:golf-ball printer, Up:= G =

gonk /gonk/ vi.,n.

1. To prevaricate or to embellish the truth beyond any reasonable recognition. In German the term is (mythically) `gonken'; in Spanish the verb becomes `gonkar'. "You're gonking me. That story you just told me is a bunch of gonk." In German, for example, "Du gonkst mich" (You're pulling my leg). See also gonkulator. 2. [British] To grab some sleep at an odd time; compare gronk out.

Node:gonkulator, Next:, Previous:gonk, Up:= G =

gonkulator /gon'kyoo-lay-tr/ n.

[common; from the 1960s "Hogan's Heroes" TV series] 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.

Node:gonzo, Next:, Previous:gonkulator, Up:= G =

gonzo /gon'zoh/ adj.

[from Hunter S. Thompson] 1. With total commitment, total concentration, and a mad sort of panache. (Thompson's original sense.) 2. More loosely: Overwhelming; outrageous; over the top; very large, esp. used of collections of source code, source files, or individual functions. Has some of the connotations of moby and hairy, but without the implication of obscurity or complexity.

Node:Good Thing, Next:, Previous:gonzo, Up:= G =

Good Thing n.,adj.

[very common; often capitalized; always pronounced as if capitalized.] 1. Self-evidently wonderful to anyone in a position to notice: "A language that manages dynamic memory automatically for you is a Good Thing." 2. Something that 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 Bad Thing.

Node:gopher, Next:, Previous:Good Thing, Up:= G =

gopher n.

A type of Internet service first floated around 1991 and obsolesced around 1995 by the World Wide Web. Gopher presents a menuing interface to a tree or graph of links; the links can be to documents, runnable programs, or other gopher menus arbitrarily far across the net.

Some claim that the gopher software, which was originally developed at the University of Minnesota, was named after the Minnesota Gophers (a sports team). Others claim the word derives from American slang `gofer' (from "go for", dialectal "go fer"), one whose job is to run and fetch things. Finally, observe that gophers dig long tunnels, and the idea of tunneling through the net to find information was a defining metaphor for the developers. Probably all three things were true, but with the first two coming first and the gopher-tunnel metaphor serendipitously adding flavor and impetus to the project as it developed out of its concept stage.

Node:gopher hole, Next:, Previous:gopher, Up:= G =

gopher hole n.

1. Any access to a gopher. 2. [Amateur Packet Radio] The terrestrial analog of a wormhole (sense 2), from which this term was coined. A gopher hole links two amateur packet relays through some non-ham radio medium.

Node:gorets, Next:, Previous:gopher hole, Up:= G =

gorets /gor'ets/ n.

The unknown ur-noun, fill in your own meaning. Found esp. on the Usenet newsgroup alt.gorets, which seems to be a running contest to redefine the word by implication in the funniest and most peculiar way, with the understanding that no definition is ever final. [A correspondent from the Former Soviet Union informs me that `gorets' is Russian for `mountain dweller'. Another from France informs me that `goret' is archaic French for a young pig --ESR] Compare frink.

Node:gorilla arm, Next:, Previous:gorets, Up:= G =

gorilla arm n.

The side-effect that destroyed touch-screens as a mainstream input technology despite a promising start in the early 1980s. 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 selections, the arm begins to feel sore, cramped, and oversized -- the operator looks like a gorilla while using the touch screen and feels like one afterwards. This is now considered a classic cautionary tale to human-factors designers; "Remember the gorilla arm!" is shorthand for "How is this going to fly in real use?".

Node:gorp, Next:, Previous:gorilla arm, Up:= G =

gorp /gorp/ n.

[CMU: perhaps from the canonical hiker's food, Good Old Raisins and Peanuts] Another metasyntactic variable, like foo and bar.

Node:GOSMACS, Next:, Previous:gorp, Up:= G =

GOSMACS /goz'maks/ n.

[contraction of `Gosling EMACS'] The first EMACS-in-C implementation, predating but now largely eclipsed by GNUMACS. Originally freeware; a commercial version was modestly popular as `UniPress EMACS' during the 1980s. The author, James Gosling, went on to invent NeWS and the programming language Java; the latter earned him demigod status.

Node:Gosperism, Next:, Previous:GOSMACS, Up:= G =

Gosperism /gos'p*r-izm/ n.

A hack, invention, or saying due to elder days arch-hacker R. William (Bill) Gosper. This notion merits its own term because there are so many of them. Many of the entries in HAKMEM are Gosperisms; see also life.

Node:gotcha, Next:, Previous:Gosperism, Up:= G =

gotcha n.

A misfeature of a system, especially a programming language or environment, that tends to breed bugs or mistakes because it both enticingly easy to invoke and completely unexpected and/or unreasonable in its outcome. For example, a classic gotcha in C is the fact that if (a=b) {code;} is syntactically valid and sometimes even correct. It puts the value of b into a and then executes code if a is non-zero. What the programmer probably meant was if (a==b) {code;}, which executes code if a and b are equal.

Node:GPL, Next:, Previous:gotcha, Up:= G =

GPL /G-P-L/ n.

Abbreviation for `General Public License' in widespread use; see copyleft, General Public Virus.

Node:GPV, Next:, Previous:GPL, Up:= G =

GPV /G-P-V/ n.

Abbrev. for General Public Virus in widespread use.

Node:grault, Next:, Previous:GPV, Up:= G =

grault /grawlt/ n.

Yet another metasyntactic variable, invented by Mike Gallaher and propagated by the GOSMACS documentation. See corge.

Node:gray goo, Next:, Previous:grault, Up:= G =

gray goo n.

A hypothetical substance composed of sagans of sub-micron-sized 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 the simplest of the nanotechnology disaster scenarios, easily refuted by arguments from energy requirements and elemental abundances. Compare blue goo.

Node:Great Renaming, Next:, Previous:gray goo, Up:= G =

Great Renaming n.

The flag day in 1987 on which all of the non-local groups on the Usenet had their names changed from the net.- format to the current multiple-hierarchies scheme. Used esp. in discussing the history of newsgroup names. "The oldest sources group is comp.sources.misc; before the Great Renaming, it was net.sources." There is a Great Renaming FAQ on the Web.

Node:Great Runes, Next:, Previous:Great Renaming, Up:= G =

Great Runes n.

Uppercase-only text or display messages. Some archaic operating systems still emit these. See also runes, smash case, fold case.

There is a widespread legend (repeated by earlier versions of this entry, though tagged as folklore) that the uppercase-only support of various old character codes and I/O equipment was chosen by a religious person in a position of power at the Teletype Company because supporting both upper and lower cases was too expensive and supporting lower case only would have made it impossible to spell `God' correctly. Not true; the upper-case interpretation of teleprinter codes was well established by 1870, long before Teletype was even founded.

Node:Great Worm, Next:, Previous:Great Runes, Up:= G =

Great Worm n.

The 1988 Internet worm perpetrated by RTM. This is a play on Tolkien (compare elvish, elder days). In the fantasy history of his Middle Earth books, there were dragons powerful enough to lay waste to entire regions; two of these (Scatha and Glaurung) were known as "the Great Worms". This usage expresses the connotation that the RTM crack was a sort of devastating watershed event in hacker history; certainly it did more to make non-hackers nervous about the Internet than anything before or since.

Node:great-wall, Next:, Previous:Great Worm, Up:= G =

great-wall vi.,n.

[from SF fandom] A mass expedition to an oriental restaurant, esp. one where food is served family-style and shared. There is a common heuristic about the amount of food to order, expressed as "Get N - 1 entrees"; the value of N, which is the number of people in the group, can be inferred from context (see N). See oriental food, ravs, stir-fried random.

Node:Green Book, Next:, Previous:great-wall, Up:= G =

Green Book n.

1. One of the three standard PostScript references: "PostScript Language Program Design", bylined `Adobe Systems' (Addison-Wesley, 1988; QA76.73.P67P66 ISBN 0-201-14396-8); see also Red Book, Blue Book, and the White Book (sense 2). 2. Informal name for one of the three standard references on SmallTalk: "Smalltalk-80: Bits of History, Words of Advice", by Glenn Krasner (Addison-Wesley, 1983; QA76.8.S635S58; ISBN 0-201-11669-3) (this, too, is associated with blue and red books). 3. The "X/Open Compatibility Guide", which defines an international standard Unix environment that is a proper superset of POSIX/SVID; also includes descriptions of a standard utility toolkit, systems administrations features, and the like. This grimoire is taken with particular seriousness in Europe. See Purple Book. 4. The IEEE 1003.1 POSIX Operating Systems Interface standard has been dubbed "The Ugly Green Book". 5. Any of the 1992 standards issued by the CCITT's tenth plenary assembly. These include, among other things, the X.400 email standard and the Group 1 through 4 fax standards. See also book titles.

Node:green bytes, Next:, Previous:Green Book, Up:= G =

green bytes n.

(also `green words') 1. Meta-information embedded in a file, such as the length of the file or its name; as opposed to keeping such information in a separate description file or record. The term comes from an IBM user's group meeting (ca. 1962) at which these two approaches were being debated and the diagram of the file on the blackboard had the `green bytes' drawn in green. 2. By extension, the non-data bits in any self-describing format. "A GIF file contains, among other things, green bytes describing the packing method for the image." Compare out-of-band, zigamorph, fence (sense 1).

Node:green card, Next:, Previous:green bytes, Up:= G =

green card n.

[after the "IBM System/360 Reference Data" card] A summary of an assembly language, even if the color is not green and not a card. Less frequently used now because of the decrease in the use of assembly language. "I'll go get my green card so I can check the addressing mode for that instruction."

The original green card became a yellow card when the System/370 was introduced, and later a yellow booklet. An anecdote from IBM refers to a scene that took place in a programmers' terminal room at Yorktown in 1978. A luser overheard one of the programmers ask another "Do you have a green card?" The other grunted and passed the first a thick yellow booklet. At this point the luser turned a delicate shade of olive and rapidly left the room, never to return.

Node:green lightning, Next:, Previous:green card, Up:= G =

green lightning n.

[IBM] 1. Apparently random flashing streaks on the face of 3278-9 terminals while a new symbol set is being downloaded. This hardware bug was left deliberately unfixed, as some genius within IBM suggested it would let the user know that `something is happening'. That, it certainly does. Later microprocessor-driven IBM color graphics displays were actually programmed to produce green lightning! 2. [proposed] Any bug perverted into an alleged feature by adroit rationalization or marketing. "Motorola calls the CISC cruft in the 88000 architecture `compatibility logic', but I call it green lightning". See also feature (sense 6).

Node:green machine, Next:, Previous:green lightning, Up:= G =

green machine n.

A computer or peripheral device that has been designed and built to military specifications for field equipment (that is, to withstand mechanical shock, extremes of temperature and humidity, and so forth). Comes from the olive-drab `uniform' paint used for military equipment.

Node:Green's Theorem, Next:, Previous:green machine, Up:= G =

Green's Theorem prov.

[TMRC] For any story, in any group of people there will be at least one person who has not heard the story. A refinement of the theorem states that there will be exactly one person (if there were more than one, it wouldn't be as bad to re-tell the story). [The name of this theorem is a play on a fundamental theorem in calculus. --ESR]

Node:greenbar, Next:, Previous:Green's Theorem, Up:= G =

greenbar n.

A style of fanfolded continuous-feed paper with alternating green and white bars on it, especially used in old-style line printers. This slang almost certainly dates way back to mainframe days.

Node:grep, Next:, Previous:greenbar, Up:= G =

grep /grep/ vi.

[from the qed/ed editor idiom g/re/p, where re stands for a regular expression, to Globally search for the Regular Expression and Print the lines containing matches to it, via Unix grep(1)] To rapidly scan a file or set of files looking for a particular string or pattern (when browsing through a large set of files, one may speak of `grepping around'). By extension, to look for something by pattern. "Grep the bulletin board for the system backup schedule, would you?" See also vgrep.

[It has also been alleged that the source is from the title of a paper "A General Regular Expression Parser" -ESR]

Node:gribble, Next:, Previous:grep, Up:= G =

gribble n.

Random binary data rendered as unreadable text. Noise characters in a data stream are displayed as gribble. Modems with mismatched bitrates usually generate gribble (more specifically, baud barf). Dumping a binary file to the screen is an excellent source of gribble, and (if the bell/speaker is active) headaches.

Node:grilf, Next:, Previous:gribble, Up:= G =

grilf // n.

Girlfriend. Like newsfroup and filk, a typo reincarnated as a new word. Seems to have originated sometime in 1992 on Usenet. [A friend tells me there was a Lloyd Biggle SF novel "Watchers Of The Dark", in which alien species after species goes insane and begins to chant "Grilf! Grilf!". A human detective eventually determines that the word means "Liar!" I hope this has nothing to do with the popularity of the Usenet term. --ESR]

Node:grind, Next:, Previous:grilf, Up:= G =

grind vt.

1. [MIT and Berkeley; now rare] To prettify hardcopy of code, especially LISP code, by reindenting lines, printing keywords and comments in distinct fonts (if available), etc. This usage was associated with the MacLISP community and is now rare; prettyprint was and is 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. [common] To run seemingly interminably, esp. (but not necessarily) if performing some tedious and inherently useless task. Similar to crunch or grovel. Grinding has a connotation of using a lot of CPU time, but it is possible to grind a disk, network, etc. See also hog. 4. To make the whole system slow. "Troff really grinds a PDP-11." 5. `grind grind' excl. Roughly, "Isn't the machine slow today!"

Node:grind crank, Next:, Previous:grind, Up:= G =

grind 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 gesture and noise. See grind.

Historical note: At least one real machine actually had a grind crank -- the R1, a research machine built toward the end of the days of the great vacuum tube computers, in 1959. R1 (also known as `The Rice Institute Computer' (TRIC) and later as `The Rice University Computer' (TRUC)) had a single-step/free-run switch for use when debugging programs. Since single-stepping through a large program was rather tedious, there was also a crank with a cam and gear arrangement that repeatedly pushed the single-step button. This allowed one to `crank' through a lot of code, then slow down to single-step for a bit when you got near the code of interest, poke at some registers using the console typewriter, and then keep on cranking.

Node:gripenet, Next:, Previous:grind crank, Up:= G =

gripenet n.

[IBM] A wry (and thoroughly unofficial) name for IBM's internal VNET system, deriving from its common use by IBMers to voice pointed criticism of IBM management that would be taboo in more formal channels.

Node:gritch, Next:, Previous:gripenet, Up:= G =

gritch /grich/

[MIT] 1. n. A complaint (often caused by a glitch). 2. vi. To complain. Often verb-doubled: "Gritch gritch". 3. A synonym for glitch (as verb or noun).

Interestingly, this word seems to have a separate history from glitch, with which it is often confused. Back in the early 1960s, when `glitch' was strictly a hardware-tech's term of art, the Burton House dorm at M.I.T. maintained a "Gritch Book", a blank volume, into which the residents hand-wrote complaints, suggestions, and witticisms. Previous years' volumes of this tradition were maintained, dating back to antiquity. The word "gritch" was described as a portmanteau of "gripe" and "bitch". Thus, sense 3 above is at least historically incorrect.

Node:grok, Next:, Previous:gritch, Up:= G =

grok /grok/, var. /grohk/ vt.

[from the novel "Stranger in a Strange Land", by Robert A. Heinlein, where it is a Martian word meaning literally `to drink' and metaphorically `to be one with'] The emphatic form is `grok in fullness'. 1. To understand, usually in a global sense. Connotes intimate and exhaustive knowledge. Contrast zen, which is similar supernal understanding experienced as a single brief flash. See also glark. 2. Used of programs, may connote merely sufficient understanding. "Almost all C compilers grok the void type these days."

Node:gronk, Next:, Previous:grok, Up:= G =

gronk /gronk/ vt.

[popularized by Johnny Hart's comic strip "B.C." but the word apparently predates that] 1. To clear the state of a wedged device and restart it. More severe than `to frob' (sense 2). 2. [TMRC] To cut, sever, smash, or similarly disable. 3. The sound made by many 3.5-inch diskette drives. In particular, the microfloppies on a Commodore Amiga go "grink, gronk".

Node:gronk out, Next:, Previous:gronk, Up:= G =

gronk out vi.

To cease functioning. Of people, to go home and go to sleep. "I guess I'll gronk out now; see you all tomorrow."

Node:gronked, Next:, Previous:gronk out, Up:= G =

gronked adj.

1. Broken. "The teletype scanner was gronked, so we took the system down." 2. Of people, the condition of feeling very tired or (less commonly) sick. "I've been chasing that bug for 17 hours now and I am thoroughly gronked!" Compare broken, which means about the same as gronk used of hardware, but connotes depression or mental/emotional problems in people.

Node:grovel, Next:, Previous:gronked, Up:= G =

grovel vi.

1. To work interminably and without apparent progress. Often used transitively with `over' or `through'. "The file scavenger has been groveling through the /usr directories for 10 minutes now." Compare grind and crunch. Emphatic form: `grovel obscenely'. 2. To examine minutely or in complete detail. "The compiler grovels over the entire source program before beginning to translate it." "I grovelled through all the documentation, but I still couldn't find the command I wanted."

Node:grue, Next:, Previous:grovel, Up:= G =

grue n.

[from archaic English verb for `shudder', as with fear] The grue was originated in the game Zork (Dave Lebling took the name from Jack Vance's "Dying Earth" fantasies) and used in several other Infocom games as a hint that you should perhaps look for a lamp, torch or some type of light source. Wandering into a dark area would cause the game to prompt you, "It is very dark. If you continue you are likely to be eaten by a grue." If you failed to locate a light source within the next couple of moves this would indeed be the case.

The grue, according to scholars of the Great Underground Empire, is a sinister, lurking presence in the dark places of the earth. Its favorite diet is either adventurers or enchanters, but its insatiable appetite is tempered by its extreme fear of light. No grues have ever been seen by the light of day, and only a few have been observed in their underground lairs. Of those who have seen grues, few have survived their fearsome jaws to tell the tale. Grues have sharp claws and fangs, and an uncontrollable tendency to slaver and gurgle. They are certainly the most evil-tempered of all creatures; to say they are touchy is a dangerous understatement. "Sour as a grue" is a common expression, even among themselves.

All this folklore is widely known among hackers.

Node:grunge, Next:, Previous:grue, Up:= G =

grunge /gruhnj/ n.

1. That which is grungy, or that which makes it so. 2. [Cambridge] Code which is inaccessible due to changes in other parts of the program. The preferred term in North America is dead code.

Node:gubbish, Next:, Previous:grunge, Up:= G =

gubbish /guhb'*sh/ n.

[a portmanteau of `garbage' and `rubbish'; may have originated with SF author Philip K. Dick] Garbage; crap; nonsense. "What is all this gubbish?" The opposite portmanteau `rubbage' is also reported; in fact, it was British slang during the 19th century and appears in Dickens.

Node:Guido, Next:, Previous:gubbish, Up:= G =

Guido /gwee'do/ or /khwee'do/

Without qualification, Guido van Rossum (author of Python). Note that Guido answers to English /gwee'do/ but in Dutch it's /khwee'do/.

Node:guiltware, Next:, Previous:Guido, Up:= G =

guiltware /gilt'weir/ n.

1. A piece of freeware decorated with a message telling one how long and hard the author worked on it and intimating that one is a no-good freeloader if one does not immediately send the poor suffering martyr gobs of money. 2. A piece of shareware that works.

Node:gumby, Next:, Previous:guiltware, Up:= G =

gumby /guhm'bee/ n.

[from a class of Monty Python characters, poss. with some influence from the 1960s claymation character] 1. An act of minor but conspicuous stupidity, often in `gumby maneuver' or `pull a gumby'. 2. [NRL] n. A bureaucrat, or other technical incompetent who impedes the progress of real work. 3. adj. Relating to things typically associated with people in sense 2. (e.g. "Ran would be writing code, but Richard gave him gumby work that's due on Friday", or, "Dammit! Travel screwed up my plane tickets. I have to go out on gumby patrol.")

Node:gun, Next:, Previous:gumby, Up:= G =

gun vt.

[ITS, now rare: from the :GUN command] 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." Usage: now rare. Compare can, blammo.

Node:gunch, Next:, Previous:gun, Up:= G =

gunch /guhnch/ vt.

[TMRC] To push, prod, or poke at a device that has almost (but not quite) produced the desired result. Implies a threat to mung.

Node:gunpowder chicken, Next:, Previous:gunch, Up:= G =

gunpowder chicken n.

Same as laser chicken.

Node:gurfle, Next:, Previous:gunpowder chicken, Up:= G =

gurfle /ger'fl/ interj.

An expression of shocked disbelief. "He said we have to recode this thing in FORTRAN by next week. Gurfle!" Compare weeble.

Node:guru, Next:, Previous:gurfle, Up:= G =

guru n.

[Unix] An expert. Implies not only wizard skill but also a history of being a knowledge resource for others. Less often, used (with a qualifier) for other experts on other systems, as in `VMS guru'. See source of all good bits.

Node:guru meditation, Next:, Previous:guru, Up:= G =

guru meditation n.

Amiga equivalent of `panic' in Unix (sometimes just called a `guru' or `guru event'). When the system crashes, a cryptic message of the form "GURU MEDITATION #XXXXXXXX.YYYYYYYY" may appear, indicating what the problem was. An Amiga guru can figure things out from the numbers. Sometimes a guru event must be followed by a Vulcan nerve pinch.

This term is (no surprise) an in-joke from the earliest days of the Amiga. An earlier product of the Amiga corporation was a device called a `Joyboard' which was basically a plastic board built onto a joystick-like device; it was sold with a skiing game cartridge for the Atari game machine. It is said that whenever the prototype OS crashed, the system programmer responsible would calm down by concentrating on a solution while sitting cross-legged on a Joyboard trying to keep the board in balance. This position resembled that of a meditating guru. Sadly, the joke was removed fairly early on (but there's a well-known patch to restore it in more recent versions).

Node:gweep, Next:, Previous:guru meditation, Up:= G =

gweep /gweep/

[WPI] 1. v. To hack, usually at night. At WPI, from 1975 onwards, one who gweeped could often be found at the College Computing Center punching cards or crashing the PDP-10 or, later, the DEC-20. A correspondent who was there at the time opines that the term was originally onomatopoetic, describing the keyclick sound of the Datapoint terminals long connected to the PDP-10. The term has survived the demise of those technologies, however, and was still alive in early 1999. "I'm going to go gweep for a while. See you in the morning." "I gweep from 8 PM till 3 AM during the week." 2. n. One who habitually gweeps in sense 1; a hacker. "He's a hard-core gweep, mumbles code in his sleep."

Node:= H =, Next:, Previous:= G =, Up:The Jargon Lexicon

= H =

Node:h, Next:, Previous:gweep, Up:= H =


[from SF fandom] A method of `marking' common words, i.e., calling attention to the fact that they are being used in a nonstandard, ironic, or humorous way. Originated in the fannish catchphrase "Bheer is the One True Ghod!" from decades ago. H-infix marking of `Ghod' and other words spread into the 1960s counterculture via underground comix, and into early hackerdom either from the counterculture or from SF fandom (the three overlapped heavily at the time). More recently, the h infix has become an expected feature of benchmark names (Dhrystone, Rhealstone, etc.); this is probably patterning on the original Whetstone (the name of a laboratory) but influenced by the fannish/counterculture h infix.

Node:ha ha only serious, Next:, Previous:h, Up:= H =

ha ha only serious

[from SF fandom, orig. as mutation of HHOK, `Ha Ha Only Kidding'] A phrase (often seen abbreviated as HHOS) that aptly captures the flavor of much hacker discourse. Applied especially to parodies, absurdities, and ironic jokes that are both intended and perceived to contain a possibly disquieting amount of truth, or truths that are constructed on in-joke and self-parody. This lexicon 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, a wannabee, or in larval stage. For further enlightenment on this subject, consult any Zen master. See also hacker humor, and AI koans.

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[very common] 1. n. Originally, a quick job that produces what is needed, but not well. 2. n. An incredibly good, and perhaps very time-consuming, piece of work that produces exactly what is needed. 3. vt. To bear emotionally or physically. "I can't hack this heat!" 4. vt. To work on something (typically a program). In an immediate sense: "What are you doing?" "I'm hacking TECO." In a general (time-extended) sense: "What do you do around here?" "I hack TECO." More generally, "I hack `foo'" is roughly equivalent to "`foo' is my major interest (or project)". "I hack solid-state physics." See Hacking X for Y. 5. vt. To pull a prank on. See sense 2 and hacker (sense 5). 6. vi. To interact with a computer in a playful and exploratory rather than goal-directed way. "Whatcha up to?" "Oh, just hacking." 7. n. Short for hacker. 8. See nethack. 9. [MIT] v. To explore the basements, roof ledges, and steam tunnels of a large, institutional building, to the dismay of Physical Plant workers and (since this is usually performed at educational institutions) the Campus Police. This activity has been found to be eerily similar to playing adventure games such as Dungeons and Dragons and Zork. See also vadding.

Constructions on this term abound. They include `happy hacking' (a farewell), `how's hacking?' (a friendly greeting among hackers) and `hack, hack' (a fairly content-free but friendly comment, often used as a temporary farewell). For more on this totipotent term see "The Meaning of Hack". See also neat hack, real hack.

Node:hack attack, Next:, Previous:hack, Up:= H =

hack attack n.

[poss. by analogy with `Big Mac Attack' from ads for the McDonald's fast-food chain; the variant `big hack attack' is reported] Nearly synonymous with hacking run, though the latter more strongly implies an all-nighter.

Node:hack mode, Next:, Previous:hack attack, Up:= H =

hack mode n.

1. What one is in when hacking, of course. 2. More specifically, a Zen-like state of total focus on The Problem that may be achieved when one is hacking (this is why every good hacker is part mystic). 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 a physical shock, and the sensation of being in hack mode 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 code. See also cyberspace (sense 2).

Some aspects of hacker etiquette will appear quite odd to an observer unaware of the high value placed on hack mode. For example, if someone appears at your door, it is perfectly okay to hold up a hand (without turning one's eyes away from the screen) to avoid being interrupted. One may read, type, and interact with the computer for quite some time before further acknowledging the other's presence (of course, he or she is reciprocally free to leave without a word). The understanding is that you might be in hack mode with a lot of delicate state (sense 2) in your head, and you dare not swap that context out until you have reached a good point to pause. See also juggling eggs.

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hack on vt.

[very common] To hack; implies that the subject is some pre-existing hunk of code that one is evolving, as opposed to something one might hack up.

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hack together vt.

[common] To throw something together so it will work. Unlike `kluge together' or cruft together, this does not necessarily have negative connotations.

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hack up vt.

To hack, but generally implies that the result is a hack in sense 1 (a quick hack). Contrast this with hack on. To `hack up on' implies a quick-and-dirty modification to an existing system. Contrast hacked up; compare kluge up, monkey up, cruft together.

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hack value n.

Often adduced 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 had features for reading and printing Roman numerals, which were installed purely for hack value. See display hack for one method of computing hack value, but this cannot really be explained, only experienced. As Louis Armstrong once said when asked to explain jazz: "Man, if you gotta ask you'll never know." (Feminists please note Fats Waller's explanation of rhythm: "Lady, if you got to ask, you ain't got it.")

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hacked off adj.

[analogous to `pissed off'] Said of system administrators who have become annoyed, upset, or touchy owing to suspicions that their sites have been or are going to be victimized by crackers, or used for inappropriate, technically illegal, or even overtly criminal activities. For example, having unreadable files in your home directory called `worm', `lockpick', or `goroot' would probably be an effective (as well as impressively obvious and stupid) way to get your sysadmin hacked off at you.

It has been pointed out that there is precedent for this usage in U.S. Navy slang, in which officers under discipline are sometimes said to be "in hack" and one may speak of "hacking off the C.O.".

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hacked up adj.

Sufficiently patched, kluged, and tweaked that the surgical scars are beginning to crowd out normal tissue (compare critical mass). Not all programs that are hacked become `hacked up'; if modifications are done with some eye to coherence and continued maintainability, the software may emerge better for the experience. Contrast hack up.

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hacker n.

[originally, someone who makes furniture with an axe] 1. A person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable 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 (even obsessively) or who enjoys programming rather than just theorizing about programming. 3. A person capable of appreciating hack value. 4. A person who is good at programming quickly. 5. An expert at a particular program, or one who frequently does work using it or on it; as in `a Unix hacker'. (Definitions 1 through 5 are correlated, and people who fit them congregate.) 6. An expert or enthusiast of any kind. One might be an astronomy hacker, for example. 7. One who enjoys the intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming or circumventing limitations. 8. [deprecated] A malicious meddler who tries to discover sensitive information by poking around. Hence `password hacker', `network hacker'. The correct term for this sense is cracker.

The term `hacker' also tends to connote membership in the global community defined by the net (see the network and Internet address). For discussion of some of the basics of this culture, see the How To Become A Hacker FAQ. It also implies that the person described is seen to subscribe to some version of the hacker ethic (see hacker ethic).

It is better to be described as a hacker by others than to describe oneself that way. Hackers consider themselves something of an elite (a meritocracy based on ability), though one to which new members are gladly welcome. There is thus a certain ego satisfaction to be had in identifying yourself as a hacker (but if you claim to be one and are not, you'll quickly be labeled bogus). See also wannabee.

This term seems to have been first adopted as a badge in the 1960s by the hacker culture surrounding TMRC and the MIT AI Lab. We have a report that it was used in a sense close to this entry's by teenage radio hams and electronics tinkerers in the mid-1950s.

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hacker ethic n.

1. The belief that information-sharing is a powerful positive good, and that it is an ethical duty of hackers to share their expertise by writing open-source and facilitating access to information and to computing resources wherever possible. 2. The belief that system-cracking for fun and exploration is ethically OK as long as the cracker commits no theft, vandalism, or breach of confidentiality.

Both of these normative ethical principles are widely, but by no means universally, accepted among hackers. Most hackers subscribe to the hacker ethic in sense 1, and many act on it by writing and giving away open-source software. A few go further and assert that all information should be free and any proprietary control of it is bad; this is the philosophy behind the GNU project.

Sense 2 is more controversial: some people consider the act of cracking itself to be unethical, like breaking and entering. But the belief that `ethical' cracking excludes destruction at least moderates the behavior of people who see themselves as `benign' crackers (see also samurai). On this view, it may be one of the highest forms of hackerly courtesy to (a) break into a system, and then (b) explain to the sysop, preferably by email from a superuser account, exactly how it was done and how the hole can be plugged -- acting as an unpaid (and unsolicited) tiger team.

The most reliable manifestation of either version of the hacker ethic is that almost all hackers are actively willing to share technical tricks, software, and (where possible) computing resources with other hackers. Huge cooperative networks such as Usenet, FidoNet and Internet (see Internet address) can function without central control because of this trait; they both rely on and reinforce a sense of community that may be hackerdom's most valuable intangible asset.

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hacker humor

A distinctive style of shared intellectual humor found among hackers, having the following marked characteristics:

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 a red index card in front of him/her with "GREEN" written on it, or vice-versa (note, however, that this is funny only the first time).

2. Elaborate deadpan parodies of large intellectual constructs, such as specifications (see write-only memory), standards documents, language descriptions (see INTERCAL), and even entire scientific theories (see quantum bogodynamics, computron).

3. Jokes that 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, the Marx brothers, the early B-52s, and Monty Python's Flying Circus. Humor that 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 nature, Discordianism, zen, ha ha only serious, koan, AI koans.

See also filk, retrocomputing, and the Portrait of J. Random Hacker in Appendix B. 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) throughout science-fiction fandom.

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Hackers (the movie) n.

A notable bomb from 1995. Should have been titled "Crackers", because cracking is what the movie was about. It's understandable that they didn't however; titles redolent of snack food are probably a tough sell in Hollywood.

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hacking run n.

[analogy with `bombing run' or `speed run'] A hack session extended long outside normal working times, especially one longer than 12 hours. May cause you to `change phase the hard way' (see phase).

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Hacking X for Y n.

[ITS] Ritual phrasing of part of the information which ITS made publicly available about each user. This information (the INQUIR record) was a sort of form in which the user could fill out various fields. On display, two of these fields were always combined into a project description of the form "Hacking X for Y" (e.g., "Hacking perceptrons for Minsky"). This form of description became traditional and has since been carried over to other systems with more general facilities for self-advertisement (such as Unix plan files).

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Hackintosh n.

1. An Apple Lisa that has been hacked into emulating a Macintosh (also called a `Mac XL'). 2. A Macintosh assembled from parts theoretically belonging to different models in the line. It now refers to the usage of Mac's OS X on non-Apple produced machines, which, though in violation of Apple's EULA, is a relatively common practice.

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hackish /hak'ish/ adj.

(also hackishness n.) 1. Said of something that is or involves a hack. 2. Of or pertaining to hackers or the hacker subculture. See also true-hacker.

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hackishness n.

The quality of being or involving a hack. This term is considered mildly silly. Syn. hackitude.

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hackitude n.

Syn. hackishness; this word is considered sillier.

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hair n.

[back-formation from hairy] The complications that 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): "GNUMACS elisp encourages lusers to write complex editing modes." "Yeah, it's pretty hairiferous all right." (or just: "Hair squared!")

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hairball n.

1. [Fidonet] A large batch of messages that a store-and-forward network is failing to forward when it should. Often used in the phrase "Fido coughed up a hairball today", meaning that the stuck messages have just come unstuck, producing a flood of mail where there had previously been drought. 2. An unmanageably huge mass of source code. "JWZ thought the Mozilla effort bogged down because the code was a huge hairball." 3. Any large amount of garbage coming out suddenly. "Sendmail is coughing up a hairball, so expect some slowness accessing the Internet."

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hairy adj.

1. Annoyingly 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." See also hirsute.

A well-known result in topology called the Brouwer Fixed-Point Theorem states that any continuous transformation of a 2-sphere into itself has at least one fixed point. Mathematically literate hackers tend to associate the term `hairy' with the informal version of this theorem; "You can't comb a hairy ball smooth."

The adjective `long-haired' is well-attested to have been in slang use among scientists and engineers during the early 1950s; it was equivalent to modern `hairy' senses 1 and 2, and was very likely ancestral to the hackish use. In fact the noun `long-hair' was at the time used to describe a person satisfying sense 3. Both senses probably passed out of use when long hair was adopted as a signature trait by the 1960s counterculture, leaving hackish `hairy' as a sort of stunted mutant relic.

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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. (The title of the memo really is "HAKMEM", which is a 6-letterism for `hacks memo'.) Some of them are very useful techniques, powerful theorems, or interesting unsolved problems, but most fall into the category of mathematical and computer trivia. Here is a sampling of the entries (with authors), slightly paraphrased:

Item 41 (Gene Salamin): There are exactly 23,000 prime numbers less than 2^(18).

Item 46 (Rich Schroeppel): The most probable suit distribution in bridge hands is 4-4-3-2, as compared to 4-3-3-3, which is the most evenly distributed. This is because the world likes to have unequal numbers: a thermodynamic effect saying things will not be in the state of lowest energy, but in the state of lowest disordered energy.

Item 81 (Rich Schroeppel): Count the magic squares of order 5 (that is, all the 5-by-5 arrangements of the numbers from 1 to 25 such that all rows, columns, and diagonals add up to the same number). There are about 320 million, not counting those that differ only by rotation and reflection.

Item 154 (Bill Gosper): The myth that any given programming language is machine independent is easily exploded by computing the sum of powers of 2. If the result loops with period = 1 with sign +, you are on a sign-magnitude machine. If the result loops with period = 1 at -1, you are on a twos-complement machine. If the result loops with period greater than 1, including the beginning, you are on a ones-complement machine. If the result loops with period greater than 1, not including the beginning, your machine isn't binary -- the pattern should tell you the base. If you run out of memory, you are on a string or bignum system. If arithmetic overflow is a fatal error, some fascist pig with a read-only mind is trying to enforce machine independence. But the very ability to trap overflow is machine dependent. By this strategy, consider the universe, or, more precisely, algebra: Let X = the sum of many powers of 2 = ...111111 (base 2). Now add X to itself: X + X = ...111110. Thus, 2X = X - 1, so X = -1. Therefore algebra is run on a machine (the universe) that is two's-complement.

Item 174 (Bill Gosper and Stuart Nelson): 21963283741 is the only number such that if you represent it on the PDP-10 as both an integer and a floating-point number, the bit patterns of the two representations are identical.

Item 176 (Gosper): The "banana phenomenon" was encountered when processing a character string by taking the last 3 letters typed out, searching for a random occurrence of that sequence in the text, taking the letter following that occurrence, typing it out, and iterating. This ensures that every 4-letter string output occurs in the original. The program typed BANANANANANANANA.... We note an ambiguity in the phrase, "the Nth occurrence of." In one sense, there are five 00's in 0000000000; in another, there are nine. The editing program TECO finds five. Thus it finds only the first ANA in BANANA, and is thus obligated to type N next. By Murphy's Law, there is but one NAN, thus forcing A, and thus a loop. An option to find overlapped instances would be useful, although it would require backing up N - 1 characters before seeking the next N-character string.

Note: This last item refers to a Dissociated Press implementation. See also banana problem.

HAKMEM also contains some rather more complicated mathematical and technical items, but these examples show some of its fun flavor.

An HTML transcription of the entire document is available at

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hakspek /hak'speek/ n.

A shorthand method of spelling found on many British academic bulletin boards and talker systems. Syllables and whole words in a sentence are replaced by single ASCII characters the names of which are phonetically similar or equivalent, while multiple letters are usually dropped. Hence, `for' becomes `4'; `two', `too', and `to' become `2'; `ck' becomes `k'. "Before I see you tomorrow" becomes "b4 i c u 2moro". First appeared in London about 1986, and was probably caused by the slowness of available talker systems, which operated on archaic machines with outdated operating systems and no standard methods of communication. Has become rarer since. See also talk mode.

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Halloween Documents n.

A pair of Microsoft internal strategy memoranda leaked to ESR in late 1998 that confirmed everybody's paranoia about the current Evil Empire. These documents praised the technical excellence of GNU/Linux and outlined a counterstrategy of attempting to lock in customers by "de-commoditizing" Internet protocols and services. They were extensively cited on the Internet and in the press and proved so embarrassing that Microsoft PR barely said a word in public for six months afterwards.

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hammer vt.

Commonwealth hackish syn. for bang on.

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hamster n.

1. [Fairchild] A particularly slick little piece of code that does one thing well; a small, self-contained hack. The image is of a hamster happily spinning its exercise wheel. This blends especially well with the UNIX philosophy "do one thing and do it well". 2. A tailless mouse; that is, one with an infrared link to a receiver on the machine, as opposed to the conventional cable. 3. [UK] Any item of hardware made by Amstrad, a company famous for its cheap plastic PC-almost-compatibles.

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[Usenet: very common] Abbreviation: Have A Nice Day. Typically used to close a Usenet posting, but also used to informally close emails; often preceded by HTH.

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hand cruft vt.

[pun on `hand craft'] See cruft, sense 3.

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hand-hacking n.

1. [rare] The practice of translating hot spots from an HLL into hand-tuned 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, by hand; syn. with v. cruft. 2. [common] More generally, manual construction or patching of data sets that would normally be generated by a translation utility and interpreted by another program, and aren't really designed to be read or modified by humans.

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hand-roll v.

[from obs. mainstream slang `hand-rolled' in opposition to `ready-made', referring to cigarettes] To perform a normally automated software installation or configuration process by hand; implies that the normal process failed due to bugs in the configurator or was defeated by something exceptional in the local environment. "The worst thing about being a gateway between four different nets is having to hand-roll a new sendmail configuration every time any of them upgrades."

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handle n.

1. [from CB slang] An electronic pseudonym; a `nom de guerre' intended to conceal the user's true identity. Network and BBS handles function as the same sort of simultaneous concealment and display one finds on Citizen's Band radio, from which the term was adopted. Use of grandiose handles (as opposed to real names or benign handles) is characteristic of warez d00dz, crackers, weenies, spods, and other lower forms of network life; true hackers travel on their own reputations rather than invented legendry. Compare nick, screen name. 2. A magic cookie, often in the form of a numeric index into some array somewhere, through which you can manipulate an object like a file or window. The form `file handle' is especially common. 3. [Mac] A pointer to a pointer to dynamically-allocated memory; the extra level of indirection allows on-the-fly memory compaction (to cut down on fragmentation) or aging out of unused resources, with minimal impact on the (possibly multiple) parts of the larger program containing references to the allocated memory. Compare snap (to snap a handle would defeat its purpose); see also aliasing bug, dangling pointer.

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handshaking n.

[very common] Hardware or software activity designed to start or keep two machines or programs in synchronization as they do protocol. Often applied to human activity; thus, a hacker might watch two people in conversation nodding their heads to indicate that they have heard each others' points and say "Oh, they're handshaking!". See also protocol.

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[poss. from gestures characteristic of stage magicians] 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!"

If someone starts a sentence with "Clearly..." or "Obviously..." or "It is self-evident that...", it is a good bet he is about to handwave (alternatively, use of these constructions in a sarcastic tone before a paraphrase of someone else's argument suggests that it is a handwave). The theory behind this term is that if you wave your hands at the right moment, the listener may be sufficiently distracted to not notice that what you have said is bogus. Failing that, if a listener does object, you might try to dismiss the objection with a wave of your hand.

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 in one position while rotating the hands at the wrist to make them flutter. In context, the gestures alone can suffice as a remark; if a speaker makes an outrageously unsupported assumption, you might simply wave your hands in this way, as an accusation, far more eloquent than words could express, that his logic is faulty.

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hang v.

1. [very common] To wait for an event that will never occur. "The system is hanging because it can't read from the crashed drive". See wedged, hung. 2. To wait for some event to occur; to hang around until something happens. "The program displays a menu and then hangs until you type a character." Compare block. 3. To attach a peripheral device, esp. in the construction `hang off': "We're going to hang another tape drive off the file server." Implies a device attached with cables, rather than something that is strictly inside the machine's chassis.

Node:Hanlon's Razor, Next:, Previous:hang, Up:= H =

Hanlon's Razor prov.

A corollary of Finagle's Law, similar to Occam's Razor, that reads "Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity." The derivation of the Hanlon eponym is not definitely known, but a very similar remark ("You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity.") appears in "Logic of Empire", a classic 1941 SF story by Robert A. Heinlein, who calls it the `devil theory' of sociology. Heinlein's popularity in the hacker culture makes plausible the supposition that `Hanlon' is derived from `Heinlein' by phonetic corruption. A similar epigram has been attributed to William James, but Heinlein more probably got the idea from Alfred Korzybski and other practitioners of General Semantics. Quoted here because it seems to be a particular favorite of hackers, often showing up in sig blocks, 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 well-intentioned but short-sighted people. Compare Sturgeon's Law, Ninety-Ninety Rule.

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happily adv.

Of software, used to emphasize that a program is unaware of some important fact about its environment, either because it has been fooled into believing a lie, or because it doesn't care. The sense of `happy' here is not that of elation, but rather that of blissful ignorance. "The program continues to run, happily unaware that its output is going to /dev/null." Also used to suggest that a program or device would really rather be doing something destructive, and is being given an opportunity to do so. "If you enter an O here instead of a zero, the program will happily erase all your data." Neverheless, use of this term implies a basically benign attitude towards the program: It didn't mean any harm, it was just eager to do its job. We'd like to be angry at it but we shouldn't, we should try to understand it instead. The adjective "cheerfully" is often used in exactly the same way.

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haque /hak/ n.

[Usenet] Variant spelling of hack, used only for the noun form and connoting an elegant hack. that is a hack in sense 2.

Node:hard boot, Next:, Previous:haque, Up:= H =

hard boot n.

See boot.

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hardcoded adj.

1. [common] Said of data inserted directly into a program, where it cannot be easily modified, as opposed to data in some profile, resource (see de-rezz sense 2), or environment variable that a user or hacker can easily modify. 2. In C, this is esp. applied to use of a literal instead of a #define macro (see magic number).

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hardwarily /hard-weir'*-lee/ adv.

In a way pertaining to hardware. "The system is hardwarily unreliable." The adjective `hardwary' is not traditionally used, though it has recently been reported from the U.K. See softwarily.

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hardwired adj.

1. In software, syn. for hardcoded. 2. By extension, anythi