I use the word “hacker” for “genius programmer” and “hacking” for “programming and having fun”. A “hack” is for me an extraordinarily good piece of code. Eric S. Raymond and Paul Graham also talk a lot about “hacker culture” and how “hacker” does not mean to break into computers.
This is not like most people use these words. For most people, “hacker” means “computer criminal”. The press even uses words like “phone hacking scandal” - was this scandal really about computer crimimals? FM4 recently created a paricularily stupid word: “cyber hacking” - again, for committing a crime using a computer.
Even the press - who thinks “hacker” means “cracker” - used to distinguish between “hackers” and “script kiddies”. “Hacker” used to mean a genius who can break into computers and a “script kiddie” is sombody who uses the tools of hackers without really understanding them. But this seems to have changed too - even papers with good technology coverage describe groups like “Anonymous” as “hacker groups”. On the other hand, people who call “Anonymous” a “hacker group” probably never knew the word “script kiddie”.
What really saddens me is that some programmers I work with use “hacker” and “hack” as swear words (as in: “what an ugly hack” or “they are hackers, they will never write sophisticated software”). Maybe “enterprise” and “process first” fans use the word “hacker” for sombody who is not able to structure his work. I just can not understand this attitude. They are programmers, they should know the original meaning of the word! They should want to be hackers!
The question is: Should we do something against the “misuse” of the word? Or should we just accept that the meaning of a word sometimes changes? After all, the meaning of many words has changed over time. The german word “realisieren” used to mean “to build something, to create something”. Then, more and more people used it for “realize” (as in “I still can’t realize this has happened”) and now both meanings are accepted. You can even find both in the dictionaries.
I guess we can not just pretend that the majority of people is wrong - that they misuse the word “hacker”. If we did we could feel good - we would create an inner circle, a group of people who use the word “correctly”. (Maybe this is what Eric S. Raymond wanted to do with his “How to become a hacker”-Website?) But: Nobody else would care. And language might be a case where the minority really is wrong - even if they use the language in the original sense.
So, should we try to establish both meanings? How would we do that? Or should we email the papers and TV stations every time they use the word “incorrectly”? Should we just accept the new meaning and move on? (BTW: Wikipedia - as of today - lists different meanings for the word Hacker, so they fall into my “both meanings”-group) I just don’t know. But I will not use the word “hacker” for “computer criminal” - even if nobody else cares.