Jargon File

The Jargon File is a hacker lexicon. That's hacker in the original sense, of course.

The Jargon File began in 1975 as a single file on a mainframe at the Stanford AI Lab; a copy spread to MIT, and for many years, it grew and prospered as the hacker culture that was focused at these two sites (consisting mainly of AI researchers using PDP-10 computers and homebrew operating systems). However, the 'AI winter' of the late '70s and early '80s spelled the death knell for this culture, and the file lapsed into stagnation. In 1983, the 'final' version of the file was published as a book, 'The Hackers Dictionary?', as a monument to the once-great AI culture that was now naught but moss-covered ruins.

However, as is always the way, fragments of the AI culture persisted, and were assimilated as part of the heritage of the new hackerdom which was growing up around the ARPA Net?. In 1990, the Jargon File burst back into life, with a new edition edited by Eric Raymond (ESR), which incorporated swathes of the then-new internet jargon alongside the classical AI terms. Since then, ESR has continued to edit the file, keeping it up to date with the ever-shifting language of the global hacker culture.

In summer 2003, with internet-centric hackerdom stronger than ever, a new, more surprising, threat to the file emerged: its editor. Eric Raymond added and revised a number of entries in rather suprising ways: some of them were terms he had coined, and which have so far been used only by him, whilst others are terms in general use only in certain very small regions of hackerdom which ESR himself happens to inhabit; the revisions tend to adjust previously balanced entries to reflect ESR's (really quite unbalanced) own opinions. Hackerdom being an anarchy, these changes have not simply been accepted; there are mutterings of a fork in the file, with someone less nuts taking over the helm. Nobody really knows what's going to happen.

But it's a safe bet that the Jargon File will continue, past the controversy, past ESR, past the internet itself.

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Fri, 27 Feb 2004 13:15:43 GMT Front Page Recent Changes Message Of The Day