Antedating of "Hacker"

Fred Shapiro fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Fri Jun 13 16:36:12 UTC 2003

The word "hacker" in its well-known computing sense has a first citation
of 1971 (contributed by me) in the Historical Dictionary of American
Slang.  Here is an earlier citation, not precisely in a computing context
but obviously the same term:

1963 _The Tech_ (MIT student newspaper) 20 Nov. 1  Many telephone services
have been curtailed because of so-called hackers, according to Prof.
Carlton Tucker, administrator of the Institute phone system. ... The
hackers have accomplished such things as tying up all the tie-lines
between Harvard and MIT, or making long-distance calls by charging them to
a local radar installation.  One method involved connecting the PDP-1
computer to the phone system to search the lines until a dial tone,
indicating an outside line, was found. ... Because of the "hacking," the
majority of the MIT phones are "trapped."


Note that the last sentence above contains what is essentially a 20-year
antedating of sense 5.b. of hack, v.2 in the HDAS.  Also, this citation
makes it clear that the common theory that "hacker" originally was a
benign term and the malicious connotations of the word were a later
perversion is untrue.  The malicious connotations of the word were present
from its origins in MIT slang.

Fred Shapiro

Fred R. Shapiro                             Editor
Associate Librarian for Collections and     YALE DICTIONARY OF QUOTATIONS
  Access and Lecturer in Legal Research     Yale University Press,
Yale Law School                             forthcoming
e-mail: fred.shapiro at     

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