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Hacked Off

Monday, 2 September 2013

I am already so tired of the word "hack" as it keeps appearing in common usage, even though it has not yet reached the saturation point. But it's close.  Everywhere I read, it seems somebody is offering some kind of hack--technology hacks, food hacks, life hacks, probably sex hacks and religious hacks I don't even know about.

I understand why.  The word is cool, it's hip, it's now.  It puts a behavior, even a fairly mundane behavior,  into a modern, technological context to make it sound like it is so cutting edge that either the person doing the hacking is a genius or we are all idiots for not thinking of the same kind of hacks on our own.

But let's remind ourselves of the word's primary definition.  Hackers, of course, were/are people who break into other people's computer activities illegally.  They either do it in order to get possession of private, supposedly-secure information or they do it just to prove that they can do it.  Or they do it to take governments or large multinational entities down a notch or two.

In its secondary, now main, meaning, the word means taking some technological device, say a smart phone, and modifying it by breaking through various codes so that it will do things that it was not originally intended to do.  The connection to the first definition is obvious, but the issues of legality have softened.

And I get all of that.  This isn't a discussion about morality; it's a discussion about the appropriation of a word so that it is stretched beyond sensibility.

My first encounter with the word in its expanded context came earlier in the summer when I saw a post online about "8 Ways To Hack A Bud Light Lime-a-Rita."  While I suppose that the suggestions are in keeping with that secondary definition, we are talking about an alcoholic drink.  And we are talking about doing very non-technological things to it like adding more lime or putting it in a blender with some ice to make a frozen drink or maybe adding some ginger.

Since then, I've seen kitchen hacks and mind hacks and there is a website devoted to a new hack everyday.

Which might mean that it's time to bring in yet a third definition of "hack."  For a long time now, it has also been a noun to mean someone who is not very good at something, something like writing.  A hack might well be someone who copies the techniques and conventions of better writers, but with less success.

How ironic, then, that to use the word "hack" might end up making someone into a hack, since the word has now, whether or not it has yet worn out its welcome, has certainly outlived its usefulness, and if you are spending your time talking about hacks, you are trying to sound like you are on top of the latest language when, in fact, the future has moved behind you.

I'm all about modifications, improvements, upgrades, adjustments, tweaks.  I love knowing how to make things better.  I spend my time at work, at home while cooking, maybe even sometimes in relationships trying to do exactly that.  But I also love words and their strengths and quirks and when a word is played out, then it becomes time to use it only in the most ironic ways.

 "Hack" has not caught up to that kind of thinking yet.  It doesn't know that its time has already come and gone, even while it seems to be enjoying its Pyrrhic popularity.  It's kind of like cupcakes in that way.  Cupcakes two years ago, before the crash.

So if you are thinking of creating your own hack niche, then I would caution you: that wordship has sailed.

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