there are certain words which have definite meanings to us children of the 60s. Those of us who grew up with mainframes, set vocabularies and a sense of humor about the Jaberwok. Not so these modern children who think nothing of co-opting a perfectly well defined term or phrase and standing it on its head.
Tom Standage, in his Writing on the Wall, 2000 Years of Social Media
(did you see what just happened? Rather than just assert something, I went and found a reference that backs up my point in order to give in emphasis and decrease the chance that someone might question it. After all, if someone else said it, it must be true. Meanwhile, I have been totally and completely corrupted. Do NOT under ANY circumstances have anything to do with lawyers, how they think or how they write. You will find yourself totally ruined by the experience. Trust me.)
discusses social opinion, commentary and how opinions change. It is a fun book. But what I am discussing is something slightly different. It is the total and complete stealing of a term of art and changing it beyond recognition.
My disgust and anger today revolve around the degeneration in the use of “HACK.” This is a word that we all know. Whether it is from sports or a glancing familiarity with with axes or hatchets. I understand “hack” and it means to break in, by unauthorized means, through a computer software code or into someone’s computer (mainframe in the era where I started).
Some fool in the 1990s decided to combine two otherwise useful words – HACK and MARATHON into Hackathon. This poor bastard of a word implies a session where a bunch of computer geeks race their bleeding fingers in the pursuit of a software solution against a time clock (and others). Right from the start, there are several problems with this analogy: the first is that a marathon is an INDIVIDUAL (caps intended) race, not a collaboration; the second is that a marathon is a sporting event with specific rules. Back to hacking: the only rules in hacking are that you don’t give away your tricks in cracking into places that your are not supposed to be and you don’t rat out your fellow hacker. Seriously, comparing a group of nerds (present party included) who traditionally fuel on caffeine and Cheetos with seriously physically fit athletes is ludicrous.
So now we have “hackathons” most of which should be much more properly named “brainstorming sessions.” It isn’t computer people any more, the term has become wide spread and used by just about any group that wants a catchy idea for its symposium. All of this leads to what set me off in the first place.
A group of lawyers. Seriously, a group of lawyers – the field isn’t relevant but it was NOT related to tech or software – had a Hackathon in the student lounge at Hastings. They are sitting there in rows listening to various speakers, nodding their heads (those that weren’t taking notes or busy with their smart phones). There is not work-group space in sight.
Brainstorming? Conference? Working group? (well if a group has over a hundred participants). And, I repeat LAWYERS! who normally are extremely precise about their word usage. But there they sit, happily holding a hackathon.
I rest my case.