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  • WRITTEN BY Jorge Rojas POSTED ON July 27,2015

The word “hack” is a most peculiar word. When we use it, it’s often in the context of discussing a data breach. But did you know that “hack” has been a part of the English language since before computers and even electricity were a thing? Read on to learn more about the fascinating meanings of hack!

Surprisingly, many of the uses of “hack” have absolutely nothing to do with technology. According to WIRED magazine, the term has its origins in the Middle English period, which extends back to the early 12th and 16th Century. For your consideration, here are three definitions of the word hack that you might not have known about:

  • Hack is a shortened version of “hackney,” which is a term used to describe an ordinary horse for ordinary purposes. As such, nothing great is expected from it, unlike other horses used for war.
  • Hack can be a term used to cut something, most likely in the sense of a lumberjack cutting wood. These kind of cuts are jagged, which brings on the appearance of messiness.
  • A hack is also a rack used to feed cattle or falcons.

Technically, you could correctly say, “A hacker fed his hackney from the hack.”

Now, concerning the term hack that computer users are familiar with, this definition dates back to 1955. The Tech Model Railroad club at MIT used the word to refer to tinkering around with an electrical system. The word hack then crept its way to the MIT student newspaper where it was associated with pranking and moments of ingenuity. Due to MIT being such an influential campus in the world of technology, and the 1950s being on the cusp of the computer revolution, it’s easy to see how the word evolved to what it is today.

To shine more light on the word hack, we turn to the Jargon File, an authoritative resource for hacker slang and tradition:

Hacking might be characterized as ‘an appropriate application of ingenuity’. Whether the result is a quick-and-dirty patchwork job or a carefully crafted work of art, you have to admire the cleverness that went into it.

Despite having roots in fun ideas like tinkering and being crafty, over the last 30 years or so, “hack” has taken on a much more negative connotation and is often associated with criminal activity. Although, there’s a positive side to hacking too, with companies using hacking tactics to improve their own network security. For example, Facebook hosts an annual event called Hacktober meant to expose their network’s vulnerabilities and improve the security of their company.

Additionally, there are many large hacking conferences where knowledgeable hackers converge to share their findings on the latest vulnerabilities and discuss possible solutions. In a way, this is like reverse hacking, which is a service Tektonic offers called Penetration Testing. This is where we investigate your network for vulnerabilities by essentially trying to hack into it. Reach out to us at (416) 256-9928 to learn more.

After this brief lesson on the origins of hack, you may look at hacking differently. Although, it still won’t change the fact that getting hacked is pretty lame, unless you’re referring to a medieval horse. That would be hilarious.

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