Thursday, May 22, 2008

Hackers A-Z

Hackers A-Z
= A =

abbrev: /*-breev'/, /*-brev'/ n. Common abbreviation for

ABEND: [ABnormal END] /ah'bend/, /*-bend'/ n. Abnormal
termination (of software); {crash}; {lossage}. Derives from an
error message on the IBM 360; used jokingly by hackers but
seriously mainly by {code grinder}s. Usually capitalized, but may
appear as `abend'. Hackers will try to persuade you that ABEND is
called `abend' because it is what system operators do to the
machine late on Friday when they want to call it a day, and hence
is from the German `Abend' = `Evening'.

accumulator: n. 1. Archaic term for a register. On-line use of it
as a synonym for `register' is a fairly reliable indication that
the user has been around for quite a while and/or that the
architecture under discussion is quite old. The term in full is
almost never used of microprocessor registers, for example, though
symbolic names for arithmetic registers beginning in `A' derive
from historical use of the term `accumulator' (and not, actually,
from `arithmetic'). Confusingly, though, an `A' register name
prefix may also stand for `address', as for example on the
Motorola 680x0 family. 2. A register being used for arithmetic or
logic (as opposed to addressing or a loop index), especially one
being used to accumulate a sum or count of many items. This use is
in context of a particular routine or stretch of code. "The
FOOBAZ routine uses A3 as an accumulator." 3. One's in-basket
(esp. among old-timers who might use sense 1). "You want this
reviewed? Sure, just put it in the accumulator." (See {stack}.)

ACK: /ak/ interj. 1. [from the ASCII mnemonic for 0000110]
Acknowledge. Used to register one's presence (compare mainstream
*Yo!*). An appropriate response to {ping} or {ENQ}.
2. [from the comic strip "Bloom County"] An exclamation of
surprised disgust, esp. in "Ack pffft!" Semi-humorous.
Generally this sense is not spelled in caps (ACK) and is
distinguished by a following exclamation point. 3. Used to
politely interrupt someone to tell them you understand their point
(see {NAK}). Thus, for example, you might cut off an overly
long explanation with "Ack. Ack. Ack. I get it now".

There is also a usage "ACK?" (from sense 1) meaning "Are you
there?", often used in email when earlier mail has produced no
reply, or during a lull in {talk mode} to see if the person has
gone away (the standard humorous response is of course {NAK}
(sense 2), i.e., "I'm not here").

ad-hockery: /ad-hok'*r-ee/ [Purdue] n. 1. Gratuitous assumptions
made inside certain programs, esp. expert systems, which lead to
the appearance of semi-intelligent behavior but are in fact
entirely arbitrary. For example, fuzzy-matching input tokens that
might be typing errors against a symbol table can make it look as
though a program knows how to spell. 2. Special-case code to cope
with some awkward input that would otherwise cause a program to
{choke}, presuming normal inputs are dealt with in some cleaner
and more regular way. Also called `ad-hackery', `ad-hocity'
(/ad-hos'*-tee/). See also {ELIZA effect}.

Ada:: n. A {{Pascal}}-descended language that has been made
mandatory for Department of Defense software projects by the
Pentagon. Hackers are nearly unanimous in observing that,
technically, it is precisely what one might expect given that kind
of endorsement by fiat; designed by committee, crockish, difficult
to use, and overall a disastrous, multi-billion-dollar boondoggle
(one common description is "The PL/I of the 1980s"). Hackers
find Ada's exception-handling and inter-process communication
features particularly hilarious. Ada Lovelace (the daughter of
Lord Byron who became the world's first programmer while
cooperating with Charles Babbage on the design of his mechanical
computing engines in the mid-1800s) would almost certainly blanch
at the use to which her name has latterly been put; the kindest
thing that has been said about it is that there is probably a good
small language screaming to get out from inside its vast,
{elephantine} bulk.

adger: /aj'r/ [UCLA] vt. To make a bonehead move with consequences
that could have been foreseen with a slight amount of mental
effort. E.g., "He started removing files and promptly adgered the
whole project". Compare {dumbass attack}.

admin: /ad-min'/ n. Short for `administrator'; very commonly
used in speech or on-line to refer to the systems person in charge
on a computer. Common constructions on this include `sysadmin'
and `site admin' (emphasizing the administrator's role as a site
contact for email and news) or `newsadmin' (focusing specifically
on news). Compare {postmaster}, {sysop}, {system

ADVENT: /ad'vent/ n. The prototypical computer adventure game, first
implemented on the {PDP-10} by Will Crowther as an attempt at
computer-refereed fantasy gaming, and expanded into a
puzzle-oriented game by Don Woods. Now better known as Adventure,
but the {{TOPS-10}} operating system permitted only 6-letter
filenames. See also {vadding}.

This game defined the terse, dryly humorous style now expected in
text adventure games, and popularized several tag lines that have
become fixtures of hacker-speak: "A huge green fierce snake bars
the way!" "I see no X here" (for some noun X). "You are in a
maze of twisty little passages, all alike." "You are in a little
maze of twisty passages, all different." The `magic words'
{xyzzy} and {plugh} also derive from this game.

Crowther, by the way, participated in the exploration of the
Mammoth & Flint Ridge cave system; it actually *has* a
`Colossal Cave' and a `Bedquilt' as in the game, and the `Y2' that
also turns up is cavers' jargon for a map reference to a secondary

AI-complete: /A-I k*m-pleet'/ [MIT, Stanford: by analogy with
`NP-complete' (see {NP-})] adj. Used to describe problems or
subproblems in AI, to indicate that the solution presupposes a
solution to the `strong AI problem' (that is, the synthesis of a
human-level intelligence). A problem that is AI-complete is, in
other words, just too hard.

Examples of AI-complete problems are `The Vision Problem'
(building a system that can see as well as a human) and `The
Natural Language Problem' (building a system that can understand
and speak a natural language as well as a human). These may appear
to be modular, but all attempts so far (1991) to solve them have
foundered on the amount of context information and `intelligence'
they seem to require. See also {gedanken}.

AI koans: /A-I koh'anz/ pl.n. A series of pastiches of Zen
teaching riddles created by Danny Hillis at the MIT AI Lab around
various major figures of the Lab's culture (several are included in
appendix A). See also {ha ha only serious}, {mu}, and
{{Humor, Hacker}}.

AIDS: /aydz/ n. Short for A* Infected Disk Syndrome (`A*' is a
{glob} pattern that matches, but is not limited to, Apple),
this condition is quite often the result of practicing unsafe
{SEX}. See {virus}, {worm}, {Trojan horse},

airplane rule: n. "Complexity increases the possibility of
failure; a twin-engine airplane has twice as many engine problems
as a single-engine airplane." By analogy, in both software and
electronics, the rule that simplicity increases robustness (see
also {KISS Principle}). It is correspondingly argued that the
right way to build reliable systems is to put all your eggs in one
basket, after making sure that you've built a really *good*

aliasing bug: n. A class of subtle programming errors that can
arise in code that does dynamic allocation, esp. via
`malloc(3)' or equivalent. If more than one pointer addresses
(`aliases for') a given hunk of storage, it may happen that the
storage is freed through one alias and then referenced through
another, which may lead to subtle (and possibly intermittent) lossage
depending on the state and the allocation history of the malloc
{arena}. Avoidable by use of allocation strategies that never
alias allocated core. Also avoidable by use of higher-level
languages, such as {LISP}, which employ a garbage collector
(see {GC}). Also called a {stale pointer bug}. See also
{precedence lossage}, {smash the stack}, {fandango on core},
{memory leak}, {overrun screw}, {spam}.

Historical note: Though this term is nowadays associated with
C programming, it was already in use in a very similar sense in the
Algol-60 and FORTRAN communities in the 1960s.

all-elbows: adj. Of a TSR (terminate-and-stay-resident) IBM PC
program, such as the N pop-up calendar and calculator utilities
that circulate on {BBS} systems: unsociable. Used to describe a
program that rudely steals the resources that it needs without
considering that other TSRs may also be resident. One particularly
common form of rudeness is lock-up due to programs fighting over
the keyboard interrupt. See also {mess-dos}.

alpha particles: n. See {bit rot}.

ALT: /awlt/ 1. n. The ALT shift key on an IBM PC or {clone}.
2. [possibly lowercased] n. The `clover' or `Command' key on a
Macintosh; use of this term usually reveals that the speaker hacked
PCs before coming to the Mac (see also {command key}). Some Mac
hackers, confusingly, reserve `ALT' for the Option key. 3. n.obs.
[PDP-10] Alternate name for the ASCII ESC character (ASCII
0011011), after the keycap labeling on some older terminals. Also
`ALTMODE' (/awlt'mohd/). This character was almost never
pronounced `escape' on an ITS system, in {TECO}, or under
TOPS-10 --- always ALT, as in "Type ALT ALT to end a TECO
command" or "ALT U onto the system" (for "log onto the [ITS]
system"). This was probably because ALT is more convenient to say
than `escape', especially when followed by another ALT or a
character (or another ALT *and* a character, for that matter).

alt bit: /awlt bit/ [from alternate] adj. See {meta bit}.

Aluminum Book: [MIT] n. `Common LISP: The Language', by
Guy L. Steele Jr. (Digital Press, first edition 1984, second
edition 1990). Note that due to a technical screwup some printings
of the second edition are actually of a color the author describes
succinctly as "yucky green". See also {{book titles}}.

amoeba: n. Humorous term for the Commodore Amiga personal computer.

amp off: [Purdue] vt. To run in {background}. From the UNIX shell `&'

amper: n. Common abbreviation for the name of the ampersand (`&',
ASCII 0100110) character. See {ASCII} for other synonyms.

angle brackets: n. Either of the characters `<' (ASCII
0111100) and `>' (ASCII 0111110) (ASCII less-than or
greater-than signs). The {Real World} angle brackets used by
typographers are actually taller than a less-than or greater-than
See {broket}, {{ASCII}}.

angry fruit salad: n. A bad visual-interface design that uses too
many colors. This derives, of course, from the bizarre day-glo
colors found in canned fruit salad. Too often one sees similar
affects from interface designers using color window systems such as
{X}; there is a tendency to create displays that are flashy and
attention-getting but uncomfortable for long-term use.

AOS: 1. /aws/ (East Coast), /ay-os/ (West Coast) [based on a
PDP-10 increment instruction] vt.,obs. To increase the amount of
something. "AOS the campfire." Usage: considered silly, and now
obsolete. Now largely supplanted by {bump}. See {SOS}. 2. A
{{Multics}}-derived OS supported at one time by Data General. This
was pronounced /A-O-S/ or /A-os/. A spoof of the standard
AOS system administrator's manual (`How to load and generate
your AOS system') was created, issued a part number, and circulated
as photocopy folklore. It was called `How to goad and
levitate your chaos system'. 3. Algebraic Operating System, in
reference to those calculators which use infix instead of postfix
(reverse Polish) notation.

Historical note: AOS in sense 1 was the name of a {PDP-10}
instruction that took any memory location in the computer and added
1 to it; AOS meant `Add One and do not Skip'. Why, you may ask,
does the `S' stand for `do not Skip' rather than for `Skip'? Ah,
here was a beloved piece of PDP-10 folklore. There were eight such
instructions: AOSE added 1 and then skipped the next instruction
if the result was Equal to zero; AOSG added 1 and then skipped if
the result was Greater than 0; AOSN added 1 and then skipped
if the result was Not 0; AOSA added 1 and then skipped Always;
and so on. Just plain AOS didn't say when to skip, so it never

For similar reasons, AOJ meant `Add One and do not Jump'. Even
more bizarre, SKIP meant `do not SKIP'! If you wanted to skip the
next instruction, you had to say `SKIPA'. Likewise, JUMP meant
`do not JUMP'; the unconditional form was JUMPA. However, hackers
never did this. By some quirk of the 10's design, the {JRST}
(Jump and ReSTore flag with no flag specified) was actually faster
and so was invariably used. Such were the perverse mysteries of
assembler programming.

app: /ap/ n. Short for `application program', as opposed to a
systems program. What systems vendors are forever chasing
developers to create for their environments so they can sell more
boxes. Hackers tend not to think of the things they themselves run
as apps; thus, in hacker parlance the term excludes compilers,
program editors, games, and messaging systems, though a user would
consider all those to be apps. Oppose {tool}, {operating

arc: [primarily MSDOS] vt. To create a compressed {archive} from a
group of files using SEA ARC, PKWare PKARC, or a compatible
program. Rapidly becoming obsolete as the ARC compression method
is falling into disuse, having been replaced by newer compression
techniques. See {tar and feather}, {zip}.

arc wars: [primarily MSDOS] n. {holy wars} over which archiving
program one should use. The first arc war was sparked when System
Enhancement Associates (SEA) sued PKWare for copyright and
trademark infringement on its ARC program. PKWare's PKARC
outperformed ARC on both compression and speed while largely
retaining compatibility (it introduced a new compression type that
could be disabled for backward-compatibility). PKWare settled out
of court to avoid enormous legal costs (both SEA and PKWare are
small companies); as part of the settlement, the name of PKARC was
changed to PKPAK. The public backlash against SEA for bringing
suit helped to hasten the demise of ARC as a standard when PKWare
and others introduced new, incompatible archivers with better
compression algorithms.

archive: n. 1. A collection of several files bundled into one file
by a program such as `ar(1)', `tar(1)', `cpio(1)',
or {arc} for shipment or archiving (sense 2). See also {tar
and feather}. 2. A collection of files or archives (sense 1) made
available from an `archive site' via {FTP} or an email server.

arena: [UNIX] n. The area of memory attached to a process by
`brk(2)' and `sbrk(2)' and used by `malloc(3)' as
dynamic storage. So named from a semi-mythical `malloc:
corrupt arena' message supposedly emitted when some early versions
became terminally confused. See {overrun screw}, {aliasing
bug}, {memory leak}, {smash the stack}.

arg: /arg/ n. Abbreviation for `argument' (to a function),
used so often as to have become a new word (like `piano' from
`pianoforte'). "The sine function takes 1 arg, but the
arc-tangent function can take either 1 or 2 args." Compare
{param}, {parm}, {var}.

armor-plated: n. Syn. for {bulletproof}.

asbestos: adj. Used as a modifier to anything intended to protect
one from {flame}s. Important cases of this include {asbestos
longjohns} and {asbestos cork award}, but it is used more

asbestos cork award: n. Once, long ago at MIT, there was a {flamer}
so consistently obnoxious that another hacker designed, had made,
and distributed posters announcing that said flamer had been
nominated for the `asbestos cork award'. Persons in any doubt as
to the intended application of the cork should consult the
etymology under {flame}. Since then, it is agreed that only a
select few have risen to the heights of bombast required to earn
this dubious dignity --- but there is no agreement on *which*

asbestos longjohns: n. Notional garments often donned by {USENET}
posters just before emitting a remark they expect will elicit
{flamage}. This is the most common of the {asbestos} coinages.
Also `asbestos underwear', `asbestos overcoat', etc.

ASCII:: [American Standard Code for Information Interchange]
/as'kee/ n. The predominant character set encoding of present-day
computers. Uses 7 bits for each character, whereas most earlier
codes (including an early version of ASCII) used fewer. This
change allowed the inclusion of lowercase letters --- a major
{win} --- but it did not provide for accented letters or any
other letterforms not used in English (such as the German sharp-S
and the ae-ligature
which is a letter in, for example, Norwegian). It could be worse,
though. It could be much worse. See {{EBCDIC}} to understand how.

Computers are much pickier and less flexible about spelling than
humans; thus, hackers need to be very precise when talking about
characters, and have developed a considerable amount of verbal
shorthand for them. Every character has one or more names --- some
formal, some concise, some silly. Common jargon names for ASCII
characters are collected here. See also individual entries for
{bang}, {excl}, {open}, {ques}, {semi}, {shriek},
{splat}, {twiddle}, and {Yu-Shiang Whole Fish}.

This list derives from revision 2.3 of the USENET ASCII
pronunciation guide. Single characters are listed in ASCII order;
character pairs are sorted in by first member. For each character,
common names are given in rough order of popularity, followed by
names that are reported but rarely seen; official ANSI/CCITT names
are surrounded by brokets: <>. Square brackets mark the
particularly silly names introduced by {INTERCAL}. Ordinary
parentheticals provide some usage information.

Common: {bang}; pling; excl; shriek; .
Rare: factorial; exclam; smash; cuss; boing; yell; wow; hey;
wham; [spark-spot]; soldier.

Common: double quote; quote. Rare: literal mark;
double-glitch; ; ; dirk;
[rabbit-ears]; double prime.

Common: ; pound; pound sign; hash; sharp;
{crunch}; hex; [mesh]; octothorpe. Rare: flash; crosshatch;
grid; pig-pen; tictactoe; scratchmark; thud; thump; {splat}.

Common: dollar; . Rare: currency symbol; buck;
cash; string (from BASIC); escape (when used as the echo of
ASCII ESC); ding; cache; [big money].

Common: percent; ; mod; grapes. Rare:

Common: ; amper; and. Rare: address (from C);
reference (from C++); andpersand; bitand; background (from
`sh(1)'); pretzel; amp. [INTERCAL called this `ampersand';
what could be sillier?]

Common: single quote; quote; . Rare: prime;
glitch; tick; irk; pop; [spark]; mark>; .

Common: left/right paren; left/right parenthesis; left/right; paren/thesis;
open/close paren; open/close; open/close parenthesis; left/right banana.
Rare: so/al-ready; lparen/rparen; ;
open/close round bracket, parenthisey/unparenthisey; [wax/wane];
left/right ear.

Common: star; [{splat}]; . Rare: wildcard; gear;
dingle; mult; spider; aster; times; twinkle; glob (see
{glob}); {Nathan Hale}.

Common: ; add. Rare: cross; [intersection].

Common: . Rare: ; [tail].

Common: dash; ; . Rare: [worm]; option; dak;

Common: dot; point; ; . Rare: radix
point; full stop; [spot].

Common: slash; stroke; ; forward slash. Rare:
diagonal; solidus; over; slak; virgule; [slat].

Common: . Rare: dots; [two-spot].

Common: ; semi. Rare: weenie; [hybrid],

Common: ; left/right angle bracket;
bra/ket; left/right broket. Rare: from/{into, towards}; read
from/write to; suck/blow; comes-from/gozinta; in/out;
crunch/zap (all from UNIX); [angle/right angle].

Common: ; gets; takes. Rare: quadrathorpe;

Common: query; ; {ques}. Rare: whatmark;
[what]; wildchar; huh; hook; buttonhook; hunchback.

Common: at sign; at; strudel. Rare: each; vortex; whorl;
[whirlpool]; cyclone; snail; ape; cat; rose; cabbage;

Rare: [book].

Common: left/right square bracket; ;
bracket/unbracket; left/right bracket. Rare: square/unsquare;
[U turn/U turn back].

Common: backslash; escape (from C/UNIX); reverse slash; slosh;
backslant; backwhack. Rare: bash; ; reversed
virgule; [backslat].

Common: hat; control; uparrow; caret; . Rare:
chevron; [shark (or shark-fin)]; to the (`to the power of');
fang; pointer (in Pascal).

Common: ; underscore; underbar; under. Rare:
score; backarrow; [flatworm].

Common: backquote; left quote; left single quote; open quote;
; grave. Rare: backprime; [backspark];
unapostrophe; birk; blugle; back tick; back glitch; push;
; quasiquote.

Common: open/close brace; left/right brace; left/right
squiggly; left/right squiggly bracket/brace; left/right curly
bracket/brace; . Rare: brace/unbrace;
curly/uncurly; leftit/rytit; left/right squirrelly;

Common: bar; or; or-bar; v-bar; pipe; vertical bar. Rare:
; gozinta; thru; pipesinta (last three from
UNIX); [spike].

Common: ; squiggle; {twiddle}; not. Rare: approx;
wiggle; swung dash; enyay; [sqiggle (sic)].

The pronunciation of `#' as `pound' is common in the U.S. but
a bad idea; {{Commonwealth Hackish}} has its own, rather more apposite
use of `pound sign' (confusingly, on British keyboards the pound
happens to replace `#'; thus Britishers sometimes call `#'
on a U.S.-ASCII keyboard `pound', compounding the American error).
The U.S. usage derives from an old-fashioned commercial practice of
using a `#' suffix to tag pound weights on bills of lading.
The character is usually pronounced `hash' outside the U.S.

The `uparrow' name for circumflex and `leftarrow' name for
underline are historical relics from archaic ASCII (the 1963
version), which had these graphics in those character positions
rather than the modern punctuation characters.

The `swung dash' or `approximation' sign is not quite the same
as tilde in typeset material
but the ASCII tilde serves for both (compare {angle

Some other common usages cause odd overlaps. The `#',
`$', `>', and `&' characters, for example, are all
pronounced "hex" in different communities because various
assemblers use them as a prefix tag for hexadecimal constants (in
particular, `#' in many assembler-programming cultures,
`$' in the 6502 world, `>' at Texas Instruments, and
`&' on the BBC Micro, Sinclair, and some Z80 machines). See
also {splat}.

The inability of ASCII text to correctly represent any of the
world's other major languages makes the designers' choice of 7 bits
look more and more like a serious {misfeature} as the use of
international networks continues to increase (see {software
rot}). Hardware and software from the U.S. still tends to embody
the assumption that ASCII is the universal character set; this is a
a major irritant to people who want to use a character set suited
to their own languages. Perversely, though, efforts to solve this
problem by proliferating `national' character sets produce an
evolutionary pressure to use a *smaller* subset common to all
those in use.

ASCII art: n. The fine art of drawing diagrams using the ASCII
character set (mainly `', `-', `/', `\', and
`+'). Also known as `character graphics' or `ASCII
graphics'; see also {boxology}. Here is a serious example:

o----)(--+--<----+ +---------o + D O
L )( C U
A I )( +-->-+ +-\/\/-+--o - T
C N )( P
E )( +-->-+--)---+--)--+-o U
)( GND T

A power supply consisting of a full
wave rectifier circuit feeding a
capacitor input filter circuit

Figure 1.

And here are some very silly examples:

\/\/\/ ____/ ___ \_/ ___
\ o.O ACK! / \_ ` ' _/ \
=(_)= THPHTH! / \/ \/ \
(o)(o) U / \
C _) (__) \/\/\/\ _____ /\/\/\/
,___ (oo) \/ \/
/ \/-------\ U (__)
/____\ \ /---V `v'- oo )
/ \ ---W * * -- `. _/\

Figure 2.

There is an important subgenre of humorous ASCII art that takes
advantage of the names of the various characters to tell a
pun-based joke.

^^^^^^^^^^^ ^^^^^^^^^
^^^^^^^^^^^^^ ^^^^^^^^^^^^^
^^^^^^^ B ^^^^^^^^^
^^^^^^^^^ ^^^ ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
" A Bee in the Carrot Patch "

Figure 3.

Within humorous ASCII art, there is for some reason an entire
flourishing subgenre of pictures of silly cows. Four of these are
reproduced in Figure 2; here are three more:

(__) (__) (__)
(\/) ($$) (**)
/-------\/ /-------\/ /-------\/
/ 666 / ===== /
* ---- * ---- * ----
~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~
Satanic cow This cow is a Yuppie Cow in love

Figure 4.

attoparsec: n. `atto-' is the standard SI prefix for
multiplication by 10^{-18}. A parsec (parallax-second) is
3.26 light-years; an attoparsec is thus 3.26 * 10^{-18} light
years, or about 3.1 cm (thus, 1 attoparsec/{microfortnight}
equals about 1 inch/sec). This unit is reported to be in use
(though probably not very seriously) among hackers in the U.K. See

autobogotiphobia: /aw'to-boh-got`*-foh'bee-*/ n. See {bogotify}.

automagically: /aw-toh-maj'i-klee/ or /aw-toh-maj'i-k*l-ee/ adv.
Automatically, but in a way that, for some reason (typically
because it is too complicated, or too ugly, or perhaps even too
trivial), the speaker doesn't feel like explaining to you. See
{magic}. "The C-INTERCAL compiler generates C, then automagically
invokes `cc(1)' to produce an executable."

avatar: [CMU, Tektronix] n. Syn. {root}, {superuser}. There
are quite a few UNIX machines on which the name of the superuser
account is `avatar' rather than `root'. This quirk was
originated by a CMU hacker who disliked the term `superuser',
and was propagated through an ex-CMU hacker at Tektronix.

awk: 1. n. [UNIX techspeak] An interpreted language for massaging
text data developed by Alfred Aho, Peter Weinberger, and Brian
Kernighan (the name is from their initials). It is characterized
by C-like syntax, a declaration-free approach to variable typing
and declarations, associative arrays, and field-oriented text
processing. See also {Perl}. 2. n. Editing term for an
expression awkward to manipulate through normal {regexp}
facilities (for example, one containing a {newline}). 3. vt. To
process data using `awk(1)'.

= B =

back door: n. A hole in the security of a system deliberately left
in place by designers or maintainers. The motivation for this is
not always sinister; some operating systems, for example, come out
of the box with privileged accounts intended for use by field
service technicians or the vendor's maintenance programmers.

Historically, back doors have often lurked in systems longer than
anyone expected or planned, and a few have become widely known.
The infamous {RTM} worm of late 1988, for example, used a back door
in the {BSD} UNIX `sendmail(8)' utility.

Ken Thompson's 1983 Turing Award lecture to the ACM revealed the
existence of a back door in early UNIX versions that may have
qualified as the most fiendishly clever security hack of all time.
The C compiler contained code that would recognize when the
`login' command was being recompiled and insert some code
recognizing a password chosen by Thompson, giving him entry to the
system whether or not an account had been created for him.

Normally such a back door could be removed by removing it from the
source code for the compiler and recompiling the compiler. But to
recompile the compiler, you have to *use* the compiler --- so
Thompson also arranged that the compiler would *recognize when
it was compiling a version of itself*, and insert into the
recompiled compiler the code to insert into the recompiled `login'
the code to allow Thompson entry --- and, of course, the code to
recognize itself and do the whole thing again the next time around!
And having done this once, he was then able to recompile the
compiler from the original sources, leaving his back door in place
and active but with no trace in the sources.

The talk that revealed this truly moby hack was published as
"Reflections on Trusting Trust", `Communications of the
ACM 27', 8 (August 1984), pp. 761--763.

Syn. {trap door}; may also be called a `wormhole'. See also
{iron box}, {cracker}, {worm}, {logic bomb}.

backbone cabal: n. A group of large-site administrators who pushed
through the {Great Renaming} and reined in the chaos of {USENET}
during most of the 1980s. The cabal {mailing list} disbanded in
late 1988 after a bitter internal catfight, but the net hardly

backbone site: n. A key USENET and email site; one that processes
a large amount of third-party traffic, especially if it is the home
site of any of the regional coordinators for the USENET maps.
Notable backbone sites as of early 1991 include uunet and the
mail machines at Rutgers University, UC Berkeley, DEC's Western
Research Laboratories, Ohio State University, and the University of
Texas. Compare {rib site}, {leaf site}.

backgammon:: See {bignum}, {moby}, and {pseudoprime}.

background: n.,adj.,vt. To do a task `in background' is to do
it whenever {foreground} matters are not claiming your undivided
attention, and `to background' something means to relegate it to
a lower priority. "For now, we'll just print a list of nodes and
links; I'm working on the graph-printing problem in background."
Note that this implies ongoing activity but at a reduced level or
in spare time, in contrast to mainstream `back burner' (which
connotes benign neglect until some future resumption of activity).
Some people prefer to use the term for processing that they have
queued up for their unconscious minds (a tack that one can often
fruitfully take upon encountering an obstacle in creative work).
Compare {amp off}, {slopsucker}.

Technically, a task running in background is detached from the
terminal where it was started (and often running at a lower
priority); oppose {foreground}. Nowadays this term is primarily
associated with {{UNIX}}, but it appears to have been first used
in this sense on OS/360.

backspace and overstrike: interj. Whoa! Back up. Used to suggest
that someone just said or did something wrong. Common among
APL programmers.

backward combatability: /bak'w*rd k*m-bat'*-bil'*-tee/ [from
`backward compatibility'] n. A property of hardware or software
revisions in which previous protocols, formats, and layouts are
discarded in favor of `new and improved' protocols, formats, and
layouts. Occurs usually when making the transition between major
releases. When the change is so drastic that the old formats are
not retained in the new version, it is said to be `backward
combatable'. See {flag day}.

BAD: /B-A-D/ [IBM: acronym, `Broken As Designed'] adj. Said
of a program that is {bogus} because of bad design and misfeatures
rather than because of bugginess. See {working as designed}.

Bad Thing: [from the 1930 Sellar & Yeatman parody `1066 And
All That'] n. Something that can't possibly result in improvement
of the subject. This term is always capitalized, as in "Replacing
all of the 9600-baud modems with bicycle couriers would be a Bad
Thing". Oppose {Good Thing}. British correspondents confirm
that {Bad Thing} and {Good Thing} (and prob. therefore {Right
Thing} and {Wrong Thing}) come from the book referenced in the
etymology, which discusses rulers who were Good Kings but Bad
Things. This has apparently created a mainstream idiom on the
British side of the pond.

bag on the side: n. An extension to an established hack that is
supposed to add some functionality to the original. Usually
derogatory, implying that the original was being overextended and
should have been thrown away, and the new product is ugly,
inelegant, or bloated. Also v. phrase, `to hang a bag on the side
[of]'. "C++? That's just a bag on the side of C ...." "They
want me to hang a bag on the side of the accounting system."

bagbiter: /bag'bi:t-*r/ n. 1. Something, such as a program or a
computer, that fails to work, or works in a remarkably clumsy
manner. "This text editor won't let me make a file with a line
longer than 80 characters! What a bagbiter!" 2. A person who has
caused you some trouble, inadvertently or otherwise, typically by
failing to program the computer properly. Synonyms: {loser},
{cretin}, {chomper}. 3. adj. `bagbiting' Having the
quality of a bagbiter. "This bagbiting system won't let me
compute the factorial of a negative number." Compare {losing},
{cretinous}, {bletcherous}, `barfucious' (under
{barfulous}) and `chomping' (under {chomp}). 4. `bite
the bag' vi. To fail in some manner. "The computer keeps crashing
every 5 minutes." "Yes, the disk controller is really biting the
bag." The original loading of these terms was almost undoubtedly
obscene, possibly referring to the scrotum, but in their current
usage they have become almost completely sanitized.

A program called Lexiphage on the old MIT AI PDP-10 would draw on
a selected victim's bitmapped terminal the words "THE BAG" in
ornate letters, and then a pair of jaws biting pieces of it off.
This is the first and to date only known example of a program
*intended* to be a bagbiter.

bamf: /bamf/ 1. [from old X-Men comics] interj. Notional sound made
by a person or object teleporting in or out of the hearer's
vicinity. Often used in {virtual reality} (esp. {MUD})
electronic {fora} when a character wishes to make a dramatic entrance
or exit. 2. The sound of magical transformation, used in virtual
reality {fora} like sense 1. 3. [from `Don Washington's
Survival Guide'] n. Acronym for `Bad-Ass Mother Fucker', used to
refer to one of the handful of nastiest monsters on an LPMUD or
other similar MUD.

banana label: n. The labels often used on the sides of {macrotape}
reels, so called because they are shaped roughly like blunt-ended
bananas. This term, like macrotapes themselves, is still current
but visibly headed for obsolescence.

banana problem: n. [from the story of the little girl who said "I
know how to spell `banana', but I don't know when to stop"]. Not
knowing where or when to bring a production to a close (compare
{fencepost error}). One may say `there is a banana problem' of an
algorithm with poorly defined or incorrect termination conditions,
or in discussing the evolution of a design that may be succumbing
to featuritis (see also {creeping elegance}, {creeping
featuritis}). See item 176 under {HAKMEM}, which describes a
banana problem in a {Dissociated Press} implementation.

bandwidth: n. 1. Used by hackers in a generalization of its
technical meaning as the volume of information per unit time that a
computer, person, or transmission medium can handle. "Those are
amazing graphics, but I missed some of the detail --- not enough
bandwidth, I guess." Compare {low-bandwidth}. 2. Attention
span. 3. On {USENET}, a measure of network capacity that is
often wasted by people complaining about how items posted by others
are a waste of bandwidth.

bang: 1. n. Common spoken name for `!' (ASCII 0100001),
especially when used in pronouncing a {bang path} in spoken
hackish. In {elder days} this was considered a CMUish usage,
with MIT and Stanford hackers preferring {excl} or {shriek};
but the spread of UNIX has carried `bang' with it (esp. via the
term {bang path}) and it is now certainly the most common spoken
name for `!'. Note that it is used exclusively for
non-emphatic written `!'; one would not say "Congratulations
bang" (except possibly for humorous purposes), but if one wanted
to specify the exact characters `foo!' one would speak "Eff oh oh
bang". See {shriek}, {{ASCII}}. 2. interj. An exclamation
signifying roughly "I have achieved enlightenment!", or "The
dynamite has cleared out my brain!" Often used to acknowledge
that one has perpetrated a {thinko} immediately after one has
been called on it.

bang on: vt. To stress-test a piece of hardware or software: "I
banged on the new version of the simulator all day yesterday and it
didn't crash once. I guess it is ready to release." The term
{pound on} is synonymous.

bang path: n. An old-style UUCP electronic-mail address specifying
hops to get from some assumed-reachable location to the addressee,
so called because each {hop} is signified by a {bang} sign.
Thus, for example, the path ...!bigsite!foovax!barbox!me
directs people to route their mail to machine bigsite (presumably
a well-known location accessible to everybody) and from there
through the machine foovax to the account of user me on

In the bad old days of not so long ago, before autorouting mailers
became commonplace, people often published compound bang addresses
using the { } convention (see {glob}) to give paths from
*several* big machines, in the hopes that one's correspondent
might be able to get mail to one of them reliably (example:
...!{seismo, ut-sally, ihnp4}!rice!beta!gamma!me). Bang paths
of 8 to 10 hops were not uncommon in 1981. Late-night dial-up
UUCP links would cause week-long transmission times. Bang paths
were often selected by both transmission time and reliability, as
messages would often get lost. See {{Internet address}},
{network, the}, and {sitename}.

banner: n. 1. The title page added to printouts by most print
spoolers (see {spool}). Typically includes user or account ID
information in very large character-graphics capitals. Also called
a `burst page', because it indicates where to burst (tear apart)
fanfold paper to separate one user's printout from the next. 2. A
similar printout generated (typically on multiple pages of fan-fold
paper) from user-specified text, e.g., by a program such as UNIX's
`banner({1,6})'. 3. On interactive software, a first screen
containing a logo and/or author credits and/or a copyright notice.

bar: /bar/ n. 1. The second metasyntactic variable, after {foo}
and before {baz}. "Suppose we have two functions: FOO and BAR.
FOO calls BAR...." 2. Often appended to {foo} to produce

bare metal: n. 1. New computer hardware, unadorned with such
snares and delusions as an {operating system}, an {HLL}, or
even assembler. Commonly used in the phrase `programming on the
bare metal', which refers to the arduous work of {bit bashing}
needed to create these basic tools for a new machine. Real
bare-metal programming involves things like building boot proms and
BIOS chips, implementing basic monitors used to test device
drivers, and writing the assemblers that will be used to write the
compiler back ends that will give the new machine a real
development environment. 2. `Programming on the bare metal' is
also used to describe a style of {hand-hacking} that relies on
bit-level peculiarities of a particular hardware design, esp.
tricks for speed and space optimization that rely on crocks such as
overlapping instructions (or, as in the famous case described in
appendix A, interleaving of opcodes on a magnetic drum to minimize
fetch delays due to the device's rotational latency). This sort of
thing has become less common as the relative costs of programming
time and machine resources have changed, but is still found in
heavily constrained environments such as industrial embedded systems.
See {real programmer}.

In the world of personal computing, bare metal programming (especially
in sense 1 but sometimes also in sense 2) is often considered a
{Good Thing}, or at least a necessary thing (because these
machines have often been sufficiently slow and poorly designed
to make it necessary; see {ill-behaved}). There, the term
usually refers to bypassing the BIOS or OS interface and writing
the application to directly access device registers and machine
addresses. "To get 19.2 kilobaud on the serial port, you need to
get down to the bare metal." People who can do this sort of thing
are held in high regard.

barf: /barf/ [from mainstream slang meaning `vomit']
1. interj. Term of disgust. This is the closest hackish
equivalent of the Val\-speak "gag me with a spoon". (Like, euwww!)
See {bletch}. 2. vi. To say "Barf!" or emit some similar
expression of disgust. "I showed him my latest hack and he
barfed" means only that he complained about it, not that he
literally vomited. 3. vi. To fail to work because of unacceptable
input. May mean to give an error message. Examples: "The
division operation barfs if you try to divide by 0." (That is,
the division operation checks for an attempt to divide by zero, and
if one is encountered it causes the operation to fail in some
unspecified, but generally obvious, manner.) "The text editor
barfs if you try to read in a new file before writing out the old
one." See {choke}, {gag}. In Commonwealth hackish,
`barf' is generally replaced by `puke' or `vom'. {barf}
is sometimes also used as a metasyntactic variable, like {foo} or

barfulation: /bar`fyoo-lay'sh*n/ interj. Variation of {barf}
used around the Stanford area. An exclamation, expressing disgust.
On seeing some particularly bad code one might exclaim,
"Barfulation! Who wrote this, Quux?"

barfulous: /bar'fyoo-l*s/ adj. (alt. `barfucious',
/bar-fyoo-sh*s/) Said of something that would make anyone barf,
if only for esthetic reasons.

baroque: adj. Feature-encrusted; complex; gaudy; verging on
excessive. Said of hardware or (esp.) software designs, this has
many of the connotations of {elephantine} or {monstrosity} but is
less extreme and not pejorative in itself. "Metafont even has
features to introduce random variations to its letterform output.
Now *that* is baroque!" See also {rococo}.

BartleMUD: /bar'tl-muhd/ n. Any of the MUDs derived from the
original MUD game by Richard Bartle (see {MUD}). BartleMUDs are
noted for their (usually slightly offbeat) humor, dry but friendly
syntax, and lack of adjectives in object descriptions, so a player
is likely to come across `brand172', for instance (see {brand
brand brand}). Some MUDders intensely dislike Bartle and this
term, and prefer to speak of `MUD-1'.

BASIC: n. A programming language, originally designed for
Dartmouth's experimental timesharing system in the
early 1960s, which has since become the leading cause of
brain-damage in proto-hackers. This is another case (like
{Pascal}) of the bad things that happen when a language
deliberately designed as an educational toy gets taken too
seriously. A novice can write short BASIC programs (on the order of
10--20 lines) very easily; writing anything longer is (a) very
painful, and (b) encourages bad habits that will bite him/her later
if he/she tries to hack in a real language. This wouldn't be so
bad if historical accidents hadn't made BASIC so common on low-end
micros. As it is, it ruins thousands of potential wizards a year.

batch: adj. 1. Non-interactive. Hackers use this somewhat more
loosely than the traditional technical definitions justify; in
particular, switches on a normally interactive program that prepare
it to receive non-interactive command input are often referred to
as `batch mode' switches. A `batch file' is a series of
instructions written to be handed to an interactive program running
in batch mode. 2. Performance of dreary tasks all at one sitting.
"I finally sat down in batch mode and wrote out checks for all
those bills; I guess they'll turn the electricity back on next
week..." 3. Accumulation of a number of small tasks that can be
lumped together for greater efficiency. "I'm batching up those
letters to send sometime" "I'm batching up bottles to take to the
recycling center."

bathtub curve: n. Common term for the curve (resembling an
end-to-end section of one of those claw-footed antique bathtubs)
that describes the expected failure rate of electronics with time:
initially high, dropping to near 0 for most of the system's
lifetime, then rising again as it `tires out'. See also {burn-in
period}, {infant mortality}.

baud: /bawd/ [simplified from its technical meaning] n. Bits per
second. Hence kilobaud or Kbaud, thousands of bits per second.
The technical meaning is `level transitions per second'; this
coincides with bps only for two-level modulation with no framing or
stop bits. Most hackers are aware of these nuances but blithely
ignore them.

baud barf: /bawd barf/ n. The garbage one gets on the monitor
when using a modem connection with some protocol setting (esp.
line speed) incorrect, or when someone picks up a voice extension
on the same line, or when really bad line noise disrupts the
connection. Baud barf is not completely {random}, by the way;
hackers with a lot of serial-line experience can usually tell
whether the device at the other end is expecting a higher or lower
speed than the terminal is set to. *Really* experienced ones
can identify particular speeds.

baz: /baz/ [Stanford: corruption of {bar}] n. 1. The third
metasyntactic variable, after {foo} and {bar} and before
{quux} (or, occasionally, `qux'; or local idiosyncracies like
`rag', `zowie', etc.). "Suppose we have three functions: FOO,
BAR, and BAZ. FOO calls BAR, which calls BAZ...."
2. interj. A term of mild annoyance. In this usage the term is
often drawn out for 2 or 3 seconds, producing an effect not unlike
the bleating of a sheep; /baaaaaaz/. 3. Occasionally appended to
{foo} to produce `foobaz'.

bboard: /bee'bord/ [contraction of `bulletin board'] n.
1. Any electronic bulletin board; esp. used of {BBS} systems
running on personal micros, less frequently of a USENET
{newsgroup} (in fact, use of the term for a newsgroup generally
marks one either as a {newbie} fresh in from the BBS world or as
a real old-timer predating USENET). 2. At CMU and other colleges
with similar facilities, refers to campus-wide electronic bulletin
boards. 3. The term `physical bboard' is sometimes used to
refer to a old-fashioned, non-electronic cork memo board. At CMU,
it refers to a particular one outside the CS Lounge.

In either of senses 1 or 2, the term is usually prefixed by the
name of the intended board (`the Moonlight Casino bboard' or
`market bboard'); however, if the context is clear, the better-read
bboards may be referred to by name alone, as in (at CMU) "Don't
post for-sale ads on general".

BBS: /B-B-S/ [acronym, `Bulletin Board System'] n. An electronic
bulletin board system; that is, a message database where people can
log in and leave broadcast messages for others grouped (typically)
into {topic group}s. Thousands of local BBS systems are in
operation throughout the U.S., typically run by amateurs for fun
out of their homes on MS-DOS boxes with a single modem line each.
Fans of USENET and Internet or the big commercial timesharing
bboards such as CompuServe and GEnie tend to consider local BBSes
the low-rent district of the hacker culture, but they serve a
valuable function by knitting together lots of hackers and users in
the personal-micro world who would otherwise be unable to exchange
code at all.

beam: [from Star Trek Classic's "Beam me up, Scotty!"] vt. To
transfer {softcopy} of a file electronically; most often in
combining forms such as `beam me a copy' or `beam that over to
his site'. Compare {blast}, {snarf}, {BLT}.

beanie key: [Mac users] n. See {command key}.

beep: n.,v. Syn. {feep}. This term seems to be preferred among micro

beige toaster: n. A Macintosh. See {toaster}; compare
{Macintrash}, {maggotbox}.

bells and whistles: [by analogy with the toyboxes on theater
organs] n. Features added to a program or system to make it more
{flavorful} from a hacker's point of view, without necessarily
adding to its utility for its primary function. Distinguished from
{chrome}, which is intended to attract users. "Now that we've
got the basic program working, let's go back and add some bells and
whistles." No one seems to know what distinguishes a bell from a

bells, whistles, and gongs: n. A standard elaborated form of
{bells and whistles}; typically said with a pronounced and ironic
accent on the `gongs'.

benchmark: [techspeak] n. An inaccurate measure of computer
performance. "In the computer industry, there are three kinds of
lies: lies, damn lies, and benchmarks." Well-known ones include
Whetstone, Dhrystone, Rhealstone (see {h}), the Gabriel LISP
benchmarks (see {gabriel}), the SPECmark suite, and LINPACK. See
also {machoflops}, {MIPS}.

Berkeley Quality Software: adj. (often abbreviated `BQS') Term used
in a pejorative sense to refer to software that was apparently
created by rather spaced-out hackers late at night to solve some
unique problem. It usually has nonexistent, incomplete, or
incorrect documentation, has been tested on at least two examples,
and core dumps when anyone else attempts to use it. This term was
frequently applied to early versions of the `dbx(1)' debugger.
See also {Berzerkeley}.

berklix: /berk'liks/ n.,adj. [contraction of `Berkeley UNIX'] See
{BSD}. Not used at Berkeley itself. May be more common among
{suit}s attempting to sound like cognoscenti than among hackers,
who usually just say `BSD'.

berserking: vi. A {MUD} term meaning to gain points *only*
by killing other players and mobiles (non-player characters).
Hence, a Berserker-Wizard is a player character that has achieved
enough points to become a wizard, but only by killing other
characters. Berserking is sometimes frowned upon because of its
inherently antisocial nature, but some MUDs have a `berserker
mode' in which a player becomes *permanently* berserk, can
never flee from a fight, cannot use magic, gets no score for
treasure, but does get double kill points. "Berserker
wizards can seriously damage your elf!"

Berzerkeley: /b*r-zer'klee/ [from `berserk', via the name of a
now-deceased record label] n. Humorous distortion of `Berkeley'
used esp. to refer to the practices or products of the
{BSD} UNIX hackers. See {software bloat}, {Missed'em-five},
{Berkeley Quality Software}.

Mainstream use of this term in reference to the cultural and
political peculiarities of UC Berkeley as a whole has been reported
from as far back as the 1960s.

beta: /bay't*/, /be't*/ or (Commonwealth) /bee't*/ n. 1. In
the {Real World}, software often goes through two stages of
testing: Alpha (in-house) and Beta (out-house?). Software is said
to be `in beta'. 2. Anything that is new and experimental is in
beta. "His girlfriend is in beta" means that he is still testing
for compatibility and reserving judgment. 3. Beta software is
notoriously buggy, so `in beta' connotes flakiness.

Historical note: More formally, to beta-test is to test a
pre-release (potentially unreliable) version of a piece of software
by making it available to selected customers and users. This term
derives from early 1960s terminology for product cycle checkpoints,
first used at IBM but later standard throughout the industry.
`Alpha Test' was the unit, module, or component test phase; `Beta
Test' was initial system test. These themselves came from earlier
A- and B-tests for hardware. The A-test was a feasibility and
manufacturability evaluation done before any commitment to design
and development. The B-test was a demonstration that the
engineering model functioned as specified. The C-test
(corresponding to today's beta) was the B-test performed on early
samples of the production design.

BFI: /B-F-I/ n. See {brute force and ignorance}. Also
encountered in the variant `BFMI', `brute force and
*massive* ignorance'.

bible: n. 1. One of a small number of fundamental source books
such as {Knuth} and {K&R}. 2. The most detailed and
authoritative reference for a particular language, operating
system, or other complex software system.

BiCapitalization: n. The act said to have been performed on
trademarks (such as NeXT, {NeWS}, VisiCalc, FrameMaker,
TK!solver, EasyWriter) that have been raised above the ruck of
common coinage by nonstandard capitalization. Too many
{marketroid} types think this sort of thing is really cute, even
the 2,317th time they do it. Compare {studlycaps}.

BIFF: /bif/ [USENET] n. The most famous {pseudo}, and the
prototypical {newbie}. Articles from BIFF are characterized by
all uppercase letters sprinkled liberally with bangs, typos,
`cute' misspellings (EVRY BUDY LUVS GOOD OLD BIFF CUZ HE"S A K00L
THIS!!!), use (and often misuse) of fragments of {talk mode}
abbreviations, a long {sig block} (sometimes even a {doubled
sig}), and unbounded na"ivet'e. BIFF posts articles using his elder
brother's VIC-20. BIFF's location is a mystery, as his articles
appear to come from a variety of sites. However, {BITNET} seems to
be the most frequent origin. The theory that BIFF is a denizen of
BITNET is supported by BIFF's (unfortunately invalid) electronic
mail address: BIFF@BIT.NET.

biff: /bif/ vt. To notify someone of incoming mail. From the
BSD utility `biff(1)', which was in turn named after the
implementor's dog (it barked whenever the mailman came). No
relation to {BIFF}.

Big Gray Wall: n. What faces a {VMS} user searching for
documentation. A full VMS kit comes on a pallet, the documentation
taking up around 15 feet of shelf space before the addition of layered
products such as compilers, databases, multivendor networking,
and programming tools. Recent (since VMS version 5) DEC
documentation comes with gray binders; under VMS version 4 the
binders were orange (`big orange wall'), and under version 3
they were blue. See {VMS}.

big iron: n. Large, expensive, ultra-fast computers. Used generally
of {number-crunching} supercomputers such as Crays, but can include
more conventional big commercial IBMish mainframes. Term of
approval; compare {heavy metal}, oppose {dinosaur}.

Big Red Switch: [IBM] n. The power switch on a computer, esp. the
`Emergency Pull' switch on an IBM {mainframe} or the power switch
on an IBM PC where it really is large and red. "This !@%$%
{bitty box} is hung again; time to hit the Big Red Switch."
Sources at IBM report that, in tune with the company's passion for
{TLA}s, this is often acronymized as `BRS' (this has also
become established on FidoNet and in the PC {clone} world). It
is alleged that the emergency pull switch on an IBM 360/91 actually
fired a non-conducting bolt into the main power feed; the BRSes on
more recent machines physically drop a block into place so that
they can't be pushed back in. People get fired for pulling them,
especially inappropriately (see also {molly-guard}). Compare
{power cycle}, {three-finger salute}, {120 reset}.

Big Room, the: n. The extremely large room with the blue ceiling
and intensely bright light (during the day) or black ceiling with
lots of tiny night-lights (during the night) found outside all
computer installations. "He can't come to the phone right now,
he's somewhere out in the Big Room."

big win: n. Serendipity. "Yes, those two physicists discovered
high-temperature superconductivity in a batch of ceramic that had
been prepared incorrectly according to their experimental schedule.
Small mistake; big win!" See {win big}.

big-endian: [From Swift's `Gulliver's Travels' via the famous
paper `On Holy Wars and a Plea for Peace' by Danny Cohen,
USC/ISI IEN 137, dated April 1, 1980] adj. 1. Describes a computer
architecture in which, within a given multi-byte numeric
representation, the most significant byte has the lowest address
(the word is stored `big-end-first'). Most processors, including
the IBM 370 family, the {PDP-10}, the Motorola microprocessor
families, and most of the various RISC designs current in mid-1991,
are big-endian. See {little-endian}, {middle-endian}, {NUXI
problem}. 2. An {{Internet address}} the wrong way round. Most
of the world follows the Internet standard and writes email
addresses starting with the name of the computer and ending up with
the name of the country. In the U.K. the Joint Networking Team had
decided to do it the other way round before the Internet domain
standard was established; e.g., Most gateway
sites have {ad-hockery} in their mailers to handle this, but can
still be confused. In particular, the address above could be in the
U.K. (domain uk) or Czechoslovakia (domain cs).

bignum: /big'nuhm/ [orig. from MIT MacLISP] n. 1. [techspeak] A
multiple-precision computer representation for very large integers.
More generally, any very large number. "Have you ever looked at
the United States Budget? There's bignums for you!"
2. [Stanford] In backgammon, large numbers on the dice are called
`bignums', especially a roll of double fives or double sixes
(compare {moby}, sense 4). See also {El Camino Bignum}.

Sense 1 may require some explanation. Most computer languages
provide a kind of data called `integer', but such computer
integers are usually very limited in size; usually they must be
smaller than than 2^{31} (2,147,483,648) or (on a losing
{bitty box}) 2^{15} (32,768). If you want to work with
numbers larger than that, you have to use floating-point numbers,
which are usually accurate to only six or seven decimal places.
Computer languages that provide bignums can perform exact
calculations on very large numbers, such as 1000! (the factorial
of 1000, which is 1000 times 999 times 998 times ... times 2
times 1). For example, this value for 1000! was computed by the
MacLISP system using bignums:


bigot: n. A person who is religiously attached to a particular
computer, language, operating system, editor, or other tool (see
{religious issues}). Usually found with a specifier; thus,
`cray bigot', {ITS bigot}, `APL bigot', `VMS bigot',
{Berkeley bigot}. True bigots can be distinguished from mere
partisans or zealots by the fact that they refuse to learn
alternatives even when the march of time and/or technology is
threatening to obsolete the favored tool. It is said "You can
tell a bigot, but you can't tell him much." Compare

bit: [from the mainstream meaning and `Binary digIT'] n.
1. [techspeak] The unit of information; the amount of information
obtained by asking a yes-or-no question for which the two outcomes
are equally probable. 2. [techspeak] A computational quantity that
can take on one of two values, such as true and false or 0 and 1.
3. A mental flag: a reminder that something should be done
eventually. "I have a bit set for you." (I haven't seen you for
a while, and I'm supposed to tell or ask you something.) 4. More
generally, a (possibly incorrect) mental state of belief. "I have
a bit set that says that you were the last guy to hack on EMACS."
(Meaning "I think you were the last guy to hack on EMACS, and what
I am about to say is predicated on this, so please stop me if this
isn't true.")

"I just need one bit from you" is a polite way of indicating that
you intend only a short interruption for a question that can
presumably be answered yes or no.

A bit is said to be `set' if its value is true or 1, and
`reset' or `clear' if its value is false or 0. One
speaks of setting and clearing bits. To {toggle} or
`invert' a bit is to change it, either from 0 to 1 or from
1 to 0. See also {flag}, {trit}, {mode bit}.

bit bang: n. Transmission of data on a serial line, when
accomplished by rapidly tweaking a single output bit at the
appropriate times. The technique is a simple
loop with eight OUT and SHIFT instruction pairs for each byte.
Input is more interesting. And full duplex (doing input and output
at the same time) is one way to separate the real hackers from the

Bit bang was used on certain early models of Prime computers,
presumably when UARTs were too expensive, and on archaic Z80 micros
with a Zilog PIO but no SIO. In an interesting instance of the
{cycle of reincarnation}, this technique is now (1991) coming
back into use on some RISC architectures because it consumes such
an infinitesimal part of the processor that it actually makes sense
not to have a UART.

bit bashing: n. (alt. `bit diddling' or {bit twiddling}) Term
used to describe any of several kinds of low-level programming
characterized by manipulation of {bit}, {flag}, {nybble},
and other smaller-than-character-sized pieces of data; these
include low-level device control, encryption algorithms, checksum
and error-correcting codes, hash functions, some flavors of
graphics programming (see {bitblt}), and assembler/compiler code
generation. May connote either tedium or a real technical
challenge (more usually the former). "The command decoding for
the new tape driver looks pretty solid but the bit-bashing for the
control registers still has bugs." See also {bit bang},
{mode bit}.

bit bucket: n. 1. The universal data sink (originally, the
mythical receptacle used to catch bits when they fall off the end
of a register during a shift instruction). Discarded, lost, or
destroyed data is said to have `gone to the bit bucket'. On {{UNIX}},
often used for {/dev/null}. Sometimes amplified as `the Great
Bit Bucket in the Sky'. 2. The place where all lost mail and news
messages eventually go. The selection is performed according to
{Finagle's Law}; important mail is much more likely to end up in
the bit bucket than junk mail, which has an almost 100% probability
of getting delivered. Routing to the bit bucket is automatically
performed by mail-transfer agents, news systems, and the lower
layers of the network. 3. The ideal location for all unwanted mail
responses: "Flames about this article to the bit bucket."
Such a request is guaranteed to overflow one's mailbox with flames.
4. Excuse for all mail that has not been sent. "I mailed you
those figures last week; they must have ended in the bit bucket."
Compare {black hole}.

This term is used purely in jest. It is based on the fanciful
notion that bits are objects that are not destroyed but only
misplaced. This appears to have been a mutation of an earlier term
`bit box', about which the same legend was current; old-time
hackers also report that trainees used to be told that when the CPU
stored bits into memory it was actually pulling them `out of the
bit box'. See also {chad box}.

Another variant of this legend has it that, as a consequence of the
`parity preservation law', the number of 1 bits that go to the bit
bucket must equal the number of 0 bits. Any imbalance results in
bits filling up the bit bucket. A qualified computer technician
can empty a full bit bucket as part of scheduled maintenance.

bit decay: n. See {bit rot}. People with a physics background
tend to prefer this one for the analogy with particle decay. See
also {computron}, {quantum bogodynamics}.

bit rot: n. Also {bit decay}. Hypothetical disease the existence
of which has been deduced from the observation that unused programs
or features will often stop working after sufficient time has
passed, even if `nothing has changed'. The theory explains that
bits decay as if they were radioactive. As time passes, the
contents of a file or the code in a program will become
increasingly garbled.

There actually are physical processes that produce such effects
(alpha particles generated by trace radionuclides in ceramic chip
packages, for example, can change the contents of a computer memory
unpredictably, and various kinds of subtle media failures can
corrupt files in mass storage), but they are quite rare (and
computers are built with error-detecting circuitry to compensate
for them). The notion long favored among hackers that cosmic
rays are among the causes of such events turns out to be a myth;
see the {cosmic rays} entry for details.

The term {software rot} is almost synonymous. Software rot is
the effect, bit rot the notional cause.

bit twiddling: n. 1. (pejorative) An exercise in {tuning} in
which incredible amounts of time and effort go to produce little
noticeable improvement, often with the result that the code has
become incomprehensible. 2. Aimless small modification to a
program, esp. for some pointless goal. 3. Approx. syn. for {bit
bashing}; esp. used for the act of frobbing the device control
register of a peripheral in an attempt to get it back to a known

bit-paired keyboard: n. obs. (alt. `bit-shift keyboard') A
non-standard keyboard layout that seems to have originated with
the Teletype ASR-33 and remained common for several years on early
computer equipment. The ASR-33 was a mechanical device (see
{EOU}), so the only way to generate the character codes from
keystrokes was by some physical linkage. The design of the ASR-33
assigned each character key a basic pattern that could be modified
by flipping bits if the SHIFT or the CTRL key was pressed. In order
to avoid making the thing more of a Rube Goldberg kluge than it
already was, the design had to group characters that shared the
same basic bit pattern on one key.

Looking at the ASCII chart, we find:

high low bits
bits 0000 0001 0010 0011 0100 0101 0110 0111 1000 1001
010 ! " # $ % & ' ( )
011 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

This is why the characters !"#$%&'() appear where they do on a
Teletype (thankfully, they didn't use shift-0 for space). This was
*not* the weirdest variant of the {QWERTY} layout widely
seen, by the way; that prize should probably go to one of several
(differing) arrangements on IBM's even clunkier 026 and 029 card

When electronic terminals became popular, in the early 1970s, there
was no agreement in the industry over how the keyboards should be
laid out. Some vendors opted to emulate the Teletype keyboard,
while others used the flexibility of electronic circuitry to make
their product look like an office typewriter. These alternatives
became known as `bit-paired' and `typewriter-paired' keyboards. To
a hacker, the bit-paired keyboard seemed far more logical --- and
because most hackers in those days had never learned to touch-type,
there was little pressure from the pioneering users to adapt
keyboards to the typewriter standard.

The doom of the bit-paired keyboard was the large-scale
introduction of the computer terminal into the normal office
environment, where out-and-out technophobes were expected to use
the equipment. The `typewriter-paired' standard became universal,
`bit-paired' hardware was quickly junked or relegated to dusty
corners, and both terms passed into disuse.

bitblt: /bit'blit/ n. [from {BLT}, q.v.] 1. Any of a family
of closely related algorithms for moving and copying rectangles of
bits between main and display memory on a bit-mapped device, or
between two areas of either main or display memory (the requirement
to do the {Right Thing} in the case of overlapping source and
destination rectangles is what makes BitBlt tricky). 2. Synonym
for {blit} or {BLT}. Both uses are borderline techspeak.

BITNET: /bit'net/ [acronym: Because It's Time NETwork] n.
Everybody's least favorite piece of the network (see {network,
the}). The BITNET hosts are a collection of IBM dinosaurs and
VAXen (the latter with lobotomized comm hardware) that communicate
using 80-character {{EBCDIC}} card images (see {eighty-column
mind}); thus, they tend to mangle the headers and text of
third-party traffic from the rest of the ASCII/RFC-822 world with
annoying regularity. BITNET is also notorious as the apparent home
of {BIFF}.

bits: 1. Information. Examples: "I need some bits about file
formats." ("I need to know about file formats.") Compare {core
dump}, sense 4. 2. Machine-readable representation of a document,
specifically as contrasted with paper: "I have only a photocopy
of the Jargon File; does anyone know where I can get the bits?".
See {softcopy}, {source of all good bits} See also {bit}.

bitty box: /bit'ee boks/ n. 1. A computer sufficiently small,
primitive, or incapable as to cause a hacker acute claustrophobia
at the thought of developing software for it. Especially used of
small, obsolescent, single-tasking-only personal machines such as
the Atari 800, Osborne, Sinclair, VIC-20, TRS-80, or IBM PC.
2. [Pejorative] More generally, the opposite of `real computer'
(see {Get a real computer!}). See also {mess-dos},
{toaster}, and {toy}.

bixie: /bik'see/ n. Variant {emoticon}s used on BIX (the Byte
Information eXchange). The {smiley} bixie is <@_@>, apparently
intending to represent two cartoon eyes and a mouth. A few others
have been reported.

black art: n. A collection of arcane, unpublished, and (by
implication) mostly ad-hoc techniques developed for a particular
application or systems area (compare {black magic}). VLSI design
and compiler code optimization were (in their beginnings)
considered classic examples of black art; as theory developed they
became {deep magic}, and once standard textbooks had been written,
became merely {heavy wizardry}. The huge proliferation of formal
and informal channels for spreading around new computer-related
technologies during the last twenty years has made both the term
`black art' and what it describes less common than formerly. See
also {voodoo programming}.

black hole: n. When a piece of email or netnews disappears
mysteriously between its origin and destination sites (that is,
without returning a {bounce message}) it is commonly said to have
`fallen into a black hole'. "I think there's a black hole at
foovax!" conveys suspicion that site foovax has been dropping
a lot of stuff on the floor lately (see {drop on the floor}).
The implied metaphor of email as interstellar travel is interesting
in itself. Compare {bit bucket}.

black magic: n. A technique that works, though nobody really
understands why. More obscure than {voodoo programming}, which
may be done by cookbook. Compare also {black art}, {deep
magic}, and {magic number} (sense 2).

blast: 1. vt.,n. Synonym for {BLT}, used esp. for large data
sends over a network or comm line. Opposite of {snarf}. Usage:
uncommon. The variant `blat' has been reported. 2. vt.
[HP/Apollo] Synonymous with {nuke} (sense 3). Sometimes the
message `Unable to kill all processes. Blast them (y/n)?' would
appear in the command window upon logout.

blat: n. 1. Syn. {blast}, sense 1. 2. See {thud}.

bletch: /blech/ [from Yiddish/German `brechen', to vomit, poss.
via comic-strip exclamation `blech'] interj. Term of disgust.
Often used in "Ugh, bletch". Compare {barf}.

bletcherous: /blech'*-r*s/ adj. Disgusting in design or function;
esthetically unappealing. This word is seldom used of people.
"This keyboard is bletcherous!" (Perhaps the keys don't work very
well, or are misplaced.) See {losing}, {cretinous},
{bagbiter}, {bogus}, and {random}. The term {bletcherous}
applies to the esthetics of the thing so described; similarly for
{cretinous}. By contrast, something that is `losing' or
`bagbiting' may be failing to meet objective criteria. See also
{bogus} and {random}, which have richer and wider shades of
meaning than any of the above.

blinkenlights: /blink'*n-li:tz/ n. Front-panel diagnostic lights
on a computer, esp. a {dinosaur}. Derives from the last word of
the famous
sign in mangled pseudo-German that once graced about half the
computer rooms in the English-speaking world. One version ran in
its entirety as follows:

Das computermachine ist nicht fuer gefingerpoken und mittengrabben.
Ist easy schnappen der springenwerk, blowenfusen und poppencorken
mit spitzensparken. Ist nicht fuer gewerken bei das dumpkopfen.
Das rubbernecken sichtseeren keepen das cotten-pickenen hans in das
pockets muss; relaxen und watchen das blinkenlichten.

This silliness dates back at least as far as 1959 at Stanford
University and had already gone international by the early 1960s,
when it was reported at London University's ATLAS computing site.
There are several variants of it in circulation, some of which
actually do end with the word `blinkenlights'.

In an amusing example of turnabout-is-fair-play, German hackers
have developed their own versions of the blinkenlights poster in
fractured English, one of which is reproduced here:

This room is fullfilled mit special electronische equippment.
Fingergrabbing and pressing the cnoeppkes from the computers is
allowed for die experts only! So all the "lefthanders" stay away
and do not disturben the brainstorming von here working
intelligencies. Otherwise you will be out thrown and kicked
anderswhere! Also: please keep still and only watchen astaunished
the blinkenlights.

See also {geef}.

blit: /blit/ vt. 1. To copy a large array of bits from one part
of a computer's memory to another part, particularly when the
memory is being used to determine what is shown on a display
screen. "The storage allocator picks through the table and copies
the good parts up into high memory, and then blits it all back
down again." See {bitblt}, {BLT}, {dd}, {cat},
{blast}, {snarf}. More generally, to perform some operation
(such as toggling) on a large array of bits while moving them.
2. All-capitalized as `BLIT': an early experimental bit-mapped
terminal designed by Rob Pike at Bell Labs, later commercialized as
the AT&T 5620. (The folk etymology from `Bell Labs Intelligent
Terminal' is incorrect.)

blitter: /blit'r/ n. A special-purpose chip or hardware system
built to perform {blit} operations, esp. used for fast
implementation of bit-mapped graphics. The Commodore Amiga and a
few other micros have these, but in 1991 the trend is away from
them (however, see {cycle of reincarnation}). Syn. {raster

blivet: /bliv'*t/ [allegedly from a World War II military term
meaning "ten pounds of manure in a five-pound bag"] n. 1. An
intractable problem. 2. A crucial piece of hardware that can't be
fixed or replaced if it breaks. 3. A tool that has been hacked
over by so many incompetent programmers that it has become an
unmaintainable tissue of hacks. 4. An out-of-control but
unkillable development effort. 5. An embarrassing bug that pops up
during a customer demo.

This term has other meanings in other technical cultures; among
experimental physicists and hardware engineers of various kinds it
seems to mean any random object of unknown purpose (similar to
hackish use of {frob}). It has also been used to describe an
amusing trick-the-eye drawing resembling a three-pronged fork that
appears to depict a three-dimensional object until one realizes that
the parts fit together in an impossible way.

block: [from process scheduling terminology in OS theory] 1. vi.
To delay or sit idle while waiting for something. "We're blocking
until everyone gets here." Compare {busy-wait}. 2. `block
on' vt. To block, waiting for (something). "Lunch is blocked on
Phil's arrival."

block transfer computations: n. From the television series
"Dr. Who", in which it referred to computations so fiendishly
subtle and complex that they could not be performed by machines.
Used to refer to any task that should be expressible as an
algorithm in theory, but isn't.

blow an EPROM: /bloh *n ee'prom/ v. (alt. `blast an EPROM',
`burn an EPROM') To program a read-only memory, e.g. for use
with an embedded system. This term arises because the programming
process for the Programmable Read-Only Memories (PROMs) that
preceded present-day Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memories
(EPROMs) involved intentionally blowing tiny electrical fuses on
the chip. Thus, one was said to `blow' (or `blast') a PROM, and
the terminology carried over even though the write process on
EPROMs is nondestructive.

blow away: vt. To remove (files and directories) from permanent
storage, generally by accident. "He reformatted the wrong
partition and blew away last night's netnews." Oppose {nuke}.

blow out: vi. Of software, to fail spectacularly; almost as serious
as {crash and burn}. See {blow past}, {blow up}.

blow past: vt. To {blow out} despite a safeguard. "The server blew
past the 5K reserve buffer."

blow up: vi. 1. [scientific computation] To become unstable. Suggests
that the computation is diverging so rapidly that it will soon
overflow or at least go {nonlinear}. 2. Syn. {blow out}.

BLT: /B-L-T/, /bl*t/ or (rarely) /belt/ n.,vt. Synonym for
{blit}. This is the original form of {blit} and the ancestor
of {bitblt}. It referred to any large bit-field copy or move
operation (one resource-intensive memory-shuffling operation done
on pre-paged versions of ITS, WAITS, and TOPS-10 was sardonically
referred to as `The Big BLT'). The jargon usage has outlasted the
{PDP-10} BLock Transfer instruction from which {BLT} derives;
nowadays, the assembler mnemonic {BLT} almost always means
`Branch if Less Than zero'.

Blue Book: n. 1. Informal name for one of the three standard
references on the page-layout and graphics-control language
PostScript (`PostScript Language Tutorial and Cookbook', Adobe
Systems, Addison-Wesley 1985, QA76.73.P67P68, ISBN 0-201-10179-3);
the other two official guides are known as the {Green Book} and
{Red Book}. 2. Informal name for one of the three standard
references on Smalltalk: `Smalltalk-80: The Language and its
Implementation', David Robson, Addison-Wesley 1983, QA76.8.S635G64,
ISBN 0-201-11371-63 (this is also associated with green and red
books). 3. Any of the 1988 standards issued by the CCITT's
ninth plenary assembly. Until now, they have changed color each review
cycle (1984 was {Red Book}, 1992 would be {Green Book}); however,
it is rumored that this convention is going to be dropped before 1992.
These include, among other things, the X.400 email spec and
the Group 1 through 4 fax standards. See also {{book titles}}.

Blue Glue: [IBM] n. IBM's SNA (Systems Network Architecture), an
incredibly {losing} and {bletcherous} communications protocol
widely favored at commercial shops that don't know any better. The
official IBM definition is "that which binds blue boxes
together." See {fear and loathing}. It may not be irrelevant
that {Blue Glue} is the trade name of a 3M product that is
commonly used to hold down the carpet squares to the removable
panel floors common in {dinosaur pens}. A correspondent at
U. Minn. reports that the CS department there has about 80 bottles
of the stuff hanging about, so they often refer to any messy work
to be done as `using the blue glue'.

blue goo: n. Term for `police' {nanobot}s intended to prevent
{gray goo}, denature hazardous waste, destroy pollution, put
ozone back into the stratosphere, prevent halitosis, and promote
truth, justice, and the American way, etc. See

BNF: /B-N-F/ n. 1. [techspeak] Acronym for `Backus-Naur Form', a
metasyntactic notation used to specify the syntax of programming
languages, command sets, and the like. Widely used for language
descriptions but seldom documented anywhere, so that it must
usually be learned by osmosis from other hackers. Consider this
BNF for a U.S. postal address:


::= "."

::= []

::= []

::= ","

This translates into English as: "A postal-address consists of a
name-part, followed by a street-address part, followed by a
zip-code part. A personal-part consists of either a first name or
an initial followed by a dot. A name-part consists of either: a
personal-part followed by a last name followed by an optional
`jr-part' (Jr., Sr., or dynastic number) and end-of-line, or a
personal part followed by a name part (this rule illustrates the
use of recursion in BNFs, covering the case of people who use
multiple first and middle names and/or initials). A street address
consists of an optional apartment specifier, followed by a street
number, followed by a street name. A zip-part consists of a
town-name, followed by a comma, followed by a state code, followed
by a ZIP-code followed by an end-of-line." Note that many things
(such as the format of a personal-part, apartment specifier, or
ZIP-code) are left unspecified. These are presumed to be obvious
from context or detailed somewhere nearby. See also {parse}.
2. The term is also used loosely for any number of variants and
extensions, possibly containing some or all of the {regexp}
wildcards such as `*' or `+'. In fact the example above
isn't the pure form invented for the Algol-60 report; it uses
`[]', which was introduced a few years later in IBM's PL/I
definition but is now universally recognized. 3. In
{{science-fiction fandom}}, BNF means `Big-Name Fan'
(someone famous or notorious). Years ago a fan started handing out
black-on-green BNF buttons at SF conventions; this confused the
hacker contingent terribly.

boa: [IBM] n. Any one of the fat cables that lurk under the floor
in a {dinosaur pen}. Possibly so called because they display a
ferocious life of their own when you try to lay them straight and
flat after they have been coiled for some time. It is rumored
within IBM that channel cables for the 370 are limited to 200 feet
because beyond that length the boas get dangerous --- and it is
worth noting that one of the major cable makers uses the trademark

board: n. 1. In-context synonym for {bboard}; sometimes used
even for USENET newsgroups. 2. An electronic circuit board
(compare {card}).

boat anchor: n. 1. Like {doorstop} but more severe; implies that
the offending hardware is irreversibly dead or useless. "That was
a working motherboard once. One lightning strike later, instant
boat anchor!" 2. A person who just takes up space.

bogo-sort: /boh`goh-sort'/ n. (var. `stupid-sort') The
archetypical perversely awful algorithm (as opposed to {bubble
sort}, which is merely the generic *bad* algorithm).
Bogo-sort is equivalent to repeatedly throwing a deck of cards in
the air, picking them up at random, and then testing whether they
are in order. It serves as a sort of canonical example of
awfulness. Looking at a program and seeing a dumb algorithm, one
might say "Oh, I see, this program uses bogo-sort." Compare
{bogus}, {brute force}.

bogometer: /boh-gom'-*t-er/ n. See {bogosity}. Compare the
`wankometer' described in the {wank} entry; see also

bogon: /boh'gon/ [by analogy with proton/electron/neutron, but
doubtless reinforced after 1980 by the similarity to Douglas
Adams's `Vogons'; see the Bibliography] n. 1. The elementary particle of
bogosity (see {quantum bogodynamics}). For instance, "the
Ethernet is emitting bogons again" means that it is broken or
acting in an erratic or bogus fashion. 2. A query packet sent from
a TCP/IP domain resolver to a root server, having the reply bit set
instead of the query bit. 3. Any bogus or incorrectly formed
packet sent on a network. 4. By synecdoche, used to refer to any
bogus thing, as in "I'd like to go to lunch with you but I've got
to go to the weekly staff bogon". 5. A person who is bogus or who
says bogus things. This was historically the original usage, but
has been overtaken by its derivative senses 1--4. See
also {bogosity}, {bogus}; compare {psyton}.

bogon filter: /boh'gon fil'tr/ n. Any device, software or hardware,
that limits or suppresses the flow and/or emission of bogons.
"Engineering hacked a bogon filter between the Cray and
the VAXen, and now we're getting fewer dropped packets." See
also {bogosity}, {bogus}.

bogon flux: /boh'gon fluhks/ n. A measure of a supposed field of
{bogosity} emitted by a speaker, measured by a {bogometer};
as a speaker starts to wander into increasing bogosity a listener
might say "Warning, warning, bogon flux is rising". See
{quantum bogodynamics}.

bogosity: /boh-go's*-tee/ n. 1. The degree to which something is
{bogus}. At CMU, bogosity is measured with a {bogometer}; in
a seminar, when a speaker says something bogus, a listener might
raise his hand and say "My bogometer just triggered". More
extremely, "You just pinned my bogometer" means you just said
or did something so outrageously bogus that it is off the scale,
pinning the bogometer needle at the highest possible reading (one
might also say "You just redlined my bogometer"). The
agreed-upon unit of bogosity is the microLenat /mi:k`roh-len'*t/
The consensus is that this is the largest unit practical
for everyday use. 2. The potential field generated by a {bogon
flux}; see {quantum bogodynamics}. See also {bogon flux},
{bogon filter}, {bogus}.

Historical note: The microLenat was invented as a attack against
noted computer scientist Doug Lenat by a {tenured graduate
student}. Doug had failed the student on an important exam for
giving only "AI is bogus" as his answer to the questions. The
slur is generally considered unmerited, but it has become a running
gag nevertheless. Some of Doug's friends argue that *of
course* a microLenat is bogus, since it is only one millionth of a
Lenat. Others have suggested that the unit should be redesignated
after the grad student, as the microReid.

bogotify: /boh-go't*-fi:/ vt. To make or become bogus. A
program that has been changed so many times as to become completely
disorganized has become bogotified. If you tighten a nut too hard
and strip the threads on the bolt, the bolt has become bogotified
and you had better not use it any more. This coinage led to the
notional `autobogotiphobia' defined as `the fear of becoming
bogotified'; but is not clear that the latter has ever been
`live' jargon rather than a self-conscious joke in jargon about
jargon. See also {bogosity}, {bogus}.

bogue out: /bohg owt/ vi. To become bogus, suddenly and
unexpectedly. "His talk was relatively sane until somebody asked
him a trick question; then he bogued out and did nothing but
{flame} afterwards." See also {bogosity}, {bogus}.

bogus: adj. 1. Non-functional. "Your patches are bogus."
2. Useless. "OPCON is a bogus program." 3. False. "Your
arguments are bogus." 4. Incorrect. "That algorithm is bogus."
5. Unbelievable. "You claim to have solved the halting problem
for Turing Machines? That's totally bogus." 6. Silly. "Stop
writing those bogus sagas."

Astrology is bogus. So is a bolt that is obviously about to break.
So is someone who makes blatantly false claims to have solved a
scientific problem. (This word seems to have some, but not all, of
the connotations of {random} --- mostly the negative ones.)

It is claimed that `bogus' was originally used in the hackish sense
at Princeton in the late 1960s. It was spread to CMU and Yale by
Michael Shamos, a migratory Princeton alumnus. A glossary of bogus
words was compiled at Yale when the word was first popularized (see
{autobogotiphobia} under {bogotify}). The word spread into
hackerdom from CMU and MIT. By the early 1980s it was also
current in something like the hackish sense in West Coast teen
slang, and it had gone mainstream by 1985. A correspondent from
Cambridge reports, by contrast, that these uses of `bogus' grate on
British nerves; in Britain the word means, rather specifically,
`counterfeit', as in "a bogus 10-pound note".

Bohr bug: /bohr buhg/ [from quantum physics] n. A repeatable
{bug}; one that manifests reliably under a possibly unknown but
well-defined set of conditions. Antonym of {heisenbug}; see also

boink: /boynk/ [USENET: ascribed there to the TV series
"Cheers" and "Moonlighting"] 1. To have sex with;
compare {bounce}, sense 3. (This is mainstream slang.) In
Commonwealth hackish the variant `bonk' is more common. 2. After
the original Peter Korn `Boinkon' {USENET} parties, used for
almost any net social gathering, e.g., Miniboink, a small boink
held by Nancy Gillett in 1988; Minniboink, a Boinkcon in Minnesota
in 1989; Humpdayboinks, Wednesday get-togethers held in the San
Francisco Bay Area. Compare {@-party}. 3. Var of `bonk';
see {bonk/oif}.

bomb: 1. v. General synonym for {crash} (sense 1) except that it
is not used as a noun; esp. used of software or OS failures.
"Don't run Empire with less than 32K stack, it'll bomb."
2. n.,v. Atari ST and Macintosh equivalents of a UNIX `panic' or
Amiga {guru} (sense 2), where icons of little black-powder bombs
or mushroom clouds are displayed, indicating that the system has died.
On the Mac, this may be accompanied by a decimal (or occasionally
hexadecimal) number indicating what went wrong, similar to the
Amiga GURU MEDITATION number (see {guru}). {{MS-DOS}} machines
tend to get {locked up} in this situation.

bondage-and-discipline language: A language (such as Pascal, Ada,
APL, or Prolog) that, though ostensibly general-purpose, is designed
so as to enforce an author's theory of `right programming' even
though said theory is demonstrably inadequate for systems hacking
or even vanilla general-purpose programming. Often abbreviated
`B&D'; thus, one may speak of things "having the B&D nature".
See {{Pascal}}; oppose {languages of choice}.

bonk/oif: /bonk/, /oyf/ interj. In the {MUD} community, it has
become traditional to express pique or censure by `bonking' the
offending person. There is a convention that one should
acknowledge a bonk by saying `oif!' and a myth to the effect that
failing to do so upsets the cosmic bonk/oif balance, causing much
trouble in the universe. Some MUDs have implemented special
commands for bonking and oifing. See also {talk mode},

book titles:: There is a tradition in hackerdom of informally
tagging important textbooks and standards documents with the
dominant color of their covers or with some other conspicuous
feature of the cover. Many of these are described in this lexicon
under their own entries. See {Aluminum Book}, {Blue Book},
{Cinderella Book}, {Devil Book}, {Dragon Book}, {Green
Book}, {Orange Book}, {Pink-Shirt Book}, {Purple Book},
{Red Book}, {Silver Book}, {White Book}, {Wizard Book},
{Yellow Book}, and {bible}.

boot: [techspeak; from `by one's bootstraps'] v.,n. To load and
initialize the operating system on a machine. This usage is no
longer jargon (having passed into techspeak) but has given rise to
some derivatives that are still jargon.

The derivative `reboot' implies that the machine hasn't been
down for long, or that the boot is a {bounce} intended to clear
some state of {wedgitude}. This is sometimes used of human
thought processes, as in the following exchange: "You've lost
me." "OK, reboot. Here's the theory...."

This term is also found in the variants `cold boot' (from
power-off condition) and `warm boot' (with the CPU and all
devices already powered up, as after a hardware reset or software

Another variant: `soft boot', reinitialization of only part of a
system, under control of other software still running: "If
you're running the {mess-dos} emulator, control-alt-insert will
cause a soft-boot of the emulator, while leaving the rest of the
system running."

Opposed to this there is `hard boot', which connotes hostility
towards or frustration with the machine being booted: "I'll have
to hard-boot this losing Sun." "I recommend booting it hard."

Historical note: this term derives from `bootstrap loader', a short
program that was read in from cards or paper tape, or toggled in
from the front panel switches. This program was always very short
(great efforts were expended on making it short in order to
minimize the labor and chance of error involved in toggling it in),
but was just smart enough to read in a slightly more complex
program (usually from a card or paper tape reader), to which it
handed control; this program in turn was smart enough to read the
application or operating system from a magnetic tape drive or disk
drive. Thus, in successive steps, the computer `pulled itself up
by its bootstraps' to a useful operating state. Nowadays the
bootstrap is usually found in ROM or EPROM, and reads the first
stage in from a fixed location on the disk, called the `boot
block'. When this program gains control, it is powerful enough to
load the actual OS and hand control over to it.

bottom-up implementation: n. Hackish opposite of the techspeak term
`top-down design'. It is now received wisdom in most
programming cultures that it is best to design from higher levels
of abstraction down to lower, specifying sequences of action in
increasing detail until you get to actual code. Hackers often find
(especially in exploratory designs that cannot be closely
specified in advance) that it works best to *build* things in
the opposite order, by writing and testing a clean set of primitive
operations and then knitting them together.

bounce: v. 1. [perhaps from the image of a thrown ball bouncing
off a wall] An electronic mail message that is undeliverable and
returns an error notification to the sender is said to `bounce'.
See also {bounce message}. 2. [Stanford] To play volleyball.
At the now-demolished {D. C. Power Lab} building used by the
Stanford AI Lab in the 1970s, there was a volleyball court on the
front lawn. From 5 P.M. to 7 P.M. was the scheduled
maintenance time for the computer, so every afternoon at 5 the
computer would become unavailable, and over the intercom a voice
would cry, "Now hear this: bounce, bounce!" followed by Brian
McCune loudly bouncing a volleyball on the floor outside the
offices of known volleyballers. 3. To engage in sexual
intercourse; prob. from the expression `bouncing the mattress',
but influenced by Piglet's psychosexually loaded "Bounce on me
too, Tigger!" from the "Winnie-the-Pooh" books. Compare
{boink}. 4. To casually reboot a system in order to clear up a
transient problem. Reported primarily among {VMS} users.
5. [IBM] To {power cycle} a peripheral in order to reset it.

bounce message: [UNIX] n. Notification message returned to sender by
a site unable to relay {email} to the intended {{Internet address}}
recipient or the next link in a {bang path} (see {bounce}).
Reasons might include a nonexistent or misspelled username or a
{down} relay site. Bounce messages can themselves fail, with
occasionally ugly results; see {sorcerer's apprentice mode}.
The term `bounce mail' is also common.

box: n. 1. A computer; esp. in the construction `foo box'
where foo is some functional qualifier, like `graphics', or
the name of an OS (thus, `UNIX box', `MS-DOS box', etc.) "We
preprocess the data on UNIX boxes before handing it up to the
mainframe." 2. [within IBM] Without qualification but within an
SNA-using site, this refers specifically to an IBM front-end
processor or FEP /F-E-P/. An FEP is a small computer necessary
to enable an IBM {mainframe} to communicate beyond the limits of
the {dinosaur pen}. Typically used in expressions like the cry
that goes up when an SNA network goes down: "Looks like the
{box} has fallen over." (See {fall over}.) See also
{IBM}, {fear and loathing}, {fepped out}, {Blue

boxed comments: n. Comments (explanatory notes attached to program
instructions) that occupy several lines by themselves; so called
because in assembler and C code they are often surrounded by a box
in a style something like this:

* This is a boxed comment in C style

Common variants of this style omit the asterisks in column 2 or add
a matching row of asterisks closing the right side of the box. The
sparest variant omits all but the comment delimiters themselves;
the `box' is implied. Oppose {winged comments}.

boxen: /bok'sn/ [by analogy with {VAXen}] pl.n. Fanciful
plural of {box} often encountered in the phrase `UNIX boxen',
used to describe commodity {{UNIX}} hardware. The connotation is
that any two UNIX boxen are interchangeable.

boxology: /bok-sol'*-jee/ n. Syn. {ASCII art}. This term
implies a more restricted domain, that of box-and-arrow drawings.
"His report has a lot of boxology in it." Compare

bozotic: /boh-zoh'tik/ or /boh-zo'tik/ [from the name of a TV
clown even more losing than Ronald McDonald] adj. Resembling or
having the quality of a bozo; that is, clownish, ludicrously wrong,
unintentionally humorous. Compare {wonky}, {demented}. Note
that the noun `bozo' occurs in slang, but the mainstream
adjectival form would be `bozo-like' or (in New England)

BQS: /B-Q-S/ adj. Syn. {Berkeley Quality Software}.

brain dump: n. The act of telling someone everything one knows
about a particular topic or project. Typically used when someone
is going to let a new party maintain a piece of code. Conceptually
analogous to an operating system {core dump} in that it saves a
lot of useful {state} before an exit. "You'll have to
give me a brain dump on FOOBAR before you start your new job at
HackerCorp." See {core dump} (sense 4). At Sun, this is also
known as `TOI' (transfer of information).

brain-damaged: 1. [generalization of `Honeywell Brain Damage'
(HBD), a theoretical disease invented to explain certain utter
cretinisms in Honeywell {{Multics}}] adj. Obviously wrong;
{cretinous}; {demented}. There is an implication that the
person responsible must have suffered brain damage, because he
should have known better. Calling something brain-damaged is
really bad; it also implies it is unusable, and that its failure to
work is due to poor design rather than some accident. "Only six
monocase characters per file name? Now *that's*
brain-damaged!" 2. [esp. in the Mac world] May refer to free
demonstration software that has been deliberately crippled in some
way so as not to compete with the commercial product it is
intended to sell. Syn. {crippleware}.

brain-dead: adj. Brain-damaged in the extreme. It tends to imply
terminal design failure rather than malfunction or simple
stupidity. "This comm program doesn't know how to send a break
--- how brain-dead!"

braino: /bray'no/ n. Syn. for {thinko}.

branch to Fishkill: [IBM: from the location of one of the
corporation's facilities] n. Any unexpected jump in a program that
produces catastrophic or just plain weird results. See {jump
off into never-never land}, {hyperspace}.

brand brand brand: n. Humorous catch-phrase from {BartleMUD}s, in
which players were described carrying a list of objects, the most
common of which would usually be a brand. Often used as a joke in
{talk mode} as in "Fred the wizard is here, carrying brand ruby
brand brand brand kettle broadsword flamethrower". A brand is a
torch, of course; one burns up a lot of those exploring dungeons.
Prob. influenced by the famous Monty Python "Spam" skit.

break: 1. vt. To cause to be broken (in any sense). "Your latest
patch to the editor broke the paragraph commands." 2. v. (of a
program) To stop temporarily, so that it may debugged. The place
where it stops is a `breakpoint'. 3. [techspeak] vi. To send an
RS-232 break (125 msec of line high) over a serial comm line.
4. [UNIX] vi. To strike whatever key currently causes the tty
driver to send SIGINT to the current process. Normally, break
(sense 3) or delete does this. 5. `break break' may be said to
interrupt a conversation (this is an example of verb doubling).

breath-of-life packet: [XEROX PARC] n. An Ethernet packet that
contained bootstrap (see {boot}) code, periodically sent out
from a working computer to infuse the `breath of life' into any
computer on the network that had happened to crash. The machines
had hardware or firmware that would wait for such a packet after a
catastrophic error.

breedle: n. See {feep}.

bring X to its knees: v. To present a machine, operating system,
piece of software, or algorithm with a load so extreme or
{pathological} that it grinds to a halt. "To bring a MicroVAX
to its knees, try twenty users running {vi} --- or four running
{EMACS}." Compare {hog}.

brittle: adj. Said of software that is functional but easily broken
by changes in operating environment or configuration, or by any
minor tweak to the software itself. Also, any system that
responds inappropriately and disastrously to expected external
stimuli; e.g., a file system that is usually totally scrambled by a
power failure is said to be brittle. This term is often used to
describe the results of a research effort that were never intended
to be robust, but it can be applied to commercially developed
software, which displays the quality far more often than it ought
to. Oppose {robust}.

broadcast storm: n. An incorrect packet broadcast on a network that
causes most hosts to respond all at once, typically with wrong
answers that start the process over again. See {network

broken: adj. 1. Not working properly (of programs). 2. Behaving
strangely; especially (when used of people) exhibiting extreme

broken arrow: [IBM] n. The error code displayed on line 25 of a
3270 terminal (or a PC emulating a 3270) for various kinds of
protocol violations and "unexpected" error conditions (including
connection to a {down} computer). On a PC, simulated with
`->/_', with the two center characters overstruck. In true
{luser} fashion, the original documentation of these codes
(visible on every 3270 terminal, and necessary for debugging
network problems) was confined to an IBM customer engineering

Note: to appreciate this term fully, it helps to know that `broken
arrow' is also military jargon for an accident involving nuclear

broket: /broh'k*t/ or /broh'ket`/ [by analogy with `bracket': a
`broken bracket'] n. Either of the characters `<' and `>',
when used as paired enclosing delimiters. This word
originated as a contraction of the phrase `broken bracket', that
is, a bracket that is bent in the middle. (At MIT, and apparently
in the {Real World} as well, these are usually called {angle

Brooks's Law: prov. "Adding manpower to a late software project
makes it later" --- a result of the fact that the advantage from
splitting work among N programmers is O(N) (that is,
proportional to N), but the complexity and communications
cost associated with coordinating and then merging their work
is O(N^2) (that is, proportional to the square of N).
The quote is from Fred Brooks, a manager of IBM's OS/360 project
and author of `The Mythical Man-Month' (Addison-Wesley, 1975,
ISBN 0-201-00650-2), an excellent early book on software
engineering. The myth in question has been most tersely expressed
as "Programmer time is fungible" and Brooks established
conclusively that it is not. Hackers have never forgotten his
advice; too often, {management} does. See also
{creationism}, {second-system effect}.

BRS: /B-R-S/ n. Syn. {Big Red Switch}. This abbreviation is
fairly common on-line.

brute force: adj. Describes a primitive programming style, one in
which the programmer relies on the computer's processing power
instead of using his or her own intelligence to simplify the problem,
often ignoring problems of scale and applying na"ive methods suited
to small problems directly to large ones.

The {canonical} example of a brute-force algorithm is associated
with the `traveling salesman problem' (TSP), a classical NP-hard
problem: Suppose a person is in, say, Boston, and wishes to drive
to N other cities. In what order should he or she visit
them in order to minimize the distance travelled? The brute-force
method is to simply generate all possible routes and compare the
distances; while guaranteed to work and simple to implement, this
algorithm is clearly very stupid in that it considers even
obviously absurd routes (like going from Boston to Houston via San
Francisco and New York, in that order). For very small N it
works well, but it rapidly becomes absurdly inefficient when
N increases (for N = 15, there are already
1,307,674,368,000 possible routes to consider, and for
N = 1000 --- well, see {bignum}). See
also {NP-}.

A more simple-minded example of brute-force programming is finding
the smallest number in a large list by first using an existing
program to sort the list in ascending order, and then picking the
first number off the front.

Whether brute-force programming should be considered stupid or not
depends on the context; if the problem isn't too big, the extra CPU
time spent on a brute-force solution may cost less than the
programmer time it would take to develop a more `intelligent'
algorithm. Alternatively, a more intelligent algorithm may imply
more long-term complexity cost and bug-chasing than are justified
by the speed improvement.

Ken Thompson, co-inventor of UNIX, is reported to have uttered the
epigram "When in doubt, use brute force". He probably intended
this as a {ha ha only serious}, but the original UNIX kernel's
preference for simple, robust, and portable algorithms over
{brittle} `smart' ones does seem to have been a significant
factor in the success of that OS. Like so many other tradeoffs in
software design, the choice between brute force and complex,
finely-tuned cleverness is often a difficult one that requires both
engineering savvy and delicate esthetic judgment.

brute force and ignorance: n. A popular design technique at many
software houses --- {brute force} coding unrelieved by any
knowledge of how problems have been previously solved in elegant
ways. Dogmatic adherence to design methodologies tends to
encourage it. Characteristic of early {larval stage}
programming; unfortunately, many never outgrow it. Often
abbreviated BFI: "Gak, they used a bubble sort! That's strictly
from BFI." Compare {bogosity}.

BSD: /B-S-D/ n. [acronym for `Berkeley System Distribution'] a
family of {{UNIX}} versions for the DEC {VAX} and PDP-11
developed by Bill Joy and others at {Berzerkeley} starting around
1980, incorporating paged virtual memory, TCP/IP networking
enhancements, and many other features. The BSD versions (4.1, 4.2,
and 4.3) and the commercial versions derived from them (SunOS, ULTRIX,
and Mt. Xinu) held the technical lead in the UNIX world until
AT&T's successful standardization efforts after about 1986, and are
still widely popular. See {{UNIX}}, {USG UNIX}.

bubble sort: n. Techspeak for a particular sorting technique in
which pairs of adjacent values in the list to be sorted are
compared and interchanged if they are out of order; thus, list
entries `bubble upward' in the list until they bump into one with a
lower sort value. Because it is not very good relative to other
methods and is the one typically stumbled on by {na"ive} and
untutored programmers, hackers consider it the {canonical}
example of a na"ive algorithm. The canonical example of a really
*bad* algorithm is {bogo-sort}. A bubble sort might be used
out of ignorance, but any use of bogo-sort could issue only from
brain damage or willful perversity.

bucky bits: /buh'kee bits/ n. 1. obs. The bits produced by the
CONTROL and META shift keys on a SAIL keyboard, resulting in a
9-bit keyboard character set. The MIT AI TV (Knight) keyboards
extended this with TOP and separate left and right CONTROL and META
keys, resulting in a 12-bit character set; later, LISP Machines
added such keys as SUPER, HYPER, and GREEK (see {space-cadet
keyboard}). 2. By extension, bits associated with `extra' shift
keys on any keyboard, e.g., the ALT on an IBM PC or command and
option keys on a Macintosh.

It is rumored that `bucky bits' were named for Buckminster Fuller
during a period when he was consulting at Stanford. Actually,
`Bucky' was Niklaus Wirth's nickname when *he* was at
Stanford; he first suggested the idea of an EDIT key to set the
8th bit of an otherwise 7-bit ASCII character. This was used in a
number of editors written at Stanford or in its environs (TV-EDIT
and NLS being the best-known). The term spread to MIT and CMU
early and is now in general use. See {double bucky},
{quadruple bucky}.

buffer overflow: n. What happens when you try to stuff more data
into a buffer (holding area) than it can handle. This may be due
to a mismatch in the processing rates of the producing and
consuming processes (see {overrun}), or because the buffer is
simply too small to hold all the data that must accumulate before a
piece of it can be processed. For example, in a text-processing
tool that {crunch}es a line at a time, a short line buffer can
result in {lossage} as input from a long line overflows the
buffer and trashes data beyond it. Good defensive programming
would check for overflow on each character and stop accepting data
when the buffer is full up. The term is used of and by humans in a
metaphorical sense. "What time did I agree to meet you? My buffer
must have overflowed." Or "If I answer that phone my buffer is
going to overflow." See also {spam}, {overrun screw}.

bug: n. An unwanted and unintended property of a program or hardware,
esp. one that causes it to malfunction. Antonym of {feature}.
Examples: "There's a bug in the editor: it writes things out
backwards." "The system crashed because of a hardware bug."
"Fred is a winner, but he has a few bugs" (i.e., Fred is a good
guy, but he has a few personality problems).

Historical note: Some have said this term came from telephone
company usage, in which "bugs in a telephone cable" were blamed
for noisy lines, but this appears to be an incorrect folk
etymology. Admiral Grace Hopper (an early computing pioneer better
known for inventing {COBOL}) liked to tell a story in which a
technician solved a persistent {glitch} in the Harvard Mark II
machine by pulling an actual insect out from between the
contacts of one of its relays, and she subsequently promulgated
{bug} in its hackish sense as a joke about the incident (though,
as she was careful to admit, she was not there when it happened).
For many years the logbook associated with the incident and the
actual bug in question (a moth) sat in a display case at the Naval
Surface Warfare Center. The entire story, with a picture of the
logbook and the moth taped into it, is recorded in the `Annals of
the History of Computing', Vol. 3, No. 3 (July 1981), pp. 285--286.

The text of the log entry (from September 9, 1945), reads "1545
Relay #70 Panel F (moth) in relay. First actual case of bug being
found". This wording seems to establish that the term was already in use
at the time in its current specific sense. Indeed, the use of
`bug' to mean an industrial defect was already established in
Thomas Edison's time, and `bug' in the sense of an disruptive event
goes back to Shakespeare! In the first edition of Samuel Johnson's
dictionary one meaning of `bug' is "A frightful object; a walking
spectre"; this is traced to `bugbear', a Welsh term for a variety
of mythological monster which (to complete the circle) has recently
been reintroduced into the popular lexicon through fantasy
role-playing games.

In any case, in jargon the word almost never refers to insects.
Here is a plausible conversation that never actually happened:

"There is a bug in this ant farm!"

"What do you mean? I don't see any ants in it."

"That's the bug."

[There has been a widespread myth that the original bug was moved
to the Smithsonian, and an earlier version of this entry so
asserted. A correspondent who thought to check discovered that the
bug was not there. While investigating this, your editor
discovered that the NSWC still had the bug, but had unsuccessfully
tried to get the Smithsonian to accept it --- and that the present
curator of the History of American Technology Museum didn't
know this and agreed that it would make a worthwhile exhibit.
Thus, the process of investigating the original-computer-bug bug
may have fixed it in an entirely unexpected way, by making the myth
true! --- ESR]

bug-compatible: adj. Said of a design or revision that has been
badly compromised by a requirement to be compatible with
{fossil}s or {misfeature}s in other programs or (esp.)
previous releases of itself. "MS-DOS 2.0 used \ as a path
separator to be bug-compatible with some cretin's choice of / as an
option character in 1.0."

bug-for-bug compatible: n. Same as {bug-compatible}, with the
additional implication that much tedious effort went into ensuring
that each (known) bug was replicated.

buglix: /buhg'liks/ n. Pejorative term referring to DEC's ULTRIX
operating system in its earlier *severely* buggy versions.
Still used to describe ULTRIX, but without venom. Compare

bulletproof: adj. Used of an algorithm or implementation considered
extremely {robust}; lossage-resistant; capable of correctly
recovering from any imaginable exception condition. This is a rare
and valued quality. Syn. {armor-plated}.

bum: 1. vt. To make highly efficient, either in time or space,
often at the expense of clarity. "I managed to bum three more
instructions out of that code." "I spent half the night bumming
the interrupt code." 2. To squeeze out excess; to remove
something in order to improve whatever it was removed from (without
changing function; this distinguishes the process from a
{featurectomy}). 3. n. A small change to an algorithm, program,
or hardware device to make it more efficient. "This hardware bum
makes the jump instruction faster." Usage: now uncommon, largely
superseded by v. {tune} (and n. {tweak}, {hack}), though
none of these exactly capture sense 2. All these uses are rare in
Commonwealth hackish, because in the parent dialects of English
`bum' is a rude synonym for `buttocks'.

bump: vt. Synonym for increment. Has the same meaning as
C's ++ operator. Used esp. of counter variables, pointers, and index
dummies in `for', `while', and `do-while' loops.

burble: [from Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky"] v. Like {flame},
but connotes that the source is truly clueless and ineffectual
(mere flamers can be competent). A term of deep contempt.
"There's some guy on the phone burbling about how he got a DISK
FULL error and it's all our comm software's fault."

buried treasure: n. A surprising piece of code found in some
program. While usually not wrong, it tends to vary from {crufty}
to {bletcherous}, and has lain undiscovered only because it was
functionally correct, however horrible it is. Used sarcastically,
because what is found is anything *but* treasure. Buried
treasure almost always needs to be dug up and removed. "I just
found that the scheduler sorts its queue using {bubble sort}!
Buried treasure!"

burn-in period: n. 1. A factory test designed to catch systems
with {marginal} components before they get out the door; the
theory is that burn-in will protect customers by outwaiting the
steepest part of the {bathtub curve} (see {infant
mortality}). 2. A period of indeterminate length in which a person
using a computer is so intensely involved in his project that he
forgets basic needs such as food, drink, sleep, etc. Warning:
Excessive burn-in can lead to burn-out. See {hack mode},
{larval stage}.

burst page: n. Syn. {banner}, sense 1.

busy-wait: vi. Used of human behavior, conveys that the subject is
busy waiting for someone or something, intends to move instantly as
soon as it shows up, and thus cannot do anything else at the
moment. "Can't talk now, I'm busy-waiting till Bill gets off the

Technically, `busy-wait' means to wait on an event by
{spin}ning through a tight or timed-delay loop that polls for
the event on each pass, as opposed to setting up an interrupt
handler and continuing execution on another part of the task. This
is a wasteful technique, best avoided on time-sharing systems where
a busy-waiting program may {hog} the processor.

buzz: vi. 1. Of a program, to run with no indication of progress
and perhaps without guarantee of ever finishing; esp. said of
programs thought to be executing tight loops of code. A program
that is buzzing appears to be {catatonic}, but you never get out
of catatonia, while a buzzing loop may eventually end of its own
accord. "The program buzzes for about 10 seconds trying to sort
all the names into order." See {spin}; see also {grovel}.
2. [ETA Systems] To test a wire or printed circuit trace for
continuity by applying an AC rather than DC signal. Some wire
faults will pass DC tests but fail a buzz test. 3. To process an
array or list in sequence, doing the same thing to each element.
"This loop buzzes through the tz array looking for a terminator

BWQ: /B-W-Q/ [IBM: acronym, `Buzz Word Quotient'] The
percentage of buzzwords in a speech or documents. Usually roughly
proportional to {bogosity}. See {TLA}.

by hand: adv. Said of an operation (especially a repetitive,
trivial, and/or tedious one) that ought to be performed
automatically by the computer, but which a hacker instead has to
step tediously through. "My mailer doesn't have a command to
include the text of the message I'm replying to, so I have to do it
by hand." This does not necessarily mean the speaker has to
retype a copy of the message; it might refer to, say, dropping into
a {subshell} from the mailer, making a copy of one's mailbox file,
reading that into an editor, locating the top and bottom of the
message in question, deleting the rest of the file, inserting `>'
characters on each line, writing the file, leaving the editor,
returning to the mailer, reading the file in, and later remembering
to delete the file. Compare {eyeball search}.

byte:: /bi:t/ [techspeak] n. A unit of memory or data equal to
the amount used to represent one character; on modern architectures
this is usually 8 bits, but may be 9 on 36-bit machines. Some
older architectures used `byte' for quantities of 6 or 7 bits, and
the PDP-10 supported `bytes' that were actually bitfields of
1 to 36 bits! These usages are now obsolete, and even 9-bit bytes
have become rare in the general trend toward power-of-2 word sizes.

Historical note: The term originated in 1956 during the early
design phase for the IBM Stretch computer; originally it was
described as 1 to 6 bits (typical I/O equipment of the period
used 6-bit chunks of information). The move to an 8-bit byte
happened in late 1956, and this size was later adopted and
promulgated as a standard by the System/360. The term `byte' was
coined by mutating the word `bite' so it would not be accidentally
misspelled as {bit}. See also {nybble}.

bytesexual: /bi:t`sek'shu-*l/ adj. Said of hardware, denotes
willingness to compute or pass data in either {big-endian} or
{little-endian} format (depending, presumably, on a {mode bit}
somewhere). See also {NUXI problem}.

= C =

C: n. 1. The third letter of the English alphabet. 2. ASCII
1000011. 3. The name of a programming language designed by
Dennis Ritchie during the early 1970s and immediately used to
reimplement {{UNIX}}. So called because many features derived
from an earlier compiler named `B' in commemoration of
*its* parent, BCPL; before Bjarne Stroustrup settled the
question by designing C++, there was a humorous debate over whether
C's successor should be named `D' or `P'. C became immensely
popular outside Bell Labs after about 1980 and is now the dominant
language in systems and microcomputer applications programming.
See also {languages of choice}, {indent style}.

C is often described, with a mixture of fondness and disdain
varying according to the speaker, as "a language that combines
all the elegance and power of assembly language with all the
readability and maintainability of assembly language".

calculator: [Cambridge] n. Syn. for {bitty box}.

can: vt. To abort a job on a time-sharing system. Used esp. when the
person doing the deed is an operator, as in "canned from the
{{console}}". Frequently used in an imperative sense, as in "Can
that print job, the LPT just popped a sprocket!" Synonymous with
{gun}. It is said that the ASCII character with mnemonic CAN
(0011000) was used as a kill-job character on some early OSes.

canonical: [historically, `according to religious law'] adj. The
usual or standard state or manner of something. This word has a
somewhat more technical meaning in mathematics. Two formulas such
as 9 + x and x + 9 are said to be equivalent because
they mean the same thing, but the second one is in `canonical
form' because it is written in the usual way, with the highest
power of x first. Usually there are fixed rules you can use
to decide whether something is in canonical form. The jargon
meaning, a relaxation of the technical meaning, acquired its
present loading in computer-science culture largely through its
prominence in Alonzo Church's work in computation theory and
mathematical logic (see {Knights of the Lambda Calculus}).
Compare {vanilla}.

This word has an interesting history. Non-technical academics do
not use the adjective `canonical' in any of the senses defined
above with any regularity; they do however use the nouns `canon' and
`canonicity' (not *canonicalness or *canonicality). The `canon' of
a given author is the complete body of authentic works by that
author (this usage is familiar to Sherlock Holmes fans as well as
to literary scholars). `*The* canon' is the body of works in
a given field (e.g., works of literature, or of art, or of music)
deemed worthwhile for students to study and for scholars to

These non-techspeak academic usages derive ultimately from the
historical meaning, specifically the classification of the books of
the Bible into two groups by Christian theologians. The
`canonical' books were the ones widely accepted as Holy
Scripture and held to be of primary authority. The
`deuterocanonical' books (literally `secondarily canonical';
also known as the `Apochrypha') were held to be of lesser
authority --- indeed they have been held in such low esteem that to
this day they are omitted from most Protestant bibles.

Hackers invest this term with a playfulness that makes an ironic
contrast with its historical meaning. A true story: One Bob
Sjoberg, new at the MIT AI Lab, expressed some annoyance at the use
of jargon. Over his loud objections, GLS and RMS made a point of
using it as much as possible in his presence, and eventually it
began to sink in. Finally, in one conversation, he used the word
`canonical' in jargon-like fashion without thinking. Steele:
"Aha! We've finally got you talking jargon too!" Stallman:
"What did he say?" Steele: "Bob just used `canonical' in the
canonical way."

Of course, canonicality depends on context, but it is implicitly
defined as the way *hackers* normally expect things to be.
Thus, a hacker may claim with a straight face that `according to
religious law' is *not* the canonical meaning of `canonical'.

card: n. 1. An electronic printed-circuit board (see also {tall
card}, {short card}. 2. obs. Syn. {{punched card}}.

card walloper: n. An EDP programmer who grinds out batch programs
that do stupid things like print people's paychecks. Compare
{code grinder}. See also {{punched card}}, {eighty-column

careware: /keir'weir/ n. {Shareware} for which either the
author suggests that some payment be made to a nominated charity
or a levy directed to charity is included on top of the
distribution charge. Syn. {charityware}; compare
{crippleware}, sense 2.

cargo cult programming: n. A style of (incompetent) programming
dominated by ritual inclusion of code or program structures that
serve no real purpose. A cargo cult programmer will usually
explain the extra code as a way of working around some bug
encountered in the past, but usually neither the bug nor the reason
the code apparently avoided the bug was ever fully understood
(compare {shotgun debugging}, {voodoo programming}).

The term `cargo cult' is a reference to aboriginal religions that
grew up in the South Pacific after World War II. The practices of
these cults center on building elaborate mockups of airplanes and
military style landing strips in the hope of bringing the return of
the god-like airplanes that brought such marvelous cargo during the
war. Hackish usage probably derives from Richard Feynman's
characterization of certain practices as "cargo cult science" in
his book `Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman' (W. W. Norton
& Co, New York 1985, ISBN 0-393-01921-7).

case and paste: [from `cut and paste'] n. 1. The addition of a new
{feature} to an existing system by selecting the code from an
existing feature and pasting it in with minor changes. Common in
telephony circles because most operations in a telephone switch are
selected using `case' statements. Leads to {software bloat}.

In some circles of EMACS users this is called `programming by
Meta-W', because Meta-W is the EMACS command for copying a block of
text to a kill buffer in preparation to pasting it in elsewhere.
The term is condescending, implying that the programmer is acting
mindlessly rather than thinking carefully about what is required to
integrate the code for two similar cases.

casters-up mode: [IBM] n. Yet another synonym for `broken' or

casting the runes: n. What a {guru} does when you ask him or her
to run a particular program and type at it because it never works
for anyone else; esp. used when nobody can ever see what the guru
is doing different from what J. Random Luser does. Compare
{incantation}, {runes}, {examining the entrails}; also see
the AI koan about Tom Knight in appendix A.

cat: [from `catenate' via {{UNIX}} `cat(1)'] vt.
1. [techspeak] To spew an entire file to the screen or some other
output sink without pause. 2. By extension, to dump large amounts
of data at an unprepared target or with no intention of browsing it
carefully. Usage: considered silly. Rare outside UNIX sites. See
also {dd}, {BLT}.

Among UNIX fans, `cat(1)' is considered an excellent example
of user-interface design, because it outputs the file contents
without such verbosity as spacing or headers between the files, and
because it does not require the files to consist of lines of text,
but works with any sort of data.

Among UNIX-haters, `cat(1)' is considered the {canonical}
example of *bad* user-interface design. This because it is more
often used to {blast} a file to standard output than to
concatenate two files. The name `cat' for the former
operation is just as unintuitive as, say, LISP's {cdr}.

Of such oppositions are {holy wars} made....

catatonic: adj. Describes a condition of suspended animation in
which something is so {wedged} or {hung} that it makes no
response. If you are typing on a terminal and suddenly the
computer doesn't even echo the letters back to the screen as you
type, let alone do what you're asking it to do, then the computer
is suffering from catatonia (possibly because it has crashed).
"There I was in the middle of a winning game of {nethack} and it
went catatonic on me! Aaargh!" Compare {buzz}.

cdr: /ku'dr/ or /kuh'dr/ [from LISP] vt. To skip past the
first item from a list of things (generalized from the LISP
operation on binary tree structures, which returns a list
consisting of all but the first element of its argument). In the
form `cdr down', to trace down a list of elements: "Shall we
cdr down the agenda?" Usage: silly. See also {loop through}.

Historical note: The instruction format of the IBM 7090 that hosted
the original LISP implementation featured two 15-bit fields called
the `address' and `decrement' parts. The term `cdr' was originally
`Contents of Decrement part of Register'. Similarly, `car' stood
for `Contents of Address part of Register'.

The cdr and car operations have since become bases for
formation of compound metaphors in non-LISP contexts. GLS recalls,
for example, a programming project in which strings were
represented as linked lists; the get-character and skip-character
operations were of course called CHAR and CHDR.

chad: /chad/ n. 1. The perforated edge strips on printer paper, after
they have been separated from the printed portion. Also called
{selvage} and {perf}. 2. obs. The confetti-like paper bits punched
out of cards or paper tape; this was also called `chaff', `computer
confetti', and `keypunch droppings'.

Historical note: One correspondent believes `chad' (sense 2)
derives from the Chadless keypunch (named for its inventor), which
cut little u-shaped tabs in the card to make a hole when the tab
folded back, rather than punching out a circle/rectangle; it was
clear that if the Chadless keypunch didn't make them, then the
stuff that other keypunches made had to be `chad'.

chad box: n. {Iron Age} card punches contained boxes inside them,
about the size of a lunchbox (or in some models a large
wastebasket), that held the {chad} (sense 2). You had to open
the covers of the card punch periodically and empty the chad box.
The {bit bucket} was notionally the equivalent device in the CPU
enclosure, which was typically across the room in another great
gray-and-blue box.

chain: [orig. from BASIC's `CHAIN' statement] vi. To hand off
execution to a child or successor without going through the
{OS} command interpreter that invoked it. The state of the
parent program is lost and there is no returning to it. Though
this facility used to be common on memory-limited micros and is
still widely supported for backward compatibility, the jargon usage
is semi-obsolescent; in particular, most UNIX programmers will
think of this as an {exec}. Oppose the more modern {subshell}.

char: /keir/ or /char/; rarely, /kar/ n. Shorthand for
`character'. Esp. used by C programmers, as `char' is
C's typename for character data.

charityware: /char'it-ee-weir`/ n. Syn. {careware}.

chase pointers: 1. vi. To go through multiple levels of
indirection, as in traversing a linked list or graph structure.
Used esp. by programmers in C, where explicit pointers are a very
common data type. This is techspeak, but it remains jargon when
used of human networks. "I'm chasing pointers. Bob said you
could tell me who to talk to about...." See {dangling
pointer} and {snap}. 2. [Cambridge] `pointer chase' or
`pointer hunt': The process of going through a dump
(interactively or on a large piece of paper printed with hex
{runes}) following dynamic data-structures. Used only in a
debugging context.

chemist: [Cambridge] n. Someone who wastes computer time on
{number-crunching} when you'd far rather the machine were doing
something more productive, such as working out anagrams of your
name or printing Snoopy calendars or running {life} patterns.
May or may not refer to someone who actually studies chemistry.

Chernobyl chicken: n. See {laser chicken}.

Chernobyl packet: /cher-noh'b*l pak'*t/ n. A network packet that
induces {network meltdown} (the result of a {broadcast storm}),
in memory of the 1987 nuclear accident at Chernobyl in the Ukraine.
The typical case of this is an IP Ethernet datagram that passes
through a gateway with both source and destination Ether and IP
address set as the respective broadcast addresses for the
subnetworks being gated between. Compare {Christmas tree

chicken head: [Commodore] n. The Commodore Business Machines logo,
which strongly resembles a poultry part. Rendered in ASCII as
`C='. With the arguable exception of the Amiga (see {amoeba}),
Commodore's machines are notoriously crocky little {bitty box}es
(see also {PETSCII}). Thus, this usage may owe something to
Philip K. Dick's novel `Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?'
(the basis for the movie `Blade Runner'), in which a
`chickenhead' is a mutant with below-average intelligence.

chiclet keyboard: n. A keyboard with small rectangular or
lozenge-shaped rubber or plastic keys that look like pieces of
chewing gum. (Chiclets is the brand name of a variety of chewing
gum that does in fact resemble the keys of chiclet keyboards.)
Used esp. to describe the original IBM PCjr keyboard. Vendors
unanimously liked these because they were cheap, and a lot of early
portable and laptop products got launched using them. Customers
rejected the idea with almost equal unanimity, and chiclets are not
often seen on anything larger than a digital watch any more.

chine nual: /sheen'yu-*l/ [MIT] n.,obs. The Lisp Machine Manual, so
called because the title was wrapped around the cover so only those
letters showed on the front.

Chinese Army technique: n. Syn. {Mongolian Hordes technique}.

choke: v. To reject input, often ungracefully. "Nuls make System
V's `lpr(1)' choke." "I tried building an {EMACS} binary to
use {X}, but `cpp(1)' choked on all those `#define's."
See {barf}, {gag}, {vi}.

chomp: vi. To {lose}; specifically, to chew on something of
which more was bitten off than one can. Probably related to
gnashing of teeth. See {bagbiter}. A hand gesture commonly
accompanies this. To perform it, hold the four fingers
together and place the thumb against their tips. Now open and
close your hand rapidly to suggest a biting action (much like what
Pac-Man does in the classic video game, though this pantomime seems
to predate that). The gesture alone means `chomp chomp' (see
Verb Doubling in the "Jargon Construction" section of the
Prependices). The hand may be pointed at the object of complaint,
and for real emphasis you can use both hands at once. Doing this
to a person is equivalent to saying "You chomper!" If you point
the gesture at yourself, it is a humble but humorous admission of
some failure. You might do this if someone told you that a program
you had written had failed in some surprising way and you felt dumb
for not having anticipated it.

chomper: n. Someone or something that is chomping; a loser. See
{loser}, {bagbiter}, {chomp}.

Christmas tree: n. A kind of RS-232 line tester or breakout box
featuring rows of blinking red and green LEDs suggestive of
Christmas lights.

Christmas tree packet: n. A packet with every single option set for
whatever protocol is in use. See {kamikaze packet}, {Chernobyl
packet}. (The term doubtless derives from a fanciful image of each
little option bit being represented by a different-colored light
bulb, all turned on.)

chrome: [from automotive slang via wargaming] n. Showy features
added to attract users but contributing little or nothing to
the power of a system. "The 3D icons in Motif are just chrome,
but they certainly are *pretty* chrome!" Distinguished from
{bells and whistles} by the fact that the latter are usually
added to gratify developers' own desires for featurefulness.
Often used as a term of contempt.

chug: vi. To run slowly; to {grind} or {grovel}. "The disk is
chugging like crazy."

Church of the SubGenius: n. A mutant offshoot of
{Discordianism} launched in 1981 as a spoof of fundamentalist
Christianity by the `Reverend' Ivan Stang, a brilliant satirist
with a gift for promotion. Popular among hackers as a rich source
of bizarre imagery and references such as "Bob" the divine
drilling-equipment salesman, the Benevolent Space Xists, and the
Stark Fist of Removal. Much SubGenius theory is concerned with the
acquisition of the mystical substance or quality of

Cinderella Book: [CMU] n. `Introduction to Automata Theory,
Languages, and Computation', by John Hopcroft and Jeffrey Ullman,
(Addison-Wesley, 1979). So called because the cover depicts a girl
(putatively Cinderella) sitting in front of a Rube Goldberg device
and holding a rope coming out of it. The back cover depicts the
girl with the device in shambles after she has pulled on the rope.
See also {{book titles}}.

CI$: // n. Hackerism for `CIS', CompuServe Information Service.
The dollar sign refers to CompuServe's rather steep line charges. Often
used in {sig block}s just before a CompuServe address. Syn.

Classic C: /klas'ik C/ [a play on `Coke Classic'] n. The
C programming language as defined in the first edition of {K&R},
with some small additions. It is also known as `K&R C'. The name
came into use while C was being standardized by the ANSI X3J11
committee. Also `C Classic'. This is sometimes applied
elsewhere: thus, `X Classic', where X = Star Trek (referring to the
original TV series) or X = PC (referring to IBM's ISA-bus machines
as opposed to the PS/2 series). This construction is especially
used of product series in which the newer versions are considered
serious losers relative to the older ones.

clean: 1. adj. Used of hardware or software designs, implies
`elegance in the small', that is, a design or implementation that
may not hold any surprises but does things in a way that is
reasonably intuitive and relatively easy to comprehend from the
outside. The antonym is `grungy' or {crufty}. 2. v. To remove
unneeded or undesired files in a effort to reduce clutter: "I'm
cleaning up my account." "I cleaned up the garbage and now have
100 Meg free on that partition."

CLM: /C-L-M/ [Sun: `Career Limiting Move'] 1. n. An action
endangering one's future prospects of getting plum projects and
raises, and possibly one's job: "His Halloween costume was a
parody of his manager. He won the prize for `best CLM'."
2. adj. Denotes extreme severity of a bug, discovered by a
customer and obviously missed earlier because of poor testing:
"That's a CLM bug!"

clobber: vt. To overwrite, usually unintentionally: "I walked off
the end of the array and clobbered the stack." Compare {mung},
{scribble}, {trash}, and {smash the stack}.

clocks: n. Processor logic cycles, so called because each
generally corresponds to one clock pulse in the processor's timing.
The relative execution times of instructions on a machine are
usually discussed in clocks rather than absolute fractions of a
second; one good reason for this is that clock speeds for various
models of the machine may increase as technology improves, and it
is usually the relative times one is interested in when discussing
the instruction set. Compare {cycle}.

clone: n. 1. An exact duplicate: "Our product is a clone of
their product." Implies a legal reimplementation from
documentation or by reverse-engineering. Also connotes lower
price. 2. A shoddy, spurious copy: "Their product is a
clone of our product." 3. A blatant ripoff, most likely violating
copyright, patent, or trade secret protections: "Your
product is a clone of my product." This use implies legal
action is pending. 4. A `PC clone'; a PC-BUS/ISA or
EISA-compatible 80x86-based microcomputer (this use is sometimes
spelled `klone' or `PClone'). These invariably have much
more bang for the buck than the IBM archetypes they resemble.
5. In the construction `UNIX clone': An OS designed to deliver
a UNIX-lookalike environment without UNIX license fees, or with
additional `mission-critical' features such as support for
real-time programming. 6. v. To make an exact copy of something.
"Let me clone that" might mean "I want to borrow that paper so I
can make a photocopy" or "Let me get a copy of that file before
you {mung} it".

clover key: [Mac users] n. See {command key}.

clustergeeking: /kluh'st*r-gee`king/ [CMU] n. Spending more time
at a computer cluster doing CS homework than most people spend

COBOL: /koh'bol/ [COmmon Business-Oriented Language] n.
(Synonymous with {evil}.) A weak, verbose, and flabby language
used by {card walloper}s to do boring mindless things on
{dinosaur} mainframes. Hackers believe all COBOL programmers
are {suit}s or {code grinder}s, and no self-respecting hacker
will ever admit to having learned the language. Its very name is
seldom uttered without ritual expressions of disgust or horror.
See also {fear and loathing}, {software rot}.

COBOL fingers: /koh'bol fing'grz/ n. Reported from Sweden, a
(hypothetical) disease one might get from coding in COBOL. The
language requires code verbose beyond all reason; thus it is
alleged that programming too much in COBOL causes one's fingers to
wear down to stubs by the endless typing. "I refuse to type in
all that source code again; it would give me COBOL fingers!"

code grinder: n. 1. A {suit}-wearing minion of the sort hired in
legion strength by banks and insurance companies to implement
payroll packages in RPG and other such unspeakable horrors. In his
native habitat, the code grinder often removes the suit jacket to
reveal an underplumage consisting of button-down shirt (starch
optional) and a tie. In times of dire stress, the sleeves (if
long) may be rolled up and the tie loosened about half an inch. It
seldom helps. The {code grinder}'s milieu is about as far from
hackerdom as you can get and still touch a computer; the term
connotes pity. See {Real World}, {suit}. 2. Used of or to a
hacker, a really serious slur on the person's creative ability;
connotes a design style characterized by primitive technique,
rule-boundedness, {brute force}, and utter lack of imagination.
Compare {card walloper}; contrast {hacker}, {real

code police: [by analogy with George Orwell's `thought police'] n.
A mythical team of Gestapo-like storm troopers that might burst
into one's office and arrest one for violating programming style
rules. May be used either seriously, to underline a claim that a
particular style violation is dangerous, or ironically, to suggest
that the practice under discussion is condemned mainly by
anal-retentive {weenie}s. "Dike out that goto or the code
police will get you!" The ironic usage is perhaps more common.

codewalker: n. A program component that traverses other programs for
a living. Compilers have codewalkers in their front ends; so do
cross-reference generators and some database front ends. Other
utility programs that try to do too much with source code may turn
into codewalkers. As in "This new `vgrind' feature would require a
codewalker to implement."

coefficient of X: n. Hackish speech makes rather heavy use of
pseudo-mathematical metaphors. Four particularly important ones
involve the terms `coefficient', `factor', `index', and
`quotient'. They are often loosely applied to things you
cannot really be quantitative about, but there are subtle
distinctions among them that convey information about the way the
speaker mentally models whatever he or she is describing.

`Foo factor' and `foo quotient' tend to describe something for
which the issue is one of presence or absence. The canonical
example is {fudge factor}. It's not important how much you're
fudging; the term simply acknowledges that some fudging is needed.
You might talk of liking a movie for its silliness factor.
Quotient tends to imply that the property is a ratio of two opposing
factors: "I would have won except for my luck quotient." This
could also be "I would have won except for the luck factor", but
using *quotient* emphasizes that it was bad luck overpowering
good luck (or someone else's good luck overpowering your own).

`Foo index' and `coefficient of foo' both tend to imply
that foo is, if not strictly measurable, at least something that
can be larger or smaller. Thus, you might refer to a paper or
person as having a `high bogosity index', whereas you would be less
likely to speak of a `high bogosity factor'. `Foo index' suggests
that foo is a condensation of many quantities, as in the mundane
cost-of-living index; `coefficient of foo' suggests that foo is a
fundamental quantity, as in a coefficient of friction. The choice
between these terms is often one of personal preference; e.g., some
people might feel that bogosity is a fundamental attribute and thus
say `coefficient of bogosity', whereas others might feel it is a
combination of factors and thus say `bogosity index'.

cokebottle: /kohk'bot-l/ n. Any very unusual character,
particularly one you can't type because it it isn't on your
keyboard. MIT people used to complain about the
`control-meta-cokebottle' commands at SAIL, and SAIL people
complained right back about the `altmode-altmode-cokebottle'
commands at MIT. After the demise of the {space-cadet
keyboard}, `cokebottle' faded away as serious usage, but was
often invoked humorously to describe an (unspecified) weird or
non-intuitive keystroke command. It may be due for a second
inning, however. The OSF/Motif window manager, `mwm(1)', has
a reserved keystroke for switching to the default set of
keybindings and behavior. This keystroke is (believe it or not)
`control-meta-bang' (see {bang}). Since the exclamation point
looks a lot like an upside down Coke bottle, Motif hackers have
begun referring to this keystroke as `cokebottle'. See also
{quadruple bucky}.

cold boot: n. See {boot}.

COME FROM: n. A semi-mythical language construct dual to the `go
to'; `COME FROM'

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


ஸ்ரீ இராம நாம மந்திர மகிமை

ஸ்ரீ இராம நாம மந்திர மகிமை 🌷 1. நமக்கு நன்மை வரவேண்டுமானால் 'ராம நாமத்தை இடைவிடாமல் கூறவேண்டும். நமது ஒவ்வொரு மூச்சும் 'ராம் '...